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I completed my MS in Geochemistry from a recognized university in Canada. I have been working in my field for the past year, and in short, I really don't enjoy what I do.

I am now trying to evaluate my options. I was in Computer Science in undergrad but I dropped out because I felt it wasn't for me. A few months ago, however, I picked up coding again after my friend (who thought I graduated with a CS degree) contacted me to apply to a software engineering position at his company. I told him my situation and he encouraged me to build a very solid portfolio, and that my Master's wouldn't be viewed as completely useless to an employer.

Specifically, I would like to know whether a Master's degree in a physical science field would count towards anything when evaluating my credentials for a software development position... Or is it basically the equivalence of having no degree?

Many thanks

closed as primarily opinion-based by Richard U, BryanH, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Michael Grubey, gnat Nov 8 '18 at 6:57

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I’m a senior software engineer, and I’ve been involved in the hiring of several web developers. I also have an unusual academic background (a bachelors in English Literature). So let me give you my perspective.

A master’s degree in geochemistry is not worth a computer science degree. But it is not worth nothing, and is obviously more valuable than a non-comsci bachelors.

Your masters tells me that you are intelligent, analytical, can research problems independently and have a good work ethic. This is good; software engineering is a research role that sometimes requires enormous reserves of patience.

However, I also need candidates to possess at least what I’d call the “core” technical knowledge for their role. This is nonnegotiable. I cannot spend two years training you how computers work.

The good news is, you don’t have to learn these skills at university. Many developers are self taught; in fact some of the best programmers I know don’t even have degrees. But you will need some way to prove your skills. As your friend says, the best way to do this is to build a portfolio of work. Personal projects are useful; another approach is to find a para-technical job like QA testing and use it as a springboard into the industry.

A bigger issue may be you dropping out of computer science at undergrad. Prepare a good explanation for this: “it wasn’t right for me” won’t be enough. If I’m taking a gamble on someone with a non traditional background I need solid evidence that you’re committed to this path. What if you finally become a programmer and then a year in decide it “isn’t for you” again?

At this stage, I would spend a few months building more personal projects, and trying to find a role as a tester or another non-programming role in a tech company. You never know: there might be other jobs in tech that inspire you, like QA, systems administration or UX design.

Finally, a word of warning: it can be difficult even for computer science graduates to acquire junior developer roles right now. In the UK at least, comsci grads have the highest unemployment rate after six months of all university subjects. You can certainly do this - I did - but it took time, effort and several rejections. So prepare yourself for a long-haul.

  • Thank you so much for the detailed post. I feel your points are all valid. For now, I'm going to take your advice and build up my portfolio. – Henry Nov 5 '18 at 2:08
  • I agree wholeheartedly with this answer, especially with the last paragraph. I don't have a degree at all, and my current role is training developers in the UK for a private company. When I make hiring decisions, I look at the degree and where it came from, and I favor STEM degrees, but that is by no means required. We focus on getting people that we think will make good developers and accept that they might not have a lot of tech knowledge. But that can be built up, while aptness and a general understanding for software development cannot. – simbabque Nov 5 '18 at 13:11
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    I don't know the situation in the UK, but in the United States, there are a ton of junior software roles open (particularly near major cities/tech hubs). I was a recent compsci grad within the past year, went around applying for junior positions, and got directly hired into the "full"-tier above junior just based off of internships alone. I was certainly not an above-average student. There are masses of positions ripe for the picking, as long as you're not picky about which section of the industry you go into. For the first time in 40 years, we have more open jobs than people to fill them! – M28 Nov 5 '18 at 16:53
  • @Matt There is a very high regional variation. Outside of the major cities and tech hubs, especially more than 2 hours drive away from the main cities, many regions just don't have software jobs at all, or may have less than 10 total listings over the course of a year - and most of those will end up going to more senior people who are moving away from the big cities and the jobs don't end up going to junior people. Yet where demand (and often cost of living) is high, a recent comp sci grad can get multiple offers - but people the computing degree get far more attention than unrelated degrees. – BrianH Nov 5 '18 at 17:38
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    @BrianH Yeah but that's true for any career, particularly professional / white-collar ones. Where I grew up there would be no jobs for any industry outside of farming. Just because there's no software jobs there doesn't mean it's hard for a recent grad to get a job. Beyond that, recent grads are typically the most willing to move for work, as they have tend to have less ties (i.e, moving out of family home, no kids, no mortgage, etc) – M28 Nov 5 '18 at 18:14
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Adding to Jimmy's answer, there are also software jobs that require domain knowledge specific to geochemistry.

Not all software development is "web development" or "app development"; there is a lot of business and scientific software that requires domain knowledge outside of knowing how to program a computer.

A quick internet search shows there are various companies that focus on geochemistry software. These kind of jobs are rarer than generic "web developer" kind of jobs, but probably also more interesting and better paid, and chances are there are a at least a few that are interested in hiring a software developer with a geochemistry background.

There are also jobs to be found in overlapping fields, such as geography, chemistry, etc. where a geochemistry degree would probably be helpful.

The above applies to many degrees, not just geochemistry or even science.

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My 2 cents from my 10 years as a programmer: for the types of software jobs that focus more on understanding and using existing technologies by reading corresponding tech docs, sometimes even a CS degree is not required, because the domain knowledges aren’t taught in schools and they varies a lot from each other or different versions. One example of such position from top of my mind is DevOps, who have to read how to set up different types servers and make sure they can be wired up with each other. So I think a master degree of any fields wont affect too much if apply for these positions, instead hands on experiences matters more.

  • Some of the very best programmers I know where Art and Music majors. But this fellow should definitely look to leverage what he has studied at University in order to find a job which does use his years of study (and, his proven ability to earn a Master's degree). I've been a programmer/consultant for many decades because I genuinely still enjoy "making a speck of sand do useful stuff." But, as we both know, it's not for everybody. – Mike Robinson Nov 6 '18 at 14:57
  • And don’t get me wrong, DevOps are paid well and in demand. Many projects started from coding without a deployment plan, and they ended up leaving very small time for deploying the cluster and expected it to scale well. I’ve seen good DevOps can handle the stress and put up whatever servers from last minute requests into the cluster. On top of these, DevOps automate them as well. – user917099 Nov 6 '18 at 15:39
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IMHO, if you are applying for big companies like google and FB, 2 factors come into play: first is the competition is fierce so the tests are difficult and timed so they do require very good understanding and familiarity about CS basics like data structure and algorithms, secondly, however, nowadays companies are also aware that diversity in workforce are indeed good for them from different aspects, so such big companies definitely would consider non-CS candidate, but after the first chat with the recruiter, you will be given the same tests as other CS candidates. So, I’d say you have better chances from startups, and definitely study as hard as you can if you want to try big companies.

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