You may have heard that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and IT in particular are the best avenue for future employment. Yet “learn to code” is alternately used as generic career advice and an insult. This is because computer science is not for everyone, though the information technology and computer science field is not as daunting as many think. However, it’s essential that you have the proper set of skills and knowledge base needed to succeed in this field. Here is what you’ll need if you want to have a successful career in computer science.
The Right Academic Foundation
Experts suggest that you become proficient in one programming language instead of trying to learn the basics of several. Then you can focus on writing excellent, well-documented code and flawless apps.
The Right Credentials
It is true that many programmers are self-taught. However, employers prefer to hire programmers who have credentials that prove they know what they say they bring to the table. One option is a bachelor’s degree in computer science. A certification from a coding bootcamp or similar program may be recognised by employers as well. Once you get your bachelors, you could work in various roles and then go for a masters degree in computer science. The best thing is that you can get your masters online, and become an even more desirable candidate. Some of the benefits of getting a masters include:
- Fast return on your investment
- Ability to work in a wide number of industries
- Become a specialist
- Working in government
- Prepare for a PhD
With a masters in computer science, you’ll also have a significant advantage if you decide to move to a major tech hub later on in your career. And if you want to work for a major company like Google, note that over 800 full time positions right now list a masters as a requirement.
Another advantage that people often overlook is the diverse crowd you’ll have the chance to mingle with. Computer science master’s programs attract a large international crowd, and will allow you to exchange skills and experience with people from the other side of the globe.
Whether you want to work in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, machine learning, or robotics, you can find the specialisation to get there. You’ll also be able to work with a company that aligns with your interests. If you’re a huge hockey fan for instance, you could find a job with the NHL or with teams and work on advanced analytics. Or you could work with a tech startup that you’re interested in, may it be Uber, Spotify, or OpenTale.
The Right Mindset
Computer programmers are not graphic artists. People don’t care how creative the program structure is. They need it to work with as few errors as possible, and they want it to be debugged or upgraded as quickly as possible.
The best computer programs and apps use a minimum of code, have an easy to understand structure and have a clear what, how and why progression. This means that you must have systemic thinking and create a logical map that others can follow when they work with your code. Know how your program works, and understand how you’re going to solve specific problems. Critical thinking is a must in computer science.
Another trait that programmers must have is attention to detail. An extra parenthesis or missing variable will cause the program to work incorrectly.
“Details matter” as Steve Jobs once said “waiting is worth it if you get it right”.
If you don’t pay attention to the small stuff like exception handling or punctuation, you’ll spend hours trying to find the problem later. Conversely, this means you have to be able to read code and understand how it works, since you may have to read others’ code to figure out how to debug it. This also means that you’ll have to be able to approach problems with an open mind and come up with creative solutions to them.
The Necessary Soft Skills
Computer science majors must be able to work well alone or in groups. You may be asked to create or troubleshoot a program by yourself. And you may need to work on teams to create programs, migrate software to another platform, or patch software to fix bugs. To move up to a team leadership position, you have to be able to manage people and projects, juggling guidelines while handling significant amounts of stress. You need to have the patience to spend hours finding errors in code and weeks doing thorough software testing. You have to be able to communicate complex issues to your clients or managers.
As a coder, you’ll also be able to pull from your memory in order to innovate and sometimes improvise. You might find yourself stumped during a certain project, but be able to pinpoint a previous situation and solution that could help. These memories could be directly related to coding, but could also be unrelated and abstract but somehow useful. If you don’t have a good short term memory, you’ll have to do everything in your power to cultivate it. Coders who are able to process vast amounts of information at once and understand how they work and correlate with each other will have a leg up over the rest.
If you have what it takes to succeed in computer science, you can earn a high pay rate and work from anywhere. However, if you don’t have all of these skills, know that many of these can be cultivated, so make sure that you look at areas where you can improve, and work tirelessly until you master them.