What color is my parachute?
January 5, 2012 6:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm beginning to figure out what I enjoy doing (coding-type stuff), but don't have a real background in it. What career paths should I be considering?

(not a special snowflake - I know there are many similar Ask MeFi threads, but I'd appreciate additional input)

Some history - I was an engineering major in undergrad, realized early on that I didn't really enjoy the subject, and basically dragged myself through my courses due to a massive case of the sunk cost fallacy.

I am currently employed as an business consultant at a large consulting firm. In this capacity, I get the most day-to-day enjoyment from mucking around with Excel spreadsheets and writing VBA macros. I should note that I've only been in this job for a couple of months now (first job out of college) and I'm not dying to leave or anything - it's just that this is the first time I've really attempted to put serious thought into my interests and/or career path. Many of my peers are interested in going the MBA route, which I have also been weighing.

Other things I have really enjoyed in the past:
- Learning to use Photoshop/Illustrator/etc.
- Learning to use CAD software, scripting (for generative design type architecture stuff)

I think that in general, I enjoy the attention to detail and task-oriented feeling of "creating something" that you get from programming, photo editing, 3D modeling, etc.
I also love the magical feeling when you debug something and it suddenly works.

One of my biggest regrets from undergrad is not going beyond an introductory programming course, so my background is extremely light. I know the basics (i.e. what object oriented programming is), but nothing really about data structures and algorithms.

So I guess this quesiton is really a two-parter:
1) How do I get some real experience programming, to see if it's something I'm actually interested in? I'm decent at self-teaching and learning through experience, but don't know how to make the jump from "knowing some programming" to getting deeper-level experience or working on real projects.

2) What potential career paths might I find enjoyable, and how feasible are they?

posted by hot soup to Work & Money (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm teaching myself Python right now. I'm using this as a jumping-off point.

Depending on where you live there may be some sort of hacker meetups or networking events for the language(s) you're interested in.

You could learn programming and contribute to open source projects.

You could join a startup as a non-technical employee and make friends with the tech people and soak up their knowledge.


There are lots of options here, and it's a pretty good idea to become more knowledgeable about programming, even if you don't want to do it professionally.
posted by dfriedman at 6:43 PM on January 5, 2012

To me, all of this cries out for you making your own portfolio/blog. You'll accomplish at least two, and maybe three, goals as a result:
  • Learning more code and languages (HTML5/CSS/JavaScript/JQuery/PHP/Perl/MySQL... or just going straight to WordPress or other CMS if you're in a hurry)...
  • ...while presenting your work to a wider audience, and gaining critical feedback...
  • ...at the same time, learning more about what you like to do, along with the associated pitfalls and mistakes (the latter often being the best (albeit potentially most frustrating) learning experiences you can have)...
  • ...and maybe getting full-time work from the resulting attention.
That's certainly been my experience in the case of my own blog: from a simple goal of putting web development course material online for my students, the site itself (about to go through its third design refresh) has been a great learning experience, and has gained enough attention for me to start receiving offers for conference lectures.

As for career paths: I think perhaps new media production might be your thing, which is a great and open field, and one that is constantly evolving. If you're interested in more the business side of things, you might want to take your learning in the direction of site metrics and effectiveness, user engagement, modern marketing, and related topics.

I hope this helps!
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:21 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

2) What potential career paths might I find enjoyable, and how feasible are they?

Hm, perhaps business analyst would be a good fit? Your business consulting experience and touch of programming would help you out, and you get to code and debug things and muck about in Excel. Learning SQL would be a good place to start; MS SQL Server Management Studio Express is free and good if you want something to learn on.
posted by kprincehouse at 8:49 PM on January 5, 2012

Hm, perhaps business analyst would be a good fit?
Yeah, Business Analyst or Business Intelligence are good choices. Pick up some SQL and buttress your stats knowledge, and you will go far.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:42 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to get some more academic rigor, I HIGHLY suggest the CS61 series from Berkeley on iTunes U. 61A is functional programming in Scheme, but goes beyond the average intro course. 61B is data structures and algorithms, and 61C is machine architecture. You could probably fly through the 'quiz' part of a programming interview if you master those 3 courses.
posted by scose at 9:50 PM on January 5, 2012

Work your way through Learn Python the Hard Way and see if you enjoy the process.
posted by dgeiser13 at 7:23 AM on January 6, 2012

I had what I thought was a ton of experience on a personal level when I took my first development job. I'd produced hundreds of gadgets and toys and bobbles (almost all of which are lost on floppy disks or sitting on slowly-demagnetizing failed hard drives at this point). Text editors, dippy little particle simulators, LOTS of screen savers, games, ripoffs of things I found on those "5 billion free shareware programs!" CDs. A great deal of time well-sunk, in my opinion (then and now).

Went to college, had training in CS. Got into web development in its toddler-hood. Wrote CGI scripts and made websites for friends. A couple of businesses. Put up flyers around campus and got some work that way. All of that made me feel like I was ready for a fantastic development career as a star. I thought I was set.

Turns out I wasn't as great as I thought.

By the end of the first week as a Developer with a capital D, I was scared to death. People were asking me for things I had no clue how to do. I was glad I had the Internet to help. I think I learned in six months there perhaps even more than I had in my years of dabbling, feverishly tacking together chewing-gum-and-shoestring "solutions" that miraculously managed to run. But eventually, I got better. And faster. And more confident. I realized that the best way to learn, for me, was to be required to deliver something. I'm incredibly lucky that I had colleagues who had been through the same thing, and the web community who had, as well.

That may not be the best method for everybody, but for me, putting my work in the open and making it available for scrutiny—not to mention having it be critical to someone else—made all the difference in my ability to learn and perform as a developer.
posted by xax at 8:59 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

*baubles* Doh.
posted by xax at 9:02 AM on January 6, 2012

I think computer-assisted reporting would be great for you! You could get involved in some local projects or create your own.

And that is one area of journalism that has job openings.
posted by jgirl at 9:12 AM on January 6, 2012

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