The trend in blogs, the internet and news sites lately is to write articles about the economy. Instead of that however, I thought I would use the opportunity to try to encourage people who might be considering studying computer science (or related related fields) to go forward and pursue education in this area. Now is an especially good time to get your foot in the door since admissions have generally been low the last few years and there are plenty of jobs, which is more than we can say about many other areas. It’s also close to the start of the year so maybe it would be good to start with a new career path.
**10. Not Labour Intensive**
In terms of physical labour, on a list of 100, a job in the computer industry would likely be ranked 98 or 99 behind participants in sleep studies. You will likely end up with a nice ergonomic chair and a more comfortable working environment than your own desk at home (unless of course your a researcher at a university, in which case it will be the other way around). If you manage to land a job at a large software company there are often ample breaks, lots of snacks and many other perks. On the other hand, if you are so inclined you might even be able to get gym memberships for free or on the cheap to make up for the lack of “real work” you do all day.
**9. No Longer and Insociable Career Choice**
While you still can be an isolated programming coding away for hours on end this is becoming more of a rarity. Projects are often large and require enormous collaborative efforts in order to be completed. Conferences and workshops allow you to connect with other professionals and keep up on the latest ideas in the field.
**8. Surrounded by Motivated, Young & Intelligent People**
Often times tech departments are full of young people fresh out of school who are still very motivated and get excited about new ideas. For instance I work with many people who are still students and we often exchange links to interesting new technologies we find on the Internet. Additionally, if someone gets stuck on something many people can end up searching through the vast information to find a solution quicker. This keeps the work going quickly and makes it more interesting. This is a good environment to work in as opposed to a factory / warehouse where most people hate their job and can’t wait to leave at the end of the day.
**7. Always Connected**
It is a requirement these days to be connected to the Internet if your business has anything to do with technology and this can be a very a good thing. As mentioned previously, this allows for easy communication and collaboration between people and departments. Even if the people are separated across the office, or in a different city / country etc they can still share files, reports and more. Techniques can be researched online and solutions can be found without having to reinvent the wheel each time. Eventually I suppose almost every career may be exposed to this type of thing once the Internet becomes completely pervasive.
**6. Often Interesting**
Computers in some form have become involved in almost every discipline around. This means that even if your passions isn’t necessarily computers, you could still apply computer science to your own field to help it improve. Computers can help with identifying chemicals in Chemistry, DNA, genes etc in Biology, complex equations and systems in Physics, calculate statistics for Political Science and the list goes on. In each of these fields however there are major obstacles that prevent the experts from doing an even better job at what they do because of the limitations of current computer systems. It may be that they aren’t user friendly enough, powerful enough, or that the problem is just plain impossible to compute in a reasonable time with the methods we have today. Even in the more “average” computer jobs like web design and programming, the job isn’t boring because each day there are new problems. There is always new content to be added to websites, new features to be added to programs and something will often go wrong. This problem solving is what makes it interesting.
**5. Good Pay**
In my experience, in Canada at least, most technology workers seem to earn at least the average income or higher. There are usually good promotions, benefits and perks because the companies want to retain the workers since they have paid to keep up their training and education. I’ve also heard a few stories about systems that are running ancient software. Apparently there is a nuclear power plant near where I live that is running COBOL code on a robot that changes the spent nuclear rods from the plant. Since this is a such a vital function they have avoided upgrading the system or changing as much as possible. Now it turns out there is only one person left in North America who knows how it works so they pay lots of money for him to fly in from the US to fix it whenever there is trouble. So the lesson here: outlive everyone else who has worked on the system you are building :P
**4. All Skill Levels Required**
Another reason why you may want to switch into computer science is because computer and IT jobs need people of all skill levels. You can get the jobs with everything from basic certification courses to community college diplomas, bachelor degrees or PhD’s. There is also a wide range of job titles you could hold: IT / Tech Support, Web Designer / Developer, Programmer, Analyst, Administrator, Database Designer, Resarcher, Team Leader etc… Once you are in the door at a company if you keep upgrading your education you should be able to keep climbing the ladder as well. Experience and Education are valued at many places.
**3. Retraining Encouraged**
Retraining is often encouraged for technology workers. Especially at the larger, successful companies. They want to maintain a competitive advantage and do not want to be seen using old technology. This means they may even pay for you to take upgrading courses or even for portions of diploma or degree programs. This is also extremely beneficial for the employee because as training increases they can demand more money, and at the same time they become more valuable to the competition. It also ensures that if you do loose your job later that you may have an easier time being rehired somewhere else.
**2. World is Dependent on Technology Now**
Try imagining a world without any computers, calculators or modern technology. Think slide rules, pen and pencil calculations, tables of sin and cosines etc. It would be impossible for us to keep track of our economies, banking systems, inventories etc. There would be no more long range communications and global business would essentially stop. Technology is ingrained in our lives now and there is no way of going back anymore.
On the other there are still people who do not understand much of modern technology. There are still CEOs who are unable to understand how to apply technology to problems in an effective way. This is where people trained in computer science may be able to help. There is a strong need for people who can communicate highly technical ideas in a way other people can understand so they can make informed decisions.
**1. Many Problems Still to be Solved**
The most compelling reason why you should study computer science is because of the vast amount of problems still to be solved. Computer Science is extremely young compared to Physics, Chemistry and Biology. To me this means that popular ideas are easier to challenge, people are still willing to accept change fairly easily. On top of this, the computer field itself changes so rapidly that what works at one time may not be applicable later. For over the last fifty years or so we have developed many techniques that work wonderfully on “electrical” computers. What happens if we change to computers that use light, or if we use quantum computers? More specifically than that even there are questions like “What is the best way to schedule packets in a wireless network?” in the subfield of wireless research. There are many other questions in many other subfields of computer science as well.
Yet despite all of these questions, we do not have enough people to answer them. Enrolment in recent years in Computer Science hasn’t been great (except since video game courses became popular). Alot of people were afraid after the dot.com bust a few years ago and many people were probably discouraged from taking computer science then. I was fairly worried then as well since I was in the middle of my undergrad degree at the time. Now with the economy doing poorly, computer jobs are quite secure. In the area where I live some of the largest technology companies are still hiring thousands of people (RIM, OpenText). On top of that think of how many businesses require some form of computer expertise. Almost every business larger than a small business where the one person does the job of the technologist themselves. Now is the best time to go and get retrained in computers. If you are Ontario, many of the colleges are even offering money to support it through the Second Career Program.