Author Topic: Computer Science Beginning Career  (Read 3718 times)

CSLifeDev

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Computer Science Beginning Career
« on: May 25, 2016, 09:16:39 PM »
Hello, I posted a case study a few days ago that got some good feedback, so I thought I would start a new topic to focus on what I feel like is my biggest issue, now that I know that my finances seem to pass the test. My husband and I currently net roughly 42k in a Double Income No Kids scenario. I feel like this is rather low, since combined we make roughly the same as one person grossing 50k per year. Some background:

  • Husband has a Bachelor's in Philosophy. Note that he did not go into debt for this, but did take longer than usual to graduate. He is very bright, but poorly organized. He has also recently passed the test for A+ certification and seems to have aptitudes in line with fixing things in general. Has experience in nightmarish call center work (survived over a year) and is currently in a generic IT position where his primary job duties involve replacing toner in printers
  • I have a Bachelor's in Computer Science. I have 1 1/2 years in a cheap "student programmer" position during college, and now have 2 years as a security systems administrator for a large state university/hospital

I've been at my current job for 2 years, and on paper I am still a "temporary" employee. The university has an in-house "staffing" department and technically I work for that department. That means that I have no PTO of any kind, no 401k, etc. I am hourly, so my pay fluctuates when there is a holiday. I am not offered overtime opportunities, but also not required. I gross about 34k a year. My supervisor told me in February that they had received approval to convert the position to a FTE position, which I would then have to apply and interview for. This could change the game a bit, because the expected pay scale for that would probably gross 40-45k, plus cheap low deductible health insurance and 200% 401k match up to 5%, essentially increasing the pay by 10%.  Since then I heard that there was some issues with getting the posting approved a month ago, and then nothing new. I feel undervalued, due to the salary and the lack of any movement in my position since I was hired.

The problem is, I read the blog and look around and everyone says that CompSci is a slam dunk and always needs new talent, but I don't see many entry-level postings. The postings I see typically require work experience with a whole alphabet soup of programming languages. I have a familiarity with most languages, but I don't have any work experience outside of some dabbling in my student programmer job in college, where I didn't have many assignments. Now I have 2 years of full-time work experience, but the work has mostly been ensuring compliance regulations are followed and many, many hours of manual user configurations. I don't know how to spin that into another position that isn't entry-level. I feel like I'm missing something obvious to be struggling so much with a strong degree, good work ethic, and an analytical mindset, but I don't know what that is. Is there some follow-through on this play that I missed?

seattlecyclone

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2016, 09:34:11 PM »
Software engineering jobs are rather notorious for posting unattainable job requirements. The canonical example is the job that requires 15 years of Java experience, back when Java had only been invented 10 years prior. I've also read about differences between the typical man and typical woman when reading a bulleted list of job requirements. No matter how many requirements there are, a man might look, see three that match his background, and think "yeah, I got this. I'll apply!," while a woman might not apply unless she knows she has mastered every single one.

If you know how to code in at least one language, there are jobs out there for you that pay a lot more than $34k. Once you know one programming language, learning a second (or third) doesn't take so long, and good software engineers are in such high demand right now. Apply for those jobs even if you don't think you meet the requirements. The worst they can do is not hire you.

AK

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2016, 09:40:51 PM »
I consider any job that requires "2 years of experience" as entry-level. After graduating from a state school with a B.S. in Comp Sci and no co-op experience, I applied to a position that required 2 years of experience, had many interviews, and was hired. Now as someone who does technical interviews, I look for individuals with the right education, fit for the company, and who is trainable for entry-level positions. If they have experience in the technology stack we use, even better. Apply and see what happens. The worst that can happen is they say no. OTOH, you may find a new job or at the very least, practice your interviewing skills.

To find another job, I've used these strategies:

1) Reach out to your network to those individuals who work in a position or company you'd like to work for and see if they have any opportunities. Many jobs aren't posted publicly. I've received 2 jobs this way.

2) Get on LinkedIn if you aren't already and ensure you're profile is current. Connect with others and endorse them so they'll endorse you. This helps with marketing yourself and building your professional network which will help you long-term also.

3) Always tailor your resume to each job applied for.

4) Talk to recruiters. They'll be able to match you up positions that are a good fit and they're motivated to do so because that's how they earn. This can be hit or miss so talk to multiple recruiters.

mxt0133

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2016, 01:24:06 AM »
Reading your post, correct me if I am wrong but do you have any programming responsibilities or experience in your current job?  If not I would create a GIT account and start a public project that show cases what you can develop.  That way you can demonstrate you skill set to potential employers.

Like others have said, even if employers say then want 2 years of experience the are essentially looking for entry level candidates.  If you can show you have a basic understanding of programming, initiative to learn, and can pick things up quickly you should not have a hard time getting hired.

MrMoogle

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2016, 08:37:39 AM »
Around here - LCOL - entry positions are $60k+, so even an entry position would be a step up for you financially. 

Apply for anything that interests you, that you can learn how to do.  Don't be afraid to apply for something that "requires" 10 years of experience.  Every position I've had "required" more years than I had and more skills.

For the skills that you don't have, do a little research before the interview so you can talk about similarities with things you have done (even in college).  I graduated college almost 10 years ago, and my last interview, I referred to something I had done then that is very similar to what my company does now.

Good luck.

Axecleaver

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2016, 11:50:45 AM »
You should definitely apply for other jobs. With two years of experience, you're emerging from the "entry level" jobs category. Play around with different resumes - I like short, one page resumes for hiring folks with your experience level. But the best way to figure out what works is to test out different resume formats, lengths and content until you find one that is getting callbacks for interviews. Track your submissions to help you manage this.

One of the biggest challenges in CSci market today is that many of the entry level jobs have left the country. Companies who are smart about investing in their future still hire entry level folks, but there are less of those jobs than there were 20 years ago. The growth in development jobs has all been at the experienced or superstar level. Of course, you can't get experienced developers without someone training them first.

In addition to system admin roles, I suggest looking into COTS integration roles. Folks who know how to support scanning software, CRM, financial packages, user provisioning, etc., and can automate some of the integration of those packages, seem to have good employment prospects.


GorgeousSteak

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2016, 12:37:14 PM »
Are you working roughly full time to get the 34K?  Thats really low, even if you got the bump they mentioned to 45K with some bennies, thats still low I think for a Comp Sci grad.  They're either underpaying you, or you're not doing very difficult comp sci type work (like programming).  For sure you need to be looking for other jobs and/or improving your skills, probably both if you really want to get your career kickstarted.

onlykelsey

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #7 on: May 26, 2016, 12:39:57 PM »
Software engineering jobs are rather notorious for posting unattainable job requirements. The canonical example is the job that requires 15 years of Java experience, back when Java had only been invented 10 years prior. I've also read about differences between the typical man and typical woman when reading a bulleted list of job requirements. No matter how many requirements there are, a man might look, see three that match his background, and think "yeah, I got this. I'll apply!," while a woman might not apply unless she knows she has mastered every single one.

If you know how to code in at least one language, there are jobs out there for you that pay a lot more than $34k. Once you know one programming language, learning a second (or third) doesn't take so long, and good software engineers are in such high demand right now. Apply for those jobs even if you don't think you meet the requirements. The worst they can do is not hire you.

I was about to post exactly this.  If you have half the qualifications, apply!

mskyle

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2016, 12:50:59 PM »
Can you go to some developer networking type events? I'm a female software developer with no CS degree. There's a monthly meetup for women using or interested in the programming language I use. Whenever I've gone (I probably make it once every two or three months) there's been a mix of people who are working professionally in the language, or who are interested in getting into it, or who used to use it but don't anymore. Some people have no coding experience at all, some are serious CS people. It's a great way to connect.

If you're seeing the same skills and languages and frameworks listed frequently, pick one and learn it! Build a project. Put it up on Github. You can teach yourself enough to be a competent entry-level dev. There are great tutorials out there for free or cheap for lots of things.

I've been assuming that you're female, though maybe you're not - if you are female or non-binary, or have a female or non-binary friend who would be willing to bring you as a guest, try looking for a Railsbridge or other Bridge Foundry event to get you making connections and building small projects in a current framework.

justplucky

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #9 on: May 26, 2016, 01:38:07 PM »
Now I have 2 years of full-time work experience, but the work has mostly been ensuring compliance regulations are followed and many, many hours of manual user configurations. I don't know how to spin that into another position that isn't entry-level. I feel like I'm missing something obvious to be struggling so much with a strong degree, good work ethic, and an analytical mindset, but I don't know what that is. Is there some follow-through on this play that I missed?

Don't undervalue the experience you do have and what you know. I interviewed for a job and shocked myself when I knew what the heck I was talking about and was able to express it. You're learning more than you think you are.

CSLifeDev

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #10 on: May 26, 2016, 02:17:50 PM »
I appreciate everyone's replies! I am at work right now, but I will respond individually when I get home.

FINate

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #11 on: May 26, 2016, 02:59:45 PM »
A bit about my background: BSc. Comp Sci, MBA, MSc Software Engineering. 18 years in software industry doing Tech Support, QA, Tech Writing, Software Development, Engineering Management, with 10 years doing the latter two at Google before retiring at age 38. During my time at Google I did somewhere around 300 interviews for software engineering candidates.

Computer Science is an extremely broad field, and the scope of possibilities expands significantly within the even broader tech industry. You're currently doing security systems administration, and it doesn't sound like you're doing any programming in that gig. So my first question is what type of work, specifically, do you want to be doing in industry? Admin? Security research? Database? Software engineering (this in itself is rather broad, with many specialized areas: fullstack, systems, infrastructure, architecture, ...), AI/ML, ...?

I'm going to assume, based on your background and other things you mentioned, that you're interested in going in the general direction of software engineering. You have the CS degree, which is a great start, but this really is just a start. It will help you get your foot in the door, but it is typically not sufficient on its own. The CS degree gives you an important foundation, and you should keep up on what you've learned so that you can competently analyze the runtime complexity of an algorithm, be very comfortable with the tradeoffs of all the main data structures and algorithms, and be able to reason about different space and time tradeoffs. But in addition to this you need to get lots of programming experience. There's a world of difference between working on a 1000 line undergraduate programming assignment vs. a commercial product with hundreds of thousands of lines of code across a team of people.

As you pointed out there's a bootstrapping problem where it's difficult to get the experience needed to be a competent developer when you don't have the experience to get into your first job. All I can say to that is that it's difficult but possible, and there are many different paths. Some people get involved in open source as a way to gain experience. Others get in at some desperate place that cannot afford to be picky, perhaps a startup that is having difficulty attracting people because it's not an exciting product. Sometimes it possible to start somewhere in a different but related area with the possibility to move into a software engineering role. If all else fails, you can (and should anyway) always be coding on your own time. Think up a few fun projects, ideas, or just fun coding problems, and write lots of code on your own.  Code, code, and code some more. Learn different languages and frameworks which will make it possible for you to write code efficiently and confidently in an interview, which will go a long way to helping you get established in the field.

One final observation: IMO Universities are not a great place for career growth - they are too large and lumbering, same goes for government jobs. A temp University job is great while you're in school, but at this point I would start pounding the pavement looking for something in private industry.

I will also second what other's on this thread have said about job requirements: If you have even 25% of what they are listing then go ahead and apply. It doesn't hurt to try, and any interviewing experience you can get is worth it.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2016, 03:02:07 PM by FINate »

CSLifeDev

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #12 on: May 26, 2016, 07:24:36 PM »
There's so much to respond to here! Thanks to everyone who took the time to throw in their advice and experience. I will address the common themes:

  • To the people who pointed out that I've probably been taking job postings a little too literally, you're probably right. I will take another look around where I focus more on whether I meet some/most of the qualifications with an aptitude for the ones I'm missing.
  • My current job does not have programming responsibilities. I have one coworker who writes automation scripts to try to move our department into the 21st century, but with the workload the department handles, I can't find time to assist with that project, and I'm unable to get approved for overtime for nonessential tasks. I will absolutely start doing some work on finding programming opportunities outside of work. My problem is that I honestly can be a little unimaginative. I'm bad at conjuring up ideas for projects to work on. Any thoughts on free or cheap sources of ideas for projects that would be meaningful and doable solo?
  • I am female, and I appreciate the links to the diversity workshops. I don't think I'll be able to make it out to something like that while working at my current job, due to not having vacation time, but it's really cool to see that things like that are out there!
  • I will definitely watch myself for selling myself short on the work I'm currently doing. It has taught me a lot about multitasking, and handling customers, and how things move in an IT office environment
  • In school, I was very interested in the software engineering, but I recognized that it was not something you could do as a fresh undergad, given what was described regarding what I had done in school being miles away from the scope of professional projects. I didn't know where to start, and couldn't find any programming jobs that (I thought) I was qualified for, so I took this one because it was $19 an hour, which was double what I was paid at my cushy student programmer job, so I took it and stopped looking.

So, my takeaways at this point are that I need to find some way to code more on my own time, and also be on the lookout for any entry-level development jobs, with a wider definition of entry-level. If anybody knows a good resource to start with for sharpening my rusty coding skills, let me know! Thanks again for all your advice.

bradleylsmith

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2016, 01:42:27 AM »
 It's possible you might be looking at the wrong job titles. There are sects of programming that absolutely require years and years of experience. Notably, Java / Platform / DevOps guys need to know their stuff - and these are the jobs that are usually labeled software engineer. On the other side, front end / middle tier (ruby on rails or NodeJS guys) /  data science engineers don't need to know very much at all simply because the fields are pretty new. Front end really wasn't a thing until 2012, data science is even newer and if backend is more your thing then look at nodeJS - created in 2009.

I am now a front end engineer - which is perfect for me because it combines the artistic with the programming as you're building the user interfaces themselves. But my background is pretty spotty - I got a music degree in college and then taught with it for 5 - 6 years before moving into engineering. My first front end engineering role came with no experience in doing it other then side projects, and my starting salary was over $130k. A big part of the success of landing that was moving to the bay area (I lived in MI, which paid about what you're getting paid for a programmer). They decided to hire me because they liked me primarily. That company shut down, so I had to repeat that success and was able to pretty quickly - in a new field with no experience again. I called around 5 companies a day and it took 3 weeks to find the job. But it was over $135k starting this time. It takes a lot of effort job hunting but you can do it and it's so worth doing!

As far as learning goes, take a look at codecademy.com - they have approachable hands on training tools that are fairly up to date.

basd

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #14 on: May 27, 2016, 02:22:09 AM »
Have you considered looking into software testing? It would be a perfect fit for someone with an analytical mindset, but not too much programming experience who's looking into starting a career in IT. I was in exactly the same boat 9 years ago. Still in the field and I love it.

It's a field that has a lot of opportunities for relatively inexperienced people and once you get going there's so many routes you can take. I've taken the technical testing / test automation route (and my MSc in CS definitely helped there) but lots of people that didn't stay in testing moved towards business analysis or became a scrum master or even product owner.

More questions? Feel free to ask them here.

ender

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #15 on: May 27, 2016, 06:00:17 AM »
Can also depend on where you live.

In my area of the midwest, there are tons of companies looking for developers. And offering $35k would hire you exactly 0 people.

CSLifeDev

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #16 on: May 27, 2016, 06:29:31 AM »
Where I live could be an issue. I work in one of the two biggest cities in Kentucky. But all of our friends and family are here, and I'm nervous about moving away for work and losing that support network while we're starting out. Thoughts?

neo von retorch

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Re: Computer Science Beginning Career
« Reply #17 on: May 27, 2016, 08:00:34 AM »
Ideas for code:

Mustachian forum needs. I've been trying to get myself to make a page that simply tracks people's month-end net worth. Simple data set - MMM username, date and number. Then put it all in a table or two. Useful for the $10k-100k, $100k-250k, $250k-500k, etc threads. They currently use Google Spreadsheets, but there have been occurrences of people having issues with accidentally corrupting the data. A controlled web site would help. I wasn't even going to worry about malicious people / logins. Make the data "read-only" - additions only. (They can request help if they make a mistake.) But you are welcome to steal this idea.