Computer Science: Testing Your Career Compatibility

Helen AltshulerThis post was written for untapt by Helen Altshuler, a senior engineer leader who currently works at Google. Before taking on her current position, Helen started her career as a software engineer at JP Morgan and transitioned into technical leadership, which led to her role as CTO at the fintech startup PeerIQ. Helen is an Advisory Board Member at Pace University School of Computer Science and Information Systems, and is passionate about talent development. She frequently participates in hackathons as a mentor and judge, often pops up as a women in tech guest speaker, and facilitates the Girls Who Code club. Helen is a great friend of the untapt team and a happy customer who used the platform to build a significant portion of her engineering team.

Not too long ago, I had a former colleague come to me for advice. She’s a marketing professional, but her recently-developed interest in programming had resulted in her considering the possibility to a career in computer science. Her circumstances aren’t uncommon; with all the buzz around tech these days, computer science skills are in high demand, and I encouraged her to do a little exploring. Building a career in this area is very attractive for many reasons, but it can also be daunting prospect – especially for those with little coding experience.
Fortunately, software engineering is often a lot less arcane than you might think; online resources have made the field both accessible and transparent enough that a significant proportion of programmers are self-taught. That’s why, even if your current profession isn’t even remotely related to engineering, there are many ways that you can explore and develop your potential as a technologist. I’ve divided the journey into three stages:

Discover:

Look for free or affordable workshops and courses, both in person and online, that can help you get a feel for the kinds of challenges and approaches that you’ll be dealing with. You’ll be able to gain a breadth of knowledge quickly, and you should be able to decide whether you want to continue learning more about computer science. There are also many different aspects of the field – such as data engineering, front- and back-end development, user experience, DevOps, QA, etc. – and this exploratory stage can help you narrow your focus. (Tip: MeetUp is your friend.)

Jumpstart:

Once you’ve gained some familiarity, take a deeper dive into your topics of interest. Try courses and bootcamps that extend over several weeks — they’ll allow you to glean more detail and nuance, often for free!

Commit:

If you’ve tried your hand at a number of introductory and intermediate resources, and you find yourself hankering for more, you might decide to take your education a step further and pursue a formal degree. It’s a commitment, but worth pursuing if you are serious about a career in computer science. It will give you both confidence and foundational skills that will enable you to learn faster and go further. There are many different kinds of programs that can get you to the same place, so don’t skimp on the research before taking the plunge!

For those looking to test the waters in New York, we’ve compiled a list of resources you might find helpful (clickable version available here).

Computer science resources for beginners

Remember, if you find that computer science isn’t quite your cup of tea, there are countless other ways to become involved in tech. Like any other business organization, tech companies require marketing, finance, operations and management expertise; you’ll have the opportunity to work closely with the technologists, while adding value through your own comparative advantages.

Have any thoughts, comments, questions or stories to share? Get in touch with untapt and see how we can help!

Pei is a staff writer and honorary member of the untapt team. Currently finishing up her Master's degree at Johns Hopkins University, she's a serial multi-tasker and an avid supporter of the tech startup community. In her free time, Pei loves to get creative in the kitchen, explore the city, and take photos.

Pei is a staff writer and honorary member of the untapt team. Currently finishing up her Master's degree at Johns Hopkins University, she's a serial multi-tasker and an avid supporter of the tech startup community. In her free time, Pei loves to get creative in the kitchen, explore the city, and take photos.