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I was in an interview for a development position and mentioned I was specializing my csc degree in networking. The interviewer didn't seem to like this and went on about "how does programming fit into a degree in networking?" as if focusing in school on networking would mean I'm not a good developer.

First of all is he right? Do others share his view that someone who specialized in one area would do bad in another area but still in the same neighbourhood of study?

It is possible I can still switch from specializing in networking to specializing in software development. The question is really bugging me because I would like to at least try a position as a developer before ruling it out of my career path.

EDIT: one thing is, I would've thought it was silly to get a csc degree with the specialization in software? Wouldn't that be like a half-ass attempt at a software engineering degree (at least where I am they are different)?

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I think most managers, and possibly most people working in IT, would not say that "networking" is in the same neigbourhood of study as "programming". When you say "networking", I'm thinking of network management - subnetting, routing, firewalls, etc. This has very little to do with programming as such - especially if the development position is for e.g. web applications or other front-end thingies.

However, if the development position you're applying for is one where you work with network issues - e.g. developing firewall software, or otherwise needing to actually understand the network as opposed to just knowing how to bind to a socket, then having your major in networking and minor in programming could be very useful indeed.

So, in short - it depends on what development job you're looking for and how you present your degree. You need to emphasize those skills that will be useful for that particular position.

  • "When you say "networking", I'm thinking of network management - subnetting, routing, firewalls, etc. This has very little to do with programming" thanks, this helps me out a lot in seeing the misunderstanding. Certainly the classes don't focus on these sorts of things but more algorithms and design decisions, such as the implementation of P2P networks. I think with this in mind I can tie "networking" into "programming" by talking about the process of coming up with a protocol before implementing or decisions regarding algorithms would seem to be part of the software development process. – Jimmy Bauther Mar 9 '15 at 19:12
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    @JimmyBauther My $0.019999 is you are better off describing your education as "programming network applications" (or some similar words). If I drive a football team's bus from the hotel to ground and back, I would call myself a bus driver, not a football player. :-) You get the idea. – Masked Man Mar 10 '15 at 3:32
  • @Happy yea...something like that. I mean if your going to program a DHT you need to know about both networking and programming. – Jimmy Bauther Mar 10 '15 at 7:10
  • @JimmyBauther That's the kind of connection you should emphasize, yes! Call it "network progrmaming" instead of just "network", that gives you an immediate tie-in. – Jenny D Mar 10 '15 at 8:46
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    @JimmyBauther I'd avoid using the word "networking" a lot, or at all (if possible). Call it something else, to prevent people from immediately having thoughts of you installing routers and cables. "P2P protocols", "distributed web applications", etc. I'm not sure how best to describe it, but hopefully you get the idea. – Esoteric Screen Name Mar 11 '15 at 3:23
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I specialized in Robotics and AI during my undergraduate coursework in Computer Science. And I heard the same question you received if for a different topic...

"Well we don't do robots...." "How does Robotics and AI fit into software development?" "Well.... "

I bring this up because the challenge is in selling yourself. First I'm going to give your program the benefit of the doubt and say that your specializing in 'networking' is, rather than the IT focus others are assuming, actually focused on the low level ins and outs of programming for and with network. Specifically this could include security, load balancers, heck even low level socket stuff. There's TONS of ways that networks is a valid and valuable focus during a computer science degree. During my program many students took courses that focused on these topics additionally there was a Masters and PhD program focusing on these topics as part of a Graduate Degree in Computer Science.

That being said. The problem here is selling yourself. Honestly, though few like to admit it, mostly what you're doing while at University, even for CS degrees, is learning how to learn, learning the vocab, getting enough breadth of experience under your belt that you can pick up new things faster and, of course, showing that you can do these things. At the end of the day your specialization(barring specific research done as a PhD candidate which does not sound applicable to your specific situation) is only a way to get slightly more depth in a given field. It's really not something that's going to force you into that specialization. Additionally, in the Software Development Industry, you're going to find a whole SLEW of things that aren't even touched upon during your degree - things that you will learn by working.

What does all of this mean? It means you will get those questions because Managers and Hiring folks are often not familiar with the specific programs at any given educational facility and because, well, CS is still a bit of a wild west when it comes to defining what is useful and what is not. With that in mind, the challenge here is for you to show how what you are learning IS applicable to that company.

"Oh, yes I'm specializing in Networking because I find the low level interactions between systems to be very interesting. However this is just a way to further explore computer science because ..."

A direct example (from my experiences interviewing):

"We don't do robotics here, why would we hire you?"

"Robots are really interesting but they're just a tool for exploring computer science. At the end of the day working with robots is just working with mathematics. I was taking in data and .... blah blah doing programming stuff that was totally related to the company I was interested in"

Switching between specializations is a choice you need to make. But it shouldn't be because someone asked you a question during an interview. You should make a goal to practice explaining why your choices during your education make sense and why they make you valuable. Anyone can learn to program, anyone can bang out some code, anyone can develop software. What makes you different is the choices you make and how you can relate them to the companies you are interested in working for.

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It's valid question, but that depends on whether or not the interviewer thinks having a CS Degree with an emphasis on programming is a requirement. Many programmers have degrees in other areas (I'm majored in education) and many don't have degrees at all.

You want to be a programmer and are in a CS degree program, why wouldn't you want to focus on software development? Learning to program takes a time commitment. Is this something you're learning in your spare time? Don't you want a solid foundation?

What the interviewer should want to hear is how does the degree you're in help you become a better programmer. A liberal arts degree can make you a better programmer because there are other soft skills and communication skills needed for the "job" of being a programmer and not just the "task" of programming. You're not taking what most people would think is the obvious path of majoring in CS and emphasizing programming, so you'll need to clarify it.

Either you can program or you can't in my book, so all the extra "fluff" of the interview may give some insight into how you'll fit into the team, you're work ethic, etc.

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    It also depends on the location. At least in Finland, employers in general are much more strict about degrees. In OP's case, you would have a very hard time landing a job in programming. – Juha Untinen Mar 9 '15 at 14:06
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I do software development but my software development is from the Devops side of the house. As such, I find your interviewer's comment vastly amusing as I am required to know enough, starting from my systems engineering background, about the Agile process as implemented by the software engineering teams to support it effectively. Add to that that, as a systems engineer, I am a bash/python scripting demon and I am not that far from saying that your interviewer does not know what he is talking about.

Having said that, you will have to make a tremendous effort to develop that software engineering capability. Specialization is not necessarily destiny. Specialization is like a door. The door can open into a dead end closet, or it could open a whole new set of doors, depending which door you choose to open.

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The problem is that there is an entire field called "Information Technology" or "IT" which is centered around networking. In most companies the development staff and the IT staff are completely separate. When you said you were specializing in "networking", the interviewer naturally assumed you wanted to go into IT and had been taking IT courses, not programming courses, so he lost interest.

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