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I am an intended Econ major who is slowly realizing he wants to pursue a career in software dev/engineering. I started programming with Python in the winter and am currently taking Harvard's CS50 as a MOOC. My school makes it nearly impossible for people who didn't start in the engineering college (where CS is housed) to transfer in, so at this point my only options short of transferring is a minor or pursuing a masters.

My school offers a 22 credit hour minor composed of the following:

Computing Environments

Elements of Calc

Intro to Computing with Java

Programming Concepts with Java

Discrete Math Computer Science

C/Software Tools

Computer organization and assembly language for computer scientists

Concepts and facilities of operating systems for computer scientists

Data structures and algorithms

Software engineering (not required but I have room and would want to take it)

Would this, along with self teaching and projects along the way, prepare me for an entry level position and a possible career in programming, specifically software dev and engineering?

closed as off-topic by gnat, Blrfl, Dukeling, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Myles May 28 at 17:48

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  • As I can only speak from my own experience, I'll leave it as a comment instead of an answer, but it seems to cover the first two years of a four year degree (minus the physical sciences and math and stuff, but I assume you have that included in your major?) – さりげない告白 May 27 at 2:49
  • @さりげない告白 Yes, it's the same required classes as a CS major without the electives and gen eds. So from my research it appears the be equivalent to half the major in content, the rest being Automata, Grammars, Computability and Software Engineering + 12 credits of choice CS electives – John Allison May 27 at 2:52
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    I would personally think it would be enough to start most junior positions, save for those that would be dealing specifically in the areas you didn't study. I would recommend the software engineering, and learning tools that would be used in a team such as git. – さりげない告白 May 27 at 2:57
  • Is your school on a quarter system or a semester system? – Jasper May 27 at 4:39
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    @JohnAllison I think some of the answers are for someone with no degree. Many companies will consider a non-Comp Sci major and a Comp-Sci minor as a positive thing, and fulfilling the requirements to have a degree. – thursdaysgeek May 28 at 16:59

12 Answers 12

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Would this, along with self teaching and projects along the way, prepare me for an entry level position and a possible career in programming, specifically software dev and engineering?

Yes, entry level and a possible career.

Nobody knows for sure, some people can take a full CS degree and have years of programming experience and still fail at getting a decent programming career, while other just program a little in college and start. So if you feel ready, give it a try.

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As someone who has been in a similar situation, I would say that it depends.

When I entered college I took a course in litterature, I then realized it was not what I wanted to do, and wanted to change to a engineering course, but that was impossible.

So, I learned by myself, I created a few software of my own, to test my abilities, discover the technologies, and build a portfolio.

The problem is that a lack of diploma is going to hinder you a lot when looking for a job, depending on your location this might be more or less of a problem. In my location most companies were looking for someone with a bachelor's degree and a few years of experience. Due to that my CV was usually discarded pretty quickly.

But, if you keep at it, you might eventually find a company that is willing to give you a shot, if you do good in the interview, then you're likely to get the job. Wich in turn will help you get experience, and build a better CV.

So, in short, with a bit of luck, and perseverance, it is possible to find a job even without a diploma, but it is much, much harder than if you had a diploma in the first place.

Edit :

I'd also like to note that, while you can pick up a lot of knowledge by yourself, there is also many skills that are looked for in a software engineer that you can't get by yourself. Working with a team is most likely going to be expected of you, that includes knowledge of technologies like svn, past experiences in working on a shared project, and knowledge of methodologies such a SCRUM or AGILE.

So my advice to you would be to take the time to work on open source projects, wich not only looks good on a CV, but allows you to get a concrete experience on working with a team.

  • Thanks for the reply. Would you say living in a growing tech hub helps or hinders most companies wanting a CS degree? – John Allison May 27 at 12:12
  • @JohnAllison I think it depends more on the economical and educational context. For exemple, were I was living before was a city with many, many students. In that area, you could easily find someone with a CS degree, so having a CS degree was pretty much expected. If there is not a lot of people with a CS degree in your area, then it's likely that the companies around you would look for "less qualified" people. – user3399 May 27 at 12:18
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You should be able to get a junior position - if you find someone writing a good CV for you, and you are good at interviews. And then you gain experience and get better jobs.

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The courses you list, including CS50, sound like they offer a decent foundation for working in programming. Get the certificate from CS50. Definitely take the software engineering course.

(The typical university curriculum, which your minor is, has fallen behind the state of the art a little bit. Java is a bit trailing-edge now. But you can still learn a lot about programming by writing programs in it.)

You will be more attractive to a would-be employer if you know Structured Query Language (SQL). Find an online course and learn it (more than the one segment of CS50 can teach you).

A major in econ with a minor in comp.sci is a fine combination. The software industry is always looking for people who know something about the world. The econ curriculum has probably offered some economic modeling, and hopefully a course on research methods.

With that kind of foundation, you might discover a personal interest in data science, for example. That's a field full of opportunity. Or you can shoot for being a wall-street quant. Or a programmer for the finance/treasury department of a corporation or municipality. Or... or...

Keep this in mind: you will need to explain, to at least some hiring managers, why a CS minor with an econ major makes you valuable. As you finish your studies, think about how to tell that story cogently.

Study hard, do the problem sets, look at StackOverflow for answers to your questions. Don't let anybody tell you it's impossible.

  • Java is definitely a legacy language these days, but it's far from being the new COBOL (you didn't say that, but I'm extrapolating from the "trailing edge" comment) - there are a ton of organisations with decades of investment in Java codebases, and an ecosystem with loads of established and well-maintained libraries. In my opinion Java skills will provide solid employment opportunities for as long as any of us will be alive, if you're prepared to do a bunch of relatively boring stuff at work. – Player One May 27 at 15:32
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    My remark about Java being "trailing-edge" comes from the fact that it lacks closures and requires shenanigans if you want to use functional programming. So, when you learn to program with it, you miss some important stuff. You are absolutely correct that the Java code base is large. But, with respect, I believe you're wrong to assume that it's boring to maintain useful code bases. Working on stuff that real people use is interesting, and it's a position of trust. – O. Jones May 27 at 17:27
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That course is maybe 10%, in the very best case 20%, of what you need for an entry-level junior position.

Can you teach yourself the rest of it? Sure, you can. Expect to need a lot of studying - through your own work, or someone helping you, or something, but a lot of studying however you organize it.

Will companies give you a job? Well, IF you do learn the remaining 80-90%, those companies that are more oriented toward testing candidates in practical work just might. Or you could try to take part in some easy open-source project to beef-up your resume a bit.

Those companies that stick to the concept of diplomas and degrees, probably won't.

Eventually when you do get a job, and build some 5+ years of professional, paid-for experience, the diploma becomes less important.

The question here is, what exactly are you asking about? Are you asking if this course will, by itself, provide you with enough knowledge and skills to do the job at a junior level? The answer to that is no. You will have to learn a lot more. These courses are intended as just an introduction.

Or, are you asking if you can get a job, while not having a diploma as a computer science major? Assuming you do get the skills in some way, yes, although initially it will be harder.

If you are near the beginning of your studies, like, just one or two years, I would even advise to restart in the first year, officially in CS. You will gain in the long run, simply by being able to get jobs easier (as in, also at those companies who pay a lot of attention to official diplomas on paper). If you're near the end of your bachelor's degree studies... well, 50/50. You can just finish it and work as a software dev, but the lack of a formal diploma will hurt you for the first five years or so.

In either case, expect to need a substantial amount of study - by yourself, with friends, with online materials, or in a college/university/something - to get your skills to the level where you can get a job, even at just a junior level.

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    Hi, I think you are misunderstanding my post - each topic I listed is a semester long (3 - 4 month) course as part of a 22 credit program, not a single course. – John Allison May 27 at 14:26
  • That's somewhat better, but still far from enough. A course of 3-4 months of C, if you start as new to programming, can give you just the basic understanding of it. A very experienced programmer could pick up a new language in 3 months... and that wouldn't be at the expert level. It can get you a job >> if << you also learn a lot on your own. – Dragan Juric May 27 at 16:58
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Econ with a CS minor will offer you many, many employment opportunities, especially if you focus on the more math-y courses, take some statistics classes, etc.: Quantitative finance developers ("quants") are highly compensated on Wall Street.

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Software education gives you a good basis of knowledge for your career, but it only minimally helps for getting a job when compared with experience and who you know.

If you have ideas for apps, you can let that drive your learning process and you will likely end up with an impressive portfolio by the end of the year.

Share your software ideas with your colleagues. If you work with others on projects on the side during your study, you will have professional connections when you leave university. This will both get your foot in the door if they get a job and show companies that you can organise yourself and communicate when you put your projects on your CV.

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I've had quite a successful career in web-based software development, starting from when I was 19 years old, and going on for very nearly a decade now.

The only relevant formal education I've had was a week-long HTML course in school when I was about 13 years old. Everything else was self-taught.

I found that a good attitude and knowing a desirable language at a basic to intermediate level can be sufficient to get an entry level position - so you're already at or above the level I was when I started my career.

So yes, this further education you are thinking of pursuing is more than enough to prepare you for a career in software development.

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If you want to be successful in a development career you're asking yourself the wrong question, you should be asking is this what you love doing? Put yourself in a high pressure situation and see if you would do it for an extended period and still love it.

As mentioned in other answers qualifications can be important for most of your career like in Germany. In South Africa it helps to have a qualification to get your foot in the door but experience does out weigh qualifications eventually, in most cases. Qualifications are a bonus almost any where and will most certainly pay off in the long run, if you go it in you, do them all.

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Our group has hired a few people over the years, and I've been involved in a number of resume exams, and here's what I've come up with:

Actual Code/Experience Trumps Resume/Credentials

If you set two resumes in front of me:

  • Person A just graduated with a masters in software design
  • Person B just graduated with a 2 year degree, but has been responsible for the webapp for the local chess club and has a decent-sized github account.

... you can bet that I'm going to be far more interested in Person B. I can look at their code, and I know that they can get things done as part of a group.

Keep in mind, from an employer's perspective, they don't actually care about your degree, your credentials, etc - they care whether you can do the job well. A degree and credentials can serve as a proxy for this, but that's all it really is: evidence that the person applying can probably do the job.

So focus on things that will give evidence that you can do the job. How much code do you have publicly available that prospective hiring managers/programmers can look at? Hiring managers love to be able to look at what sort of work you'd produce. Are there any clubs, volunteer outfits, or such that you can donate your programming time to - in order to demonstrate the ability to function as a worker within an organization?

And when in doubt? Call up some companies. Not to look for a job, but simply to talk to their recruiters. I can't think of a single company who wouldn't love to get a call/email that went like this:

Hello! I'm a student that's interested in pursuing computer software development when I graduate in [year of grad]. What are some things you would look for from a graduate that would make them stand out during the application process?

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No.

The course has done its intended aim which is to whet your appetite and give you a taste of computer science. But if you are interested in a career in development with long term prospects it will probably not be sufficient to even get an interview with a serious organisation.

You might want to consider the masters degree or try starting out in a smaller company who might see your passion as a positive. Most larger firms unfortunately do want that piece of paper.

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    I’m not sure what you mean by “the course,” as in CS50? Regardless, thanks for the reply! – John Allison May 27 at 3:23
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    Masters for a junior developer position, really? Mind OP has included he'd be self teaching and developing projects alongside it, sometimes that's more than some CS graduates have. – lucasgcb May 27 at 10:42
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    @lucasgcb are you implying hiring someone with just an introduction to CS as a senior dev? And that they would somehow be better suited than a CS graduate? – Peter Paff May 27 at 13:11
  • @PeterPaff I literally said Junior and OP says nothing about cannon-balling into a Senior position, so I have no idea where that interpretation came from. That said, some CS graduates sometimes aren't even fit for some Junior positions where someone with a minor + experience would. – lucasgcb May 27 at 13:28
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    @P.Hopkinson its the case here in Australia (Sydney specifically). Without a "relevant degree" your application won't even be looked at. What constitutes relevant degree is open to debate of course. Smaller companies (and google) don't always have this requirement. As for what skills a CS grad has thats dependant on the uni and what you're comparing it to. At our uni the list is pretty long, other unis might have a bit more or less overlap. – solarflare May 28 at 23:04
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Only if you are very lucky. As others have mentioned, you may be able to bluff your way into a job with that course. But it will depend on your potential employer and future colleagues being unable to spot your bluff.

And also on their not coming across this question that you asked on a public site...

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    It’s not a single course but a 22 credit hour program. Each listing above is a semester long course. – John Allison May 27 at 14:13
  • Then my answer remains the same. Comparing to my own BS/Master program, this is part of the first two years. Which makes it incomplete. – Ben Tels May 27 at 21:53
  • I dont see how it would be a bluff, from what @BenTels posted it looks to be enough for a very junior position in a company that understands you will need training. It's not like everyone needs a masters degree in order to work in the industry. Also I very much doubt if anyone would care if they saw OP asking this question. – ayrton clark May 28 at 15:35

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