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Programming as a Career

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Hi, I've been programming my entire life. C++, C#, .NET, ASP, HTML, PHP, etc. and I would consider myself knowledgeable. Granted there is still a LOT that I don't know but I can learn that as time goes on. So I'm curious, do you think that a job REQUIRES a degree, or would a demo game or something be better in the long run for a career in programming? I'm more of a "teach myself" kinda guy, and I would rather not spend 5 years and $80,000 to teach me something I already know for a diploma. I plan on getting certified in Cisco, PHP, A+ for Computer Repair, and various other Certificates (Such as one from the Game Institute online). Do you think that all of these certs and a demo game would be all that I need to springboard myself into a career in game programming?

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Original post by tleisher
I'm more of a "teach myself" kinda guy, and I would rather not spend 5 years and $80,000 to teach me something I already know for a diploma.

Just one question. How do you know that it'll only teach you "something you already know"?

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Cisco, PHP, A+ for Computer Repair, and various other Certificates (Such as one from the Game Institute online)

I can't really see any of those being useful. Of course "various other" is hard to judge accurately, and the Game Institute one may impress some people (although to be honest, I doubt it)

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Guest Anonymous Poster
How old are you? If you are in teens still, I would do the college thing. Spend your first 2 years at community college on the cheap. Then transfer to a public university.

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I'm 20 years old. I just don't want to spend five years in college, especially the first two years dealing with something I'm never going to use (General Education) rather then just teaching myself what I need to know and programming on my own.

It would teach me new stuff, yes, but what I meant by "Things I already know" as in the basics of everything that wouldn't really get into anything new until my senior year.

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Sure, it's possible to get a game programmng job without a degree. It's also possible to get one without having a good portfolio of game demos. Of course, you'll be competing against those who have both.

I'm not sure how likely it is to get a game programming job without a degree; I know the Aussie job market would be stacked against you as nearly all applicants would have some kind of degree. I expect it's similar world wide.

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Original post by tleisher
So I'm curious, do you think that a job REQUIRES a degree, or would a demo game or something be better in the long run for a career in programming?


I make $115,000/yr as a senior programmer at a major semiconductor manufacturer, and I don't have a degree. Now, I'm probably the only guy working there without a degree except for the janitorial staff. It is also true that HR didn't like this so much, but I had a lot of backing from my boss and the rest of the team that wanted to hire me. So, unless you're exceptional and can prove you've done a lot of cool stuff, you should expect to show some goods. I've also worked for several years as a senior developer at EA and Sony, I just prefer the advantages of writing software for a non-software company.

Of course, I have 18 years of programming experience too as well as some college. But at the end of the day, I'm sorry that I don't have a degree. I'm always thinking of going back and getting it.

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I'm not afraid to work hard, and create something amazing to show. But I was browsing a lot of jobs on Gamasutra and company websites and a lot of their jobs don't say that they require a degree, they just say proficient skills in programming.

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Original post by tleisher
I'm not afraid to work hard, and create something amazing to show. But I was browsing a lot of jobs on Gamasutra and company websites and a lot of their jobs don't say that they require a degree, they just say proficient skills in programming.

It is hard to say, the chances of getting short listed by HR when sorting hundreds of CVs is a lot lower when you don't have a degree to your name. It also doesn't help when you don't have a standard education background in software engineering which a lot of companies are looking for nowadays.

If you do decide to try to get in the industry without a degree, the easiest way is to go through someone you know that is in the industry.

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Original post by tleisher
Hi, I've been programming my entire life. C++, C#, .NET, ASP, HTML, PHP, etc. and I would consider myself knowledgeable. Granted there is still a LOT that I don't know but I can learn that as time goes on.

So I'm curious, do you think that a job REQUIRES a degree, or would a demo game or something be better in the long run for a career in programming?

I'm more of a "teach myself" kinda guy, and I would rather not spend 5 years and $80,000 to teach me something I already know for a diploma.

I plan on getting certified in Cisco, PHP, A+ for Computer Repair, and various other Certificates (Such as one from the Game Institute online). Do you think that all of these certs and a demo game would be all that I need to springboard myself into a career in game programming?


Chances are, you are already qualified for an entry-level programming position.

You would be SURPRISED at how much knowledge you really need to have to be a professional developer. It's much less then you think. I've dealt with a co-worker who's a 'level 2 developer', who couldn't even tell you what PHP is....

I am 100% self taught... Got my first job consulting and now I'm doing the corporate thing... I only first learned what a variable was just 3 years ago or so (when I first joined these forums about)... and now I have about 2 years professional experience.

I've had a friend on here post the nearly same thing you posted... I told him basically the same thing, 'chances are you are already over qualified'... I told him just go for and don't sell himself short... he started looking, and got a job rather fast as a professional developer... then, after he worked there for like a month, he already knew he was way over-qualified for his position....

don't sell yourself short!!! I have dealt with people who are professional paid developers who would have trouble programming a VCR... get your resume out there and get your ass on some interviews!

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It may seem unfair (and it likely is), but where I work your demo would never get seen. Our HR staff would never pass your package on to the programming teams to look at. They would circular file it when they saw there was no degree when there are many dozens on the stack that do have a degree.

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Your only hope of getting a good programming job without a degree is to convince them that you know what you're doing in the interview. Getting the interview can be quite difficult since a lot of companies tend to throw away resumes without a degree. You'll definitely need to spend a lot of time writing cover letters tailored for the company in question. Once you get started though it's easier (from my experience) to stay within the field. You keep adding experience to the resume and it become more attractive despite the lack of a degree. If you get the chance, get the degree. It'll make your job search easier and it'll help you start with a better salary (at a good company, the raises are merit based and shouldn't be effected by your education level).

Edit: None of that pertains to game development. I have no experience there.

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Post-secondary education is not for everybody. A majority of people in modern nations choose not to pursue it.


However, you should consider the consequences of your decision before you make it.



Addressing the "Teach me something I already know" about computer science aspect...

Most of the self-taught people skip over the things they don't like. Do you know about generated languages? Do you understand FSMs and context free grammars? Do you understand enough complexity theory to help you choose between different algorithms? Do you know how to read technical papers describing new algorithms? Do you understand the discrete math and calculus you can end up using?

I have worked with several industry veterans who don't have college degrees. The event that most impressed me was when one of these veterans was writing an asset packing tool. He was using a simple grammar but didn't know that he was. He was just doing everything by the seat of his pants, and kept finding exceptions and different rules that he hadn't thought of. I pulled him aside and spent about two hours teaching him about grammars and how they would help him out. He revised the whole tool and made it much better than his original plan.

Each of the veterans who didn't have college degrees have wanted to (or were in the process of) go to school to earn the degree.

This knowledge is not a prerequisite to working in the game industry, of course, but it will be of some value to you.




Addressing the "can I get a job" aspect ...

Yes, you can get a job. But there are many more things that being degree-less grants you.

Yes, you will have a harder time finding a job because you are competing with everybody else who has a degree. Yes, you will earn much less money than your counterparts. Yes, you will be overlooked for promotions. Yes, you will move up the career ladder more slowly. Yes, you will have trouble in technical discussions with your more schooled peers. And yes, you will either not attend or feel incompetent at conferences you are invited to attend.



Regarding General Education courses being of no use...

You can opt to live without learning about communicating effectively. You may choose to not hone your personal and technical writing skills. Although communicating effectively may help when negotiating salaries or when trying to convince others in why your way is better, you are free to decide that these abilities are of limited value to you.

You may live your life without learning about history, humanities, and the fine arts. Perhaps you are bored by philosophy. Perhaps you do not see value in understanding other people's point of view. There are many people who live a satisfying life without learning the value of these foreign loci.

You can choose that natural sciences, such as physics, will have no place in your career path. This is because other people (those math and physics geeks) will be doing all the physics stuff in your game engines. Of course, you know they earn much more than you, but you have decided you do not want to follow that path.



And if you decide to attend....

There is a possibility that your courses will not teach you anything that you did not already know.

If that is the case, then you have failed your own education. Although the courses will certainly cover material that you already know, you will be exposed to ideas and information which you do not already know. If you decide to follow the route through school, you may choose to take advantage of these unfamiliar ideas and expand your world view, rather than shunning them as unnecessary. Since your core curriculum will be easy with your existing knowledge, you will have more time and resources available to explore other fields, or perhaps study some interesting aspects of the field in a depth you could not in your workplace.


Ultimately, the choice is yours alone.

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Original post by tleisher
I just don't want to spend five years in college, especially the first two years dealing with something I'm never going to use (General Education) rather then just teaching myself what I need to know and programming on my own.


I can assure you that every single person that goes to college and earns a degree will find value in the experience, if not the knowledge. Most will find value in the knowledge, even if they don't realise it when they first graduate. Frob has said it eloquantly, but to summarise, going to college is not simply about gaining a peice of paper. Companies who prefer those with degrees are NOT doing it simply because they believe that having the piece of paper means you know more than the guy or girl who doesn't. They want the degree for the simple reason that they person who went to college has an expanded view of the world, of themself and others. That they've learned to think for themselves, explore ideas, question them and come up with answers. If you forego that experience, then what you are asking for is that companies hire you based solely on your programming expertise. Some will do that, but most will prefer the other guy/girl who has the same expertise packaged in a 'more rounded person'.

Cheers,

Timkin

(who is probably qualified to speak on the subject, given my many years gaining an education, subsequent work in industry and that now I'm an academic.)

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There are people here where I work, doing difficult game programming, who have completely non-technical degrees. If you can show that you have what it takes, you can get a job in programming.

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Original post by distortion
There are people here where I work, doing difficult game programming, who have completely non-technical degrees. If you can show that you have what it takes, you can get a job in programming.

If getting a job is the only interesting factor, then as I mentioned above, it is possible to get a job without a college degree.

You just need to remember that you are being compared to other candidates who have degrees.

Given a stack of similar candidates with degrees and without, I will call those with a solid academic background first. Having a degree is evidence that they can follow a large project through to completion, and evidence that they probably have a more useful knowledge base.

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There are three categories of knowledge: things you already know, things you know exist but don't understand, and things you don't know exist. The last is the largest. Going to college will make you much more humble about what you already know as you learn more about what you don't know. And learning how to learn what you don't know is an important skill.

You've already got enough tech skills to get a job, but is a that all that you want out of life?? Don't you have any other interests you want to pursue?? It helps to have good life-long friends too, and hell, a lot of people meet their husbands/wives in college. The education is a small part. Oh, and do you really want to give up your last chance at just having fun?? Like have you ever gotten laid?

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One of the biggest bonuses of having the degree is that it proves you're seriously committed. Even if you only go for the Associates degree, that's worth a lot more than nothing. Since school is mandatory until you're eighteen, your high school diploma doesn't really prove anything other than that you're not a drop-out. While that is great quality to have, employers are looking for a little extra. Who’d you pick; someone that strives to further his/her education, or someone that's not a drop-out? I'd pick the first one. my2c

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If you are qualified for the position,

You only need to learn how to write a good resume. On my resume, my crappy 2 year degree from my crappy college was at the very bottom. All the good stuff like work experience and projects were above it.

I did good on the interview, and got hired..... the moral is, do not think for a second you need a degree to get a job! It will certainly help, but will not make or break you.

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I've decided that I'm going to go ahead and get a degree, if all else fails I have a BS degree and I can use that towards anything rather then going back to college in ten years.

I do have one more question though, how serious/prestigious is a degree from ITT Tech in Software Engineering? How is it look upon vs a regular 4-year degree program in Computer science.

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Honestly I believe that where you get your degree from doesn't matter. Like ITT Tech I heard is not accredited. But as long as you can list yourself as having a Bachelors of Computer Science or better yet Masters you'll be in much better shape than if you had no schooling at all.
-Hinata

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I personally think you should go to college just for the experience of it. If you do it "correctly," it can easily be one of the best periods of your life. When you're there, don't be antisocial. Be sure you make friends and go to parties every once in a while. You can still be a total bookworm while partying occasionally.

I also think that college is what you make of it. If you go with the attitude that you won't learn anything new, only get rehashes of things you already know, then most likely you won't learn anything and you'll be wasting your time. You need to be open-minded. Like skittleo said, college has a tendency to humble you and provide you with a more realistic view of what you do and do not know.

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Original post by tleisher
I do have one more question though, how serious/prestigious is a degree from ITT Tech in Software Engineering? How is it look upon vs a regular 4-year degree program in Computer science.


A degree from ITT Tech might not look bad to the interviewer; however, a degree from a 4-year university will certainly look better.

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Original post by tleisher
I do have one more question though, how serious/prestigious is a degree from ITT Tech in Software Engineering? How is it look upon vs a regular 4-year degree program in Computer science.


Can't answer your question, but man you're from California?? Go to Berkeley! You'd get in-state tuition and you're like guaranteed a job when you graduate. According to usnews it's one of the #1 computer science schools in the country!

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I would go to Berkeley but it's 5 hours from my home, and I can't afford the dorm life, plus my job, family and girlfriend are here.

Instead I'm going to go to Cal State Long Beach, it's one of the best in California (Next to Berkeley).

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When interviewing, most people don't care what school the degree is from. They may give a tiny preference to you if you went to the same school they did, but otherwise nobody cares. All they care is that you have the degree from an accredited program.

ITT has accredited Bachelor's programs. That's really all that's important.

Enjoy the learning, and I hope you take advantage of all the opportunities you have during your experience.

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