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Kit Plummer
Software Engineer :: Techitect :: Evangelist
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Catchy title, eh?

I recently ran a booth at my son’s high school career day, covering Software Engineering and Computer Science. A couple of quick observations.

The military guys (recruiters) were by far the most trafficked booths. This is ironic in a couple of ways. First, out of all the career fields these guys will get the least amount of students (at least especially from my son’s school). Second, I believe the reason for the “interest” is that these students think the military is “cool” – at least from the “impress your friends” perspective. Even when I was in high school I wouldn’t have been caught dead having talked to a recruiter. The irony there is that I enlisted in the USAF halfway through my freshman year of college.

So, the deal was that each student had to stop at least 5 booths, and ask some generic questions like: what’s the average starting salary, what’s the college requirement, what’s the biggest advantage, and what’s the biggest disadvantage? The first two are pretty easy. A search will reveal the expected salary for a given locale. The majority of the career field options require a Bachelors degree (those that don’t have one are definitely the minority).

The biggest advantage and disadvantage are a little tougher to answer, at least with a straight face. I think the greatest advantage to a career in Computer Science or Software Engineering is that computing is pretty ubiquitous and still spreading like a California wildfire. Even with the outsourcing “issues” abound – there’s still a lot of work to be done – here or abroad by Americans. I’ll leave it at that…there are obviously a lot of advantages but the fact that, as a career field, software isn’t going away.

The greatest disadvantage that I dropped on the interested students was the difficulties in staying current. Unlike some professions where you actually learn the trade in the first two years after college and it never changes, technology is brutally difficult to track. I think this is a challenge that many can’t overcome.

Here’s a few more thoughts on the concept of CS or SE as a career.

If you are lazy and unmotivated, or even socially inept you can still make a great living in this career field. Just get hired by a large business, and you can coast the rest of your life in mediocrity (it sure would beat working hard a Taco Bell).

If you are the opposite, and highly motivated the challenges and problems that need solving are incredibility dynamic and interesting. The software world is rapidly evolving and the potential for making a lot of money are pretty good – assuming that you can pick up and master a technology.

Culturally, the software world has a much younger field to it. Probably due to the majority of old school developers/engineers getting sucked in to managerial roles. There are great communities full of individuals and organizations who are willing to help you solve those problems and enlighten you on becoming better, and better at whatever you are doing. There are definitely pockets of ego, but that is everywhere and is relatively easy to avoid.

More to come on this topic in the near future.

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