September 23, 2010 9:40 am EDT
I was recently asked by a college student, studying to be in the field I'm in, computer programming, to answer a series of questions for a paper she was assigned to write. I realized as I formulated and wrote my responses that a life empowered by divine needs to touch all aspects, interactions with others, our family life, our roles in our communities, and our careers. A transcript of the interview follows...
I have read that it is possible to get a job as a computer programmer with a 2 year degree, but that a 4 year degree is preferred. Can you really get that great of a job with an associate’s degree?
More knowledge and training is surely preferred, but that's not the only prerequisite to being hired for a great job. Intelligence, character, presence, confidence, inquisitiveness, tenacity - with these sorts of traits a great job can be found, regardless whether one has an Associate's, Bachelor's or Graduate degree. We all start in entry level jobs and make the opportunities to grow in those initial positions. Some employers will only hire those with specific degrees, others not so much. Anyone with a reasonable level of knowledge and a high level of stick-to-it-iveness will find the right job. It's important, early on, to recognize that it takes time to grow into jobs of higher responsibility and challenge. Our first jobs are never our last. We start where we can and grow from there, limited only by our desire to grow.
The job outlook in this field is so-so. It is expected to decline due to outsourcing jobs offshore. How do you feel based on your experience in this field?
The job market is most assuredly becoming more and more global. Regardless of the economy, though, the people who have the desire to perform, to grow, to cooperate, to provide VALUE, will thrive. Always. A 10% unemployment rate is a 90% employment rate. Does that not indicate that even in the worst of times eight or nine of ten people are employed? So long as we're willing to work hard, there are always jobs available. Another key, I think, is to specialize, at least somewhat. At first, we're all generalists, and that's a good thing, it's good to have a breadth of knowledge and lots of diverse skills, but it's also good to be really great in a few areas. Our areas of specialization needs to change with the times. A few years ago, for me, I was a specialist in ecommerce and internet marketing. Lately, I'm moving more towards mapping technologies and object oriented portals. Supply and demand will always be the rule. We must be willing to always change such that what we offer employers or potential employers is what they need.
I do know that a lot of computer programmers have their own businesses or work at home compared to in a major firm, business or office. Which would you prefer? Any specific reasoning?
I've been working from home for six months and I love it. But it only works for me because I have the discipline to actually work from home, unsupervised, and because I've got the skills and experience that I can produce effectively unassisted by a close team of others. I think then that telecommuting is great for seasoned and experience folks but not so good for entry level workers. Remote workers will continue to be more prevalent as the technology continues to improve and be embraced. Video-conferencing is fully available but is still used by few. Takes time for technology to be fully accepted and used.
It seems as though most people in this field are men. Do you think men have an advantage over women in this field?
No, men don't have any advantage over women. While in some isolated cases there may still be unequal treatment, that's surely not the norm. Employers want employees who produce. It's really that simple. Any job is an agreement to provide value in return for pay. Any employee willing to provide a reasonable value will not have trouble remaining employed. Employees willing to provide exemplary value will be even more secure in their jobs.
What do you deal with on day-to-day basis while on the job?
I suppose my biggest daily challenge is the human element. As a programmer, much of my day is spent in intimacy with the computer, or in solitude, thinking, planning, devising and such. But there is still always a human element. As employees, we have bosses; self-employed, we have clients. Usually, whether in a team of programmers or not, we'll need to collaborate with others, whether coworkers or loose affiliates we can brainstorm with and trade ideas. There's nearly always at least some interaction required with the users of the systems we build as well. And with vendors. So, even in a highly technical field, the ability to work with others and communicate effectively is key.
With your given experience, say I graduate in 2014, what do you think my chances would be in finding a career within this field given the expected decline?
I think your chances are very high if you believe in yourself, are reasonably bright, and are willing to always remember that your job is to provide specific value to your employer or clients. There's always room for achiever, regardless of the general state of the economy.
What kind of salaries could I expect to make with a 2 yr. degree, if any? 4 yr. degree?
This really varies so greatly depending on the area of specialty, the industry, the geographic area, and many other factors. I would guess, on average, one with a four year degree would be paid 20% more than one with a two year degree. But that's a sweeping generalization and again, it varies widely depending on many factors.
Find where the needs of employers intersects with the areas of specialty you're passionate about and be willing to work hard and provide value and you'll do fine.
Best of luck!