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I have a friend that is planning his career path. He had trouble finding work with a bachelors in civil engineering, and is now considering getting a masters degree in computer science (versus a masters degree in civil engineering).

When competing against candidates with higher degrees in the same field as their undergraduate, how can a candidate with two somewhat unrelated degrees sell their education as a strength to employers?

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    Hey le_garry, your question doesn't really have a practical answer right now since it is pretty open-ended as a question. I am going to edit it to try to focus it on a question that will get better longer answers. If you think I left out something important, or the information won't help your friend, please feel free to edit it however needed. – jmac Nov 13 '13 at 23:46
  • Thanks @jmac, phrasing was an issue when trying to make this a legitimate question for Q&A, but I think it is a valid topic for discussion. I am thankful for the insight. – Garry Nov 15 '13 at 16:21
  • Hi Garry, just to be clear, our Q&A platform isn't meant for extended discussions, so it's important to edit and frame questions with this in mind. Questions that evoke responses that include how or why tend to work much better. With that said, the edits here do improve it, and you seem happy with those edits, so I'll reopen it. Good luck! :) – jmort253 Nov 18 '13 at 1:31
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I wanted to know on a general level, would the unrelated degree hurt the candidate's ability to be chosen for a software engineer position unrelated to civil engineering?

It would not hurt a candidate anywhere I have ever worked.

For software engineers that I have hired, a CS degree at any level would be sufficient. Holding an additional unrelated degree would in no way detract from that.

Clearly there are many other job requirements and usually relevant experience is high on the list. But a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering would not be a negative for me as a hiring manager.

how can a candidate with two somewhat unrelated degrees sell their education as a strength to employers?

Having a varied background (as indicated by degrees in two distinct fields) can be an advantage.

First, just the simple diversity can indicate that you are capable of embracing and learning many things. These days, the ability to be a lifelong learner is more important than ever. You have evidence that you can be that.

Second, you can have a huge advantage with your non-CS background if you target software positions in companies whose domain involves your other field of study. Companies in the civil engineering domain would consider you particularly interesting for their software positions - you already know the "lingo" and understand their user's needs.

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    Hey Joe, I edited the question to help focus it a bit, so you may want to consider an edit to your answer to give a bit more input on how to appeal the differing degrees. Thanks in advance! – jmac Nov 14 '13 at 0:56
  • I posted a meta question explaining some of the aggressive edits that have been made recently. Feel free to read it over when you get a chance. – jmac Nov 14 '13 at 14:03
  • let us continue this discussion in chat – jmac Nov 14 '13 at 15:02
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In my experience, it's not about selling the undergraduate degree if you have a graduate degree, but being able to explain why you switched from one type of degree to another. Many people have graduate degrees that are different from their undergraduate degrees. This is a pretty easy conversation to manage: you can discuss gaining an appreciation for programming or another aspect of CS during your undergraduate degree, or a job where you had to learn CS concepts and that got you interested in an advanced degree, or a hundred other things. Make sure that the conversation is positive about what got you interested in CS, rather what is negative about the difficulty of finding jobs in civil engineering.

A civil engineering degree could be helpful in certain CS jobs. For example, I would guess that a company that makes CAD software would find a candidate with both a CS and a civil engineering background to be of interest. You can use your undergraduate degree to differentiate yourself from other candidates for some positions; this will be about tailoring your cover letter to the position in which you're interested, as well as being able to discuss in depth during the interview how your degree makes you a great candidate for the position.

In short, it is unlikely to hurt you for most positions, and it could turn out to be a benefit in others. Keep the conversation about both the undergraduate and graduate degrees positive, and be able to talk about how you're a great candidate for the role.

(I realize that this is for your friend and not you, but it's faster to type "you" than "your friend" all the time. :)

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An employer in the civil engineering field looking to hire a developer would probably look favorably on someone with domain specific knowledge.

If your friend can find a position with a company that makes civil engineering software, she'll have an advantage. If she applies to a company that makes computerized toasters, then there may not be any benefit.

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    Hey Dan, I edited the question to get slightly better answers. Your answer fits well, but would be even better if you expanded a bit on how to use differing degrees to appeal to an employer. – jmac Nov 14 '13 at 0:54
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I got a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering, followed by a Master's in Computer Science. Actually I don't consider them unrelated, as I have found lots of jobs (I'm a consultant/contract programmer) working on embedded systems -- either doing both the hardware and the firmware design, or just one or the other with a good knowledge of the entire system.

My combination of a BSEE and MSCS degree has directly gotten my contracts -- my clients have told me so.

Likewise, I don't see that a BS in Civil Engineering and an MS in Computer Science are unrelated, due to the heavy use of computers in the civil engineering field today. I would definitely go with the mixed degrees.

As far as "selling" the mixed degrees vs the BS/MS in one field, generally pursing an advanced degree in the same field would lead one to some degree of specialization, and unless the employer just happens to be looking for that specialization, the extra education is not of much benefit.

Where with the mixed degrees, I was able to do a thesis on a topic that involved both hardware and software and demonstrated knowledge of both fields. So I believe your friend would be wise to consider a MS thesis along similar lines, which would combine his newly acquired computer science knowledge with his undergraduate training.

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    Hey tcrosley, I edited the question to help focus it a bit, so you may want to consider an edit to your answer to give a bit more input on how to appeal the differing degrees. Thanks in advance! – jmac Nov 14 '13 at 0:56

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