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Math major working in a warehouse. How can I get a real job now?

  1. Dec 4, 2013 #1
    Backstory. Graduated March of this year. Typical "jack of all trades" Mathematics major: I know basic probability, programming fundamentals, good logical-analytical skills, did data analysis for an esoteric research project for the Computational Neuroscience Grad Dept, but of course I'm not carved out perfectly for any job. After graduating I applied for a ton of jobs that I felt were somewhat related to my background and were entry-level according to the description --- jobs like Online Analytical Processing Developer, Statistical Analyst, Java Programmer - Entry level, Actuarial Analyst - Entry Level, Scientific Programmer on Big Data Application in Startup Division, Algorithm and Software Development for Computational Biochemistry, Data Modeler, etc. I was getting the most responses for software development jobs, so I decided to apply exclusively for those from then on. I read my C++ book and practiced the classic-style programming interview questions where you explain or write the solutions to tricky problems. In the past few months I made it to the final round of interviews for 2 different software jobs. The 1st one rejected me and then I saw them post the job online the next week; apparently they hadn't found anyone they felt was qualified. The 2nd one rejected me after saying they thought I was more fit for a "Software Engineering" position and they were looking for an "Application Developer." I thought it was rather weird that they brought me to the final interview before saying that. Before that I had done a 2-hr technical interview which I felt went well. It might've been company policy that they have to interview X number of people all the way through.

    Well, I have 0 future job prospects at the moment, and I currently work at a warehouse to pay the bills. I don't really want to "expand my job search" to the point where I'm taking jobs I could've got with an English degree or with no degree at all. I want the quickest and surest route to a job that holds at least some promise of me benefitting from my background. There's gotta be some way to do that. In a few months I'll be competing with the recent grads and no one will want to consider last year's Math grad who works in a warehouse. I'm afraid that the value of my education is fast depreciating and pretty soon I'll just be "the guy who works in a warehouse because he couldn't get a job after graduating."
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 4, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Start taking some programming courses in Java and web development to keep you in the academic pool of candidates. Its going to be tough going because many companies will prefer CS majors over math majors for general development.

    Did you have to do any programming challenges for your interviews? You should prepare for these. There are examples on the web of the kinds of questions google and microsoft ask.

    One thing that might pique your interest is the Open Source Physics site (www.compadre.org/osp) where they have software to develop physics simulations. You could develop a skill in computational physics that could complement your math skills and programming skills. Better yet take a grad course in computational physics (its really applied math).

    You could also consider taking night courses to gain a CS degree to bolster your credentials... All this takes extra work but in doing it you keep your resume alive with activity and show employers that you are willing and able to learn new things.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2013
  4. Dec 4, 2013 #3
    At this point the interview-style programming challenges are easy for me and I don't get the least bit nervous about them. The only hard one I had recently was the "print out the next number with the same digits" question. The other one they asked me at my long interview was:

    "There's a game where you and your opponent start with a stack of coins on the table and you each take turns either removing 1 or 2 coins until there are no more left on the table. If you're the player who starts the game, how many coins do you remove?"

    I explained how I'd automatically win if there 1 or 2 coins on the table, automatically lose if there were 3 coins on the table (since my opponent would end up 1 or 2), automatically win if there were 4 or 5 on the table, lose if there were 6, etc. If there are n coins on the table, take off 1 if n % 3 = 1, take off 2 if n % 3 = 2, and take off however many you want if n % 3 = 0, because you're a goner if we assume your opponent is perfectly programmed like you are.

    I get it .... I get what they're looking for in programming interview questions like that. I used to suck at them, but not anymore.

    At this point I'm not planning to do extra school unless I'm convinced that it's absolutely necessary. There has to be a more efficient way to get a job than to spend another year taking classes just to prove that I'm willing to learn new things.
  5. Dec 4, 2013 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    I'm thinking even taking one course at a time shows you're keeping your feet in the game. Do you know what I mean? You don't want to be perceived as being more stale than new graduates.
  6. Dec 5, 2013 #5
    Sounds like you have limited your job search too much. Why give up applying for non-programming positions just because you've had a bit of luck in getting interviews for software development jobs? What's wrong with applying for jobs that English graduates might apply for? For instance, English graduates might get into banking jobs, but your superior numerical analysis skills might encourage banks to take you on. With your current approach you are putting yourself in danger of competing for computing jobs with computer science graduates... you need to sway the odds further in your direction!
  7. Dec 5, 2013 #6
    There is no law that says you must work in your field of study. See what Mike Rowe had to say about work on his TED talk.

    That said, unlike English majors, Math majors can be hired for all sorts of things. You could work in marketing, evaluating advertisement penetration. You could work in medical research, looking at statistics from various treatment methodologies. You could work at an industrial plant, analyzing processes for efficiency, cost effectiveness, and the like. You might also consider a teaching career. There are many places you can use your skills.

    Or you could throw it all away and go do the sort of work that pays bills while you pursue your hobbies. In addition to the feeling of relevance and achievement, there are things you will detest in any job. You may decide that paying the bills is more important that getting kudos and acclaim on the job.

    Just DO something.
  8. Dec 5, 2013 #7


    Staff: Mentor

    And DO IT NOW!
  9. Dec 5, 2013 #8


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    While I can understanding wanting a technical job, I don't understand not taking more classes to make yourself more employable. If your initial job searches are not leading you to the job you want, then obviously you have to change your method. The most common way would be to either learn what you need to learn for the jobs you want (ie taking classes) or backdoor yourself in by taking a job at the company you want work at by in an unrelated field. For example, my second job, I took a job as a programmer even though I wanted to do statistics. After 6 months or so, I demonstrated to the department head that I was probably more qualified at Statistics than their current statistician and I took the next job opening.

    It's about making little sacrifices to eventually reach your goal. And who knows you might even like the job you end up in.
  10. Dec 5, 2013 #9


    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, I wonder just how common this strategy is. Years ago, I started working at a large computer services company as an IO clerk, submitted some programs to win a suggestion award for corporate efficiency and then got promoted to scientific programmer. I wasn't the only one. It seemed the company routinely scouted its blue collar base for programming candidates. There was some mild resentment with those of us who had college degrees as others knew we would eventually be promoted to a white collar job.
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2013
  11. Dec 5, 2013 #10
    For one thing, software jobs abound in my area. If I applied for software jobs plus any others that seem fit, I would still be spending 75% of my time on applications for software jobs.

    Secondly, having a specific goal looks good to employers. If I write a cover letter for a programming job and say that I think I would be a good fit because blah blah blah and then the hiring manager looks on my LinkedIn profile and sees that I've also expressed interested in data analysis positions, then I look unsure of exactly what I want to do and they'll pass me over in favor of someone who seems more sure that he wants to go into software.

    What banking job? A teller?

    I know that I'm at a competitive disadvantage with programming jobs, but I'm at a bigger disadvantage with other jobs, from my experience thus far. The last job I interviewed for was a Health Care Data Analyst role which didn't require any special technical skills beyond knowing how to use a computer. I didn't get past the first interview. For such a job, a company will be more keen on hiring a pretty sorority girl who did an internship where she fetched coffee and entered numbers into a spreadsheet, than they would a Math guy whose college highlight was writing MATLAB scripts to perform all kinds of signal processing procedures on brain signals for the Computational Neuroscience Graduate Department and writing an abstract that explains the clustering algorithm he used.
  12. Dec 5, 2013 #11
    I wonder if people who say this graduated from college back in the 70's or something. There were fewer college graduates back then and the information-technology world hadn't taken off, so it was probably easier for an undergraduate degree in Mathematics to be attractive to an employer who had the need for logical-mathematical skills in his burgeoning industry. I know someone who got a Philosophy degree in the old days and was hired and trained by IBM. Today, colleges are vocational schools and you're expected to have a very specific skill set that matches an available job.
  13. Dec 5, 2013 #12
    Would they make me more employable? I want some assurance before I commit several semesters and thousands of dollars to this pursuit of additional education.

    That's an even harder task, I think.

    Let's look at Microsoft's page for University Graduate Full-Time Careers: http://careers.microsoft.com/careers/en/us/university-full-time-roles.aspx

    The Non-Technical roles are in the categories of

    Product Marketing & Marketing Communications


    Human Resources

    Operations & Supply Chain

    Product Planning


    You can click and see that all those require very specific qualifications that are not anywhere close to Math. I can't even think of a creative way to write my resume to look qualified.
  14. Dec 5, 2013 #13
    If you have a decent background in programming and statistics, you might look into any kind of analyst position. Big data, insurance companies, etc. I'm sure you've already thought of it, but if not...
  15. Dec 5, 2013 #14


    Staff: Mentor

    You don't need to spend thousands of dollars, take one course at a time maybe your employer has a staff benefit for education that would pay for it.

    If your skills are limited to maintaining or fixing code in an academic setting then I would suggest a Data Structures class first.

    However, if you're relatively solid with your programming skills using collection classes, gui development... then take a database course and/or a web development course. Make sure you can do Java and C/C++ coding and possibly JavaScript. You could even take an online course or find a two week seminar on one of these topics.

    You should also learn how to use Eclipse or Netbeans IDE for Java and C/C++ projects with version control like GIT, SVN or CVS and a build tool like Ant or Maven. These are the basic tools of today's programmers.

    If you want to be more exotic then try learning Scala, Groovy, the Gradle build tool and Grails web development framework. These topics would show you're looking to the possible future of software development.

    The general point is that even one course can keep employers interested in your application.

    Also do you have any friends who can clue you in when jobs open up at local companies? If so, I would get in touch with them. Managers sometimes prefer candidate whom they know or one of their trusted employees know or someone who went the same college... over a complete unknown candidate. Choose your friends wisely.
  16. Dec 5, 2013 #15
    If you know how to use all of the above as an entry level developer you're beating your competition imo.
  17. Dec 5, 2013 #16


    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, if you mention it in an interview you have a good chance of getting the job provisionally.
  18. Dec 5, 2013 #17


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    I fail to see how having more skills would somehow make you anything but more employable. For example, if right now you don't know how to use SAS, and you get certified using SAS. You have suddenly become 100 times more useful to me than prior to that certification. You just have to find what specific skills you lack and find ways to demonstrate your knowledge. A course is one idea, but free lance projects and certifications are other routes. The point that we are trying to make is that you need to do something.

    As for the backdoor part. Clicking through the non-MBA jobs listed, even though I did math, I am 100 percent sure I'm more than qualified for most of those jobs. Perhaps you're not, but it doesn't hurt to try, and it definitely doesn't hurt your chances of getting a future job offer from that company for a different position.

    You obviously wanted advice on how to improve your situation. The key advice that has been given is to not be static. It's up to you whether the cost or difficulty of doing so is worth it to you. It's your life, I'm definitely don't particularly care if you choose to improve your chances or not.
  19. Dec 5, 2013 #18

    Vanadium 50

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    Jamin2112, this is one of a series of threads you've started on this. As someone who does hiring, let me make two observations: one is that you seem to have a huge chip on your shoulder. This is not helping in the least. The thing that matters most is the productivity of the group, not the individual members of the group. One of the people you might need to work with might well be a young woman who used to be in a sorority and did hold an internship.

    Additionally, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but (based on your messages here) your programming skills are not where I would want them to be to hire you as a programmer.
  20. Dec 5, 2013 #19


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    If you don't want to pay for courses but do want to get some "real world" programming experience, join in an open-source project, preferably a big one. (But expect your code to get torn to shreds by people less polite than those on PF).

    Pick something that interests you personally, and where you have something more than just programming skills to contribute. - i.e. knowledge of the application area.
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