Advice for a College Kid

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Good afternoon, everyone.

Firstly, I joined because the members here are amazing. I've read stuff from here for years, but I finally joined today. I'm saying that to say I've earned respect from the members here. Many people here really know what they are talking about, and are willing to really help others without throwing beginners out the window. You all really help programmers to get better.

That said, I am a college student that needs some advice, both general and specific, from the members from the site's community.

1. I am working on a BS degree in MIS (later to get a Masters) because our Computer Science program is horrific. If I want to program (or even lead a team of programmers), am I going down the wrong path?

2. One thing I have learned is my teachers DO NOT prepare programmers for the real world. Windows is the only operating system that exists to my college. I correct the teachers' homework examples because they are horribly written and often wrong. I'm in a 400 level class and we are just now learning classes (last week was for loops)! What could I do to really advance myself? I already work with a few open source projects, and I pretty much look for every opportunity I can to make a new program that is actually useful. What are your other suggestions?

3. I want a good resume. Who doesn't? What could I learn/do that really sets me apart from the rest? For example, some coders I feel are the best in the world have websites with their resume on it with links to projects they have worked on. Any other ideas?

4. Should I really expect a great job off the bat, or should I be prepared to start at ground level. I do have plenty of good work experience for my age, but I know that's not all I need...

I am not lazy, and I would be more than willing to work hard to do whatever would make me the best. Any other advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks to everyone in advance
1. I think the MIS program is more about information storage, databases and SQL. It may not be directly related to application development, but the skills are pretty universal and can be adapted depending on how motivated and interested you are in your project. It's not a bad path. I'm going to start a part-time MSc in software engineering soon so that I can have some formal education in this sector, but so far my informal hobbying has been enough for me to develop some pretty cool stuff.

2. Keep doing what you're doing. Thinking of ideas and expanding your skills is the best way to do stuff. Eventually your projects will get bigger and take longer to complete. The trick is not to run out of ideas. Hopefully you'll have a big enough and great enough idea that you can really develop an application to the point where it's so useful that it's sellable and you may need to hire other people to help you finish.

3. Open source projects are great for a resume. A couple of years ago a bunch of my now-colleagues were unemployed. My boss didn't mind that so much as long as they could show that they were still working to improve their skills , and demonstrate that they enjoy their trade so much that they'll even do it as a hobby. It makes you very marketable! I don't agree that the best programmers have made their own websites with an online resume. Online resumes are quite impersonal and you can't customize them for each individual job that you are applying for, not to mention your forfeit of personal privacy. A resume in a .doc or even html with hyperlinks to the projects would be good though.

4. Do not expect a great job right off of the bat. You're relatively unproven. Bill Gates said that no one is above flipping burgers (although hopefully you'll have something in your field right away). Once you've started to do some really cool things, your name will get out there and you'll get better opportunities, just keep your eyes peeled and don't be afraid to apply for new opportunities.
Thanks a lot for the insight. I guess it's the bill I get from school every semester (and the dang parking tickets I get), but I start wondering, "Is this degree going to be worth this much when I get out of school?"
Someone else saying keep doing what you're doing makes me less stressed about it.
I just don't want a boring, unimportant job where I don't make anything for it. I'm not saying I'm above flipping burgers; I just don't want that to be the final outcome of my time and money spent.
If you put in the time, you'll get the reward as long as you continue to have ambition. Excel at your potentially boring entry job and be rewarded with more difficult and rewarding challenges.

Whenever I get a new employee, I give them tasks that are within their comfort zone (nothing too tough and also usually not that exciting). If they prove that they can handle this, I assign them more difficult and interesting stuff until they know everything about everything in our software and can contribute in a creative, positive and largely undirected fashion as they just "know" what needs to be done by this point.

That's the way to survive in the corporate world. The other option is to enter the entrepreneurial world which is more risky but also more rewarding. For that, you need the skills and the idea. With these, you can get the financing to build yourself a team and make a product that can be sold.
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#1 network - I'm talking about human networking. Check out and try to get in as many internships as you can before you graduate. Not only will you get great real world experience, if you excel, it's very likely that whoever you are interning for will be ready to hire you on as a FTE when you graduate (or even before).

Continue to strive for excellence in whatever field you desire. If you love what you do, then you will probably excel in that area.

#2 More networking - This is very important. I've worked for many companies since I graduated college, of all of them, only 1 of them did I not know anyone inside the company. If you were to tell me this while I was in college I'd say "Ya right". It just happens, it really does. The relationships you build, backed by your ambition and ability to perform as well as overachieve when the opportunity arises will have you working, keep you working and give you those "Wow opportunities" in the future.

#3 don't burn bridges - this goes hand in hand with networking. You want everyone that you've ever worked with to think highly of you, why? Because they may be a direct contact, manager, future employee for you some day and you want their respect.

#4 Never stop learning - If you don't get enough out of your classes, then focus on things outside of class that you really enjoy. Work on projects (as you've already said you have done) and continue to learn new ways to complete the task.

#5 Learn from other peoples mistakes(and or questions) - An example would be (and not limited to) these very forums. Read questions, try to get involved if can offer some real advice. Follow topics that you are not clear about, understand what developers that do know what they are talking about a particular subject means.

Literally take code from questions/answers on here, throw it in your compiler and try to understand it or try to fix it.

#6 Network - Not to beat a dead horse, but this is without a doubt imo the most important thing for ones career.
Well, I've been told to avoid any college as everything you can learn on your own. Wish I had listened though, as I now am $100k in debt due to student loans. Honestly, the only reason to bother with college is one of two reasons 1) to feel accomplished in having a degree 2) because you are applying to a company that covets the degree. I went for a degree thinking that with my knowledge and a degree I would get a good job, but that hasn't been the case. Instead, I find that I take care of my wife and son. So, I suppose it depends on your ultimate goal as to what you should pursue, but be 100% certain that it will have a good result otherwise you will be in debt and wishing it had gone a better way.
Not to mention once you're about halfway through college, you kind of have to finish. You're already in debt to the point where quitting just isn't an option.

I personally think it's good to get a degree just because a lot of places require it. And statistics show someone with a college degree just makes more money than someone without on average.
Yeah, but statistics have also shown that the higher the degree the less they want you. I've talked to a few HR guys at different programming companies in Indianapolis and they said if I ever had a PhD in CS they wouldn't even consider my application due to the pay grade I would be at. I think the safest degrees are Associates, Bachelors, and Masters when considering pay grades.
Well if you PhD level and aren't expecting to do research, you made a mistake somewhere.
ResidentBiscuit wrote:
Well if you PhD level and aren't expecting to do research, you made a mistake somewhere.

On the contrary, there are a lot of people that go for PhD that love research for the field, but a large chunk of them are going for PhD is because they want to have the highest pay they can have. My son's community based teacher was telling us her husband was doing it for just that reason. When he failed, he moved to Kentucky to try through a different college (which I didn't know was even possible to college skip just to get a PhD though).
Just because someone has a PhD does not necessarily mean they will make more, companies pay commensurate with the job not the employees skill level.

which I didn't know was even possible to college skip just to get a PhD though
It's pretty common to go for a graduate degree at a different school. If I get to the graduate level (crosses fingers) I'm hoping to go to University of Illinois Urbana Champaign which has an extremely well rated CS department.
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My son's community based teacher was telling us her husband ...
Geez. Saying "a lot of people" should be prohibited if you have to resort to four degrees of separation in anecdotal evidence.
naraku9333 wrote:
Just because someone has a PhD does not necessarily mean they will make more, companies pay commensurate with the job not the employees skill level.

Statistics have been released and even news channels have had reports saying to go for the highest degree you can get in your field as it equates to higher pay. Sadly, skills have little to do with it as I know a few programmers that program for a living and talk about how the people they work with act like hobbyist programmers that only code once in a while and have terrible code structure or no commenting whatsoever.
closed account (o1vk4iN6)
BHXSpecter wrote:
I now am $100k in debt due to student loans

Wow, how did that happen ? Guess we just have a better student loan system where you only have to pay back max $10k even if you get $20k for the year. I am maybe only $5k in the hole.

I guess it depends on where you are working, sounds like they are only making a program they have no intentions on extending upon. I know someone working at a major company and by the sounds of it I wish I was working there too.
Don't know where you are, but from what I understand (in the US) you have to continuously pay on the loan and any late payments rolls over and gets added onto the loan. There is no set amount you have to pay back a year, but after 4 years of college and having to take a few courses over due to son's health issues I accumulated $100k and have to pay it off. On top of it they wouldn't pay to finish my college, but the college allowed me to finish the degree and submitted that I now hold a Bachelors of Science in Game and Simulation Programming but won't send me the physical certificate until I finish paying off the $7k that Sallie Mae didn't cover.

Trying to find a way to pay to go back to college to become a respiratory therapist over my son's recent health scare.
On PhD vs. regular jobs, at senior sofware development and software architecture positions, people with PhD degrees are welcome, and sometimes required.

When I got mine, I was expecting both academic research and industrial R&D opportunities, and that's just how it worked out.

EDIT: just got yet another headhunter call for a PhD-only job, some web app development ("using MVC Architecture, Spring/Struts Framework, and Hibernate) - they must be getting desperate, I don't know web app programming or java at all.
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closed account (iw0XoG1T)
The cost of in-state public universities in the US is approximately $6,000 per year. I went to school ten years ago and my tuition was slightly more than $4000 per year, and 80% of that was paid for by the state because I was a veteran.

You do not have too pay a fortune for a under-graduate degree (and you should not if you cannot afford it.) In this day and age people are not handing out jobs just because you have a bachelor's degree.

It is better to spend the money on your graduate degree.

edit: added a source
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DeVry is pricey, but it is accredited by the proper boards (same board as IU in my hometown). When I looked into IU's game programming degree had a lot of hoops to jump through. At the time I was looking into degrees DeVry was the best I could find that didn't cost more as FullSail and DigiPen do. IU, and they may have changed, but then they required you to have a BS in CS and three letters of recommendation to even get into their game programming degree. Utterly ridiculous.

Tuition Chart:
Degree I hold:
I just wanted to tell everyone thanks for the replies.

Also, I understand some colleges are very pricy. I consider myself lucky to live in a low-income state because my tuition is ~$3,000/semester. That doesn't mean the school I attend is below-par when it comes to academics, but I know there is more I can do to better myself for the "real world" while I'm outside school.

One thing I've found to better myself - and others too - is tutoring. It happened by accident, but a lot of my classmates really have no clue what's going on. I don't have time set aside to tutor, but I have slowly gotten a small crowd after class that I basically translate what the teacher just got finished talking about. It's helped me to really understand what's going on in a way that I can explain it to some that have never programmed in their life. Of course, 90% of the people only show up so they will know how to work the homework assignment...
That's how I got through school as well. I would things to people who didn't get it. As I explained the concepts became clearer to me.
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