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Worth Going Back to School in Mid-30s?

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So, I'm in my mid-30s and have been programming since I was a teenager (both as a hobby and professionally). However, I don't have a programming degree (though I do have a bachelors in something unrelated). Was big into the Flash 2D gaming scene while it was hot, but Flash is dead now and most of the experience wouldn't apply to 3D programming jobs today. I'm most interested in working on AAA 3D games. I do have skills in C++ (among other things) but I really feel like the lack of a Computer Science degree is holding me back. Do you think it's a good idea to go back to school and get the CompSci degree even though I'm in my mid-30s? I realize I could release an indie game or make some demos to get noticed (which I could do while in school), but it seems all the job listings I look at ask for Computer Science experience. I found some affordable programs, and the money is not a problem, but I don't want to be wasting my time. Any thoughts?

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23 hours ago, cyberpnk said:

but I really feel like the lack of a Computer Science degree is holding me back.

Why?  Do you have a specific example of it holding you back or are you just assuming that?

I am 35, programming since my teens, no degree of any kind (I dropped out of high school so I don’t even have that diploma).  I have no examples of it ever holding me back, and a stack full of examples where it literally mattered so little that my employers didn’t even notice my lack of a degree until I mentioned it.  It’s never been mentioned in an interview, and I’ve gotten interviews at every company where I have applied except a few in the UK that aren’t able to hire outside of the EU.

With no exceptions, all places where I have worked requested a degree I don’t have on their recruitment pages.  Ignore it.  Take 10 random company job listings and you will find that all of them also note “or equivalent experience.”

“A degree in computer science,” is just a standard thing they always list.  Treat it as such, and remember that the only way to guarantee you don’t get a job is to not apply.


L. Spiro

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23 hours ago, cyberpnk said:

1. Do you think it's a good idea to go back to school and get the CompSci degree even though I'm in my mid-30s?

2. I don't want to be wasting my time.

1. It's not a terrible idea. Do you want to do that? I'm not saying the degree "will" help you get that job. A degree is not a guarantee of a job. Do you have a portfolio? Is it solid?

2. I roll my eyes at you. It wouldn't be a waste of your time. Unless you would hate doing it, in which case you shouldn't even be asking.

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@L. Spiro That's good to know. I don't have a specific example of being rejected outright because of a lack of a degree, I am just going off more from what I see in job listings and also from my experience with co-workers that had the degree and seemed to have a better understanding of formal programming concepts that I might lack (I'm more the kind of person that can hack something together, maybe not the "correct" way).

Though I do have about 20 years experience programming, I don't have much of a portfolio with complex 3D games or any work in the AAA sector. So I could try to just work on projects on my own and build a portfolio, but employers would still be taking a risk with someone with no "shipped titles" and I thought the CompSci degree would at least help me get my foot in the door.

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1 minute ago, cyberpnk said:

I thought the CompSci degree would at least help me get my foot in the door.

Yes. It will likely do that.

 

1 minute ago, cyberpnk said:

I don't have much of a portfolio with complex 3D games or any work in the AAA sector.

You don't necessarily need complex 3D games. You don't need AAA experience. 

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@Tom Sloper Thanks. I have a portfolio, but it's mostly all 2D games and I'm not really interested in 2D anymore (actually, I never quite was, but it seemed like a good way to get into the industry at the time and maybe move up). I realize a degree is no guarantee of anything, but from what I've seen it can certainly help my application not be put in the trash.

And, no, I don't think school would be a waste of time in that I would be learning and gaining credentials. However, I could also spend 4 years building indie games or otherwise getting experience, which could be a better use of the time. I enjoy learning on my own too, which I'm constantly doing (maybe too much), but saying I've read dozens of development books in my bedroom doesn't hold the same weight as having an actual degree, even if you learn the same things.

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If you don’t have a portfolio with complex 3D work, you solve that by writing a complex 3D work and adding it to your portfolio.

What Tom Sloper wants you to realize is that you don’t necessarily need to be the perfect candidate and you have more options than you realize.  Nothing specifically requires those things to get a job.

There are plenty of things to do on a 3D game that do not borrow from experience writing complex 3D games.  Tool chains, optimizations, menu logic, basic AI, input handling, etc.  You can easily get into a company on one of those tasks and then move into whatever sector you want over time. Every AAA company under the sun already has a game engine to handle the heavy lifting for you anyway, so you would be better off getting experience with Unreal Engine 4 followed by Unity.

You can’t be an engine programmer without a lot of experience, which means you will be on a game team, which means you should be getting comfortable with general game logic.
If you want to join a fighting-game company, you should think about how to handle hit boxes, hit detection, character state transitions, and input handling (to detect sequences that lead to moves and then moves to combos).
For other types of companies maybe you will want to learn how to double-jump and wall-jump, and for still other companies you should think about how to make the various kinds of AI they need (enemy swarms for RTS games, fighting logic for fighting games, stalker logic for FPS/platform games, etc.)

Your best path forward is to clearly define what you want to do and start filling in the holes in both your knowledge/experience and your portfolio.


L. Spiro

Edited by L. Spiro

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Not mentioned yet:  You don't compete in a vacuum.

You are being compared to other applicants.  If one candidate has experience and another doesn't, that counts in the first one's favor.  If one candidate has a degree and another doesn't, that counts in the first one's favor.  If one candidate has some great demos or code samples or other porfolio items and the other does not, that counts in the first one's favor.

If one applicant has experience with a specific skill and the company desperately wants experience with it, that counts strongly in that applicant's favor.

For mainstream positions the company needs to fill n job slots. They'll ask for applications and do interviews and usually hire the best n people they can find. 

You don't need to be the best in the industry or the best in the world. You instead need to be one of the better ones they interview.  When a company is struggling to find developers, that can be a relatively low bar.

 

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On 8/8/2017 at 10:32 PM, cyberpnk said:

Though I do have about 20 years experience programming, [...] help me get my foot in the door.

IMO, 20 years of working experience is a much bigger foot in a much bigger door than a degree.

Maybe another option- something I've been considering spending some time on myself- it shouldn't be hard to find a bunch of CS course material online and just study in your own time.  I don't think you get the official piece of paper saying you completed anything, but it's the knowledge that's important at this point.

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