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Harlin 01-03-2005 01:21 AM

Career Advice
 
I'd like some career advice, but only from people who actually work for pay in the IT industry, if that's OK.

Due to condition of my employment at a company, I have to go back to college this month to complete my Associate's Degree in Computer Information Systems (Programming Emphasis). Fortunately, I only need one class: a core academic elective. Since I'm going back I also was interested in maybe taking some more classes while I have the time. But, I was wondering this:

Would it be better for me to:

A. Finish my last class and associates degree and then go to a 4 yr school (university) to earn a bachelors degree (I feel this would help me gain some prestige points with most employers--although I don't think it would help much on really learning what I love--computer technology).

or

B. Finish my last class and associates degree and continue to take classes at a technical school (this would earn for me additional degrees at the associates level but more importantly, expose me to more technology).

For the past year and a half I have worked as a systems engineer/systems administrator. My goals in the long run are to do more programming and less systems engineering. While I feel I can lead others, I really have no desire to work as a manager. From the choices I gave above it would be a good assumption that I'd prefer Choice B. However, I am wondering if getting a Bachelor's degree really would help me or not if I wanted to get into programming.

Any comments, flames or advice would be welcomed. Please avoid suggesting things like certification. I personally give no credibility to certificates just by the way that that whole system operates.

Thanks.

williamwbishop 01-03-2005 07:31 AM

Well, I'm going to go ahead and suggest racking up on certs. Not for the reason you're thinking, I also place their value at about the same amount as the paper they're written on. But PHB's like them, it get's you in the door, where your experience can get you the job. But I'll save you what it took me several years to figure out....SPECIALIZE. Find something that interests you, and specialize in it. Management makes good money, but I guarantee you that someone setting up EMC's on a contract basis makes WAY more money.

Harlin 01-03-2005 04:19 PM

The SPECIALIZE I completely agree with - 110% :D This confirms truly what makes successful people that way. Two rules:

1. If you love what you do, you'll move heaven and earth to be great at it.
2. There is almost always loads of gold waiting for those who are experts in certain areas.

As far as the certs are concerned, I really wasn't planning on a rant, but once I got started I found it impossible to stop. If you like, indulge me, if not, hit the back button. Anyways, here goes.

The certs, I just don't like wasting my time with them. A few years back I spent a ton of money on getting A+, Network+, MCP etc. (paying for classes and the actual exams). They did me absolutely no good. Still, I'll give some other reasons to back this up besides the fact that I may appear to be simply a malcontent.

So-called "professional" certification programs are attempts by companies to keep their names and products in front of customers instead of simply letting their software and innovation do the talking. They also rationalize this to companies by presenting an illusion that their software is supported by a horde of *professionals who in many cases are incompetents who have memorized cheatsheets and later dump their quickly gained knowledge once they get a job.

In these cases the company knowing it costs a lot of money to hire people must spend additional funds to train the person the right way instead of firing them and looking for others (why take the chance?). The companies that can't afford to spend the money on training (re-training) absorb the costs of the person on the job who is making many more times the mistakes a competent one would not have likely made.

Another reason I don't agree with them is that these companies use their own proprietary certification programs to de-legitimize people who do not spend a substantial amount of money on their software and support.

You may ask, how do you solve this problem by not charging an exorbitant amount of money on testing and preparation? I think the party best to evaluate potential employees is the employer. After all, they know what requirements they have. They can come up rather quickly with an evaluation board that will test **Absolute Essentials, ***Nice to Haves, ^the candidate's intrinsic skills (though possibly irrelevant ones to the position) that could potentially prove useful in the long run (this can stimulate the employer/manager to think outside the box!) and social traits needed for the position.

I think "professional" certificate programs are easy to take in because they do sound like they have a noble use. However, when you examine what they are about, they look like a loser to me. If a company must use certificates to evaluate candidates, I think they should rely only on vendor-neutral ones like CompTIA -- else, the process is very inefficient and causes everyone to suffer in the long run.


----------------------------------------
* If you do have certifications and know you have earned them by demonstrating your knowledge, I am not talking about you. The ones I mention here are the ones who have spent time looking at braindumps and the like so that they can memorize likely answers while not having a thorough understanding of their subject.

** Skills that must be there and if not, will completely disqualify a candidate

*** Useful skills but not a requirement

^ Example: Maybe the company needs a simple operator but this operator knows Perl or Python very well. He could potentially save the company lots of money in network monitoring software costs.

williamwbishop 01-03-2005 07:46 PM

Everything you said is true, and more than. But human resources types don't understand knowledge vs. paper. That cert gets you past the HR types, and into the interview. In some cases, you can't be picked up for a contract installation because you don't meet the requirements set down on a piece of paper by people who can barely use word.

williamwbishop 01-03-2005 07:47 PM

The best way to do it, it seems to me, is to study on your own, take the tests, but don't sweat them. And don't forget how you are SUPPOSED to do things, the certification answer isn't always the RIGHT answer.

trey85stang 01-03-2005 08:20 PM

my two cents... get your bachelors degree and do not worry about certs.. they are worthless in my expirence..

Now with a year and a half working as a systems admin is good experience.. it is not enough for most, with a 4 year degree it will help you land an entry or a step up level position.

A 4 year degree will give you expience with a some programming languages.. a lot of companies like to hire programmers right out of college, so a 4 year degree imo would be beneficial to you. finding high paying work and working with a stable company is a rarity these days without a degree.


I am going on my 6th (or 7th??) year in the IT industry (Sys Admin, help desk, grunt work, networking etc.. i have done it all) with no degree, I am making probably the most amount of money i will ever make without a degree and imo it is not enough money, I also do not have a full time job with a stable company. I have been doing contract work the entire 6 years hoping to catch a break on one of my contracts and get a full-time job. I still dont see it happening anytime soon, (until i finish my degree.. I started working on it last march)


Good luck to you.

williamwbishop 01-03-2005 10:07 PM

No, you can make the money, but you have to specialize. I have a degree, and certs, and experience. But until I really sharpen my goal into a particular thing, the big money won't come. I have friends with degrees in MIS,certs out the wazoo, and managment positions. And I have friends, with no college, but a cert package that is specialized, and they make more than doctors. You want the big money, learn something no one else cares to. Learn SAN's, Learn a particular clinical system, learn something no one else is doing. The EMC example I gave you...they fly him all over the country, he makes as much in 2 days as I do in a month. That's the big money. All he does is install million dollar equipment. At 200 bucks an hour. I too have nearly 10 years in, but I know that a degree isn't it, and cert's aren't it. Experience isn't always it, most of us don't make that much money, even old timers. But the specialists? They drive the nice cars. It's drive, ambition, and intelligence. The other shit just get's you in the door.

J.W. 01-04-2005 03:27 AM

While I won't argue with a lot of what's already been said, in a technical field it is a simple fact that for virtually any job opening a bachelor's degree is mandatory if you want to even be considered. Sure, there are exceptions, but if the company advertises an opening with a given set of requirements (eg, a bachelor's degree, a given set of skills, a given amount of experience, etc) and your resume lacks any of those requirements, then to be blunt, it's just unrealistic to assume that the company would spend its time talking to people who *don't* meet the requirements when there literally may be hundreds (if not thousands) of others who do meet all the requirements.

Consider it this way - suppose the tables were turned and it was you who was trying to hire someone. If you advertised that a programming position required, say, at least 2 years of Oracle database experience and you got a resume from someone who had never used Oracle before, would you bring that person in for an interview? Or suppose that a sales position required being fluent in both English and Spanish, because the company had operations in both the USA and Mexico and the person who was hired would regularly be speaking both English and Spanish. If a person's Spanish skills were limited to being able to say "Adios" and "Uno, dos, tres", would you consider that person to be qualified?

Obviously the answer to both questions would be No. By the same token, if the company posts an advertisement indicating that a bachelor's is required, well, then it's required, period. (Realistically the only exception to this would be if you happened to know someone at the company who could personally recommend you. Otherwise, forget it.) If you submit your resume to the company but do not meet the published qualifications, then in all likelihood you'd get a (very) discouraging lack of response. To say things another way, it would be a pretty rare hiring manager who would be willing to turn away 100% of the applicants who did meet the requirements in order to bring a person onboard who didn't meet the requirements.

Finally, I think it's also useful to keep in mind that in this economy there are *a lot* of unemployed people in the tech field, and most of them have some really excellent qualifications. They've got the degree(s), they've got the experience, they aren't dummies, and for any given job opening, they will turn out in big numbers to compete against you. If a company gets an overwhelming number of resumes for their job postings, the first thing they'll want to do is whittle the pile down to a manageable size, and the way to do that is to toss any resumes that don't meet the requirements. One can argue about whether this is really fair, or whether the company passes over some really great candidates by doing this, but in the end, that is the way things work, like it or not. (Clearly there may be exceptions to this, but that's not the way to bet.)

So, although I recognize I've rambled a bit here, my advice to you would be to continue to pursue what you really love, but to invest the time/effort for another couple of years to get the bachelor's degree. Considering that computer technology is your thing, and considering that most good sized colleges/universities will have a wide range of academic options that would be appealing to you, I'd say that having that degree in the field that you really love will make you one of the best candidates out there, for any opening you apply to. Good luck with things regardless of what your decision turns out to be -- J.W.

sick-o-windoze 02-05-2005 09:24 AM

After over 20 years in various parts of the industry, programming, networking and hardware VARS, consulting, software design, startups, etc. I would suggest the following:

Programming is limited. Corporate management sees this as menial labor. You can make just as much money monitoring hardware and how hard is that?

Programming is sort of a required sub task of other specialties, so I would go for those specialties and use your programming skills to make your job easier. No one outsources their Oracle DBAs.

Money is where the Starbucks are. Metro locations offer more possibilities. Target an industry that makes money. Pharmas are cushier than Financial institutions.

As for the degree, if you want a corporate job, the -ahem- brand of the school is not important. There is Ivy and not. You can get an online degree with work experience from Barrymore University. HR doesn't know and doesn't care as long as it's accredited. They check the box (has degree).

The last person I talked to that interviewed for a highly technical programming contract (check this: 1 month job!) had to take a brainbench exam after the interview even though he had top flight references.

Programming as it's own specialty is not something I would recommend to anyone today.

sick-o-windoze 02-05-2005 09:29 AM

Also, I wouldn't spend my own money on certificates. When it comes to hiring people, I don't look at them as qualifications. Most clued in people don't, other than "well they know something at least." It's the job experience. What were you directly responsible for on the job?

Padma 02-05-2005 11:40 AM

With over 20 years in IT myself, I will say, without question. get that Bachelor's degree! That is one of the first things most employers look at. If you don't have a degree, you'd better have planty of experience, with good recommendations.

As for specializing, as a programmer, I have to agree that programming is not the *big* field it was 20 yrs ago. *Some* employers understand that good programmers do more than "grunt work", and that it takes a special skill to do it right, but let's face it: you can train any monkey to "write code". ;) After 20 years of programming/analysis, I shifted gears a couple years ago, and now do software configuration management. I use my programming skills to develop modules and scripts that ease my workload. (I am doing a job that used to have two people assigned, working full out, to stay on top of. Now it's just me, and I spend much of my time "twiddling my thumbs". ;) )

Harlin 02-07-2005 03:05 PM

Thanks for the advice guys. After I'm finished with my associates I am immediately signing up for Bachelor's at a nearby University. In addition to being conducive to working in the IT field, it would also allow me to pursue a less compensated field -- but one I know I would love-- teaching!!!

As far as the programming thing is concerned, I'd like to do it because I love it. When you love doing something, you tend to get good at it. Honestly though, I've never done anything for money and I've always come out well. When you're good at something, money is not too far behind.

Sick-o-windows: I love your blog site. I know the guys here closed down your thread but I think it's a great site. Since it contains real content and not a thousand links to nowhere, I don't count that as spamming a forum. I don't know what's up with geeks that think that commerce is so bad anyways. Then again, I know what they'd say... if they let one do it, they'd be inundated with spamming on the forums. Still, I don't think they used their best judgment on this-- they reacted as opposed to thinking it out -- something they normally accuse non-geeks of doing. Funny.

Sick-o-windows: with regards to some of the articles I saw on your site I constantly deal with non-technical management who feel the need for feel-good meetings every day (sometimes twice a day). I have always been an analytical type of guy even when I used to work in sales. Almost all (the bad ones anyways) managers believe they know what's best for their workers. I have never been a person motivated by money, perks (vacations, tropies, prizes etc) or even recognition. I am a puzzle to many managers I have worked for. I am motivated by time -- time to do the things that I love to do and time to spend with my family. Only I know how to spend my time. I know this is a detriment to many businesses but I have had the fortune to work for some managers who have recognized this and have worked with me. When we do what we enjoy and are realistically able (given a real chance anyways) to meet our own personal goals, we all do well! It can't be helped! I think managers would do well to give his/her employees what they need to get to get a job done, step back and let them motivate themselves. NFL and MLB owners have learned this to be true. Why not the rest of the working world?

Anyways, thanks for the help everyone.

jbiggs77 02-13-2005 11:16 PM

Dumb question perhaps, but what is an EMC?

perry 02-14-2005 10:56 AM

Re: Career Advice
 
Quote:

Originally posted by Harlin
I'd like some career advice, but only from people who actually work for pay in the IT industry, if that's OK.

Due to condition of my employment at a company, I have to go back to college this month to complete my Associate's Degree in Computer Information Systems (Programming Emphasis). Fortunately, I only need one class: a core academic elective. Since I'm going back I also was interested in maybe taking some more classes while I have the time. But, I was wondering this:

Would it be better for me to:

A. Finish my last class and associates degree and then go to a 4 yr school (university) to earn a bachelors degree (I feel this would help me gain some prestige points with most employers--although I don't think it would help much on really learning what I love--computer technology).

or

B. Finish my last class and associates degree and continue to take classes at a technical school (this would earn for me additional degrees at the associates level but more importantly, expose me to more technology).

For the past year and a half I have worked as a systems engineer/systems administrator. My goals in the long run are to do more programming and less systems engineering. While I feel I can lead others, I really have no desire to work as a manager. From the choices I gave above it would be a good assumption that I'd prefer Choice B. However, I am wondering if getting a Bachelor's degree really would help me or not if I wanted to get into programming.

Any comments, flames or advice would be welcomed. Please avoid suggesting things like certification. I personally give no credibility to certificates just by the way that that whole system operates.

Thanks.

go get a real degree... you'll be glad you did

thats what i'm doing and i'm having a blast

math & engineering.... cool!

however, i would frown greatly on a comp sci degree... you already know all the material and the prof will be an idiot.... get a real degree, go math & engineering

and YES you can do it..

- perry

Crito 02-14-2005 12:54 PM

No doubt if you want to work for the government, whether federal in the armed services, or local for a state university, a degree is required. In the corporate world, however, what and who you know is much more important. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell... just to name a few people in this industry who have done OK without a degree. ;) I assure you, if you can make/save someone a million bucks, they're not going to turn you away because you lack a piece of paper; only the government is so obtuse. :o


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