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Would a CS Degree Be Good for Someone Over 30? 166

Posted by Cliff
from the it's-never-too-late dept.
mbuckingham asks: "I'm 39 and have been programming for 20 years. By 'programming', I'm talking about the usual business applications type of stuff. Easy stuff really. I went to college for a while, but never got my degree. It bugs me that I've never completed my degree, but since I've always had decent jobs, it hasn't really mattered too much. I'm really bored with what I do every day, and I'm thinking about going back and getting the degree, because I think it will make it possible to move towards doing some more advanced, system-level type stuff. I know I don't want a MIS degree, because that would be rehashing everything I'm already bored with. Does this make sense? Would a CS degree or a Computer Engineering degree be better?"
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Would a CS Degree Be Good for Someone Over 30?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @07:58PM (#17835636)
    And I went & did my CS degree.

    And it does lead to more interesting job offers.

    The trouble is, moving from doing business logic type boring stuff to interesting CS type stuff is that you have to take a $40k a year paycut. (and that's after you've had no income for the time it takes to complete your degree).

    Its worth thinking about how important money is for you. In the end, I have my CS degree (and I feel good about it, dont mistake me), but am doing the same work mostly.

    But I don't mind doing boring work for 6-9 months a year if I can take another 3 months to travel / do charity work / etc.
    • by AuMatar (183847) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:15PM (#17835886)
      40K pay cut? I do the systems type programming, and make far more than anyone I know doing buisness type systems- they tend to look for bottom of the barrel coders and anyone who took a certification course, where systems level programming requires brains.
      • by krotkruton (967718) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:44PM (#17836272)
        I think he meant that by quitting a job you've been working at for years and starting in a somewhat new field, you would take a pay cut. It's a 15 year business programming veteran's salary versus a 15 year business programming veteran's salary starting out in a system's programming field, or at least that's how I understood it.
        • by NekoXP (67564) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @07:32AM (#17841140) Homepage
          I don't understand why you'd take a pay cut.

          Your salary doesn't start again at the lowest grade just because you get a degree!? Maybe when you are 24 and just get out of Uni with your little bits of paper, you would be on $40k less than he is now, but in your example he would STILL have 15 years experience. That counts for a lot. Not as much as the degree AND experience, but a lot anyway.

          If he can get decent jobs already without the CS degree I'd wonder if it was worth getting, although I've been thinking the same thing - it doesn't make the job you're in any easier (most CS after so much experience is stuff you've done before. I did all the project management and general "Computing" stuff during my GCSE/A-Levels and learnt to code off my own back. It's not failed me yet and all the jobs I've been in have been on experience and general talent.

          At least at the University I worked, there were two pay grades; academic and technical. If you didn't have a degree you were confined to technical. It paid less and you were automatically given less responsibilities. By the time I got out of the job I was earning as much as the incoming academic grade employees (and no student loan debt!). Now that I think I could run a CS degree in my spare time in quick time, I might. If anything, his pay should go up for his next job, just because they will be more sure of him because of the degree - when there is a range of starting salaries, you start from the degree and ramp up based on experience. Instead of them offering you the lowest amount for that position (either as a graduate student or as uncertainty and insurance for them if they can't quantify past experience to the new job) they will start higher because of the added experiene.

          It won't make any job you're in more complicated - the current employers won't think "he has a degree now let's move him on to harder stuff" - they already know what you can do, you won't be asked to do anything more than you know.

          I have 10 years experience at least on my part, I used to work in the CS department in a University, ironically after I left school and couldn't be bothered to get a degree. I determined I would rather have the money and not be bogged down with loans and homework, I valued my social life more than any student could manage without flunking, and the work they did on a CS degree then was.. really a bit much. Now, I look at the work some of my friends and colleagues are doing for CS degrees, and I end up helping with their homework and explaining past exam questions to them. It's SO easy to get one, especially if you've got the experience and been doing that for years.

          It will do nothing but make the job hunting process a little easier; you can't evaluate experience past a certain point, but the degree will make prospective employers at least consider you a baseline of knowledge based on the degree or certification. Oh, and if you go the whole hog you can have letters after your name in 3 or 4 years, without even flinching.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by jozeph78 (895503)
            It's very, very simple. The "business'ish" programming roles are usually 50/50 development and analysis whereas the systems level programming jobs tend to keep you boxed in a more technical environment. People who blow smoke up ones ass make more money than the ones who actually do things. The world's best programmers couldn't sell a free system to a business, thus we have Linux. The worlds best marketers shoved windows 3.1 down everyones throat and built an empire. Where's the money?

            Of course there are s
            • by NekoXP (67564)
              I don't see how you took how Linux and Windows make money from the programmers who made it.

              Plenty of companies market Linux perfectly well. It has a larger server share than Windows does. RedHat hasn't gone bankrupt yet :)

              There's no correlation whatsoever between business development programmers, and systems level programmers, and the sales of their product. You're talking about marketing.
          • Here are just reasons you might take a pay cut:
            Many employers think that hiring fresh college grads is cheaper than hiring vets. There are a few Nuke Plants in my area and my friend's dad lost his job at one after 25 years because it shut down, and has been unable to get a job at any of the other for even close to the same salary because they don't want to pay anyone that much if they don't have to, and they don't. This happens in all fields, not just computers or nuclear.
            If you have a really well payin
      • by cetialphav (246516) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @09:05PM (#17836554)
        I guess it depends on what he means by "interesting CS type stuff". A lot of the true research type stuff will definitely pay a lot less than what you can make in the business world.

        But for R&D of new products, there is definitely no pay cut. I have been working on high end networking gear and there is definitely not that kind of pay gap here.

        Most people forget that there is way more to computer science than just coding. I have been working as a tester of complex networking and telcom products, and I am on the same pay scale as the programmers. We deal with the same complexity, it is just at different levels. Then there is the technical support (not the stupid help desk kind), sales engineers, training, marketing, and documentation. All of this is necessary for a good product, they can all be technically challenging, and none of it involves coding. I've worked with brilliant people in each of those positions.

        But the really important thing is doing what is fun. I'm about to take a break from working and get a masters degree because it is something I really want to do. Will it help my career? I don't care. There are a lot of topics I want to study in depth that I just don't have time to do while I am working. It definitely won't hurt my career, but since I have a lot of good experience it might not open any doors that aren't already open to me.

        Having said all that, I do think there is overwhelming evidence out there that getting a bachelor's degree helps your career. When almost everyone else in the industry has a degree, it really sticks out when you don't. It may not be fair, but it is reality.
    • What boring work do you do that lets you take off 3 months a year? My boring work only gives me 3 weeks! Seriously, I would gladly take a paycut to do a CS type job for only 9 months a year.
      • by misleb (129952)
        Contract work, most likely. If you're good and you've done some networking (social, not data), you can easily have more work than you know what to do with... at $50+/hr. Want to take 3 months off? Don't take on any new contracts. Easy.

        -matthew
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I remember an associate in grad school from CS, who said he hadn't seen a computer in four years. He was doing parallel algorithms on an idealized (PRAM) architecture, and real systems just got in the way. You probably should get some sort of degree for the resume points for when you're older and the PHBs are looking for reasons to replace you with younger and cheaper, but inferring from your question, you should probably look more on the engineering side. Real CSci tends to be applied math, though it ta
    • If you make so much more doing routine programming, you must have valuable knowledge of a certain domain. I bet there are more demanding programming jobs in that domain; it just isn't obvious where they are. Maybe you should look for an entry-level job with a consulting firm that services your industry. Consulting is a lucrative and flexible gig for experienced guys with domain knowledge, solid CS skills, and a high tolerance for boredom. All you lack is high-level experience.
    • by Zemran (3101)
      ... or get qualified and work in a better job for 5 years then bail out completely and get a job teaching in a school in south east asia that pays me less for a day than I used to spend on lunch. I am glad that I got qualified (when I was in my 30s) because I know what I have to fall back on, but I am really enjoying life now and that is more important.
  • well (Score:5, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @07:59PM (#17835668) Homepage
    Would a CS Degree Be Good for Someone Over 30?

    That depends. How are you at headshots with an AWP?
    • That depends. How are you at headshots with an AWP?
      Please! Every knows that you also need good skills with the ak47 and the colt. Jeez! Schools these days produce nothing but AWP whores.
    • With an AWP you don't need to be good at head shots. Center mass is where it's at with a rifle of that nature; bigger hit box with the same end result.
  • by ganjadude (952775) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:06PM (#17835770) Homepage
    Granted I am only 21, I started working on my CS degree when I was 17, went for 3 semesters and stopped. I have been hands on with machines since about the age of 7 and found the classes boring (the teacher tried to tell us how an ip address is exactly like a phone number, and would not hear how its not really that much like a phone number more like a street address.... he said I was crazy)

    Being 21 I find it IS worth going back to classes,even if its only part time. Unfortunately I found out the hard way no matter how much you know, without that little square of paper, they will not even look at you 90% of the time.

    Now if you know someone who will open the door for ya great, but if not, at least grab some certs. They will at least look at you that way.
    • by Lithdren (605362) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:19PM (#17835936)

      the teacher tried to tell us how an ip address is exactly like a phone number, and would not hear how its not really that much like a phone number more like a street address.... he said I was crazy

      You ARE crazy. How the hell do you fit a street address through a tube? Dont you know anything about the internet?

      Geez, kids these days!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MarcoAtWork (28889)

      and would not hear how its not really that much like a phone number more like a street address.... he said I was crazy

      I am not sure I follow your line of reasoning, as much as there are a few interesting comparisons between IP addresses and street addresses (with this paradigm it's easy to explain NAT as a number of different people living at the same address), still a street address has a certain implied sense of locality, while in general terms nowadays even being in the same class C does not guarantee a

      • A street address tells you where somebody is physically, while neither a phone number or an IP address do. When I did tech support for an ISP I used the analogy of a large office with a PBX/Centrix system to have multiple extensions and one public phone number to explain NAT. Never had a bit of trouble making people understand it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:38PM (#17836202)
      I have been hands on with machines since about the age of 7 and found the classes boring (the teacher tried to tell us how an ip address is exactly like a phone number, and would not hear how its not really that much like a phone number more like a street address.... he said I was crazy)

      He should have said you were fucking stupid. And then he should have told you to shut up.

      There's no point in wasting his time and your classmate's time with such pathetic, petty "debate". A phone number is a much better analogy, especially when considering mobile phones (which is the only phone that many people have today).

      Unlike a street address, but like a phone number, IP addresses are not fixed based on location. On an internal network, you can use whatever IP addresses you want, regardless of where your devices are, or where they might happen to move.

      We could go on, but I don't know if you'd really understand such concepts. I mean, you couldn't even make it past your second year of undergraduate studies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Animats (122034)

        Yeah, clueless. It's been a long time since either a phone number or an IP address was like a street address.

        The distinction is how "locative" an ID is. Seat numbers in a stadium are locative. But few other IDs are completely locative any more.

        At one time, phone numbers really were locative; the first three digits specified the central office, or for larger offices, the switch within the CO, and the last four digits were the line number within the switch. That dates from the era when phone numbers

  • by joe_cot (1011355) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:07PM (#17835778) Homepage
    From my experience thus far (3rd year CS major), getting a CS degree involves very little programming, and involves a whole lot of theory, particularly math. If you're interested in the theory and mathematics of it, by all means, get a degree in CS. If you're not, the piece of paper will still break the corporate ladder's glass ceiling for non college graduates. However, realize there are other options, depending on the university: for me, there's IS (Information Systems), IT (Information Technology), CE (Computer Engineering), and HCI (Human-Computer Interaction). Those majors, with the exception of perhaps CE, won't seat you firmly into operating system land, but will open up broader opportunities than a straight CS degree would.

    Note: 20, still in college, basing solely on conjecture and experience of colleagues and alumni.
    • by makellan (550215) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:26PM (#17836032)
      That varies widely based on school. I went to an engineering school where "Learn by Doing" was the motto and we were deep into programming from day one as freshmen. They've since split off the majors into CS (math heavy) and Software Engineering, which is what we code monkeys actually do all day. Software Engineering majors aren't that easy to find, but if you happen to be around a college that has one, it may be more useful to you than a CS degree.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Metasquares (555685)

        Some of them teach that as a business or process-centric major, rather than one centered around technical skill. For example, SE majors at my old college only took three courses that required significant amounts of programming: Intro to CS I, Intro to CS II, and Operating Systems. The result was that they could write superb requirements documents and make very nice looking UML diagrams (things that many of us learned on our own anyway), but couldn't write programs of any useful complexity.

        I felt bad for t

      • You're talking about Cal Poly, right? I graduated last year as a CPE. My impression of CS there was that it was actually pretty light on the math compared to what I've heard about other universities. SE actually has more math prereqs than CS in the latest catalog.
    • If you're not, the piece of paper will still break the corporate ladder's glass ceiling for non college graduates.

      I have a Software Engineering Degree (Bachelor's), and 12 years worth of experience in the industry. One of my team leads currently has *NO* college degree. Where was that glass ceiling again?
      • by Alan Shutko (5101)
        It's above team lead. One could probably get to manager without much trouble without a degree. But director and higher would be much more difficult.
      • Does this team lead hold significant stock in the company or is a founder?

        How long has he been working for the company and how many people are above him?

        • Does this team lead hold significant stock in the company or is a founder?

          No.

          How long has he been working for the company and how many people are above him?

          If I'm reading the org chart right- there's at least 5 levels of people above him (nothing like government for adding layers of management). Underneath him are several well-educated people, even people with Master's degrees- so the point is that the glass ceiling is only partially based on education.
      • by symbolic (11752)
        I can't say this surprises me. I've seen code from both camps, and I'm not impressed, overall, what I've seen produced by those with degrees. Yes, it's functional, and it works...but it's the same with code from some non-degreed programmers that I've seen.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by quanticle (843097)

        How long has said team lead been with the company? Usually, when a company is young, they'll hire anyone who's competent, regardless of their formal education. The real question is: If this team lead were to get fired tomorrow, how easily would he find another position similar to the one he currently has?

        If you already have a stable job, getting a degree doesn't do you much good unless your employer has some kind of education incentive. The "piece of paper" really proves its worth when you try to change

      • And how did he come into the industry?

        There have been times in the past two decades when it was extremely easy for people with little or no schooling to get their feet in the door. That time has passed. Now, while there are always a few who still manage this, it's MUCH harder to get into the industry without SOME sort of qualifications.
    • A degree would be worthwile to get. Is it better than your 20 years experience? No. It will broaden your horizons some and shows future employers that you are always willing to learn more. Certifications and degrees show that you're willing to adapt, not just do a job blindfolded because you've been doing it for 20 years.
      A lot of majors vary by only a few classes, so do some investigation on the differences. Look at your different options for schools too. I know several people who have completed their degre
    • Most people refer to CE as Civil Engineering. CompE should be used to avoid confusion.
  • I'm in the same boat as you: I never finished college because I was too busy working. The best college I've found is an on-line university that is an accredited institution and takes life experience into account. The college (Excelsior) is great for those of us that don't need to take introductory computer courses or even some of the higher-level classes. Helps get that piece of paper so people can see that someone else agrees that you know what you know.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      On the other hand, accreditation is no protection against potential employers looking at your resume, noting that you got your degree from an online diploma mill, and deciding you're probably not worth interviewing on that basis alone. It's an old joke that BS means "bullshit", but this sort of thing makes it less of a joke.
      • by eclectro (227083) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @09:00PM (#17836482)
        Well I think there was a day when what you said may have been true. But don't think that isn't going to rapidly change when everyone gets faster broadband. The demand continues to grow in this sector, and I suspect that online degrees will gain increasing currency because traditional schools will simply become less attractive to those that don't want to put up with everything from weird antics of professors to parking problems.

        Thousands of people are paying bills online now too. A concept unheard of seven years ago. If you can trust an online bank, why couldn't you trust an accredited online school?
  • by filesiteguy (695431) <kai@perfectreign.com> on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:12PM (#17835848) Homepage
    I think - honestly - that a CS degree at your time in life is worthless for the most part. I am in a similar situation, in that I have a degree in International Politics. Yet, I've been programming since age 11 and working professionally as a programmer, project manager and systems development manger since 1993. Many of my staff have CS degrees. However, I find that a CS degree does little for ensuring a person is well-suited for the task of developing software and/or running systems.

    I have hired staff members with CS degrees who would be better off as real-estate sales staff. Conversely, I have one programmer with a history degree who is excellent at his job.

    I am thirtysomething as well, and have no plans to go back to school for a CS, MIS or even a MSIS degree. In my opinion, the degree just gets you "in the door" as it were. Once you've got some (hopefully good) experience behind you, the degree becomes less important.

    Keep in mind, too, that even as a manager, I get to write queries against SQL databases with 140M records - that impresses some of the young'uns. :P
    • If you can stand hearing "oh my god, I was horrible at math!" every time you meet someone, then a math degree (applied) is probably a better choice. You can still do programming and management stuff, as well as a whole new world of other things, and best of all, chicks really dig math majors.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I think - honestly - that a CS degree at your time in life is worthless for the most part.

      I would disagree. More education is never worthless. Of course at 30 what you pick to study and how you go about doing it is much more important than at 18. At 30, with years of experience, should you go back to school and do intro to computers? Um no. But, I'm sure there are many topics that you've never come across in your experience that would be fun and useful to learn in a school setting. Some schools may ev
      • When did 140M records become big? Maybe if that is 1 table :p

        Actually it is big. I don't recall running into to many places where I would have such large numbers in a table.

        Well, let's see....

        One of the tables has 39,867,766 records...

        ...another one has 39,868,348 records (should be almost the same as the first)...

        ..the other join has 223 records (lookup table)...

        ...another join has 145,138,930 records.

        It kind of goes downhill from there. :P

        • I deal with data warehouses quite a bit. One that is almost finished loading now has...

          442,573,477 records in the fact table.

          I can start looking at the dimensions, but you get the idea. I didn't mean for this to get into a 'my data is bigger than yours' debate :), but 100M records just doesn't seem that much given the amount of data my team and I deal with on a daily basis.

          BTW, what dbms are you housing your data in?
  • by solid_liq (720160) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:12PM (#17835850) Homepage Journal
    I decided to go back to school to get a math degree, and either minor in CS or make it my second major. I'm 29, not 39, but I've gotten bored with coding business apps too. I decided to focus on math because it opens up other areas, as well, such as EE, ME, finance, structural engineering, and many others. I think I'd rather work with robotics than develop desktop/server apps, because I'll actually be able to physically interact with my creations. You might consider something similar to get more interesting work. I enjoy doing the math, hence my major, but anything with embedded systems work may be more interesting to you and therefore, CE might be a better tack.
  • Not sure what ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by puppetman (131489) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:19PM (#17835938) Homepage
    "more advanced, system-level type stuff" is.

    System administration, or embedded programming? Or just challenging programming in C, or C++?

    If your close to finishing your degree, I'd go for it. Typically, our company hires more on experience and skills than education, but that said, we have a tough time finding people in general.

    You might want to do some functional interviews - find companies that do what you are interested in, and go in and talk to them. Find out if it's really what you are interested.

    Once you find what you are interested in, tailor your courses to make you a good candidate for the position. IE if you are interested in embedded, real-time development, avoid "Ethics in Computer Science" and take the real-time programming courses. If your school is any good, they'll be very challenging.

    A degree also gives you management potential; as you get older, you might want to get out of the grind, get an MBA. I keep reading that business+technology is very in-demand.

    One final benefit of a degree - if you want to travel and work (ie move to Australia and work there for a year), a degree is almost mandatory for getting the visa.

    • You might want to do some functional interviews - find companies that do what you are interested in, and go in and talk to them. Find out if it's really what you are interested.

      Absolutely correct. Talk to your peers who are doing other things too. Join a professional society. It's all about networking.

      I switched to software development after about 20 years working as a research chemist and as a chemical engineer. Since then I've done web development, operational support system development and am now working
  • by Alpha830RulZ (939527) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:23PM (#17835986)
    It won't hurt, and it could be interesting. I went back for a second degree when I was 27, in Accounting, of all things. I used it to get a job with Andersen Consulting, now Accenture, which has led to a great career for me.

    If you do the degree at the right school, a key benefit will be the availability of the career placement apparatus of the school, which is one of the easiest routes to a quality job with major industry players at the end of the process.

    I agree with the person who noted that the more CS'y jobs pay less. I do datawarehousing/data mining/predictive modeling, and make much better money than the average Java/C#/C++ dev, based on watching the job boards. My work isn't as -cool-, but it pays well and I find it interesting. Sure, it'd be cooler to be a game programmer or device driver hack, but I like to play with my kids and golf, and if I have to write SQL and Crystal Reports stuff to make that happen, that's fine with me.

    It's also fun to go back to school and babe watch.
    • by Dogtanian (588974)

      Sure, it'd be cooler to be a game programmer or device driver hack

      From what I've heard, a lot of game programming is pretty uninteresting stuff (i.e. low-level mundanity implementing other people's designs), with lots of hard work. Plus, there are relatively large numbers of kids whose dream it is (misguided or not) to get into writing games, so I doubt that the pay is the best either (though I might be wrong there, so if anyone out there is interested, best check that out).

      EA in particular looks like a notoriously crap place to work...

  • by evilmousse (798341) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:25PM (#17836020) Homepage Journal

    i can't tell whether you're looking to use a degree to advance your career or not. on one hand you say you've not needed it so far, and on the other you say you think it might open doors. it doesn't sound like you have a specific goal for which a CS degree is a requirement, so lacking that, I'd say don't get an inferiority complex.

    ask yourself, "do i enjoy dealing in underlying academic theories, or do i prefer concrete applications to real problems?". if you're tired of dealing in the latter, intellectually curious about the former, or want to gain some specific skills, go for it. if, however, you're just having a vague feeling of "missing out", i'd say don't. degrees are best attained with a purpose in mind, and it sounds like you're doing fine as-is.

    if you're still not sure, why not try to find an appropriate class to take without committing everything, as a test of your own enjoyment/committal.

    as someone who did the opposite and started with much schooling and less practical experience, i'll tell you i look over the fence at your green grass now and then too. i don't utilize the theory i've learned nearly as much as the more practical knowledge. the rare circumstances i do utilize the theoretical learning are fulfilling tho.

  • by Dasein (6110) <(moc.gibedoc) (ta) (cdet)> on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:31PM (#17836114) Homepage Journal
    And stay upwind.

    http://www.paulgraham.com/hs.html [paulgraham.com]

    Maybe a math or applied math degree?
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:45PM (#17836296) Homepage Journal
    I am helping a friend with her degree from the University of Maryland(they do a lot with the military community and I am a contractor and she is the wife of a soldier) and from what I have seen the program is pretty decent, if a bit light on programming. They actually do real discreet math for instance(they have to prove a lot of things), and I was surprised since before I held a pretty dim view of online programs. I still hold that view on most programs(University of Phoenix being among the chief offenders), but there are some decent ones that you can do while still keeping your job. Hell, the company might even pay for it. My advice would be to find a program that is associated with a good program in meatspace and see what the requirements are. Even if you can just do half the degree online, that can still save you a lot of time and money, two things pretty much everyone is short on.
    • The University of Illinois lets you get a mini-Master's degree [uiuc.edu] online. They call it a "Master of Computer Science" degree to differentiate it from their traditional Masters, which is called "Master of Science in computer science." The online degree is inferior because it doesn't require seminar work or a master's thesis, but the coursework is the same.
  • Neither (Score:3, Interesting)

    by N7DR (536428) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @08:55PM (#17836406) Homepage
    OK, so I'm weird... but this really is my advice:

    You're obviously not unintelligent. So think of what you would really like to do, and then teach yourself the langauge that would be most useful in that position. And then USE IT. Not for pay, but using it in the real world is the only way to really, really learn a language. For example, if my end goal was to be soemwhere it would pay to be known as an accomplished C progammer, I would teach myself C and then do something utterly crazy like start making simple contributions to the Linux kernel. Point to that sort of thing in an interview and you will already have established yourself as knowning (and having proved that you know) more than any other candidate.

    Sure, this will be hard, and especially if you keep a full time day job it's going to be a pain and take a year or two. But you'll end up in a far better place than if you go the "normal" route.

    No, this advice is not theoretical. You're welcome to ignore it, but don't do so because you don't think it would work. It does. There's a whole generation of well-paid people rather older than you who never had any formal computer training but got their feet wet in exactly this kind of way.

    • by AlXtreme (223728)

      There's a whole generation of well-paid people rather older than you who never had any formal computer training but got their feet wet in exactly this kind of way.

      The problem is that now there are many people on the market that do have a CS degree. Which do you think HR will look at first: someone with a degree or someone with experience in some Unix-blabla? That's how a non-techie will look at your resume.

      Naturally it all boils down to what you want to achieve. Experience in open-source projects does he

  • History (Score:3, Interesting)

    by try_anything (880404) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @09:05PM (#17836558)
    Classes in operating systems, artificial intelligence, distributed systems, and computer architecture are half about history. You find out which problems are solved, the known solutions for them, and which problems seem easy at first glance but have resisted the efforts of brilliant people for decades. You see how the stock of an idea rises and falls depending on how it relates to the current situation.

    When you have complete knowledge of the system you're working in, you can rely on the basic analytical techniques taught in all scientific disciplines. Most often, though, you have a complete understanding of limited parts of the system and have to rely on instincts and guesswork for the rest. That's when a knowledge of history comes in handy, if only to help you generate a list of things that could go wrong. A basic background in CS also helps avoid the situation where you get carried away with an awesome "new" idea you just thought up that has actually been around for twenty years. Spending your time rediscovering the limitations of a twenty-year-old idea is fun, but basically a waste of time. There are enough unsolved problems that you can cheat on the solved problems without worrying that computing will be too easy :-)

    (Note that I'm not saying you should skip the problem sets. Quite the opposite! The problem sets are designed to impart skills and knowledge, not artificially slow you down.)

    Both the applied classes and the theory classes teach you a standard vocabulary that makes it much easier to communicate your ideas to people who share that vocabulary.

  • by flak89 (809703) on Wednesday January 31, 2007 @09:11PM (#17836638)
    I'am almost 32, and like you, I did not complete a CS degree when I was 21. But, I've been working as a programmer, DBA, project manager, system administrator for the last 10 years, with some pretty good money. I then decide that it was enough, that I need to have this CS done at once. But wait.. They won't accept me at first because I haven't been at school for a while (universite de montreal, that is). I have to do some credits to 'prove' that I am still schoolworthy. I don't think it's much fun first, I wanna do CS. But while doing these credits, I discover that I can really use my computer skills at a professionnal level, but in another faculty. So I've applied in an Environmental Geography program, and I like it ! I've been doing it for a year now, doing remote-sensing and numbercrunching with ease. I work part time at my last employer, and it's ok. Less money, but enough to do a trip per 2 years oversea, +the usual stuff. I think that when you are 30 and going back to school, you really know what you like, and what you don't, compared to youngster around. And experience cannot be so much learn at school neither, so you can really keep it up if you want it. Good luck to you ! flak
  • You might enjoy it (Score:2, Informative)

    by josteos (455905)
    I just finished my MS in CS last summer at the ripe old age of 36. I had switched careers from biotech to programming, and felt I needed some kind of lambskin saying "this dude has a CS degree" before HR would pay attention to my resume - I had a few phone interviews that went really well until they saw my MS Biology..... :( Seemed to have worked; I got my current position after getting the degree.

    I really enjoyed the classes involved, and it did a good job of exposing me to new (to me!) topics, such as A
  • Best to get a degree which reqires 'boots on the ground'. Civil engineering, environmental engineering, construction engineering, petroleum engineering etc. Most other types of engineering, and CS, can be 'offshored'. If you like to draw Architecture may not be a bad idea. But get a degree which requires *you* to be there. Don't go CS unless you intend to go to grad school. If it is a secure trade you want, engineering can give you one.
  • I'm barely over 30 years old, and I've worked in Microsoft, Cisco, Stanford, Juniper and other Major high-tech corporation as a Senior Software Engineer, and I didn't graduate from high school or even offically become matriculated to a University or take an SAT. I did audit many core CS courses at a top school (UC Berkeley) for no credit, and hence would like to think that I know a bit of CS. My opinion is that having Computer Science knowledge (not IT knowledge) is more important than the degree, but hav
  • My first degree was a BS in MicroBio/Genetic Engineering. Did some interesting work in it (including at CDC), but it was the 80's.....

    ended up coding and found that I liked it and was good. After a decade, I went back for a CS degree thinking that I had good knowledge already. I found out that having the coding and logic down allowed me to ace all the classes in CS. BTW, I learned a LOT. What I found out was how to code efficiently and how to think beyond experience. The typical [CM]IS degree is severely l
  • In the time you get a CS degree, which will be a couple of years, you'll be doing the same boring work. And besides that, there's no guarantee that the degree will get you more interesting work.

    The only thing that will get you more interesting work is another job. I was also doing lots of Java programming in a business environment. I got tired of it and applied for a job at a space/climate research organization. It was a difficult interview, but I was very frank about my abilities and I got the job. We'r
  • I am also extremely curious about which schools provide a worthwhile master's degree in computer science. I've thought about going after this from time to time, because I've had a lot of informal exposure to compiler theory, file processing, operating systems, etc over the years but have never had anything formal and don't have the official degree.

    If anyone has any real-world experiences with schools that have an online master's degree in computer science, please share your experiences. It's hard someti

  • by wikinerd (809585) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @08:32AM (#17841416) Journal

    A degree is good for everyone, no matter whether you are 30, 50, 70, or 90, and no matter whether you can actually use it for a career. The purpose of a degree is to broad your mind and make you think better and become a better human. Degrees are not designed to help you feed your stomach; this is what a job is for. While a degree that can be useful for jobs is of course better, I think you should pay attention to your mind and your education first (especially considering that you have successfully penetrated the job market), and not surrender your education to your employer's needs. Of course, if you can find a degree that is good both for your education and your career, it's better (as all win-win situations).

    In choosing a degree you have to take into account:

    • Your primary concern must be your personal interest in the degree's subject. You can't learn something if it feels boring.
    • Your second concern must be the degree's educational worth and the university's reputation. Is it a real degree from a real university? Does it involve academic theories, abstract concepts, and preferably some research component? Remember that degrees are given by universities, not companies. If you want vocational training take the certification route.
    • Your third concern must be the value of the degree in the real world: Can the degree open up new opportunities in the academic or professional job markets? Could you become a professor or an engineer with that degree?
    • Your fourth concern must be how easily you can combine the degree with your life. Is it an online programme that lets you work while studying? Is the university near your home? Does the lectures weekly programme suit you? Is it offered in a language you know? (if not you may have to learn the language first), and are you able to pay for it? (if not you might prefer to work and earn money first, then enrol to university).

    I recommend Oxford's Software Engineering [ox.ac.uk] programme and the Open University [open.ac.uk] (UK). If you decide to take the certification route I would suggest to take university certificates in addition to professional certificates (like Cisco's CCNP). For example I have found this company [online-learning.com] and O'Reilly Learning [oreillylearning.com] offer vocational training programmes with non-academic continuing education certificates issued by real universities.

  • Well, I'm a lot like you: thirtysomething, no degree. Been teaching artificial brains how to think since 1984, commercially since '86 (hey, that's over a querter of a century! ;)

    I'd say you could try joining a remote university, i.e. doing everything from home via mail. You can use the evenings to work yourself all the way up to a Ph.D. (looks nice on a card, and you'll feel good about it).
    A 'real' university, while great fun, would cost you a heck of a lot of money - even if you do it here in Germany, wher
    • Been teaching artificial brains how to think since 1984, commercially since '86 (hey, that's over a querter of a century! ;)

      So much for teaching how to think... at most you've been in the "field" for 23 years, that's less than a quarter of a century... So much for AI.
      • by whitroth (9367)
        Oh, come *on*, Abdul Alhazrad didn't reveal the TRVTH of Cthul'hu until the time of Mohammad. Some people gotta backdate *everything* to sound funnymentalist....

              mark
        • The Great, Glorious Cthulhu existed without the benefit of Alhazrad. I'm living proof. They call me insane? Someday they'll find out the hard way how sane I really am.
      • Yes, sorry, am rather tired.
        Together with the 'querter' of a century I actually meant "since '81, commercially since '84"...

        So it *is* > a querter of a cantury... ;)
  • Computer engineering is a completely different field from what you have been doing and from CS in general. It's hardware based engineering. That's the first choice you have to make, hardware or software. If I were in your situation I would go for a Software Engineering degree instead of CS. This will be much more useful for you most likely.
  • After programming for nearly 15 years, I finally got my B.Sc in CIS in '95. Several months later, I left the job I was in, and got one with a telecom. A while after I was hired, I asked my manager if the degree had any effect, and was told that it helped them get me through HR.

    In the early nineties, I and my late wife worked for Radian Corp., in Austin. After nearly nine years, she got *dumped* on a Friday afternoon, and in that Sunday's want ads, they were looking for someone to do *exactly* the same job,
  • Nobody's asked about your location, we assume you're in the U.S. I guess.

    Is programming still a good idea as a career in the U.S.? Aren't people still looking for backup careers in fields that require physical presence? Certainly, getting a feel for the future of the field matters when trying to decide about spending time and money on training therein.

  • by LauraW (662560) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @02:21PM (#17846966)

    I'm replying a bit late, but what the hell...

    I think you should go for the CS degree, but only if you're genuinely interested in some CS topics like algorithm analysis, language design, advanced data structures, distributed systems, machine learning, etc. If you like that sort of thing, then you'd probably enjoy the CS program and the kinds of jobs you could get with the degree afterward. But if you're thinking of going back for the degree just so your resume looks better, I'd recommend against it. Your years of experience as a developer should matter more than a degree for most jobs, at least at companies that you'd want to work for.

    In a past life, I was a manager at IBM for a while, and I had a very good team of engineers. About half of them had a CS background, but the other half had degrees in things like percussion and philosophy. My degree is in geophysics. And one guy on the team was still working on his associates degree. A person's degree didn't seem particularly correlated with how smart they were or how much they got done. The percussionist and philosopher ended up writing some of our trickier, more algorithmic code.

    On the other hand, here at Google where I work now we seem to have a pretty strong emphasis on degrees, especially for people without much industry experience. It makes some sense, given the huge volumes of data we work with and the interesting algorithms we have to use to do it. But still, it's possible to get into even this kind of environment without a CS degree if you have some knowledge and experience in the right areas.

  • In my experience: I entered my 4-year CS program with significantly more programming experience then my peers. My senior year was the most valuable because I picked up on good theory that I can apply to real-world jobs. As a result, I can design better databases, and I better understand how to design classes. Basically, I can write larger programs with less cruft then I would if I left halfway through my education.

    I always like to joke about how I took "Technology of Alpine Skiing" thinking it would be

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