Help me find the right tech career for me.
December 15, 2020 3:31 AM   Subscribe

I have recently started a master’s program in Computer Science. I love it and I know I want to work in IT, but I’m trying to figure out which field exactly. Help me, please?

Things that are important to me:
- A strong math component. I have a bachelor in math, so I’d love to be able to use that. The more math, the better..
- Design: I enjoy art, books, nature, I like things to be organized, color coordinated, I like making plans, visualizing things.
- Autonomy, flexibility, and time freedom are important to me too. I’d rather work alone. And I’m not interested in managing people (that's what I currently do).

All I can think of is data science? Am I right in thinking that I might enjoy that? Is there anything else I’m not thinking of? Artificial intelligence? Which types of industries could I work in, i.e. healthcare, space agency, forest industry? (I’d love to work in a field that I consider meaningful.)

Sorry if all of this sounds like I’m confused. I am. I’m starting out new and don’t yet have a clear idea of the different careers this field entails. I'm hoping to get some more insights into this, so I'd love to hear from different people in the field or any and all ideas you come up with. Thank you.
posted by allnew to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One idea I love about CS that I learned from Metafilter is that it lets you sneak into just about any field. My last app developer gig was working on zoological apps, even though I'm an English major.
posted by johngoren at 4:40 AM on December 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Something to consider about data science is where your ethics lie. I love doing data visualization and I was around the edges of the big data vis flowering in SF around 2010 and I could probably have stuck around and gotten a very good data vis position — many of my friends from then did that — but most data work is in ads and surveilling people and in the end I could not sign up to do that. AI/ML is the same. I have fairly strict personal ethics around this. You may not. But it's worth keeping in mind.

If you like math and visuals, graphics programming might be interesting to you. For work you believe in, tech for climate change jobs and tech for government jobs are definitely choices people are into these days.

One other thing to note though — you are going to have to work with people. For me engineering can be conducive to the type of collaboration I prefer, where we talk and then go back to our caves to work, but there are companies where you are expected to pair all the time. Likewise some companies will have well-defined individual contributor progress tracks and others will tie promotion into going into management. If staying an IC is important to you (and it is to me), you'll just need to know what kind of company you are joining.
posted by dame at 5:10 AM on December 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

One thing that really is valuable in Data Science is not just the analysis, but the Data Visualization as well. The two joined together is a great, great combo.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:10 AM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Data Science sounds about right, but keep in mind that this is itself a huge field with sub-specialties that may or may not be the right track for you. But at this stage, the broad field sounds about right.

Given the design aspect I would also suggest looking into Data Visualisation. The application I am most familiar with is used by Business Intelligence (BI) teams in commercial companies (a popular tool used by two companies I worked for is Tableau, if you want to get an idea). But many many fields use this, almost any science field will need some form of data visualisation.
posted by like_neon at 5:13 AM on December 15, 2020

Oh another niche and highly competitive path is developing specialty software for animation/CGI. I have an acquaintance who ended up working for Pixar doing something like this as they develop a lot of their own proprietary tools.

Also editing to add that your third point is not determined by your job field. Tackle this later on when interviewing for specific jobs. You can absolutely cater your career along these desires (although perhaps at some cost or compromise).
posted by like_neon at 5:15 AM on December 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Been there, done that, retired from that. I have several comments.

You might look in to the current state of Management Science and Operations Research. The former is, or at least was, the business of solving math problems for business. In today's world, the solutions to the math problems are usually delivered in the form of computer programs. The customer thinks of you as a computer guy even while you think of yourself as a mathematician.

I suggest learning to program phone apps. Many phone apps require math knowledge. The GPS routing apps are built on math done in the 1980s when networks (the math kind, graphs with nodes connected by lines) were a hot topic. Apps for musicians and record producers make heavy use of Fourier Series, etc. There are lots of good mathematicians with CS degrees.

Computer graphics, especially for games, is highly developed, but I'm sure there is a lot of work being done in this area.

Finally, advice for all job seekers. It's best to have a job with a prosperous company in prosperous industry. It's a lot harder in a failing company in a prosperous industry, or a prosperous company in failing industry (avoid coal mining!) And certainly, never a failing company in a failing industry.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:39 AM on December 15, 2020

Cryptography, perhaps? It's certainly very mathy!
posted by humbug at 6:54 AM on December 15, 2020

Data Visualization Engineer comes to mind, or Business Intelligence Engineer.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:38 AM on December 15, 2020

Take a look at computer graphics, 2D and 3D. There’s a lot of interesting research being done in terms of real-time (games, data-viz, even augmented video teleconferencing) and offline (movies/animations). SIGGRAPH is the big conference, though my collaborators and colleagues who are using machine-learning approaches are also publishing at CVPR, ECCV, etc. There’s a wide variety of topics, and almost all of them involve pretty interesting mathematics (everything from linear algebra for traditional raster and raytracing approaches, out to exotic deep learning/machine learning stuff) and benefit from visual/spatial/artistic intelligence as well. You also benefit from having the most visually-compelling slide decks and posters!
posted by Alterscape at 7:38 AM on December 15, 2020

If you have a masters in math, you're probably quite good at math. Data visualization, on a day-to-day basis for most people, doesn't include the kind of interesting math you'd expect: my work at a datavis company on most visualizations was just arithmetic. There's a little bit of interesting math at the very top of the field, implementing libraries, but the vast majority of folks are just using libraries.

It's probably not meaningful enough, but working in the games industry will get you hard math. Embark is a good example of a games-industry-adjacent company building primitives like rendering & physics that will actually use quaternions, linear algebra, applied number theory, etc.

There are some climate-related space/imaging companies that would be mathy and visual, like Planet AI, Planet Labs, and upstream tech. There's a lot of gruntwork in any job, but at their best, these sorts of imagery-processing jobs can make you look like a true champion by knowing how a fourier transform really works.
posted by tmcw at 8:25 AM on December 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

You could look at finance, if you're into that sort of thing. I work for a pension fund, and we have people doing this sort of thing on the equities trading side looking at trading strategy, portfolio construction, and risk models, and then on the actuarial side forecasting predicted liabilities (which is a fancy was of saying how much money we need to be paying out to our pensioners, and when). One of our actuaries has a PHD in math, and this sort of math-heavy analytics is his favorite part of the job. We had a guy doing some good work in machine learning too, until he got snatched up by an insurance company for his skills, which could also be a field to look at.
posted by mrgoat at 1:03 PM on December 15, 2020

Data analysis is overlapping with design and product work now. Check out any companies in the fintech, payments, insurance, AI, and credit fields. You should get some quick responses with your degree and any experience with things like Tableau, Excel, Pendo, and other analytics software.

FYI: Since analysis and design software change so much, you may be a good candidate even if you know half the listed software in a job ad.
posted by Freecola at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2020

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