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#1 sperg01   User is offline

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Changing Careers

Posted 02 January 2015 - 03:13 PM

Hi all,

I got a bachelor's degree in math a couple of years ago and set out to be an actuary, but to be honest I only chose it for the money. Recently I'm thinking about starting over in software/web development, and I'd really like to know how to get on the right track as a developer. My goal can be described in simple terms (although I'm not sure if the simplicity extends to the process itself): I want to be employed in a position where I can get meaningful experience and move forward.

I made a list of things that might give me a little head start:
-I've done some short term web development with basic HTML, CSS, PHP.
-I'm very good at math.
-I don't have a job right now so for the next few months I can devote 80 hours a week to learning.
-I like writing code to do things for me.

I'd really appreciate it if the readers of this post could share their experiences and resources. Specifically, I'd like to ask those in the industry, what are the skills I need for an entry level job? How many hours of learning will it take to be proficient enough to be employable? What are good areas of software development to get into?

Thank you!

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Replies To: Changing Careers

#2 macosxnerd101   User is offline

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Re: Changing Careers

Posted 02 January 2015 - 03:16 PM

Moved to Corner Cubicle.

Have you thought about data analytics and machine learning? You're already good at math and have a stats, so the only issue would be learning to program. MATLAB, Python and R are popular languages in this field.
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#3 sperg01   User is offline

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Re: Changing Careers

Posted 02 January 2015 - 03:19 PM

View Postmacosxnerd101, on 02 January 2015 - 03:16 PM, said:

Moved to Corner Cubicle.

Have you thought about data analytics and machine learning? You're already good at math and have a stats, so the only issue would be learning to program. MATLAB, Python and R are popular languages in this field.


I'm open to all kinds of things, but I'm not sure how long it takes to be have a basic level of proficiency in these areas. Will I need to go back to school for them?
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#4 modi123_1   User is offline

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Re: Changing Careers

Posted 02 January 2015 - 03:21 PM

There's always getting a degree in comp sci. Associates or something to backup with your math.

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Recently I'm thinking about starting over in software/web development,

"for the money" too?


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of this post could share their experiences and resources.

I would also check the 'cubicle corner' and 'student' section. This question has been asked quite a few times.

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what are the skills I need for an entry level job

I would suggest looking at your local job postings to find commonalities. Perhaps throw out a few lines to recruiters at an event or two.

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How many hours of learning will it take to be proficient enough to be employable?

There's no real answer to that.

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What are good areas of software development to get into?

What's your interest?
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#5 sperg01   User is offline

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Re: Changing Careers

Posted 02 January 2015 - 03:29 PM

Well, I think the reason I'm considering this profession is that I like to code and I like learning new things. I'm aware that I'm taking a theoretical pay cut. The part about software development that intrigues me the most is the ability to build useful applications.
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#6 macosxnerd101   User is offline

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Re: Changing Careers

Posted 02 January 2015 - 05:10 PM

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I'm open to all kinds of things, but I'm not sure how long it takes to be have a basic level of proficiency in these areas. Will I need to go back to school for them?

Depends on you. How strong is your linear algebra background? Your statistics? You could possibly grab a book on data analytics or machine learning and slog through it. There are Coursera type courses on the material, as well. A class on R and a class on ML are probably good things to have, if you're not great at self-study. If there is a local college in your area, I might pursue that option. The professor(s) may let you sit in at no charge, but you wouldn't get a grade for it.
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#7 sperg01   User is offline

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Re: Changing Careers

Posted 02 January 2015 - 05:12 PM

Thank you!
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#8 jon.kiparsky   User is offline

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Re: Changing Careers

Posted 02 January 2015 - 08:37 PM

View Postsperg01, on 02 January 2015 - 05:13 PM, said:

My goal can be described in simple terms (although I'm not sure if the simplicity extends to the process itself): I want to be employed in a position where I can get meaningful experience and move forward.


Needs to be more specific. What is "forward" here?

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-I've done some short term web development with basic HTML, CSS, PHP.


Minimally useful, unless you want to do web dev work - which might be something to consider, since it's by far the easiest sort of programming job to land, and requires the least groundwork. However, if you're looking for intellectual satisfaction, it's not likely to push you.

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-I'm very good at math.


This is a very good thing. What areas? Stats, obviously. What other maths do you like mathing?

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-I don't have a job right now so for the next few months I can devote 80 hours a week to learning.


This is a good news/bad news thing. Good news, in that you can put in the hours - and if you actually do this, then this is a good thing. Bad news in that it's a lot easier to get a job if you've got a job. So if you're going to count on this as a piece of good news the first developer lesson you need to learn is scheduling: make yourself a timeline, with measurable goals and your anticipated time for completion. It's okay to be wrong, but you have to be concrete. These goals ("milestones", we call them) should be pretty closely-spaced. Every couple of days you should be able to ask yourself "am I where I thought I'd be?". By making this concrete, you give yourself an early warning system to tell you if you're spinning your wheels.


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-I like writing code to do things for me.


This is purely good news. :)


I can tell you one thing for sure: you're not going to be able to find work in most markets with a few months of furious self-study. To be really useful to an employer, you need to have not just a working knowledge of at lease one language (that the employer uses, hopefully). You need to have an array of skills, knowledge, and habits of mind that make you a programmer. I don't want to be a Debbie Downer, but that's a plain fact that you need to internalize.
That being said, there are a few things you could do. First, you could learn a lot about a language like python by working through the material in something like Think Python or Learn Python the Hard Way. Taking the latter as an example, there are 52 exercises in that book, each of which is attached to some text. Take those at the rate of two per day, skipping one day a week to rest your brain, and you have a little over four weeks. Allow a few days for slop, and call it 6 weeks all together. That's not a bad start. Allen Downey, the author of Think Python, also has books titled "Think Stats" and "Think Bayes", which explore statistical programming in Python, and are also available for free on line. These might be a good next step for you, since these are already in your wheelhouse.

As Mac mentioned, R is also a big language for big data applications right now. It's not my favorite language, as languages go, but it's well kitted out for stats work. You might look into the Johns Hopkins data science track on coursera. This is free (you can pay for a "Verified Certificate", but really - why would you do that?) and seems to be on a pretty regular repeat. Again, this has an advantage for you in that you can get up to speed relatively quickly, since you already know the subject matter pretty well.

However, I think that having those things you'll only be a better statistician, in that you'll have some more bows in your quiver. If you want to be a CS guy who rocks stats, you need to learn computer science, and that's a kettle of fish of a different color. For that, I think it's probably worth talking to some local degree-granting institution about what would be required to gain a bachelor's or master's degree in CS. Whether or not you decide to pursue that track, their estimate of work will give you one useful estimate of what will be required to pull this off.
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#9 sperg01   User is offline

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Re: Changing Careers

Posted 03 January 2015 - 10:54 AM

Thank you for the detailed reply kiparsky!
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