AdviceFilter: Help me fine-tune my 2+ year plan
May 17, 2009 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Many questions, covering life goals, academics, internships/co-ops, and a big move to the Southwestern U.S. With the number of questions, there must be something for everyone to answer.

Scroll down if you want to skip straight to the questions.

Background information/Context

I am a 20-year-old college student (in Junior standing) at a university in Maryland who has recently changed major from Biological Sciences, B.S., to Information Systems, B.S., after realizing the following things:

- I never want to work in a wet lab ever again
- I have a BIO minor completed already
- I do not want to matriculate into graduate or professional school immediately after graduation, but am leaving the graduate school option open for 5+ years after reaching employment
- Like many college graduates, I want to find employment after graduation. Thankfully, my department has reported excellent job-finding, salary, and benefits statistics for IS graduates of my university, which is not a surprise considering it is well known in the area.
- I have a talent for making best use of computer technologies to fit the needs of myself and clubs that I am involved with and also bringing others up to speed with new technologies.

My goals, in order, along with a tentative timeline:

The items beneath each goal indicate my current plans to reach them. Since theoretically I should not put the cart before the horse, goals towards the top have more priority now than ones towards the bottom.

- Graduate in May 2011
Taking multiple summer and winter courses along with full time semester schedules to progress through my new major's requirements

- Find employment, locally or not(currently needs refining)
Other than applying for internships for when I have time available, I have no definite plans since I am 2 years from graduating. I do not know if it is realistic for me to juggle an internship with summer courses and full time semesters, especially considering that I am in a new major.

- Move to a location in the Southwestern United States, either before or after the above employment
Over my limited experience, I've noticed a few things: I prefer warm to hot weather during the day and cold temperatures at night for optimal sleeping patterns. I enjoy playing poker, but, although I consistently do well, have no plans to play professionally. Locations less than a three hour drive from casinos hosting poker tournaments would be preferred, so that I can occasionally drive out for entertainment without working up a gambling addiction.

Now for the questions!
Answer any questions, but don't feel forced to respond to every one, since there are many to go around. I am specifically looking for replies from those with the life experience that I do not have. Some questions may appear similar, but are targeted to different demographics, although any advice is appreciated.

For those who have ever changed major in college:
- How did you successfully handle this transition?
- What tactics did you use to adapt to a new course program?
- What problems, doubts, and concerns did you face during this time?
- From your experience, what particular advice would you give to me?

For those working in the information systems, information technology, and general computer industries:
- Besides Silicon Valley, what are the "hotspot" regions for computer-related employment? I realize that this may not be applicable considering computer use is so widespread.
- Are there certain specialties that are in more demand than others? Which ones?
- What advice do you have for a person just entering the field?

For those graduates who have found employment in areas far away from their university of choice, within less than 2 years after graduation
- What method did you use to find the job?
- How did you handle job interviews far away from your current location?
- What problems, doubts, and concerns did you encounter through the process?

And lastly, for those who have either made a big move in their life, moved to a different state, or moved to the Southwestern US:
- What factors did you consider when choosing your moving destination? How big of a role did employment play?
- What advice would you give to a person who has never made a major move before?
- What problems, doubts, and concerns did you encounter?

Thanks for reading and I commend you for letting me hold your attention for this long.

posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Besides Silicon Valley, what are the "hotspot" regions for computer-related employment?

Research Triangle Park, NC

Research Triangle Park (RTP) is the largest research park in the United States. It is located near Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. A small part of the Park stretches into Wake County, but the majority of the land is in Durham County. It is one of the most prominent high-tech research and development centers in the United States and is often compared to Silicon Valley. It was created in 1959 by state and local governments, nearby universities, and local business interests. [wiki]
posted by netbros at 2:28 PM on May 17, 2009

Military kid here, so I've moved a lot. You'll want to cut down on the amount of stuff you'll be bringing. A lot of people will tell you that before the move is a good time to get rid of things you don't need. And I'm no going to argue with that at all, it's a lot easier to set up a new place when you don't have to wade through trash/stuff you won't keep. But I would like to add that you should also consider getting rid of things you can live without for a while or are otherwise not worth taking with you. Cheap furniture is the first thing that comes to my mind. There's nothing wrong with having it but I think the hassle of taking it apart, moving it, and putting it back together is not worth the

One of the first days there go to the grocery and get some stuff that doesn't take a lot of prep time. Moving is hard work and you probably won't want to cook a lot while you're doing that. And eating out all the time gets expensive.

Finally, leave things together as much as possible. Clothes in the dresser drawers, stuff like that. There's no reason to take everything out just to pack it up and put it right back in the drawer.
posted by theichibun at 2:33 PM on May 17, 2009

No career or academic advice here, just a word about moving: remember, this is an adventure! Yes, divest yourself of everything you don't need/want/never liked anyway. Nthing the get rid of furniture. But, above everything, remember that this truly is an adventure. You are launching yourself into a new life. Useful when dealing with things lost or broken during the move, not finding everything you want in the new location, etc. Life has bumps, but you're tough and daring enough to find the great things out there. And remember to have fun!
posted by x46 at 2:45 PM on May 17, 2009

I'm just going to pick a couple of your questions. As far as "Are there certain specialties that are in more demand than others? Which ones?" it seems like there is always work for a talented, experienced Oracle DBA. Right now there are also a lot of people hiring PHP developers, it seems. It really depends on what you want to be doing and where you want to live, though. For example, if you live in LA there's a huge market for C++ programmers with hefty graphics experience...not so much if you live elsewhere.

I moved from southern to northern CA for my job. I looked during career fairs held by my school mostly, and asked professors for leads. I think if you want to be in the southwest you stand a good chance of ending up at a defense contractor since they're huge in AZ and San Diego, at least, and in the Los Angeles area. Don't know about NM or NV but I'd be surprised if NV didn't have a decent amount of defense activity as well. In that case, you're in luck because defense contractors are huge, they recruit everywhere, and they recruit for nonlocal positions everywhere. My husband recently got offered a job at Raytheon in Tucson...we are in northern CA. Just look on their career sites for what they have available in places you want to live.

As far as nonlocal interviews, this is a usual conditions, they'll fly you out for interviews no questions asked. However, in an economy like this many college recruiting groups are tightening their belts. I know our company has hired some people without ever actually bringing them to our headquarters, instead using a combination of phone interviews and flying engineers out to college campuses to do interviews (since it's cheaper to fly one guy out than a bunch of students to us). This may well end up being more convenient for you, but you may also suffer from not being local. One possibility is to plan a long "househunting" trip during spring break or something or right after graduation, and let prospective employers know you'll be in town. Hopefully by 2011 things will have brightened up a tad and you won't have to countenance this at all.

I've spent most of my life in southern CA with a brief stint in Tucson and now live in the Silicon Valley. However, I know nothing about the existence of poker tournaments so can't advise you too much. In general you'll find hot days and cool nights in any desert area, so it seems like if you can find a gig there, Nevada might be a great state for you. I'd say between now and graduation the top priority should be finding good internships at big-name companies to spiff up your resume and open doors for you.
posted by crinklebat at 3:27 PM on May 17, 2009

- What advice would you give to a person who has never made a major move before?

Be prepared to be patient in terms of feeling at home there. We moved a lot when I was a kid, and I remember the low point was usually 9 months or so after moving. The novelty had worn off, and the fact that I was never returning had sunk in, but the new solid life had not yet been established. I imagine the time frame is a bit longer for adults.
posted by salvia at 4:11 PM on May 17, 2009

I fit the last three groups you target: I graduated from university in Australia last year, interviewed for jobs in other states (Sydney) and now work at Microsoft in Seattle.

All the companies I interviewed at covered the cost of my travel for interviews, and would have given me some help in relocating. All of them tried to find out whether I was serious about being able to move, whether I might just get homesick and leave after a few months, whether I had some reason for moving to that area that made me more likely to stay. They all talked up their locations and what a great city they were in. I found these jobs through university careers fairs, posters and the university careers website.

I have been moving internationally since I was 2 years old, and had already built up an unavoidable sense of homesickness (wherever I am, somebody's not), so moving didn't scare me. I decided early on that I cared a whole lot less about where I was than what my job was like. It doesn't sound like this is quite your situation. I tried to convey in my interviews that I had spent time thinking about living in that place, that I thought it would work for me and why.
posted by jacalata at 4:20 PM on May 17, 2009

I got a degree in psych, and decided to go back and also major in Information Systems. It took an additional year and a half, but it was the best decision I ever made. I had a job lined up 5 months before I finished. I now have a career I like with endless possibilities.

Remember I.T. is a lot larger than just programming. You have people doing things such as business analysis, project management, network administration, security management, data modeling, technical writing, testing, helpdesk, etc. etc.

Your first employer is most likely going to determine what direction you head off in. If you have to ability to learn, your employer could give you marching order to go and learn SAP, Lotus Notes, ITIL, Brewer-Nash, or any number of things.

Advice? Don't get into I.T. unless you really like or love it. The CIO of Wal-Mart once said that the I.T. department will always receive a grade of B- no matter how good of a job they do. He is right. I.T. is like the electric company. No one applauds you for keeping the lights on. But if they go off, you catch mad sh*t for it. Now with that said, you may never even work for the I.T. department. You could end up as a consultant, and become a programmer who never interacts with the rest of the business.

My advice is to keep yourself a generalist right now. Learn the 'language'. Get a cursory understanding of programming languages, web development, project management, and business analysis. Then learn acronyms like: PMP, CISSP, ITIL, COBIT, CCNA, MCSE, CIO, CSO, XML, RSA, and CYA Once you know what those are about, you will know what your in for in the I.T. arena.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:53 PM on May 17, 2009

Crinklebat explicitly mentions that "it seems like there is always work for a talented, experienced Oracle DBA" but I'd say that you can generalize this statement and say that there's always work for a talented, experienced person.

Being a fresh graduate, it would help your job search tremendously if you already have some relevant skills and internships in a particular sub-field of IT that you're interested in upon graduation. Want to be a programmer? Then start writing programs, or contribute to open-source development. Want to be a network admin? Get a part-time job in your school IT department as a student trainee or something. Given your biology minor and a couple of years of advanced degree, you could probably look into getting work in bio-informatics too. The point is, ensure that you make yourself an expert in something. This will make you outsourcing-proof and competitive in the market.

Lastly, I'd second what jasondigitized say that you should get into IT only if you really like it or love it.
posted by joewandy at 8:21 PM on May 17, 2009

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