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#1 Hamdemon  Icon User is offline

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Career Advice Please?

Posted 03 December 2012 - 10:32 PM

I am a 22 year old college dropout, not by choice, but because I was told in my senior year that I had no financial aid and had to quit. I admit I didn't make the best choices, I changed my majors around a bit, I bombed calc II a few times simply because I was going through some personal issues and made poor choices, but I had felt like I had finally turned it all around and I was doing well in my classes, ready to finish up and graduate. I sit with less than 2 full time semesters left of classes left, but no way to pay for them.

I was lucky enough to find a job relatively in my field, in data processing for a company using an archaic dying programming language called Visual FoxPro, which I had never even heard of until I got the job. Right now I've been working for the company for the last 4 months as a temp, and while I'm very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to sort of get my foot in the door considering I was working retail thinking I was going to be back in school a month before that, the job is largely just running pre-written scripts and I feel I've hit a wall at the job. While there's still things I can pick up and learn there, a large potion of my day is running on auto-pilot, completing jobs that are usually daily or weekly with the occasional bit of code or SQL queries to write. Despite all this it's also a very high stress job because it's a "production" job, working on data for large financial companies and other businesses that must be completely accurate. I suppose it's good to learn to proof things very well, but when one typo can cost the company a lot of money if it's not caught it certainly is a lot of pressure when I don't really have much of a QA line of defense other than myself.

I've always wanted to be a software engineer or a DBA, and I'm worried that staying at this job I may be losing the skills I learned in college and that I am not really getting experience in something that is going to get me hired in a "real" CS job since this is more in the IT field. Also I'm making around $35k, which may not be terrible, but because of my student loans it's certainly not a lot of money, not enough to pay for tuition up front and as is I'm still living with my parents debating if I can afford to move out. I pay rent there plus a car payment, student loans, gas for a rush hour traffic commute every day, my own food, various other living expenses and it adds up to a few hundred less than my income post-taxes. I know an entry level CS job in my area averages around $50k from the research I've done, so that's quite a bit higher than what I'm making now.

I just got offered a permanent position at the company, but I'm also looking around wondering what I should do. I could stay at the company a while, or I could try to find a job in the field. I'm wondering at what point is it normal to switch jobs in the field. Should I stay there at least a year first? And would anyone even hire a programmer who doesn't have their CS degree? I would hope the experience would help me out, but I know the language I'm using is obscure and Microsoft is about to stop supporting it. I was looking at jobs in entry level Java programming, since that's my most comfortable language and where I spent most of my academic career, but I have no actual work experience in Java and it seems so hard to break into a job when everything says "X years of experience."

I know when I asked my parents for advice they told me "stop being 22 and relax and let life happen" but I also don't want to dig myself into a low-end job if the experience isn't going to get me anywhere and I have to live at home. I hope to finish college one day if I can afford to, though that won't be for a while, and I want to put myself in the best position possible to move forward with my career.

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Replies To: Career Advice Please?

#2 stackoverflow  Icon User is offline

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 04 December 2012 - 07:33 AM

If you only have 1 year of school left, see if you can complete it _while_ working. Even if it takes you 2 years you're still young.

Also, learn other programming languages in your spare time and do many hobby projects and build a portfolio...

You'll have no problem finding other jobs.
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#3 Nakor  Icon User is offline

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 04 December 2012 - 07:41 AM

There are definitely places that will hire developers without a CS degree, but probably not with only 6 months of experience under your belt. I'd suggest sticking it out at least a couple of years, or at least don't quit this one before you definitely have something else lined up. If you don't have a degree, then you'll need experience. While you may not consider this an ideal position, it is still giving you that experience that other companies like to see. Also, it's been my experience that there is always something more that you can be doing. Your job may only require you to "run on autopilot", but you should be looking to do more than just what is required. Look for ways to improve the process. Anyway, that's my two-cents.

Edit: Also, there's no rule against learning different languages outside the work environment. You may be using some obscure technology at work, but you can use whatever you want on your own time.

This post has been edited by Nakor: 04 December 2012 - 07:43 AM

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#4 Apokio  Icon User is online

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 04 December 2012 - 07:56 AM

Don't quit your current job and just keep looking for new opportunties. You don't have to let your skills get stale, just keep practicing coding. Pick a project and create something. Like has already been said before finish school while you are working. Does your employer have a tution program? They might even pay for some of it and you will just have to work some amount of time to make it up to them. I am sure many others will chime in that don't have degrees and work as coders. Just get out there and make it happen, you have to keep working toward it and don't sit around doing nothing.
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#5 modi123_1  Icon User is online

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 04 December 2012 - 08:00 AM

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I sit with less than 2 full time semesters left of classes left, but no way to pay for them.

Screw financial aid - can you roll these on your student loans? If so then get your ass in gear and grind out those last twelve classes. Sure you can work a job and do a bit less, but either way you are damn near there - just finish it.


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as is I'm still living with my parents debating if I can afford to move out.

If your bills are as bad as you say then don't move out. Get your financial house in line and then move out.

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I'm wondering at what point is it normal to switch jobs in the field.

There's no formula to switching jobs. Do you like where you are? Do you like the money? The industry you support? Is someone else offering a more interesting work environment, more pay, and unique coding experiences? These are basic questions that can darn near be applied to any field.

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Should I stay there at least a year first?

If you got nothing better and are not actively looking then yeah.

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And would anyone even hire a programmer who doesn't have their CS degree?

Yes.

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I would hope the experience would help me out, but I know the language I'm using is obscure and Microsoft is about to stop supporting it.

That's a problem in perception. You are thinking of languages as some sort of commodity and the end all/be all. If your comp sci degree has taught you anything it is problem solving, software design concepts, and finding the right tool for a job. Foxpro isn't the most up to date, but you are using programming concepts, right? Software design of some sorts, problem solving, testing, change management, etc. Spin it as it is. (.. and don't feel too bad that people may snicker when you walk by because you are working in foxpro)

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I also don't want to dig myself into a low-end job if the experience isn't going to get me anywhere

The experience of working in a corporate environment developing software is what is key.. sure the language sucks, but you can find time to work in something more current and either build a portfolio and/or try introducing it in your workflow at your current job.
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#6 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is online

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 04 December 2012 - 08:51 AM

I'm just throwing this out there, hanging around on the forums and explaining code to newbies is a great way to solidify your grasp on the fundamentals.

As for what to do next, you've got some good advice already: keep working, keep programming, finish your classes, and keep looking for work. The only thing I'd want to stress more is this: no matter where you are in your career, it's a good idea to keep your resume out there. Keep your eyes peeled, and if you see something you think you might like, apply for it. Maybe you land an offer, if so, maybe you take it. Maybe you just find out what other companies are out there and what they're looking for, this isn't a bad thing.
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#7 Craig328  Icon User is offline

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 06 December 2012 - 08:03 AM

I'm a tad late to this but in addition to what's been said please consider that your work experience will be going on future resumes. Splitting a job after just 4 months is not an attractive entry. Also, consider that while you describe the job as not being particularly fast paced, that can be a good thing. It should be giving you the opportunity to learn the language they're using, learn some things about database admin and so on. Yes, the work you do has to be accurate but that's a given in most jobs.

I'd suggest that given the job market these days for 22 year olds that you hang onto the one you have. Take the permanent offer but as Jon suggested, keep your eyes peeled for better opportunities. The job may pay $35K but as you said it does pay all your bills with a little bit left over. There are a lot of people in your peer group that would kill for that right now. If you stay there your resume can later describe it as started as a temp and got offered a permanent position. That alone says to future potential employers that you did a good job. That kind of thing will be like gold later and young folk have a tendency to job hop. You'd be someone who would stick out some because you committed to a job and did well enough at it that they offered you a perm position.

Like modi said, somehow, it doesn't matter how, get that degree. Will someone hire you without a degree? Yes. Will they be more likely to hire you with a degree? Definitely and probably be prepared to pay you more to boot.

One final thing about some of the things you said about the language you're using. I work with a rather niche language myself. You know what happens when you're an expert in a niche language? You get paid more. In some cases, a lot more. What's more, there won't be millions of other devs competing for the same position/opportunity. All rarity does with anything is drive up its price. There will always be someone with code written in the language you're using and they're always going to need someone to maintain it. The less people there are that can, the more those people are in demand and the higher they can charge for their services. By all means, keep up with Java because it is a common language and can pay the bills...but acquire a skillset in the more obscure one because it can pay dividends later on.

Oh, and listen to your folks. Most of the time, they give you the advice they wish they'd listened to at your age.
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#8 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is online

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 06 December 2012 - 08:12 AM

View PostCraig328, on 06 December 2012 - 10:03 AM, said:

Oh, and listen to your folks. Most of the time, they give you the advice they wish they'd listened to at your age.



Depends on how smart your folks are. The girlfiend's old man was something of an idiot, if she'd listened to him she'd be working in a bar now, probably with a stack of kids and a bad case of religion. I think "archivist of the city of Somerville" suits her better.
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#9 magius96  Icon User is offline

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 11 December 2012 - 10:37 AM

I'm suprised that this hasn't been suggested yet, but here it goes. Getting your degree is important, but not as important as getting experience. You can get experience without having the degree, but you do have to be a bit more creative. There are almost always some form of open-source projects online that you could join and become a contributing member to. Not only will that help you hone your skills, but it's valid programming experience that you can prove.
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#10 Zuelajindi  Icon User is offline

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 12 December 2012 - 01:47 PM

I'm on the same page a bit, only I (still) work at retail making $11/hr, and want to get my foot in the door with just any computing job in general, but no one is hiring. I dropped calc I... twice, including my digital circuits and fundamentals course, but that's when I found CS was not for me. The maths were just too much, and beyond calc will just make my head explode.

I switched to majoring in web development instead, as of next semester. I should be getting my BS next semester as are most of my peers, but since I am in a sense starting over, it will be a couple years.

View Postmagius96, on 11 December 2012 - 10:37 AM, said:

I'm suprised that this hasn't been suggested yet, but here it goes. Getting your degree is important, but not as important as getting experience. You can get experience without having the degree, but you do have to be a bit more creative. There are almost always some form of open-source projects online that you could join and become a contributing member to. Not only will that help you hone your skills, but it's valid programming experience that you can prove.

How does one simply take this route? Assuming you are talking about non-profit projects, I take it.
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#11 magius96  Icon User is offline

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Re: Career Advice Please?

Posted 12 December 2012 - 02:24 PM

I started on my career track by working for a non-profit project and contributing a considerable amount of code towards the project. After having established myself in that project, I was able to put it on my resume as a reference to what I've done. Honestly, if you keep your answers clean and accurate, you could even make a reference to being a member of DIC, and provide links to the forums where you provided answers to others.

Most see the resume as being this black and white document that lists your employment and educational records, but it can be a lot more than that. Use your imagination and you can paint your resume to illustrate just how good of a programmer you are without having to come straight out and say it.

Anyways, you get that non-profit experience and paint your resume with it, then try to get an entry level position somewhere. The position doesn't even have to be a programming job, you just have to be able to get in there and demonstrate your abilities, this is what I call a stepping stone job.

I got hired to my stepping stone job as a student loan debt collector. That's right, as far away from programming as you could get. I worked as a collector for a year until I found out who was running the Inventory Control department. I then retouched up my resume and gave him a copy. Three weeks later I was proudly sitting in the Inventory Control department as their one and only Report Automation Specialist. It was then my job to use MS Office, and it's VB back-end to automate the generation of all the reports that were being done daily by a reporting department consisting of 15 employees.

Three years later, when I quit that job the reporting department no longer existed and had been replaced by a single Access Database with heavy automation coding included. That gave me the major programming reference that I needed to land my first C# job. Conversely it's also right after I quite my stepping stone job that I finally decided to try for a Degree in programming.

It is possible to break into the programming industry without a college degree, but it's not easy and no two people are going to do it the same way. It is way easier to get into this sector with a degree, but there's a large problem of people getting the degree and still not knowing crap. This is why most companies want the degree AND experience. They just don't always specify that the experience MUST be work experience, open-source experience is often accepted too.
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