People in tech: what can I do with a 'computer info tech" program?
June 10, 2021 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Debating a shorter, cheaper program or a longer one.

I have access to this particular program which I would do as a postbac: Computer Information Technology

I am debating the relative merits of this program vs a full blown second degree/major in computer science. I have talked, or will talk, with advisers in the actual programs so this is just to hear from people already working.

Assume that I have demonstrated talent and broad-based interest in tech. There is no particular niche or job I am determined to land; I want to gain skills that can qualify me for a constellation of jobs. I want a job that solves puzzles, pays more than 50k, and has at least some potential for flex/remote work. I'm not picky; I do not have one deep passion.

I am not interested in bootcamps right now; I think they are narrower than what I want.

This program: would only take me a year and I could still work

CS major: would take me about 3 years and I'd likely have to drop hours

What I would like to know from people who work in IT or other tech:

1- Is this program enough to get me a job, assuming I have other soft skills and build myself a portfolio?

2-What kinds of jobs? If you hire people, would you hire someone with those classes and a previous unrelated degree?

3- Would you recommend that I just do the whole CS degree if I'm serious about this? That is, is the job pool smaller enough to justify taking 3 years instead of 1?
posted by nakedmolerats to Technology (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to that specific program, but I want to shout as loudly as possible: If you already have an undergraduate degree, absolutely do not do a second one. If you decide you need a formal degree program, find a masters program, even if it requires you to complete missing undergraduate prereqs.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:35 PM on June 10 [16 favorites]

Here's a thing about the tech world: it's huge. There are big companies, and there are little companies, there are established companies and there are startups, there are companies that make computers, companies that write software for sale, companies that write software for exclusively for their own use. There are people who think up problems for computers to solve, there are people who create specs, there are coders, there are testers and quality control, there are folks who write documentation.

If I understand what the Computer Information Technology program is about, it might well be enough for you to get a toe hold. You would be competing with new graduates with degrees in computer science. That probably shouldn't be a problem because there is a lot in a CS degree that you'll never need to know in real life, like hexadecimal arithmetic and 6 kinds of sorts. But for the HR manager, the guy with the degree is a lower risk.

One issue in tech is that there are competing products used for software development. Your program would teach you about one. Maybe even two. But it's a fast moving world and no one so-called "stack" stays on top for more than a few years. I would suggest finding out exactly what the program teaches for "web development", then look at job ads and see how many companies are hiring for that.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:03 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The problem I have repeatedly run into there is that all the Masters programs I looked at in CS say that you need a BS or significant background already in CS *before you even apply*

And to clarify, I wouldn't be doing more than the major classes - I'm not taking English 101 again. There are 26 actual CS/math classes in the CS major and that would take me about 3 years to get through.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:06 PM on June 10

I see that it leans very heavily on Web development (including JavaScript), which is only one area of IT. I've mostly worked in database programming, which I don't see represented here, and the application side: accounting, engineering and business analysis. Maybe I missed it, but does IT align in some way with your major?

For flex/remote work, Web development isn't bad. But it seems like everybody and their kid brother is studying that these days (most likely due to the ease of entry). You'll have competition.
posted by SPrintF at 5:22 PM on June 10

YMMV: i've worked in some form of tech job for roughly 25 years. the people i've run across, myself included, without CS degrees is *vastly* more than those with them. most of us start learning a specific skillset on their own out of sheer interest/curiosity, get an entry-level job in support of that skillset, and progress from there.

i have a degree in psychology, but my real interests and talents were always with computing. my own tinkering for fun is what led me to the industry and it's done well for me, both in terms of learning and aligning me with the kind of work i'm naturally suited to. since you say you're not focused on any one area of tech, this might work for you too.

good luck!
posted by hollisimo at 5:50 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]

> If you hire people, would you hire someone with those classes and a previous unrelated degree?

I work in a large non-tech company and do technical interviews to hire people as software engineers. For entry-level software engineering roles, we're looking for evidence that: you can understand a small programming problem, come up with a few options for how to solve it, discuss with us the details of which option is best and what common data structure will get the job done most effectively, then translate your planned solution into working code.

If you can do a good job at demonstrating you have these practical skills in an interview then I don't care what credentials you may or may not have, I'll push for you to get hired. We also don't particularly care which programming languages or technologies you have prior experience with, if you've demonstrated you've learned one of them then we trust you can learn any other ones on the job.
posted by are-coral-made at 6:16 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

As someone who has hired both CS degree holders and non-CS-degree holders, I have a few thoughts:

- Have you coded? Are you good at it? Can you demonstrate this in a way that fits on a resume? If the answer to all these three questions is "yes", you should be good to go when it comes to getting a coding job already. If the answer to one of those questions is "no", make sure that your plan fixes this, because this is what people will be looking for.

- Bootcamps are very narrow, but they are very good at assigning students the kinds of projects that make hiring managers say, "oh, this is interesting, if they did this then they must know their stuff". This isn't always true, mind you, and since there are so many bootcamp graduates around their resumes all start to blend together, but it's a good first step, and it's very easy for people who DON'T do bootcamps to end up at a disadvantage because they don't have any projects like this under their belt. Notably, programs like the one you are looking at aren't necessarily optimized for the job market, so if this is what you want, you should talk to them and make sure they can meet your needs.

Note that there are bootcamps that aren't just web dev! There are some data science ones in particular that can be a different way to go if that's more your thing. I have a friend who did this one and now works for Google, so that's something.

- There are other ways to demonstrate coding ability, notably by contributing to open-source projects. The big advantage of this is that it lets you pick something you're excited about and work on it, but the disadvantage is that you don't get the kind of instruction and teamwork that you get from a more formal education program.

- The credential itself from a postbac will be useless to you, so only do it if you are actually going to learn something you care about. Ideally you can talk to other people who have done it to ask them about the program.

- What I like about my CS degree is that it gave me a depth of knowledge in my field that is hard but not impossible to pick up by osmosis. This includes topics like programming language design, CPU architecture, formal models of computation, first-order logic, mathematical analysis of algorithms, complexity theory, and distributed systems. If you want this, you may want to do formal work in computer science! But it is entirely possible to get a job without one.

Looking at your previous AskMe questions, my suspicion is that a data science boot camp might be what you're looking for, but you know better than me!
posted by goingonit at 6:21 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

I've been a professional programmer since 1975 (long before "IT" and the Internet). I agree with SemiSalt that the field is enormous. What helped me (I think) was these things:
- I was cheap out of college with a Math/CS degree and I got hired
- This allowed me to demonstrate to coworkers and managers my strengths and weaknesses
- It allowed me to soak up like a sponge the lingo, the procedures, the computer manuals lying around, reading other peoples code, get practice debugging
- Which in turn made me the go to guy for things I wrote and for solving problems in the system in general (which lead to a lot of late hours)
- I recognized and avoided like the plague the anti-patterns (that term didn't exist when I was young but I recognized stupid when I heard it)
- Then I got picked for new projects.
- I changed jobs a few times, and am currently semi-retired from my last one.

So to boil down the above: somehow get hired (maybe the minor will help, I really don't know, hiring is so much more algorithmic and impersonal now, but make sure you're ready for the interview somehow because I bombed my first one over an "off by one error"), work real hard and drink from the fire hose, keep one eye on your career.
posted by forthright at 6:33 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

My experience is similar to hollisimo except I am less seasoned. I got my first jobs in tech without a CS degree and actually know only a few people who have one. (Meanwhile, I know several unemployed CS/IS folks...) I have taken a few classes here and there but it's the output of the classes that's helpful -- like a project -- not the classes themselves.

But tech is so wide, and while I don't think you need to have a passion, I think it would be helpful if you have a focus. Even if it's things you want to avoid or have little interest in.
posted by sm1tten at 6:50 PM on June 10

Response by poster: Thanks all! If anyone is still reading and wants more info:

-I have dabbled in flavors of Tableau, Java, SQL, and now Python. I am not enough of a go-getter to put together my own portfolio and hit the market. I know this about myself. I am personally much more likely to succeed with some sort of structured program that gives me projects.

-in my own personal history, I have interviewed for many techy jobs (CRM, knowledge management, various analysts, I forget) and seem to always hear, "you were great, but we promoted from within OR we got someone else who already knew Javascript/Oracle/whatever." I am tired of losing out to them. Honestly, it feels like they interview me just to prove they interviewed someone "outside the box but with transferable skills" and then hire the person with concrete skills anyway.

-I may take back my own words, but I have looked hard into data science vs CS, and no one is more surprised more than me, but I think I like CS math more than statistics, if that makes sense.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:16 PM on June 10

> I want a job that solves puzzles

If you have a bit of time & motivation to pursue teaching yourself to program computers, you could see if you enjoy programming & solving the kinds of puzzles that pop up while programming, without necessarily needing to embark on a long university course.

I taught myself to program as a hobbyist trying to write silly little computer games -- it can be a fun way to learn as you get immediate feedback if you've done something that works or not. These days a fun way to self learn as an absolute beginner might be with pico-8 and finding a few beginner tutorials to work through (some linked here). It's very unlikely to get a job literally writing pico-8 games, but these fundamental programming ideas and skills will transfer across to programming languages that are used in industry.

If you've got some rudimentary programming ability & a little basic math knowledge, project euler has a list of mathematical & computational puzzles. Some puzzles can be figured out using pen and paper without a computer (e.g. problem one) but others puzzles are far easier to solve using "brute force" if you write a small computer program (e.g. problem 11 or problem 18). Some of these puzzles get hard pretty quickly. E.g. to get a computer to efficiently solve a puzzle like problem 67 you need to start using some of the techniques covered in a computer science introductory algorithms course. If you get good at solving puzzles like that, those are precisely the kinds of puzzles that big tech companies ask in interviews when trying to hire capable programmers.
posted by are-coral-made at 7:26 PM on June 10

If you aren't getting a CS or SWE degree, than I think you'd be better off with a boot camp than that program.
posted by flimflam at 7:46 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

This might be controversial, but if your goal is to be a programmer or similar, I consider even the use of the term "IT" to be a red flag. In the parts of the industry I have worked in, which is primarily software development in tech companies, no software engineer says that they are "in IT."
posted by primethyme at 8:29 PM on June 10 [12 favorites]

I agree with flimflam that a good bootcamp sounds like a more efficient use of your time and money than either program you're considering. If you're someone who is losing out on jobs because you don't have the industry-specific skills they're looking for, academic work in a university setting will not fix that. If you're someone looking for a structured environment to give you the push you need to build a portfolio, that is literally what a bootcamp is. Please consider it!
posted by potrzebie at 8:58 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]

Really sounds like you want a boot camp. You’ll come out with a portfolio, a network that can help you find a job, and a specific enough set of skills to land a job. You are essentially the ideal student for one as well, since you’re already confident in your ability and interest in tech, and you have a degree. There are definitely a few predatory boot camps out there so make sure to do your due diligence.
posted by TurnKey at 9:27 PM on June 10

Response by poster: My impression of bootcamps has been disheartening because it seems like you of course have to pick a limited subset (cyber security, front end, whatever) and what if that's not the thing you like, but you don't know because you didn't do a broader based program? I know I sound anxious but... I am!!!
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:35 PM on June 10

I interview software engineers at a large tech company (where I work as a software engineer).

I still get the impression that bootcamps teach you the minimum amount of math to learn to leetcode (basically the equivalent of learning orchestral excerpts in hopes that one of them shows up as the 'sightreading' portion of your orchestra audition; not sure if this analogy helps anyone), and give you a portfolio of projects so you could pass interviews that asked for "tell me about a time when you faced a technical challenge" or "tell me about a time you had to resolve a disagreement with a teammate".

And, of course, doing the portfolio projects should have taught you about software engineering ("programming integrated over time") e.g. be nice to your future self, source control (again, "integrated over time"), code review ("question the code, not the human writing it"), and how to choose tools that you can find answers about on StackOverflow vs. rolling your own versions of everything. CS grads do not really learn these things.

From my point of view, CS grads peak in their interviewability after their Data Structures and Algorithms class, which my program made you take the spring of your first year. Could you just take the equivalent of this course?

I'll warn you that after a while, the only puzzle you might solve in a day is "I need to book a meeting with someone in Zurich and I am in Seattle, how do I actually resolve this over email because I am not waking up at 7am".
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:37 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

>But it's a fast moving world and no one so-called "stack" stays on top for more than a few years.
In the carnage of the Web, there is churn. But Facebook support React, Google have Flutter and Google Web Toolkit, which are going to be long-lived things because they're building long-lived businesses with those tools. Cobol, Visual Basic for Applications (in Excel), Perl, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Java, C# are also long-lived and they all rely on basic silicon logic to get work done.

Racing to throw away work to replace it with the "latest" needs to be called out as a poor engineering choice.

So to advise the OP: get on with solving problems -- take the year to upskill and then show employers you do act to identify and solve problems using computers. Make it easy for your boss to sell your success to the rest of the business -- works everywhere, but particularly when computers need wizards to do magic (and not showy magical illusionists to fake it) -- and keep looking for interesting problems and then go on to solve them.
posted by k3ninho at 1:13 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

My impression of bootcamps has been disheartening because it seems like you of course have to pick a limited subset (cyber security, front end, whatever) and what if that's not the thing you like, but you don't know because you didn't do a broader based program? I know I sound anxious but... I am!!!

I mean, you're not wrong about this - you might end up learning to do something that you don't enjoy doing, and this is true of a CS degree as well - but the thing is you will need to specialize in SOMETHING at some point. "Computer Worker" is not a job, jobs are like, "Front End Developer (React)" or "Database Manager (Postgres)" or "Junior Systems Analyst" or "Machine Learning Specialist" or whatever. And you might not really know how much you love or hate one of those roles until you're actually doing the work in a professional capacity.

So if your goal is to learn more about a lot of different aspects of work with computers, the CIT certificate program might be a good fit for you. But I'm not sure it will make you more employable per se.
posted by mskyle at 5:28 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Once you get one software engineering job, your options are pretty flexible at junior levels. I work at a large tech company and so many times my coworkers or I have been tasked with doing stuff we had zero direct experience in. I've mostly worked on the backends of web based apps, but I've also done a bunch of frontend stuff and made a few excursions into ML; I've seen coworkers pivot into PMing, data science, and SRE, or they came from those backgrounds and switched in. This is one of the strengths of big companies: they have a wide variety of work, and internal mobility is relatively easy. At the right small company, however, you might also be exposed to a variety of work because there will be so few engineers you will have to wear all the hats. So there are multiple paths.

Anyway, tl;dr, if you have no strong preferences, pick whatever program will get you a job and worry about specialization later.
posted by airmail at 8:33 AM on June 11 [5 favorites]

I've done IT, and software engineering (and webdev).

The CIT minor's curriculum is relatively low (24 credits / 6 courses) comprised of IT, Webdev, Database, and basic networking (part of IT). So let's just call it IT/Networking and Webdev w/ DB.

The problem is having taking these courses does not prove you know what you're taking about.

Basic IT and networking knowledge are not hard to come by, so employers usually ask for A+ certification and maybe N+ as well if you want to get into IT/Networking. And those require a couple hours taking the certification test and costs money (but most schools will give you a discount on the tests).

While webdev doesn't quite have the same certification burden as IT, it is also a competitive field with bootcamps and self-study courses from variety of sources churning out hundreds of candidates every few months. The webdev community is also divided into various camps with divided loyalties to different backend and frontend solutions. On the backend, we have Microsoft's dotNET/SQL Server, Java and Spring/Springboot, Python and Django/Flask, Node.js and various libraries, PHP and Laravel... and we haven't even gotten into SQL vs NoSQL (like MongoDB) and the new hybrid DBs. On the frontend, you have React.js vs. Vue.js vs Angular/Angular.js, not to mention a bit more legacy stuff like jQuery and Bootstrap (recently updated to 5.0) and "plain" JS (various versions). Different employers will have a different "tech stack" (i.e. combination of solutions /libraries they standardized on) that you have to adapt to. Yes, it is a confusing mess.

With that said. if you enjoy learning there's tons of stuff to learn, not all of it will get you employed. But then, if you can master something, make something , add it to your portfolio, and maybe you'll get noticed and offered a job! But then it'd be on the strength of your skills and design, not because "I took X, Y, and Z".

And that's what it comes down to... What you make of your education

(Oh, and I've done a webdev bootcamp as well. Did NOT get my current job through that. But feel free to ask about it).
posted by kschang at 6:47 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

« Older What are these goggles?   |   Apartment in Brooklyn - looks great, want to check... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments