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Should I convert to computer science?
February 7, 2013 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I have an opportunity to enter a computer science program with the fees waived, though with difficult pressures in covering my (low) cost of living during it. On the other hand, my current field has terrible employment prospects and the income difference within a few years might make up for the debt incurred to do this. Please hope me – is this a good idea?

I'm currently unemployed a month after finishing a research postgrad in a STEM-related discipline – let's say design and design history, with a strong problem-solving component and some maths but definitely not a quantitative background. During this time, I've been building a web-based public engagement project in my field, taking on freelance research and journalism (none right now), and I managed to scrape through financially. Within the field, and especially in my niche, jobs are in massive demand and offer things like a €18k salary for those with years of experience. I love my field and I love research, but I feel like there's a sunk cost fallacy on the horizon here.

There is a program available here within a respected university, offering a one-year postgraduate (diploma) conversion to computer science, and the fees are waived for STEM graduates (including mine) due to a huge labour shortage in this area. Within this course, there are several streams including software development and data analysis, both of which would appeal to me, and there's a six-month work placement in industry after the year. This seems like an intensive version of teaching myself, with industry connections and a strong tech industry here making employment very likely, and I'd have the benefit of those connections and the piece of paper.

I have regretted not going into computing since leaving a software job in my teens, and though I'm no actuary, my brain runs on problem-solving and curiosity, and I'm fine in maths and strong in logical, methodical work. Doing tentative maths on this vs a PhD in my field or scraping together enough to hang on for years until I find more established work, I wonder if the change might be the better choice.

Financially, I'm €15k in debt (at 9%), I have €1.5k to hand, and I am on unemployment assistance right now. My monthly cost of living is €500 in loan repayments, €420 in rent/bills, and a total of €600 in food/insurance/health/living. I have supported myself almost entirely through college. I may not be able to get further loans, I definitely won't get any scholarship/etc from the school, my unemployment payments will stop, and I am not sure if I would be able to borrow any money from my parents but I will ask. Freelance work is an unknown, as is the prospect of publishing a book on my project, but I will be exploring this. The programme is full-time and daytime, starts in a month, and I don't know if the work placement after is paid.

TL;DR:
- Is this program as good an idea as I think it is?
- Is it worth ending up in a horrible financial position to do this?
- How can I make this work?
- Have you done anything like this and would you recommend it?

Throwaway email: shouldiconverttocompsci@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you want to do academic work in computer science, or become a software developer? These are two different missions.

If you are interested in development and already have a portfolio piece in the form of this public engagement project web site, you may be able to spin that into an entry-level web coding job. I am assuming when you say "web project" you mean something that involved web application programming (php, python, java ee, rails, whatever) and/or some frontend javascript. If you just built flat HTML/CSS, it might be a harder sell (although with your design background, you might be able to approach things from a front-end UI/UX position).
posted by Alterscape at 7:16 AM on February 7, 2013


The program sounds amazing and great and you should sieze upon it.

I worked my way through school and I suggest that you do the same. Get a night job bartending or serving or night audit at a hotel or customer service or security guard. Whatever it will take to keep you in rent and food and service your debt for the year.

I don't love not paying debt, but this is an outstanding opportunity and it's worth it to put off paying down your debt to take advantage of it.

I'm befuddled as to why taking a night job wouldn't occur. The right night job will give you plenty of time to study. I did customer-service and it would die after about 6:00 PM. I spent 3 hours of my shift studying. It was awesome.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:17 AM on February 7, 2013


Will you be able to stop your loan repayments while you are in the program?

The program does seem like a good idea but I'm just not sure how you'd pay your living expenses at all. When would it start? Would you be able to take on a retail job or two right now to try to pay down the debt and get some savings started?
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:17 AM on February 7, 2013


You're quoting prices in Euros, so presumably you're in Europe?

You should *only* do a PhD if you intend to continue in an academic research career and have strong evidence that you personally have the talent and drive to get yourself into a tenured position eventually. It's a lot of work and a lot of time out of your lifetime to devote to something otherwise.
Woud you regret it for the rest of your life if you didn't do into academia in your chosen subject?

There's plenty of opportunity to do CS research in industry if that's what you'd like to do: I talked to some nice chaps from Fujtsu Labs in the UK only last week who were busy researching what they hope will be part of the next-gen "5G" mobile networks, amongst other things for instance. But if you want to get into the research side, you'll almost certainly need some kind of CS or STEM academic qualification.

The university in question may well offer hardship grants: certainly the UK universities I attended would have done. It can't hurt to ask!
posted by pharm at 7:22 AM on February 7, 2013


Obviously, this is going to depend on whether you can swing it financially, but it sounds like you should go for it.

You should *only* do a PhD if you intend to continue in an academic research career and have strong evidence that you personally have the talent and drive to get yourself into a tenured position eventually. It's a lot of work and a lot of time out of your lifetime to devote to something otherwise.
Woud you regret it for the rest of your life if you didn't do into academia in your chosen subject?


pharm, this sounds more like a one-year conversion course than an academic postgraduate thing.
posted by atrazine at 7:26 AM on February 7, 2013


The best thing about that CS program seems to be the strong connection to employers upon graduation. This is a tremendously valuable entry into the field. If you don't like where you're at now, and you've regretted not getting more into computing since you were a teenager, this seems like a no-brainer.
posted by smoq at 8:22 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you decide to work as a software engineer, you can reasonably expect to be making well over $100,000 per year within 5 years of graduation(75,000 euros according to google). Of course, you may have to relocate to silicon valley(good news, its easy for companies to sponsor tech visas in the states because there are multiple jobs for every programmer in the valley and pretty much everywhere there is tech, austin, london, NY, etc)

If you enjoy solving problems, and writing code, you will enjoy this field(providing you find a good job, which given the logistics mentioned above is kind of easy...as a fellow programmer you too will be shooing away recruiters in no time)

PhD CS is very hard, and I understand they write a lot of papers. I think they often also have to do all sorts of other hard things like dealing with drama, and teaching, etc. Of course, the nice thing about CS is people with PhDs can jump to industry and have their time in uni treated as work experience. You can do this with a masters in CS as well. If you love teaching, and love math and logic, then continuing on after the certificate makes sense. You have plenty of time to decide, and you can always try working at a tech company first because assuming you have a technical and challenging job, and do interesting cutting edge stuff, it will be easy to go back into academia from industry(aside from the adjusting to the culture / work differences). One pro tip, if you decide you want to get a PhD in tech, start doing research while you are getting your certificate. Also, build up strong recommendations from professors, as their connections might be very helpful when appyling for graduate admissions.

Pretty much every CS field has a branch in both academia and industry, so whichever niche you fall in love with: machine learning, compilers, cryptography, hardware design, UI, web, etc, you will be very employable(algorithms and computational theory might be academic only).

My point is you can literally do no wrong here if you truly love logic and math and technology. Get the certificate, doors will open for you and your debt will evaporate. CS IS very hard though, and if you try to get into it for the money, but lack the passion, progress will be extremely challenging. A passion for tech is kind of a prerequisite for being a programmer, this stuff is just too hard to learn if you don't care.

As to how to make this work, one thing to try is after you are accepted into the program for the certificate, you might have some time to apply for tech internships in the area. Tech internships pay extremely well, and you could start that right away

Other than possibly securing an internship, there are.no easy answer here, you will have to make sacrifices. Be brave and bold. I hate to quote Ayn Rand, I disagree with her about everything except possibly this one quote:

"The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me."
posted by jalitt at 9:05 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Computer science is mainly programming. IF you hate math you will hate programming. There are other majors and schools if you want to fix computers for a living.
posted by majortom1981 at 11:57 AM on February 7, 2013


Computer science is mainly programming. IF you hate math you will hate programming. There are other majors and schools if you want to fix computers for a living.

How many things are wrong with this statement?

Well, for starters, I'll suggest that programming has as much to do with writing as it does with what most people think of as math.
posted by Good Brain at 2:33 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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