It could have been a brilliant career
June 25, 2011 4:16 PM   Subscribe

I have a bachelor's degree in computer science, and now I want to get a job. So far so good, and now for the bad part: I finished the degree over six years ago and haven't held a job since. Can I still get a job in IT?

After graduating I moved to a new city and wanted to get my master's. Things didn't work out as planned, I took some courses and passed some but spiraled into a deep depression. I dropped out, and then it was just me and my depression. I've had some treatment but I am by no means cured. I'm still down, pessimistic, passive, tired. Going back to uni and finishing my master's is something I'm not considering at the moment. I think that would end about as well as last time. I need to make a living and I think I'd be able to hold down a normal job (I've been doing some volunteering the past few months, menial work, and that went okay).

I would like to work in the field I've studied in (I do like software development), but I'm not sure how feasible it is. As I've mentioned it's been over six years since I got my degree and I have a big gaping hole in my CV after that and no compelling story to fill it with. I'm worried that my degree has become worthless. With exception of the volunteer work the last few months I have nothing to show for these past years.

Is it likely I'd be able to get a job in IT? How? And if no, what would be some alternatives?

I should mention that I have some social anxiety issues, so helpdesk and things like that wouldn't be a good idea. And I live in Europe in case it matters.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
As to alternatives, if you like software development, what about working on a couple open source projects? It would help you get back up to date in certain areas, get your name out there, give you something to talk about. Also, it might be easier for you to find contract jobs, which often lead to more.

If anyone asks about the 6 year gap, can't you just say that you were dealing with health problems? It's the truth.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:22 PM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Seconding the idea to do some work on open source projects. It'll look great on your resume, give you some up-to-date code samples to show employers, and get you thinking like a programmer again.

I think Computer Science is a field that's pretty forgiving of non-standard career paths. Nobody things it's that weird that my degree is in Agricultural Education, yet I'm working as a programmer.
posted by duien at 4:33 PM on June 25, 2011

I understand you aren't ready to pursue a degree, but what about taking one class in a language you don't know? You can get back into the groove of prgramming with some guidance, plus you might make some contacts for your job search.

Good luck!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:10 PM on June 25, 2011

Do a Startup Weekend! I was short on any explanation for the holes in my resume (taking care of sick relatives and being a bit depressed), but after doing a Startup Weekend I was able to explain that I started a company, met some awesome people, put together a business plan, and was making $X in revenue (not much). This really impressed a lot of people and I got multiple job leads. A couple months later and I'm happily employed.
posted by miyabo at 5:18 PM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I second that this is a great time to get back in the groove.

Pick your favorite open source project, and just start tinkering and fixing bugs.

Learn a new language.

Or for something that's fun, right now is an era of indie game development. You can get rolling on any number of free game engines and frameworks with minimal fuss. I like XNA. Unity is also great. Lots others.
posted by colinshark at 5:28 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthig working on an open source project. I don't have a Comp Sci degree, but I am in Software Testing and Development, and I've had my own bouts of unemployment and illness to deal with.

During my last stint of unemployment last year, I got involved with Dreamwidth. In actuality, I only fixed a couple of Documentation errors. But, it showed that I was passionate about tech in general, and my current boss was impressed with it. It's great experience, and also great to put on a resume.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:52 PM on June 25, 2011

Can you code?

n'thing miyabo's suggestion of a startup weekend/group. Start going to user group meetings, they occur in the evenings, go to a variety and try to get a sense of the kind of work in your area.

The domain of software always has amazing high tech advancements, but I coded a loop last week that was not all that different from a loop I did 6-7 years ago. I you can work out the problems and get code to run mostly correct, then you'll find a niche that can use you. The hardest part will be dealing with the job search, the work, no prob.
posted by sammyo at 7:54 PM on June 25, 2011

How are you supporting yourself now?

How can you blend in SW into that picture for about a year or two to get yourself some experience?

Honest advice:

1. As it is now, your resume wont even get past the first filter. Huge gap, no experience. This is a major problem unless you network your way into an interview.

2. Let's say you do that. If you haven't done anything much for six years, it is doubtful you can pass an interview. Interviews are not about proving root(2) irrational and other basic topics that are covered in undergraduate CS once you're not a fresh grad. You will be asked practical SW development questions and you do not have the experience to answer them.

3. You're too old and your dates don't work to get the fresh-hire-straight-from-undergrad treatment (lighter interviews, more focused on academic topics than practical reality) even if you go back and do the MS, which I agree is a bad idea.

What these add up to is this: you need to invest in skills and build a few things and you need to compromise (a lot) on what your first job or two are going to look like.,

Pick something, anything, and build it. Repeat. Do something practical that you can post on an app store or open source project. Get five or six of them. Get your groove back and get some material for your resume.

Simultaneously, get a job in SW. Any job.

I have a friend who has a somewhat different story (basically, it took him like 8 years to get through undergraduate, and he went from a university to a sort of well-known backup plan school). He has a lot of social and interaction issues. He eventually took a job as the "tech guy" with a small real estate title company and does a mix of tech support and VB development (mostly forms generation). He's been there a few years and is now moving toward a more professional, focused SW job. It can happen but it's not fast.

Two other notes.

1. Don't waste your time with gamebuilding. The burden of the graphic resources (even if you're competent to do them yourself) will derail or wreck whatever project you're trying to do. And you do not sound suited to the pressure-cooker game industry in any case.

2. Engineering (sw) is a fantastic career if you can get into it. But it isn't for everyone.
posted by rr at 12:31 PM on June 26, 2011

The advice to get involved in open source is always reasonable, I have even given it myself. However, as someone that is finally seriously involved in an open source effort, you should prepare yourself for the fact that it is not actually all that easy to get involved in an open source project even when the project is run by very nice and reasonable people. Most people doing OS are doing it because they actually use the product in question, and have specific bugs/features that they must see fixed. If you aren't actually writing code right now, the odds that you have an open source library that you use and love but could really contribute something to are kind of low. You could get on github and create something yourself, which is not a bad idea for showing people you know how to write code, but it is a bit removed from actually working on an existing OS project. So don't beat yourself up if you look into doing OS and realize that the barrier to entry there is really much higher than you anticipated.

I do like the suggestion to do a startup weekend. Or a hackathon. Or at least joining some user groups for various technologies that you find interesting and get networking. It sounds like given your background throwing yourself fully into something with other people for a few hours/days would be more productive than the lonely, self-driven slog that OS can be.
posted by ch1x0r at 2:57 PM on June 26, 2011

Did you do any kind of work at all for the 6 years in question? Any kind of professional experience would look good on your resume.

Absent any experience, you will be at a disadvantage compared to recent graduates, so you might need to take a crappy job for a few years. But after that first job experience is on your resume you shouldn't be at a disadvantage any more.
posted by twblalock at 3:05 PM on June 26, 2011

The big myth is that IT changes every day and that skills you learn a few years ago (even yesterday) are USELESS today- lies. You can transfer/transform skills, and there needs to be someone who knows how to maintain the old infrastructure. You know all those jokes about Cobol programmers? Apparently they are very useful and sought after in some industries.

hmm. Six years ago I was starting my CS degree. I'll run you over what we've done, briefly, perhaps it will show you that a) the stuff you learned isn't that much different, or b) there are a few new things to pick up (and these are them). Hope this helps!

So- we did programming. In Java. This was THE BIG THING when I was starting. Object Oriented (OO) stuff is big. We have been expected to pick up languages as we go along, including perl, C, php, python, lisp. (some of those for elective classes- the python was a core subject though). Programming isn't the be-all and end all of the degree though- we spent a lot of time looking at systems as a whole and the design of said systems, also a unit on project management was required. We also looked at Algorithms, and Turing Machines. We also briefly looked at User Interfaces and databases.

Something that seems "new" is the extreme programming paradigm.

This is my degree*- you can check out the subject outlines online if that helps.
(I'm sure other universities in your region might be more useful.)

In the six years I've been at uni they have rejigged things a bit (which makes it interesting when finishing off your degree- "what do you mean you aren't running this subject any more?")

There is a concern that students are taught programming but are really incompetent in programming when given no clues or templates. Group work (ugh) is also emphasised more.

(mefi isn't into self linking, but if you check out my blog on my profile- I used it to get a "blogging bonus" for subject fit2002, systems analysis and design, so if you look for the category fit2002 it might fill you in.)

*actually I did a double so it's slightly different, but that is the straight CS version - the other relevant degree was "Software Engineering" which was slightly different.
posted by titanium_geek at 3:24 PM on June 26, 2011

Six years ago I was starting my CS degree. I'll run you over what we've done, briefly, perhaps it will show you that a) the stuff you learned isn't that much different, or b) there are a few new things to pick up (and these are them).

The problem isn't that things have changed (OO wasn't even new 20 years ago, though some time since 1980 people have learned not to be as dumb about deep inheritance), it's that you don't learn much in the way of practical execution in University CS and the programming skills rapidly deteriorate for most people. Outside of the google-inspired interview space, no one cares that you remember the details of the asymptotic behavioral differences between a skew heap and a fibonacci heap; they care that you have the common sense not to write either or that you can hit the white book or citeseer and, having read the algorithm, implement it in an effective (maintainable, debuggable, ...) way. (And DS code is the rarest of code people actually implement in the real world -- welcome to 24x7 UI, glue and misc. code).

seconding the comments about getting involved in OS -- without necessity (new features, etc.) or context (how things are used, really) it is more likely than not going to be a waste of time.

Thinking about this a bit more, I'd actually suggest trying for a low level QA gig. If Cisco was hiring (they aren't, being in the middle of an upheaval) they'd be a nice choice to start because I've known more than a few people who made the QA->dev transition there (eventually).

Be flexible about where you live and who you work for.

Group work (ugh) is also emphasised more.

The real world is 100% group work, and usually groups of groups, in the sense of "multiple teams consisting of managers and individuals with greatly varying levels of responsibility, work ethic, skill, communications and personal hygene working together." At least in universities team projects are teams of individuals. Be happy.
posted by rr at 4:14 PM on June 26, 2011

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