Author Topic: Talk to me about computer science careers  (Read 6376 times)

Cwadda

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Talk to me about computer science careers
« on: March 27, 2016, 01:24:09 PM »
Hi all,

I will be graduating college in May with degrees in Environmental Science and Geology. The majors are pretty broad, but I find there are good opportunities and career prospects. The problem I've been facing though is that I'm fearful the work will not be rewarding, because it definitely hasn't been so far. I need a sense of feeling that the work I'm doing is benefiting people or society and I'm not collecting data or writing reports for no apparent reason.

Recently I've become a bit interested in computer programming and code. I don't know anything about actual coding and programming languages, but it's to my understanding that coding is highly detail-oriented and promotes creativity, and there are practical applications of this field that DO help people. All of these attributes are right up my alley.

How should I learn the basics of code and figure out if it's something I enjoy? Would a coding boot camp be a good investment if I'm interested in pursuing it as a career? For programmers and software developers: do you find your work rewarding? Feel free to add any information you think would help. Thanks.

bobechs

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2016, 02:34:36 PM »

 ...I'm fearful the work will not be rewarding, because it definitely hasn't been so far. I need a sense of feeling that the work I'm doing is benefiting people or society and I'm not collecting data or writing reports for no apparent reason...


That may be the nub of the problem.  If you think software engineering is going to scratch that itch you may be in the wrong scratcher shop altogether.

Why do you think so many engineers are on this forum, where the overwhelming desire is to make enough money quickly enough to get out, then move on with life?

Not to say there aren't plenty of lawyers, teachers, sales or finance professionals hereabouts that feel exactly the same.

Ricky

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2016, 03:07:13 PM »
The actual "code" is secondary to learning the fundamentals of programming in general. If you can understand the fundamentals and are interested then the actual code doesn't matter. Learning logic, decisions, loops, problem solving, etc, are crucial prerequisites to the actual code.

As already mentioned, the theory is sometimes more intriguing than what you'll be working on. Then again, that's up to you. You could definitely do something "meaningful" in the world, depending on what you define as meaningful.

milofilo

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2016, 04:34:30 PM »
 I think there are some people (myself included) who are probably not ever going to be fully satisfied with a job... Work is work! I was always told to follow my passions, but unfortunately travel and art are very competitive and hard to make a living on.

I am not a computer scientist but I'm a web/mobile app designer so I work with programmers and I do think it can be pretty fun/creative. I know a lot of people who enjoy the challenge of problem-solving and there can definitely be unique/creative ways to solve problems in code.  I actually really enjoy my job... I am on this forum because I would still rather work less and spend more time traveling, seeing friends and family, and being outside. 40 hours a week is a lot of time.

I am not sure if that helps but there are a lot of benefits to programming in terms of having a flexible life and being relatively interesting. I guess you could code for nonprofits to help people.... or just make a lot of money and donate which can sometimes be more effective to help people..

As far as learning code, There are a lot of "bootcamps" popping up that will teach you enough to get your foot in the door. You could look for a new/up and coming one that is a bit cheaper--- that is how I got into tech design (just expect it to be lower quality as well). Depending on your academic background you may be able to apply to masters programs without undergraduate in CS also. More likely to be private schools and expensive but having a degree helps. It is a big investment though if you aren't sure. I took a bunch of time off after college to figure out what I wanted to do. Not recommended for early retirement, but I don't regret it because it was an amazing time and who knows if I'll still be here in ten years or if I'll be in good enough shape to backpack around.

Anyway that's my 2 cents! Good luck!

GrowingTheGreen

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2016, 07:35:03 PM »
I think there are some people (myself included) who are probably not ever going to be fully satisfied with a job... Work is work! I was always told to follow my passions, but unfortunately travel and art are very competitive and hard to make a living on.

Right there with you. I can't find a way (yet) to get paid for reading, sleeping in, DIY, and backpacking.

bobechs

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2016, 08:00:27 PM »
I think there are some people (myself included) who are probably not ever going to be fully satisfied with a job... Work is work! I was always told to follow my passions, but unfortunately travel and art are very competitive and hard to make a living on.

Right there with you. I can't find a way (yet) to get paid for reading, sleeping in, DIY, and backpacking.

Except for the sleeping in part you might want to look in to the infantry; the sleeping in part is out, but the rest meshes with the job description.

Free guns, ammo and boots, to boot.

darkadams00

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2016, 08:15:02 PM »
Rewarding and well-paying seem to be at odds for most people. They have to choose one or the other. Honestly, I think that's unfortunate.

When I actually talk to people like that (not virtual discussions on the interwebs), what I often find is they have no idea what they would want to do to make them one whit happier if the "dream" job still requires a semi-rigid schedule of 40-55 hours per week. They're not entrepeneurial or independent enough to enjoy self-directed 40-55 hours, and they don't want anyone else demanding those 40-55 hours. So the very existence of a regular 40-55 hour week dooms them to years of misery while they try to figure how to get away from it all as soon as possible. They're looking for a life of relaxed leisure that they haven't yet earned nor were they born into. Or they're looking for a life of unguided, "when they feel like doing something" activity where they reap the rewards of fulfillment without paying the price of being dependable for the long haul.

It's interesting to note that people here pride themselves for "living off $25k per year" so they can retire early to do some rewarding job long term. Often the job they describe pays $25k per year! They could work that dream job NOW for the remainder of their lives, but for that nagging issue of being expected to actually show up when expected.

So, given all of this, does comp sci ring bells for you, or are you suffering from "green grass" syndrome? Comp sci jobs can include installing and maintaining networks, setting up/disabling accounts, managing security, design and programming, installing software and maintaining systems, etc. None of that screams, "My God, you helped a lot of people today!" I hear the same complaints from a few in every department in my very STEM-related company--and my company is full of people with advanced degrees who apparently still managed to spend years studying to do something they immensely dislike. Good pay and excellent benefits do nothing to help them along.

If "meaningful" is extremely important to you, you need to find "meaningful" in your work context, or you need to change your work context. That might mean working in a non-profit, teaching (not necessarily education), medicine, chaplain/clergy, etc, or it might just mean you need to find some time regularly to do volunteer work alongside your career. Honestly, most of the "meaningful" I find in my job could be found in many other fields of study.

Ricky

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2016, 08:58:10 PM »
I think there are some people (myself included) who are probably not ever going to be fully satisfied with a job... Work is work! I was always told to follow my passions, but unfortunately travel and art are very competitive and hard to make a living on.

Right there with you. I can't find a way (yet) to get paid for reading, sleeping in, DIY, and backpacking.

This is my problem. And this is why I have no motivation after hitting "basic FI" to continue working harder and harder to only make my life marginally better. I've yet to find something I can just do for hours while ignoring everything else I could be doing. Part of it's apathy, part of it's ADD, and part of it's just liking life as it is I guess. Still, we need things to challenge and keep us occupied.

letired

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #8 on: March 27, 2016, 10:01:06 PM »
I think it might be useful to define what makes a job enjoyable and/or meaningful for you, and then start looking for things that fit that rubric.

I enjoy my software dev job, am engaged, and love the problem solving and learning, I don't really feel that I'm contributing all that much to the greater good of the planet or anything. I was contributing more to the world when I was doing ecological research. I tried the 'work that benefits the greater good' thing, and was beyond miserable due to poor working conditions (bad boss, little money, ridic hours). So maybe define more specifically what you are looking for. And also maybe try getting a little more engaged with your work before you write off a perfectly good career path that you are already qualified for.

csprof

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #9 on: March 27, 2016, 10:18:44 PM »
Hi all,

I will be graduating college in May with degrees in Environmental Science and Geology. The majors are pretty broad, but I find there are good opportunities and career prospects. The problem I've been facing though is that I'm fearful the work will not be rewarding, because it definitely hasn't been so far. I need a sense of feeling that the work I'm doing is benefiting people or society and I'm not collecting data or writing reports for no apparent reason.

Recently I've become a bit interested in computer programming and code. I don't know anything about actual coding and programming languages, but it's to my understanding that coding is highly detail-oriented and promotes creativity, and there are practical applications of this field that DO help people. All of these attributes are right up my alley.

How should I learn the basics of code and figure out if it's something I enjoy? Would a coding boot camp be a good investment if I'm interested in pursuing it as a career? For programmers and software developers: do you find your work rewarding? Feel free to add any information you think would help. Thanks.

If nothing else, picking up something like Python + NumPy is darn useful in a lot of geo and data analysis situations.  (Think of it as being useful in all the places you might use matlab, and a lot more.)  I can't imagine most scientists and engineers getting through their day in a pleasant way without being able to offload the drudgery to a computer.  But then again, my username suggests that I might be a wee bit biased.

Coding bootcamps - eh.  Maybe.  I'm pretty un-enamored with them compared to combining a problem you actually care about and want to solve with the great and free online resources, up to & including things like Udacity and Coursera.  But it's more about how you need to learn.  If the intensive environment of a bootcamp is what it takes, more power to you, but my gut is that most bootcamps are about extracting value from the students more than anything.

OTOH, as others have noticed, it sounds like you haven't really started working in your field yet, and the other commenters have made points that you should consider first.

(But spend a day playing with learning python.  it's good for you.  You'll pick up a tool useful in almost any field and probably have some fun.  You don't have to switch careers to do it.)

eljay

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2016, 04:56:41 AM »
I will be graduating college in May with degrees in Environmental Science and Geology. The majors are pretty broad, but I find there are good opportunities and career prospects. The problem I've been facing though is that I'm fearful the work will not be rewarding, because it definitely hasn't been so far. I need a sense of feeling that the work I'm doing is benefiting people or society and I'm not collecting data or writing reports for no apparent reason.

I found solving real-world problems in a work context far more rewarding/satisfying than the artificial exercises that are given to learn at college. Even though my job was only indirectly benefiting society. So my advice would to be give one of those opportunities in the Env Sci/Geology field a go.

And as others have said, day-to-day work satisfaction is mostly due to a good working environment, non-toxic boss/colleagues, reasonable renumeration and a bit of autonomy.

Eljay

forummm

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #11 on: March 28, 2016, 07:49:37 AM »
You could use CS skills to help people. And "helping people" is really in the eye of the beholder. Creating Facebook helps some people by helping them be more connected to others or see what's going on in the world. (It also hurts people too, but that's hard to avoid.) Nonprofits need tech people to do a variety of things. There are all kinds of things you could do to help people if you gave it careful thought. I use my technical background for public interest work. Sometimes it's rewarding. But most times it's just work and I dream about RE. I probably should change to a different job (which could still be public service). But I think you get the idea. You can do well and do good at the same time. But you're truly lucky if your job doesn't feel like work. I think pursuing something you enjoy doing (and can make a decent living at) is more important than having that thing be in a particular domain.

neo von retorch

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #12 on: March 28, 2016, 07:51:09 AM »
Many times, it's "go where the money is" - not that you choose that, but that's where most work is. There's plenty of work in healthcare and finance. And so there's plenty of computer science work there as well. You may be very disconnected from "the good being done" though. Many tools are enabling administrative work, automating mundane tasks, and at best, letting others focus on their core talents.

jjcamembert

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #13 on: March 29, 2016, 10:43:47 AM »
I am a software developer now working at a government research lab. Most of the scientists I run into spend most of their time doing what I'd consider "computer science" although they are mostly creating and running models. My point is I think a lot of science jobs now intersect between the core science and computer science worlds, so you'd be in a good position learning some type of programming in addition to your degree work. If you want to do science, I'd focus more on statistical packages and low-level languages as opposed to web programming / front-end tools. Typical languages used are Matlab, R, Python, C++, and yes, FORTRAN is widely used as well. Also learn your way around a Linux/Unix OS.

Is the work rewarding? Eh, depends on the day. There's bureaucracy, meetings, and typical BS that's going to be in any large organization. No one really cares that I optimized an algorithm today, maybe someone thinks our software is cool, but I'm probably not changing the world. But I enjoy the intellectual challenge for now, and it's the most interesting/rewarding job I've had so far in software. In general I have not found software development to be a "rewarding" field as in benefiting society. I just think it's fun (sometimes).

The other downside to consider is that core science jobs just don't pay as much as other industries (even as a software dev). So if your goal is earning a lot of money and retiring really early, go for healthcare, finance, military contracting, or other megacorp jobs as other posters have suggested.

russianswinga

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #14 on: March 29, 2016, 12:18:07 PM »
This is one of the more important articles I've seen.
http://www.fastcompany.com/3058251/the-future-of-work/why-learning-to-code-wont-save-your-job?utm_content=buffer98411&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
"Having learned to code" and "became a programmer" are about as far apart as having learned a wedding dance and became a pro coach on Dancing with the Stars. I spent 4+ years in university coding 24/7, and you know what? I got it. I could program. After putting in the effort, staying up late, I could squeeze out a piece of code that would work, and accomplish what my professor wanted of me, by the deadline. Except more than 1/2 the class could not only get it done faster than me, they could do it 4-8 times faster. What took me 8 hours took a "talented" coder 1 hour. While I felt accomplished for completing hard work, they finished a long time ago, and it was easy. Guess who is going to get hired to do an actual paid job? Not me. That's why after getting my CS degree, I swore, I'd never code again. This is why I'm now in IT, where I occasionally touch scripts, but that's it.
My point is this: You can KNOW how to code, but unless you're better than 9/10 people doing it, you won't be hired to do it. It will just be a useless skill.

Jack

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #15 on: March 29, 2016, 12:42:53 PM »
I think there are some people (myself included) who are probably not ever going to be fully satisfied with a job... Work is work! I was always told to follow my passions, but unfortunately travel and art are very competitive and hard to make a living on.

Right there with you. I can't find a way (yet) to get paid for reading, sleeping in, DIY, and backpacking.

Fire lookout (or park ranger in general.) (A job I didn't know existed until I watched a Firewatch Let's Play on Youtube.)



When I actually talk to people like that (not virtual discussions on the interwebs), what I often find is they have no idea what they would want to do to make them one whit happier if the "dream" job still requires a semi-rigid schedule of 40-55 hours per week. They're not entrepeneurial or independent enough to enjoy self-directed 40-55 hours, and they don't want anyone else demanding those 40-55 hours. So the very existence of a regular 40-55 hour week dooms them to years of misery while they try to figure how to get away from it all as soon as possible. They're looking for a life of relaxed leisure that they haven't yet earned nor were they born into. Or they're looking for a life of unguided, "when they feel like doing something" activity where they reap the rewards of fulfillment without paying the price of being dependable for the long haul.

That is a weird phenomenon, but true. For me, computer programming is often more fun when I'm not being paid to do it (or when I'm not being graded on it). As soon as it becomes an "obligation," it becomes less fun.

Still, even programming-for-work is more fun than doing-something-else-for-work, so if I can't already be FIREd, at least it's the next-best thing.



"Contributing to the greater good" as a software developer is possible, but depends greatly on what particular kind of software you're working on. On one extreme you might be working on Folding@Home; on the other hand you might be working on high-frequency-trading algorithms for Wall Street or invading people's privacy for Facebook or the NSA.

For example, my previous job was writing medical billing software, and I felt like I was actively making the world worse (by developing workarounds for overly-complicated billing that shouldn't exist in the first place, and because part of the stuff I worked on involved a feature that automated the reporting of controlled substance prescriptions to the government).

My current job, on the other hand, is more fulfilling because the software I write helps architects build cheaper, more functional, and prettier buildings.

Axecleaver

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Re: Talk to me about computer science careers
« Reply #16 on: March 29, 2016, 12:55:41 PM »
Quote
I will be graduating college in May with degrees in Environmental Science and Geology. The majors are pretty broad, but I find there are good opportunities and career prospects. The problem I've been facing though is that I'm fearful the work will not be rewarding, because it definitely hasn't been so far.
Every career has some "dues paying" that is required at the beginning, where the work is not fun. You should look at people in your industry who are in their mid-30's to mid-40's. What are they doing? Does that job seem rewarding?

Now let's look at what people in their 30's and 40's are doing when they started computer science careers. In this industry the jobs split along management lines: you either focus on your people management and do team management and/or project management, or you focus on the technical track and specialize into very specific areas like enterprise architecture, realtime transaction systems, COTS integration, etc. There's hundreds of these specialties.

Does that seem like the work you want to be doing in 20 years? What do the environmental scientist types do when they're 40?