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Ask Slashdot: Finding an IT Job Without a Computer-Oriented Undergraduate Degree 504

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-worth-the-paper-it-was-printed-on dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Contrary to what many individuals think, not everybody on Slashdot went to college for a computer-related degree. Graduating in May of this year, my undergraduate degree will be in psychology. Like many undergraduate psychology students, I applied to a multitude of graduate programs but, unfortunately, was not given admission into a single one. Many are aware that a bachelor's degree in psychology is quite limiting, so I undoubtedly have been forced into a complicated situation. Despite my degree being in psychology, I have an immense interest in computers and the typical 'hard science' fields. How can one with a degree that is not related to computers acquire a job that is centered around computers? At the moment, I am self-taught and can easily keep up in a conversation of computer science majors. I also do a decent amount of programming in C, Perl, and Python and have contributed to small open source projects. Would Slashdot users recommend receiving a formal computer science education (only about two years, since the nonsensical general education requirements are already completed) before attempting to get such a job? Anybody else in a similar situation?"
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Ask Slashdot: Finding an IT Job Without a Computer-Oriented Undergraduate Degree?

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  • "Many"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eugene ts wong (231154) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @11:54AM (#39395701) Homepage Journal

    Contrary to what many individuals think, not everybody on Slashdot went to college for a computer-related degree.

    Really?? How many of us really thought that everybody here had a computer degree? I thought that there was a huge diversity of us. I thought that everybody else did too.

    Out of millions of readers, did even 10 think that we all had computer degrees?

  • I would (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lightknight (213164) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @11:58AM (#39395751) Homepage

    I would go for the degree, to be honest. The economy being what it is, I have some doubts that potential employers are willing to entertain the idea of a non-IT major in an IT major slot. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying you are not capable of doing IT, nor that you are not good at it (some of the best programmers do not have an IT-related degree), only that the current bias is one of fear / a safety strategy when it comes to employers.

    One thing in particular, I will note, is your lack of experience with C++ / Java. While it's not required, I do recommend becoming comfortable with those languages. Throw in C# if you want to do MS work (always a money-maker), some web languages (just HTML / Javascript / etc., almost a requirement these days), and perhaps study some Windows / Linux / Unix administration books. If you go the O'Reilly route, it should cost you about $500 to get all the books you'll want (O'Reilly being the standard; if you don't have a zoo, you need one).

  • by daemonenwind (178848) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:05PM (#39395821)

    I've spent the last 15 years in IT performing various tasks, from programming to server admin.

    You can do what you're looking to do. Here's the problem: Someone, somewhere, has to be the first to take a risk and hire you to do this.
    Once you have experience, you're on your way, because IT is still an area where experience and excellence speak louder than degrees or certifications. (although that is starting to change)

    The problem is, with the influx of people from around the world, offshoring, and new grads with legitimate degrees every year, who would take you? If you can find that person, great - you're "in". So the key is to network, get yourself in front of people, and highlight your development experience. I guarantee your resume won't get past the HR Drone filter looking for a specific degree. So you need to pound pavement and press flesh. It's what I did for my first 2 jobs; after that it was easier. It will also make your subsequent career easier to navigate.

    If that sounds like a bit more than your interpersonal skills and contact network can handle, stretch your graduation day a couple of years out and take the classes you need to get the degree. It will make the task much easier.

  • Re:Games (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lightknight (213164) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:06PM (#39395827) Homepage

    Because game programming is hell on earth. To people who are not IT, it sounds awesome (design your own game! could it be cooler?). But to those inside, it's working the coal mines.

  • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:08PM (#39395847)

    Why is IT always considered the dumping grounds of careers? This is why the field is so messed-up; there is no regulation.

    In your example alone you mention how anyone with a high level psychology degree is protected even from B.Sc graduates. It would be unheard of for someone outside the psychology field with no credentials to just come in and start lowering the bar; on quality of work, overtime, general working conditions and wages. Yet this happens ALL THE TIME in IT.

    I see plenty of people with no proper background make simple mistakes they shouldn't. Or worse, argue about something that is completely wrong.

    Why can't I start practicing medicine, prescribing drugs, charging for advice on the law, auditing financials, etc, etc. I promise to self-study really hard. I'm not saying someone can't learn these things on their own. But then how do you distinguish someone who has the fundamentals and someone who doesn't: that's what credentials are for. This is the way it is in EVERY OTHER PROFESSION. Until people stop treating IT like a dumping ground and inject some regulation and standards it will always be looked down upon.

  • by kamelkev (114875) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:09PM (#39395863)

    My bet here is that some Slashdot posters are going to enter this conversation and tell you that you don't need a CS degree to be successful. That you might even be able to get away with taking a few formal classes, working on some more open source projects, and to keep trying. That you can somehow salvage your situation and make something of yourself in this field.

    I believe this to be true, but only in an outlier sense... statistically your current situation does not put you in a favorable light to be hired. There are surely people who got into computer science through unconventional methods - but there is always a common driving force behind their efforts. They don't end up being successful with computers by accident, they have a long history of psuedo-study that has given them the ability to be competitive in the space.

    To put it bluntly, why should I hire you? You've got a soft-science degree which frankly many people don't respect. People with Masters and PhDs are working in bookstores right now - and you have a basic Psychology degree. This shows a lack of planning on your part that I would hold against you on an interview... and to be clear: I do a lot of interviews. You would never make it to me as our filtering process would eliminate you along with the bus drivers who are also applying for jobs with us (that actually happens, pretty amazing).

    The economy of the situation is clear. There is a huge swath of unemployed people right now with more skills than you, with more experience than you, with better training and a more appropriate degree (lots of EEs are unemployed for example). So it's going to be really tough for you to sort of slip through the cracks and get a job. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? No.

    If you are truly interested in getting into the field, you should consider that at no other time has it been easier to be an independent developer. Work for yourself, make your own projects. Make some games for the apple app store (forget android, so hard to make money there) or something, and get cracking.

  • by Dr. Sp0ng (24354) <mspong@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:11PM (#39395883) Homepage

    I'm in exactly the same situation, with no regrets. Interviews were a little tough early on, but once you have it, experience trumps education. My lack of a degree hasn't been an issue in a long time.

    And the great thing about this industry is that you can get the experience and prove yourself without anybody else's permission. Contribute to open source, release a smartphone app, etc. It's in your hands: just do it.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:18PM (#39395927)

    They don't set in a class room for 4+ years before getting a job and they have apprenticeships that tech real job skills.
    They also have on going education that is not just go to class for 2 years to get a masters or BA or PHD.

  • by NFN_NLN (633283) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:22PM (#39395965)

    both of my roommates (econ and psych) got programming jobs within the last month because they just spent all day every day for six months after they graduated learning as much javascript as they could.

    So this is how shitty developers are created? What's that, you're searching through an array instead of using a hash... Or pulling an entire table in SQL instead of optimizing the query. But it works right, who cares?

  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houstonbofh (602064) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:32PM (#39396051)
    I see a reason why not... It does not matter that much. When I am hiring, I am looking for experience and skills more than degree. Get some entry level support jobs to train up, or a summer IT internship. And once you have some experience, that Psychology degree will help a lot. I have 25 years in the IT industry, and a Social Science degree. I have no formal cirts either, but I helped develop a few...
  • by dmomo (256005) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:37PM (#39396093) Homepage

    Contrary to what many individuals think, not everybody with a Masters in Computer Science got their bachelors in the same field. Why don't you go for a Graduate degree in CS? You'll have to take a lot of catch up courses to meet certain prerequisites. You claim to be interested in "hard science". CS is much more than learning Technology. I know many people who learned to program without school. Far fewer go further to study Computational Theory, algorithms, and data structures on their own. So, go ahead. Apply for grad school as a CS student.

  • by lightknight (213164) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:41PM (#39396129) Homepage


    IT is a meritocracy. As such, the only true test is one of actual performance, which cannot be granted with a degree, certification, or other form of writ. And it's not the dumping ground of careers, it's just one that doesn't require a hideous amount of investment (money) to get started in, though it does require a lot of time and patience. What more, the major contributors to the field are people with Bachelor degrees, not PhDs. As such, you can see the effects of your work earlier, and self-modify easier.

    Many of the other fields are regulated, with high barriers to entry, and that hasn't necessarily improved the quality of service. It has only limited the field to those with enough resources to play in it.

    What more, understanding technology is a science, creating technology is an art.

    And IT is only looked down upon by the people who are unaware how much they owe their lives to its existence. Were it not for computers, nay electronics in general, we'd still be living in the Dark Ages. As such, looking down on IT is akin to looking down on the Earth; it's below you because it's supporting you, not because you're superior to it (when has the air ever supported your weight?). Remove that support, and your life as you know it is over (without IT, society would fall apart in weeks; without the Earth, you'd drift into space).

    As such, let the business people, many of whom are high on their belief in their superiority to the trolls / dwarves / elves who perform IT, continue to f*ck up with their games on the Market and their chronic attempts at outsourcing critical functions. I point to their handiwork at some of the larger companies, such as HP, where they considered spinning off their computer business. Their mismanagement of their respective companies is quickly becoming legendary, and soon they will fall. No one will want to hire a business major, for fear they will drive the business into the ground.

  • Re:WTF (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:42PM (#39396137)

    That was my degree (cognitive psychology) and I got a job programming. It's what you know and how you can contribute that matters - not who "blessed" you with the acknowledgement of your achievement. I've had no problem with transitioning to technology (then architecture, then management). Like anything, find a craft you love and pursue it. I'll always hire a motivated, intelligent person over someone who holds a certification or degree, but lacks passion.

    Personally, I don't think people should expect much out of recent college grads - most places I've worked recognize you'll have to basically start from scratch with most (which is fine) since so much of what you'll be doing is related to domain knowledge.

    Your biggest challenge will be getting through the HR "acronym" machine. Network. Get out there and get involved. Volunteer. Blog. Learn stuff. You're already doing the right thing(s) - just stop acting like your degree is some sort of disability. It's a job asset.

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jhoegl (638955) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:49PM (#39396181)
    Agreed, but also bring to the table your open source contributions. Bring the code in with you on interviews, so if they ask you can show them.

    Unfortunately your biggest hurdle is the people in HR who do not have a clue about these things. They will only look at the minimum requirements put forth by the hiring IT manager and weed out those that do not qualify. So more than likely you will be looking at a small company that has a small HR section that just forwards all responses to the hiring IT manager.
    But, once you have established that experience (maybe 2-5 years), you will get past that roadblock easily.
  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 3p1ph4ny (835701) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:57PM (#39396251) Homepage

    But don't waste your time getting another bachelor's degree - go straight to graduate school. My alma mater (UW-Madison, consistently ranked in the top 15 CS grad schools) had lots of people without CS/CE/EE undergrad degrees, and I suspect other good departments are the same. As long as you can code and show you have academic potential (e.g. a peer reviewed paper, even if it's in an unrelated field), you'll be fine.

    Another bachelors degree will mostly be a waste of time, given that you already know the stuff. All you'll be doing is checking a box which you arguably don't need checked anyway. The people in your classes will be unmotivated to work harder than to get whatever grade they want, and in some cases clueless. Contrast this with graduate school, where I learned more from my peers than the courses themselves (as a bonus, these people are actually weird and interesting and have extremely diverse backgrounds).

  • by houstonbofh (602064) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @01:21PM (#39396463)
    I have to agree with your comment, but only for your company. The OP will not be able to get a job at a company with a formal HR department. But I would say only 1/4th of my jobs had formal HR departments... And of the people I hired, the degree was one of the last things I checked.
  • by wdhowellsr (530924) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @01:31PM (#39396521)
    True story. My previous contract was with LPS - Aptitude Solutions in Maitland. One of the top developers there was a long haul trucker who after getting injured on the job was offered cross training. They gave him an IQ test and he scored in the 140s but they forced him to take it again because he was 6'4" 300 lbs and looked like he could snap your neck with one hand like a twig.

    After realizing that he wasn't stupid they put him in a six month C class. Not C++, not C#, not objective C but plain old pain in the ass C. By the third month he was conducting the class when the teacher was out sick or otherwise.

    So what the hell does this mean?

    1) College will never teach you how to program in the real world, not now, not ever.
    2) If you get a CS degree but can't program you may find work but it will never pay a high salary until you moved into PM.
    3) The demand for natural programmers completely outweighs the need for a degree.

    So what do you do?

    This part is actually simpler than I thought when I started writing this post.

    1) Whether you are a Freshman in High School or someone who has just graduated with a non-CS degree, your best bet is to endure the joy, the pain, the good, the evil that is C. Buy any book on it, download free compilers from anywhere and program, program, program. If you can successfully program seriously basic applications such as a Calculator or a Text Editor without putting a bullet in your head, you may very well be a natural programmer.
    2) Pick your poison. I committed to C# in 2005 and have never looked back. Short term contracts for me have been the most lucrative and most reliable and generally speaking pay in the range of $45.00 to $75.00 per hour and usually last three to six months. The longest I went between contracts in the past three years has been about three weeks. I will defer to the Java, C++ developers on slashdot but believe that if you are highly skilled you will be successful in those languages as well.
  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ohnocitizen (1951674) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @01:53PM (#39396693)
    Agreed. I didn't major in Computer Science myself (a mix of pyschology, philosophy and other subjects made up my degree). I was able to get my first job by trading on work I'd done in the FOSS community. Rather than going for another degree of any sort - go for experience and build a portfolio. A lot of programming jobs these days ask to see code you've written. If you have a slick portfolio page, a well written project on github, or have submitted patches to a FOSS project related to the job you want - you are giving yourself an edge over someone with a seemingly more relevant degree. Also, don't be afraid to sell the value of having a non-related degree. With an unusual background you will bring novel problem-solving tools to the table.
  • by flatulus (260854) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @01:56PM (#39396717)

    This post sums it up.

    A degree is reputation. It tells someone who doesn't know you from Jack that you accomplished something, and that what you accomplished is being acknowledged by someone (entity) that you *do* know.

    Obviously, having a degree is always preferable to not having a degree, all other things equal. But it is just the first rung in the reputation ladder. Once you have been hired and work a while, you must demonstrate that you can produce, and do so with quality and in a timely fashion, and your peers/superiors will be happy to spread the good news. Even better, they will invite you to join them at other companies after they move on. After a while, who remembers whether or not you had a degree?

    Spoken by someone who has been professionally developing software (communications/networking/real-time/OS) for nearly 40 years - with no degree.

    Oh, and how do you get that first job without a degree? Beg! (it worked for me )

  • by techhead79 (1517299) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @04:51PM (#39397803)
    I'd like to add another example to this. I'm also working in the industry as a programmer analyst. It is VERY difficult to get your foot in the door and very difficult to convince upper management that you don't actually need a degree to do your job even better than those Senior programmers above you. Depending on the company you work for you can expect a lot of hard work ahead to even get noticed. But it does and will happen. In my personal opinion I know that someone without a degree worked far harder to get what they have than someone with a degree. That seams almost backwards when you think about it...but the truth is college doesn't prepare you for the real world and many CS grads find out they don't have what it takes to do what they want...some even find out they don't really like it. Someone without a degree but still the same job title as someone with one proves they are there because they enjoy what they are general anyway.

    I personally had to do a lot of work for no pay to get pointers on my resume. Then when I finally had a job I was stuck in the Helpdesk. I seized every opportunity that came my way to show I knew how to code and code well. I used that to get a real programming job at the same company receiving high marks from just about everyone. It's a long struggle and I'm still not where I want to be but I'll get there eventually.

    As far as comments on going into management are...that's the last thing I'd ever want. It takes me away from doing what I actually enjoy doing. And honestly there are a ton of non management positions where you have to train and direct other programmers what to do and how to do a year on the job that's the position I'm in...telling people two pay grades above me how to code something.

    But you will continually run into people you have to prove yourself to. They'll hear you have no degree and immediately they will discredit everything you say and do. Programming is truly one of the few fields out there where all you need to gain experience is an Internet connection and a computer...the rest is up to can't really say that for a lawyer or a doctor. This is one of the major reasons I'm against forcing a standard certification for programming. The problem with the few bad coders isn't that they are missing a degree or a certification...the problem is the industry doesn't properly deal with them in a timely manor. Instead they are allowed to stay on because honestly most managers don't even understand who is a good programmer or who is a bad programmer. All they know is what got done and when...who actually did the work though usually gets somewhat cloudy in most situations.

    It's very difficult to get into the field without a degree. You have to prove you know how to code...and then you have to know someone that knows you know how to code..that's what gets your foot in the door in most places and even then it's an uphill battle. So please only do it if you really truly love to code and are great at it...otherwise you'll give the rest of the no degree folks out there a bad
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @06:07PM (#39398283)

    And, I say that as an IT guy who's been in the field for 12 years without one. Why do I say that? Three basic reasons:

    • * Getting your resume to the top of the stack. A great way to get your application buried is to show some HR button-pusher a glaring "Not Qualified" stamp. You can't quantify how smart you are, how good your code is, or what projects you've already worked on when a non-techie has such an obvious flag for dumping you into the "maybe" pile.
    • * Nothing compares to a formal education. I've just recently returned to school to complete my degree. While I got a very good education in the workplace, I also got a very targeted education that never covered much of the formal concepts. So, my ability to communicate with other professionals had always been compromised. Secondly, getting a degree forces you to get a basic comprehension of all aspects of IT and not just what you need on the job. Thirdly, you're going to find that your technology toolkit will add lots of nifty little items.

      Finally, if you really are that good at IT, you're going to find yourself in classes with people who aren't IT-saavy and who're basically looking for a high-paying job. You have a great opportunity to excel in school which will make you even more appealing as a new hire.

    • * Job security. By job security in include getting rehired as well has staying hired. Let's face it, we can debate about the relevance of a degree all we want, but the fact is that a degree in general is looked upon as a badge of competency. If you're wearing it and the guy next to you isn't, that will give at least a superficial edge (which often is all you need the corporate world).
  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by javascriptjunkie (2591449) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @06:09PM (#39398297)

    I don't even use the degree when considering someone for a role at my company anymore. There's no difference between schooled/unschooled candidates that have been doing this for awhile, and a huge difference in the ones out of school. If you're fresh out of school with an Information Technology degree, it's going to scare me a little. Some of these fresh grads know less after four years of school than the guy who spent six weeks in his basement obsessing about a new programming language. A lot of them don't have the skill or the experience, and they all feel like they should be able to command top salaries while they "learn the ropes." There's a difference between learning the ropes, and building a skill set which they should have been able to develop in school.

    Also, I wish people would stop using the terms "self taught" as though you could magically just know something. There's no such thing.

  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 19, 2012 @05:25AM (#39401169) Journal

    He is probably scared of the "book smart" which I used to run into quite often when i worked corporate IT. They'd send us this guy with tons of paper and if you gave him some written test on a subject he'd just slaughter. the problem was if he was thrown ANY kind of curveball, anything that wasn't going from step A to step B, they'd be worse than useless. This would be because they were "book smart" and were able to absorb facts like a sponge but they never really had a grasp on how those facts actually applied to the situation.

    One of the old server guys gave me this analogy which I thought really nailed it: "Its like you are given this parrot that has been taught how to speak the alphabet in perfect English, his inflection, tone of voice, everything is so damned perfect...until you ask him "Hey bird what letter comes after Q?" and then you find out its just a parrot and it doesn't actually understand what the fuck you are talking about" and that was the book smart ones in a nutshell, they knew everything from rote memorization but really didn't have a clue how to do anything else and when taken out of that comfort zone were just completely clueless.

UNIX was not designed to stop you from doing stupid things, because that would also stop you from doing clever things. -- Doug Gwyn