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Does anybody hire Math majors?

  1. Dec 6, 2011 #1
    I'm really freaking out. I'm going to graduate soon with a BS in Applied Math and a minor in Computer Science. I wanted to go into programming but I am discovering that most of the software companies recruiting at my school will only accept applications from Computer Science majors. After doing a bit of research I started finding horror stories from unsuccessful Math majors. I really don't want to be an actuary but if it's my only option so be it. I should mention that my GPA is a 3.8 and I go to a good school. Is there hope? Would Applied Math be considered a "closely related field" to Computer Science? Any programmers out there with a similar background have any advice?
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 8, 2011 #2
    OK based on the complete lack of responses I'm guessing I better start studying and taking actuarial exams fast. If you're reading this and you're an applied math major please take warning.
  4. Dec 8, 2011 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Do some google searching on "jobs for math majors". There are many colleges who hire math majors for technical jobs. CS jobs are almost always focused on CS infrastructure work such as networks, databases and application software for business.

    I found these two urls from the google search that may help:



  5. Dec 8, 2011 #4


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  6. Dec 8, 2011 #5
    Please keep in mind the subgroup that I am talking about when I say the main part of this post:

    Out of the limited number of people I know (basically facebook friends of mine who went to my undergrad institution and I took a few math classes with) who only have a B.A. / B.S. in an area of applied math (which I generally consider: stats, num analysis, diff equ, education, or discrete/computer math), only two of my acquaintances are working in the field. Zach was an Ed major and is now a high school math teacher in New York state. Becca was a statistics focus and is currently working as an actuary in Orlando, FL.

    I'd say the sample size is around 10 or 11 (I was a musicology major in undergrad so I only knew a few of the math majors I actually had classes with). But 2/11 is a pretty crappy number. I can say that 3 of the others went to eventually work for banks starting as tellers and all of them have moved up quite a bit. It appears that one of the guys who did a CS focus (within the math major at my school) is working as a starbucks network developer ... so I guess he's kinda in field. The other 4-5 appear to be doing anything from selling cars to working in a candy factory (not sure what they're doing ... don't keep up with most of these people since they're merely acquaintances).

    Like I said earlier, keep in mind, this may be completely normal, or it may be a strange outlier because of random circumstances in those people's lives / the fact that I was a music major and didn't know all the math majors / where we went to school (although it was a very good, relatively small, research university in the US).

    For what it's worth: I feel that if I had a degree in math, it would help my job prospects. I have spent the last few years gaining all the knowledge of somebody with at least a B.S. in mathematics, plus I've taught myself the basics of EE, at least 4 semesters worth of java programming (in a typical US institution) and 2 semesters worth of c++, but considering my masters is in classical trumpet performance ... I can't even get past the HR gatekeeper most of the places I apply for technical jobs ... maybe that would change if I had a more technical degree listed on my resume, maybe not. Again this is just a random thought from somebody who isn't really a math major, but knows a decent number of them, and who also considers himself a mathematician trapped in a professional musician's CV, haha.
  7. Dec 8, 2011 #6
    Why? It isn't like you just pass a couple of exams and someone hands you a job. The entry level market for actuarial work is saturated. It can be hard getting that first job.

    Don't get me wrong - a dedicated student who is excited about the prospect of becoming an actuary has a good shot at it. But given the attitude expressed earlier in your OP, you don't have those qualities and will probably get passed up for candidates that do. It'll be tough to lie your way in, and once you get here if you hate it you'll likely be bad at the job, which will make it worse.

    Save us all the trouble and do something else.
  8. Dec 8, 2011 #7
    However, in response to the thread title, everyone in my department has a math degree except me. There might be an actuary with a comp sci degree elsewhere in the building, but I'm not certain of it.
  9. Dec 8, 2011 #8
    I was always under the impression that an applied math major with some experience in other field (physics, programming, engineering, etc) wouldn't have too much trouble at all finding a decent job. As a third year applied math student, I really hope this holds true!
  10. Dec 8, 2011 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    I would question the very premise of this thread. Nobody will hire math majors, in the sense that nobody will give you a job because you happened to major in math. People will give you a job because you have useful skills, skills you may have developed while earning a degree in math. There's a difference.
  11. Dec 8, 2011 #10
    In the 21st century nobody gives a **** about your the "skills" you developed earning a degree in mathematics. If you don't have a little piece of paper with a title that matches what employers are looking for, chances are you're really screwed. Almost all of my friends who graduated with engineering degrees now work as middle managers in retail.

    To the OP, if you minored in CS, or you took some programming classes, or are actually interested in working in the field, go ahead and apply to the CS jobs. Look specifically for the less software-focused fields, and towards the more technical fields as you'll have more success. To elaborate, look more toward companies that may specialize in simulation, analysis, or anything that will require higher-level math. A finance company, for example, will look favorably upon your degree. A networking company probably won't care.

    If you have no idea how to program, I suggest you start learning now. Even if you only know the basics, you'll at least have some level of competence in the subject, and it will show that you are willing to put in the effort on your own time. Pick up a higher level language like Python or Basic (I've heard Ruby is becoming more popular, but I don't know much about it). Stay away from lower level languages like C or C++. Lower level languages are far more difficult to learn and are not advantageous to someone who is a mathematician. Also, companies really won't care what language you know, they are more concerned that you understand the principles of programming. A higher level language allows you to focus on these principles without getting bogged down with implementation (you don't need to know what a pointer is right now). If a company states in a job ad that they want experience or knowledge in a certain language, chances are they understand that not all job applicants will know that language, and they aren't going to turn down an otherwise good employee on that one point (and chances are, if they would, they probably aren't the type of company you want to work for).

    As far as first languages, everyone likes to recommend Java, but I really think it is a crappy first language for more reasons than I could go into here. I would recommend working through this book: http://openbookproject.net/thinkcs/python/english2e/. It isn't exactly complete (If I remember correctly, it stops making sense around chapter 19), but it IS one of the better beginning programming books I've seen, and it will take you far enough that you'll have some idea of what you are doing and where to go from there.
  12. Dec 8, 2011 #11
    I wouldn't study for the actuarial exams if I were you. I graduated with an applied math degree like you. I also focused on economics and took a little finance. I still struggled to break into that field even after passing the first 2 exams. The entry level market in that industry was crowded in 07 when I tried entering. I expect it would overburdened by now. Even if you have an exceptional GPA.

    Anyway, with a math degree, I think you'd be okay as long as you have the CS core classes on your transcript. It really feels like programming I and II are the most important along with a course in data structures. I'm not sure why you would need much else in terms of formal coursework to apply to software jobs, other than HR hoops to jump through. The best thing to do about that is to try to find your way around HR directly to who may be hiring. But when you get to that point you should ask..

    Did you have any internships in software? Any code that you can write to actually show people? I think working on developing these and having stuff to show people that you've worked on your own outside of the classroom matter a lot right now. I'm about to finish my masters in CS, recently completed a job search and wound up hearing this time and time again from many of the people I interviewed with. There's a million shops all over the US that you should be able to apply to with the right combination of technical skills like math and CS along with a portfolio of decent examples.

    I will say that I didn't make it into software engineering unfortunately because I lacked any really solid programming projects outside of coursework. I did take a job as an ERP analyst though. I basically work with and install ERPs like SAP. Lots of database stuff in this line of work. A lot of boring database reporting stuff too unfortunately.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2011
  13. Dec 8, 2011 #12
    why would u be an actuary if u hate it? your probably close to a CS major if you have a minor in it and a major in math, just take whatever your missing and dual major
  14. Dec 9, 2011 #13
    I'll second what Vanadium said. No one hires someone because they have a major in math. They hire them because they have skills that will make them a valuable employee.

    I do think there's something gosper alludes to that is worth mentioning, which is that HR departments often don't know anything about skills, or even about what the job they're hiring for does. HR is often looking for a fairly dumb set of qualifications. However, ultimately it isn't HR who decides if you're hired, and they can be circumvented as needed. Networking solves a lot of problems that come from having degrees that differ from what is traditional for a particular job.
  15. Dec 9, 2011 #14
    My point exactly. And while HR can be circumvented in most smaller companies, unfortunately, in technical fields today, most companies worth their weight in salt are rather large. To the original poster's issue, this is especially a concern as there aren't many small companies who are looking to employ/can employ/have any use for mathematicians. Outside of academia, he's going to have to search for a career in a large simulation company, a large financial software firm, a government agency, etc. Good luck bypassing the HR department in a company like Boeing. You'd have to have some damn good networking skills to nuzzle up to someone who actually has influence in a behemoth like that.
  16. Dec 9, 2011 #15
    I don't have your experience concerning larger companies. Networking appears to work well in large insurance companies. My contacts suggest it works well in large tech companies.

    Those are small samples though, and I don't know about Boeing. Until someone has some convincing data we'll agree to disagree.
  17. Dec 9, 2011 #16
    Insurance companies place a heavy focus on networking, its kind of what they do.

    To my knowledge, networking with larger tech companies is virtually impossible. I've never tried it myself, I just know a number of people who work in pretty high up positions in AT&T, Lockheed Martin, and a few other big names. They're always laughing at the kids who come around trying to suck up to them thinking that they might score an interview or something out of it. These people are mostly engineers, scientists, or the like. They don't have any influence over the hiring process, and their opinions on personnel don't matter much to anyone.

    But I'll agree with you that my experience is limited. Personally, I think he'd be better off adhering to the shotgun theory and keeping his standards low. More than anything else, he needs actual work experience. A college degree doesn't mean much these days.
  18. Dec 9, 2011 #17


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  19. Dec 9, 2011 #18
    Have you tried applying to any of those jobs? I don't think it'll hurt if you hand in your resume for consideration, just make sure you put nothing besides "math major" on your resume.

    Make sure you emphasize the fact that you have programming knowledge and experience, and that you're good with numbers.

    Best of luck in your job search!
  20. Dec 10, 2011 #19
    Yeah this really is incredibly contradictory, unless you mean engineering somehow prepared them for middle management positions in retail.
  21. Dec 10, 2011 #20
    Really? I stated that the "skills" that you "develop" in earning a degree aren't worth what people like to say they are, then later stated that degrees are worth much these days. I fail to see the confusion. Employers primarily look for:

    Graduates with a degree in the specific field they are looking for
    Actual experience, or proof of competence (i.e. code from a project you've worked on)

    The plain fact that you have a degree doesn't say much. Really, these quotes are only confusing based on the fact that they are taken completely out of context of the rest of the thread.

    Not in the least. My point being that they couldn't find work in their specific field of study, and no one outside that field cared about the fact that they had an engineering degree. Some people actually have to work their way through school, and that usually consists of retail or food services.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2011
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