computer careers for the un(der) educated?
November 7, 2011 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Thinking about the future. What certifications, courses, qualifications, etc. should I be looking at?

I currently have a job which I love and have no intention of leaving. But, things happen so I figure I should start thinking ahead for once in my life. (Booo!)

I like computers, figuring out what makes them tick and getting them to do what I want them to do. I have very little formal computer science education but I've been fiddling with computers and programming, starting with Basic on our Commodore 64, since I was a kid. I got my first exposure to linux in university and have been using it on my own computers exclusively for nearly a decade now (debian testing in case anyone cares.)

I'm not a guru by any stretch of the imagination but I'm entirely comfortable on the command line. I actually enjoy digging through man pages looking for obscure options on the off chance that I might, one day, need to know about them. And because I have a strange definition of "fun." I'm also amassing a fairly substantial set of custom shell scripts which I've written for all sorts of things.

I've used a few programming languages over the years though not a ton. C++, python, a little perl. I also know some html, javascript and css though my knowledge is a little out of date. I'm a ridiculously fast learner so learning new languages, if necessary, doesn't really bother me. I have, I think, a decent (though not extensive) knowledge of object oriented programming, procedural programming, design patterns, etc. Of course, I could always learn more. Mainly I program in python (because I don't like waiting for compilers...) but nothing too complex, 'cause it's just a hobby. I've messed around with genetic algorithms, neural networks, and GUI applications for managing some of my other hobbies (I have a few.) I fiddle, is what I'm trying to get at here.

Anyway, blah blah blah, the actual question: Suppose I wanted to pursue some sort of career involving some, or all, of these things, without having to go back to university for four years. What might that career be and what qualifications should I start looking into to do so?

I realize the question is a bit vague but, as I mentioned, I'm currently employed and not actually looking for a new job, just possibilities for the scary, unknown future. Thanks in advance.

Oh! And I'm in Montreal if it matters.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you wanted a career as a programmer, then you could start building a portfolio of programming projects you have worked on in lieu of a degree. Important to include a significant contribution to someone else's code, as well as things you've worked on totally alone.

Is sysadmin type work something you'd be interested in? I am not one, but it seems to involve a lot of the kind of fiddling around with a million options of things and writing scripts to manage it all for you that you mention. There are certification programs for this (eg; IBM Linux program but I think a lot of people don't have formal qualifications in the area, they just move up from junior IT guy.
posted by jacalata at 3:36 PM on November 7, 2011

Software companies don't want to hire people with certifications, they want to hire people with programming skills.

Can you implement a binary search tree? A hashtable? Can you build an efficient multi-threaded application that doesn't have problems with starvation or deadlock? Do you know why an algorithm that runs in logarithmic time is better than one that runs in linear time? If you wanted to write a a webserver that handled a large number of simultaneous connections ,how would you handle receiving on all of them simultaneously?

These are the sorts of things that software companies will want to ask you. They won't really care what certificates you have, because those certificates don't actually imply that you know any of these things.

They will care about your experience, and so you'll have to be able to demonstrate something on a resume if you want to get interviews, but really there are only a few types of certificates they care about, and they're all of the form /(Ph\.D\.|((bachelor)|(master)'s)) in Computer Science/ or very similar to that. Otherwise, you'll have to show them that you've built things that actually work.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:45 PM on November 7, 2011

I'm no expert, but I know my workplace won't consider candidates for any position who don't have some kind of formal CS degree, even for low-level positions. They don't give any weight to certifications at all.

On the other hand, they do hire people with little experience who have an MS in CS. And there are programs that are relatively cheap and fast that avoid hardcore math. Of course it's expensive, and you have to apply for admission, but it's something you could get done in 2 years while working full time.
posted by miyabo at 6:04 PM on November 7, 2011

We don't give any interest in certs either. A CS degree, or if we're hurting someone from a technical college, will always win out over those without out rank someone without schooling. Work experience and a diversity of languages and skills (scripting, configuration management, continuous integration, etc.) all stand out. Open source work helps, or being an active contributor to Stack Overflow and the likes. Go to school, age doesn't matter, you'll be laughing 5-10 years from now.
posted by furtive at 8:32 PM on November 7, 2011

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