How irrational are employers on the topic of related disciplines?

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  • #1
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It would be foolish to try and predict how employers will react -- having few job experiences, currently. So I’m here to ask: How much trouble will I have attempting to be hired as a Software Developer, after graduating with a BS in mathematics, and a minor in computer science? Are interviews likely to be a huge struggle, convincing employers that a math major is fit for the job? How severe will the restrictions be for increasing career roles? Do related disciplines suffer from reduced pay?

In advance, thanks for your help. :smile:
 

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  • #2
fss
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Interviews are less likely to center around how your major can be adapted to fit the position and more likely to revolve on whether or not your skill set would allow you to help the company achieve its goals.

If you even get an interview (meaning your resume wasn't culled when they saw "B.S. Mathematics") you've done the hard part, in my opinion.
 
  • #3
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How much trouble will I have attempting to be hired as a Software Developer, after graduating with a BS in mathematics, and a minor in computer science?
For software development, people generally don't care what your major is. They'll ask you technical questions, and if you can do well, you are in.

Are interviews likely to be a huge struggle, convincing employers that a math major is fit for the job?
For most coding jobs, people don't care. The problem is not the interview. The problem is the resume. If you just mention that you are a math major and you say nothing else, then you are likely going to get passed over for someone that mentions that they are a CS major and says nothing else, but that means trying to write your resume in a way that convinces people that you can code.
 
  • #4
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One other things. Employers are generally not irrational. They may have a weird logic that causes you problems but most of the time what they do makes sense if you think about it.

One thing that causes people problems is that employers are typically spammed with hundreds of resumes so the first pass is to get that hundred to something like twelve people that you can call up. If the only think you know about two people is that one is a CS major and the other is a math major, then the odds are that the CS major is going to get the call.

However, if you put in the resume that you are a math major, but you have created this cool little applet that you can download in Android market, that changes the priority.
 
  • #5
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One other things. Employers are generally not irrational. They may have a weird logic that causes you problems but most of the time what they do makes sense if you think about it.
What I mean by irrational is that, like you said, employers select graduates in the discipline first. As if a person graduating in that discipline from nearly any college couldn’t be a superior applicant (depending on the employer). The common generalization that you should have a BS or graduate degree in _____ discipline, or you will be near the last to get interviewed –- should get looked over for future graduates.

One thing that causes people problems is that employers are typically spammed with hundreds of resumes so the first pass is to get that hundred to something like twelve people that you can call up. If the only think you know about two people is that one is a CS major and the other is a math major, then the odds are that the CS major is going to get the call.
We are now venturing within the era of e-learning. Anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a decent amount of self-motivation can learn from Ivy League courses. Now let’s say that these motivated individuals gain off-the-job experience and several high quality books. Then you have people with above-average skills and experience, but no degree.

For careers that can desperately use the kind of people I just described, it’s shocking I have heard little of the topic I ranted off about.

Yes, I do understand it is easier to simply select applicants based on degree… The disappointment and frustration arises when I think of spending 4 years to get a degree, in a subject, which I already know enough to perform on the job.

Thanks for the bit of comforting information.
 
  • #6
fss
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The common generalization that you should have a BS or graduate degree in _____ discipline, or you will be near the last to get interviewed –- should get looked over for future graduates.
Yes, that is the common generalization... because "commonly" and "generally" that's exactly what happens.

We are now venturing within the era of e-learning. Anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a decent amount of self-motivation can learn from Ivy League courses. Now let’s say that these motivated individuals gain off-the-job experience and several high quality books. Then you have people with above-average skills and experience, but no degree.
Say what you want about e-learning, but in my experience e-learners are so far behind in terms of skill sets than regular degree candidates it's really not a hard decision. e-Learning without a degree counts very, very little. However as twofish pointed out, Software Development is a lot more liberal in who gets hired than some other discipline. If you can put your money where your mouth is and demonstrate the quality of your work (code sample, top-selling app in one of the various app stores, something similar) your path is a lot less steeper than waving "e-Learning" credentials around. Anyone can claim they e-Learned.

Yes, I do understand it is easier to simply select applicants based on degree… The disappointment and frustration arises when I think of spending 4 years to get a degree, in a subject, which I already know enough to perform on the job.
You might think you know enough to perform on the job, but so do all of the applicants that took the time and effort to get a 4-year degree. Why should a hiring manager take a chance on you when there are plenty of "officially" qualified candidates waiting in the same boat?
 
  • #7
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You might think you know enough to perform on the job, but so do all of the applicants that took the time and effort to get a 4-year degree. Why should a hiring manager take a chance on you when there are plenty of "officially" qualified candidates waiting in the same boat?
Because, speaking of Software Engineering, the majority of applicants can't even code very simple programs. Which is a fact I've picked up from several of the best programming websites.
 
  • #8
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And yes, for software development roles, people do filter by degree specialisation, but usually the criterion is something like 'a degree in a numerate/technical subject' rather than just CS.

So you should be fine with a math degree, if you can show some motivation about why you want to do software dev and some evidence of previous programming experience during or outside your course in your CV (someone with a CS degree would of course have that by default though). People would be looking more for experience in terms of actually using it for something specific - say some kind of project/coursework - rather than claims of having read books or just knowing about it.
 
  • #9
fss
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Because, speaking of Software Engineering, the majority of applicants can't even code very simple programs. Which is a fact I've picked up from several of the best programming websites.
Is that a fact? Please provide the data to support this erroneous claim. Any open position- especially in this economic climate- is going to see its fair share of clearly unqualified candidates. But the statement that "the majority" of software engineering applicants can't code very simple things seems pretty far fetched to me.
 
  • #10
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Is that a fact? Please provide the data to support this erroneous claim. Any open position- especially in this economic climate- is going to see its fair share of clearly unqualified candidates. But the statement that "the majority" of software engineering applicants can't code very simple things seems pretty far fetched to me.
Indeed, I can -- bigmouth. http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2010/02/the-nonprogramming-programmer.html. That happens to be only one of my sources.
 
  • #11
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And yes, for software development roles, people do filter by degree specialisation, but usually the criterion is something like 'a degree in a numerate/technical subject' rather than just CS.

So you should be fine with a math degree, if you can show some motivation about why you want to do software dev and some evidence of previous programming experience during or outside your course in your CV (someone with a CS degree would of course have that by default though). People would be looking more for experience in terms of actually using it for something specific - say some kind of project/coursework - rather than claims of having read books or just knowing about it.
Thank you very much!
 
  • #13
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I see no facts in the link you just posted, just links to more blog posts. You do understand that blog posts are not considered good data, right?
Did you even click on the "About" section of the blog? The blog belongs to one of the original developers working on stackoverflow. Programmers usually regard stackoverflow.com to be the greatest Q&A source on the internet. Assuming from his biography, he is also a developer of, I suppose, 31 years. Contact him and find out.

Were you expecting a science publishing? You got the best information available.

Enjoy your schooling.
 
  • #14
fss
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Did you even click on the "About" section of the blog? The blog belongs to one of the original developers working on stackoverflow. Programmers usually regard stackoverflow.com to be the greatest Q&A source on the internet.
Does not matter. Claims not backed up by data from a reputable or reasoned source are just claims- not fact. If you plan on succeeding in software development or any other technical field, you would do well to remember that.
 
  • #15
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For most coding jobs, people don't care. The problem is not the interview. The problem is the resume. If you just mention that you are a math major and you say nothing else, then you are likely going to get passed over for someone that mentions that they are a CS major and says nothing else, but that means trying to write your resume in a way that convinces people that you can code
Sums it up nicely. What employers are looking for more than what degree you have is how much passion you have for the field and your accomplishments. Do you have any experience in the field? If not why not? Do you know programming languages relevant to the job being advertised? Do not apply if you cannot even write "hello world" in the relevant or similar language. Can you be put in front of a customer without becoming a blubbering mess? Don't underestimate this - if you are being hired as a software eng as part of a professional services team then this is possibly the most important one.
 
  • #16
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Just to add: as your career progresses you will find your degree becomes less and less relevant in regards to your pay and progression, not more so. Once you make the interview you will find very little of it will be spent discussing your degree (I worked in software dev for about 10 years and can't remember the last time I was even asked about my education in an interview). The hard part is getting past HR which usually takes a bit of experience.
 
  • #17
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It really doesn't matter if a majority of people with degrees in software engineering can't write simple programs. What matters is that a *larger* proportion of people with degrees in software engineering can write simple programs than people with degrees in other majors.

If this was not the case, I assure you that every employer looking for programmers would be advertising for math, physics, or medieval French literature majors if they thought they would get better programmers that way.
 
  • #18
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I also don't see how the behaviour you describe is irrational. If you want a burger, do you go to a burger place or a normal restaurant that happens to offer burgers, as well? Sure, that restaurant may very well have better burgers, but if you want to narrow down a choice between 20 burger places and 100 restaurants, are you really going to put more or any emphasis on some random restaurant? Like people posting here already said, you just have a lot more selling to do if you want to convince the employer you are better at something than those who are supposed to be the best at it.
 
  • #19
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I also don't see how the behaviour you describe is irrational. If you want a burger, do you go to a burger place or a normal restaurant that happens to offer burgers, as well? Sure, that restaurant may very well have better burgers, but if you want to narrow down a choice between 20 burger places and 100 restaurants, are you really going to put more or any emphasis on some random restaurant? Like people posting here already said, you just have a lot more selling to do if you want to convince the employer you are better at something than those who are supposed to be the best at it.
I would look for applicants with sincerity, experience (projects or internships), motivation, skills, and other demonstrations of knowledge before putting them in last-interview-place. An applicant that has some experience and a CS degree, would not get priority over individuals with excellent experience and plentiful skills.
 
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  • #20
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I would look for applicants with sincerity, experience (projects or internships), motivation, skills, and other demonstrations of knowledge before putting them in last-interview-place. An applicant that has some experience and a CS degree, would not get priority over individuals with excellent experience and plentiful skills.
Employers do try to do that. But how are you going to get an accurate prediction of motivation and sincerity from a CV? As far as other things you listed are concerned, rest assured that they are taken into account. But, again, if you're looking for someone with CS skills specifically, why do would you care if he can knit your underwear in 30 seconds (ie. plentiful skills)? Also, why would you place so much emphasis on experience and thereby handicap younger candidates who might turn out to be much better? Isn't that young applicant with less experience kind of in the same situation as an applicant with a different degree, a situation you don't want to happen, then?

The whole world hasn't rebelled against you or anyone else for that matter, and the employers are thus also just trying to do what they think is best for them. Just because you disagree and think there's a different way of going about things doesn't mean theirs is wrong, inferior or that you should think you know how to do it, while they, the dumbasses, are just so damn short-sighted.
 
  • #21
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Employers do try to do that. But how are you going to get an accurate prediction of motivation and sincerity from a CV? As far as other things you listed are concerned, rest assured that they are taken into account. But, again, if you're looking for someone with CS skills specifically, why do would you care if he can knit your underwear in 30 seconds (ie. plentiful skills)? Also, why would you place so much emphasis on experience and thereby handicap younger candidates who might turn out to be much better? Isn't that young applicant with less experience kind of in the same situation as an applicant with a different degree, a situation you don't want to happen, then?

The whole world hasn't rebelled against you or anyone else for that matter, and the employers are thus also just trying to do what they think is best for them. Just because you disagree and think there's a different way of going about things doesn't mean theirs is wrong, inferior or that you should think you know how to do it, while they, the dumbasses, are just so damn short-sighted.
I'm done responding to random attacks. I've sifted through the good advice, googled Jeff Atwood's reputation (which turned up positive). Now I will sign off.
 
  • #22
fss
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I'm done responding to random attacks. I've sifted through the good advice, googled Jeff Atwood's reputation (which turned up positive). Now I will sign off.
Let us know how your job search goes. Experimental evidence to support your claim will change my appraisal of your "get by on fumes" strategy.
 
  • #23
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What I mean by irrational is that, like you said, employers select graduates in the discipline first. As if a person graduating in that discipline from nearly any college couldn’t be a superior applicant (depending on the employer).
Employers don't care about getting superior applicants. They are more worried about avoiding incompetent ones. If you have a BS in Computer Science from a standard university, the odds that you know *nothing* about computer programming are quite low, and so if you get hired the odds are that you aren't totally incompetent.

On the other hand, there are bachelors in mathematics that totally incompetent at programming, because they've never studied it.

The same works with MBA's. It's not that you are a better business person if you have a Harvard MBA. It's that it is unlikely that you are totally incompetent.

The common generalization that you should have a BS or graduate degree in _____ discipline, or you will be near the last to get interviewed –- should get looked over for future graduates.
It also depends on how tight the job market is. If you have only one spot and twenty applicants, then majors lets you cut out a lot of people quickly. If you have ten spots and twenty applicants, things are different.

The basic problem is that there is a lack of jobs, and so we end up with defacto lottery.

We are now venturing within the era of e-learning. Anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a decent amount of self-motivation can learn from Ivy League courses.
You can learn some things. It's harder to learn others. Also Ivy League schools get their power not from the quality of their education, but the quality of their social networks. You have employers tell the schools, we want X, Y, and Z. It's harder to get that information if you don't go to university.

The other problem is that most people just don't have that much self-motivation.

For careers that can desperately use the kind of people I just described, it’s shocking I have heard little of the topic I ranted off about.
1) The economy is bad. There are enough people with traditional degrees to choose from that people won't go non-traditional if they don't have to.

2) There is a lot you learn that isn't in the classroom. Fortunately you can replicate this sort of learning elsewhere. Like here. I'm telling you what goes through an employers mind when they look at a resume, and that's useful information.

Yes, I do understand it is easier to simply select applicants based on degree… The disappointment and frustration arises when I think of spending 4 years to get a degree, in a subject, which I already know enough to perform on the job.
People like bachelor degrees because it says you can "go corporate." I was reading something about why ex-drug dealers and ex-prisoners have difficulty getting jobs. It happens that if you are in prison and something does something rude to you, and you don't immediate fight back, you are in big trouble. If someone calls you a bad name, and you don't immediately punch them in the face, you are dead (sometimes literally). This works in prison. It doesn't work in an office.

Part of the reason that employers want people with bachelors degrees is that it can show that you can stand a long boring lecture without punching the professor in the face. The interesting thing is that it doesn't matter what you got your bachelor degree in. If you get your bachelor degree in Russian literature, then it says that you can work in an office. Also getting two bachelor degrees is usually a bad sign.
 
  • #24
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I would look for applicants with sincerity, experience (projects or internships), motivation, skills, and other demonstrations of knowledge before putting them in last-interview-place. An applicant that has some experience and a CS degree, would not get priority over individuals with excellent experience and plentiful skills.
You can't figure out sincerity and motivation from a resume or even an interview, and to be quite honest, it's almost never the situation that you have one worker that is more sincere or motivated than another. (Which is why you shouldn't put those characteristics in a resume.)

Experience and skills matter, but employers will only know about them if you write them into the resume. And even that is tricky. If you just say "I know C++" this really means nothing, because anyone can say "I know C++". If you say "I've written this Android App and uploaded it to market", that says something.
 
  • #25
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You can leverage a math degree pretty well for a software engineering job. I think employers know that most computer science degree programs are really just software engineering programs, unless there's a real distinction at the school (of course this doesn't always happen). Real computer science is very close to mathematics. People think that people who know higher level maths are really smart, and if you look at some data on medical or law school applicants, it seems to be true (there's not many of them, and they generally score higher on the MCAT anyway). Employers may want someone that can bring something new to the team, a different perspective. Maybe in a more cynical reality this might not be true, in the case where an employer may not necessarily want the smartest employee (I mention this because I know twofish would comment on this), or some similar circumstances. However, it gets you points on the interview when you can say, "Well because I've learned how to represent and manipulate shapes in higher dimensions mathematically, it gives me an edge in terms of perspective on how to tackle certain problems. Plus I've written this program for playing chess on a hypersphere," or something like that.

Definitely work on showing that you have the skills to be a good programmer, with all relevant experience. But having a math degree won't kill you, and could definitely help you in some cases if you pitch it well.
 

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