October 3, 2017

I Don’t Study Computer Science, What Should I Do?

A few months ago, I received an email that often appears in my inbox. Its usually along the lines of “I’m a college student very interested in getting into tech, but I don’t study computer science, what do I do?”. I don’t consider myself the vanguard of all the necessary knowledge to answer such questions, but I do my best to answer based on my limited experience.

Such is the frequency of these emails; I thought it would be smart just to make it into a blog post. That way I can point future similar emails here and can invite comments from our POCIT community, and let people who are infinitely more qualified to provide insight [and correct me if I was in error in any place].

The content below is a transcript of an actual email. The student [in bold] was a first-year Physics student, interested in pursuing a position as a developer.

Please note that I am based in the UK, so this may warp some of the answers.


1) When someone says that they work in tech, I don’t understand what they mean by it… Is the tech just another word for programming or are there different vocations under that name?

Your confusion is understandable.  A ‘technology company’ is a vague term [and has meant many different things over the years], but is currently used to describe businesses that produce software, web technologies, mobile technologies, artificial intelligence, etc. It isn’t necessarily synonymous for programming but is often used interchangeably, hence the confusion.

However, to work at a ‘tech’ company, you don’t have to be a programmer/developer. Like any business, they have roles in sales, business development,  marketing, and HR.

2) When applying to tech jobs would I be at a disadvantage if I’m not studying something directly related to it such as computer science? Currently studying physics.

This is a difficult question to answer. To be qualified for the day to day of a role as developer/programmer, all that mainly matters is that you have the relevant skills for a junior/entry level position.

However, the giant tech companies [the Googles, Facebook etc] are sadly biased towards Computer Science degrees and will make potential candidates answer arcane Computer Science related questions [or so I’ve heard].

However, more and more companies are becoming open-minded, due to the “shortage” of available talent, and are looking elsewhere i.e. graduates of coding boot-camps etc.

3) There’s a huge amount of programming languages out there, which are the best to learn to maximize your earning potential?

There is a lot. But I’d focus on JavaScript, which is the language of the web. You can use it to build web applications, mobile apps and sorts of other stuff. Things may change by the time you graduate, but that’s where I’d currently invest in.

At this stage, I wouldn’t overly worry about focusing on one specific language. Dabbling in other languages at this stage of your career will do you good, giving your a broader understanding [Check out Python for example].

4) I’ve just finished my first year at university. What things could I do now to make my CV more competitive when applying for future Tech jobs?

Code as much as you can. Make side projects. Work on your skills. By the time you graduate, you’ll be in a good position.

If you have in mind the type of companies you’d like to work for, start researching their graduate, or entry-level programs, and work backward from there, a lot of time they’ll let you know what they require or expect.

Holler back if you have any follow-up questions. And remember to sign up to pocitjobs.com when you’ve graduated [quick plug :D]

Like I said earlier, I really would love some crowdsourced knowledge on some of these questions from the POCIT Community. So please drop your wisdom in the comments!
Michael Berhane

Co-founder and CEO of peopleofcolorintech.com & pocitjobs.com. Also the co-host of the #Techish podcast! Full Stack JavaScript developer by trade.

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