Trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life in the next ten minutes... and go
September 7, 2007 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I graduated last may with a degree in Politics from a small liberal arts school. As one might expect I have found my job prospects since then less than thrilling. I now have the opportunity to re-enroll in school for a masters program in cs.

I am currently working for an enormous company doing something with basis adjustment (yawn). One of my coworkers just received an award for ten years of faithfully remaining in his cubicle and I very nearly walked out right there. Needless to say I can't picture myself maintaining this position for very long.
Now I am thinking that I want to pursue a career in web development. To that end I am re-learning html and polishing up my skills with various design tools as well as teaching myself Ruby and SQL. I have been looking for a internship that would allow me to transition into this new field, but I do not have the proper background or degree. So my question is two-fold: First, should I jump back into school so quickly after graduating and if not what are some suggestions for pursuing a position that would allow me learn the skills that I need. Second, does anyone have experience with entering into a masters program in cs without cs undergrad degree, such as the programs offered by UChicago or Depaul?
posted by bernsno to Education (8 answers total)
Most of the best web people I've worked with (designers and/or programmers) did not have CS-related degrees. As far as ramping up your experience, I think the best thing to do is simply do. Volunteer to design websites for friends or non-profits. or 'redesign' existing websites. Both of these will let you start getting a portfolio together as well as filling in any skills you're lacking. Then network like a fiend - join local groups and message boards.

I'm not saying the degree won't serve well if you choose to go that way, only that most of the people I've encountered in this field have backgrounds that are all over the map. I've no idea how demanding the program is, so I'll let others answer to that. It may be possible to pursue the degree while doing freelance work on the side.
posted by jquinby at 10:25 AM on September 7, 2007

I think going back to school for CS is a worthy cause. I think some of the theory is good to have. As an example:

You can teach yourself SQL but without understanding Relational Database design you lose a certain amount of understanding. Primary keys, Foreign keys, table views oh my...
posted by remthewanderer at 10:28 AM on September 7, 2007

I would only caution you that going to graduate school just because you're not sure what to do next isn't always a great idea. Too many people end up doing just that. I'd say working/interning in the field for a while would help you know whether to dedicate the time and expense to an advanced degree, and whether it would even help you in that field.
posted by Miko at 10:28 AM on September 7, 2007

Shouldn't you also be asking whether switching to web development or programming is a good way to get out of cubicle hell?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on September 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Are you still interested in politics? Your local or state legislator's office might have a Field Representative position available, and from there finding other jobs is largely a matter of meeting people. No cubicles involved, but you would need to be somewhat of a "people person."
posted by univac at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2007

First - WHAT do you WANT to do? There must have been a reason you took PoliSci?

Also.. why web-development, instead of, say, plumbing? Do you have an aptitude for design, layout, coding?

I'm echo'ing jquinby - web development is not dominated by a degree, though the more programming-oriented you want to be, the more a degree will count.

I'm a self taught web programmer, but I was in a related field with a little programming experience before I moved over, so it wasn't so great a leap. Like the leap from Political Science would be... (?)

Anyway - just start doing it, for friends, non-profits, clubs etc. As you get good at it you canstart to network, find some mentors and possibly an internship.

One way to possibly combine both fields is if you offered to do websites for political candidates.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:49 AM on September 7, 2007

The best front end developers I've worked with are self-taught. Also think about where you want to be 10 years from now. The reason I put this to you is that web development positions often have limited career paths. Most of the HTML/CSSers I work with (even the best, most talented ones) hit a ceiling of frustration where they don't want to be slinging code for the rest of their lives.

If you're trying to figure out your next step, I think web development is a fine plan. If you're trying to figure out your career path, I think you should figure out where you're going a little further out than your next job.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 7:02 PM on September 7, 2007

As a CS graduate, I think it would be something you'll enjoy, if you're a maths-oriented kind of guy. Some may disagree (I remember reading an article on how linux geeks are often lit geeks as well, and how all that has influenced the all-powerful text-based interface and other stuff), but really I think it's all about being able to think in a mechanically-oriented way.

Of course, random internets strangers can't really tell you what to do with the next 4 years of your life. Try enrolling in a few classes at first to see if it's something you'll stick to for what at times seems like infinite semesters.. but it really is an awesome field, ripe with opportunities for serious research, and also for making some dough.

Now, if your main interest is websites, you don't need a CS degree for that... maybe you're not interested in the inner workings of the machine, hacking away using assembly language and having to take some physics and heady abstract math courses (my personal faves!). Just take some programming and database courses at your local college and you'll be set.
posted by papafrita at 7:04 PM on September 7, 2007

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