The Desire to Get into Computer Science

I’ve often wondered what it would take to become a software developer. There is a lot going for software developers who often get high salaries, awesome perks and benefits, paid-time-off, and so on. Did I forget to mention a very casual workplace where you can wear what you want? However, I scoff at the idea of going to college all over again to reinvent myself.  Yet, I am not alone in wanting to take a career shift.

Computer Science Statistics

According to Computer Science Education Week:

 

  • Nine in ten parents want their child to study computer science, but only one in four schools teach computer programming.
  • Computing makes up 2/3 of projected new jobs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
  • Computing occupations are among the highest-paying jobs for new graduates. Yet fewer than 3% of college students graduate with a degree in computer science, and only 8% of STEM graduates are in computer science.
  • In 22 states, computer science classes don’t count toward math or science high school graduation requirements.
  • Only 22 percent of AP Computer Science students are women. Only 13% are Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino.”

So how can we meet our goal of becoming software developers and make a great living?

College Mamma sat down with Python engineer and trainer David Blaikie to discuss some of the other ways to break into the field without the degree. Why ask David? He got into the field by building skills on his own rather going through an expensive and stressful computer science degree. Today, David works with private companies to train their developers, makes training courses, and teaches Python at NYU.  In this interview, we talk about online courses, bootcamps, interviewing, and entry into the field.

Interview with David Blaikie, Python engineer and Trainer

CM: You’ve developed an enviable career writing code working for companies like Google, AppNexus, yet you never got the CS degree; what is your advice to someone who really wants to get into CS but just can’t make the grades to graduate? 

 DB: You don’t need a degree to make it in IT.  You can develop the skills on your own using online resources and a great deal of personal motivation; or you acquire skills at one of the many bootcamps that offer immersive training.  Mostly your success will depend upon your resourcefulness, motivation and willingness to keep learning.

A CS degree can be a quick way into the job market if you are a young recent grad; otherwise work experience is usually required, and that can be a challenge to acquire — see “resourcefulness” above.

CM: So, how did you do it?

 DB: My success was due in part to timeliness:  I broke into the industry during the internet boom in the late 90’s, when jobs were plentiful and applicants scarce.

I began by taking a comprehensive web development course in a classroom setting at NYU School of Professional Studies.  Then I followed up by doing web projects for people I knew who needed an email responder or a simple catalog application for their small business.  I was lucky enough to move from a small project for a family friend to a more impressive application for a major publisher (Scholastic Books) — I met that client through the family friend.  This provided me with examples of my work that I could pull up on a computer and demonstrate as working.  It also feel it was important to show work for which I was paid, something I call “points on the board.”    In the meantime I built a short resume doing web-related tech work that did not involve programming (I did HTML for a very small web development company, at a couple’s home!), to add time to my resume and show that I was committed to career in IT.

I was fairly courageous in doing work for which I had very few qualifications, but which I felt I could work out and “wing it” — scary, but sometimes necessary if you’re going to move into a new field.

I can also say that although my skills were very modest in the beginning, I interviewed well.  An enthusiastic attitude in interview (in which you show (sincerely) that you really want to do the work, really want to work at the company, and really want to help the company succeed) is absolutely essential for a beginner to project.  You want to give an interviewer the notion that you have a lot of potential, and having a great attitude helps do that.

CM: What is your opinion on coding bootcamps that get students ready for careers in computer programming? Are they worth the time? What if they already have mastered the basic components of CS? 

 DB: You should do thorough researching into reviews before choosing a bootcamp.  Focus on the success in the job market that graduates have reported.  Good bootcamps not only offer a laser focus on up-to-date job skills, but they usually offer job placement assistance.  The best bootcamps won’t charge you until you get a job (or will refund your money if you can’t get a job); these are understandably the hardest to get into.  But if you have the resources and time, these kinds of “job guaranteed” bootcamps are well worth both.

Learning the basics is an important start but there’s no standard for what constitutes marketable knowledge.  IT learning is an ongoing process and your success will depend on your knowledge plus other factors like personality and attitude, interests and experience.

CM: Do tech companies hiring computer programmers value CS courses offered on Udemy? How might these courses be beneficial to CS students in danger of failing?

 DB: Since the courses on Udemy are offered by private individuals, Udemy is an extremely mixed bag.  Udemy does do quality control on its contributors’ courses, but I do not believe they judge courses on their ability to build marketable skills.  Whether a Udemy course is beneficial to a CS student depends entirely on the course’s applicability and its overall quality.

Udemy is only one of many online providers of skills education; just two others are Treehouse and Lynda.  Coursera offers free courses taught by professors at top Universities.

However, there is no panacea for helping a student keep from failing their CS courses.  The usefulness of any course is dependent on the course and the student’s skill and level of knowledge.

 Find Out More

David recently added an awesome Python course where he shares his expertise on Udemy.  One of the greatest benefits of taking online courses is that you can do it at your leisure without the time constraints of a college semester. You also learn from the greatest experts in the field. Starting here is probably the fastest and cheapest ways to get into the field. You also get excellent instruction without the risk of getting a professor with an unintelligible accent. Who wants to pay several thousand dollars for that when you get the learning so much faster and cheaper at home?




Want to Become a Software Developer?

As they say, the world is your oyster. Getting a software developer position without a degree can be a challenge. However, know that with enough perseverance you can gain the skills you need. One of my go-tos for technical skills is Lynda.com as they offer career tracks with their training courses so the coursework is more curated.

Comments

I’d love to hear your thoughts on bootcamps, online training courses, and breaking into computer science without a degree. For further reading check out my article on Failing Computer Science and how our college students are losing out on their college investments at a high risk.

 

Author: College Mamma

College Mamma is a professor who blogs for students. She is also a mother of two and a lover of coffee.

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One thought on “Getting Into Computer Science: Interview with a Seasoned Professional

  1. Hi College Mamma,

    I saw you on Twitter and I thought I’d check out your website. I really like it. Looks like College Mamma has come a long way!

    Building a mailing list like you are is so important too, I think people would really like to be signed up to what you have to share.

    Good job on the social buttons, social media is so powerful these days

    Posted on October 24, 2017 at 10:09 am