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Physics Physics BS going into IT work

  1. Sep 17, 2011 #1
    Physics BS going into IT work....

    I graduated nearly 2 years ago with degree from UCLA and have struggled to find valuable work experience. I am now seeking a variety of IT certifications and have decided to go full-on into IT sector since I have the most networks there (fam, friends, etc...).

    Anyways, my question:

    Does anyone have any information about the work environment difference between software engineering vs. network architect (specializing in security)?

    Which tends to have more regular/stable hours?

    Which is more stressful?....It matters a lot to me that I am able to have a job that has a large amount of autonomy or where I am (reasonably) able to work at my own pace. When I have people pressuring me constantly my effectiveness/productivity drop noticeably and additionally suffer migraines.

    Thank you to anyone who is able offer me any perspective!
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 17, 2011 #2


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    Re: Physics BS going into IT work....

    What kind of IT experience do you have?

    If you want to get into the field of development, you need to show your employer that you can develop software, and do it well.

    So in regard to the above: what languages do you know? What platforms have you developed on? What projects have you worked on?

    These are some starting questions for you, if you are keen on software development (there are many more, but lets keep it brief for now).
  4. Sep 18, 2011 #3
    Re: Physics BS going into IT work....

    I have worked in IT for more than 10 years in different positions - currently as an IT security consultant (networking, digital certificates, cryptography).

    I tend to say that in general networking / infrastructure is a bit more stressful than software / applications: If your are accountable for invisible infrastructure nobody would recognize and appreciate what you do - except in case of failure when "anything" is down. If you are responsible for an application "only" then there is less that would break. In addition normal users and managers would rather understand which value you provide to a company.

    But I would rather distinguish by your role in a project or an organisation and not so much by subjects (like networking versus software)
    There is a difference between working as an employee in an IT department of a (typically larger) compancy and working as a consultant (self-employed or employed) who delivers projects to other companies. Of course there is an overlap of duties as also in inhouse network architect or software engineers might work on internal projects very consultant-like.

    As I said I know different roles and would summarize as follows:

    Staff IT professional:

    + Hours may be more regular if the company as such as a reasonable way to organize work in general. It was my impression that IT somehow follows core business. In manufacturing companies you might work rather normal hours because the overall mentality is more "9-5 like" (no negative statement intended)

    - There might still be lots of interruptions. Despite all these new tools to work together in a remote fashion IT professionals still need to be on site. This may depend on corporate culture, but typically your boss wants you to be around if "something major" happens (like the CEO has a problem with his iPad)

    Consultant, working project-based:

    + Working in projects you will have a better chance to select the area of expertise and thus build up repuation.
    Ths there is a chance you will be much more rewarded and renowned.

    - The price to pay are irregular hours. You might be able to work your own pace for periods of time, but you are also more responsible for your own time management. You need to estimate how much time you need to complete a task. And if your estimation has been incorrect you might end up with working on different projects at the same time, both nearly needing full-time utilization. This is worse in my opinion if you are employed by an IT consulting companny - in this case the disadvantages of the two roles add up.

    I would also ponder about the level of communication and interpersonal interaction you need (and your related skills). As a software developer you can spend more time working on your own. As a network architect you will typically not develop any software, but you will design and review systems. This involves gathering requirements and drilling down to what the customer / company really wants. Very often company politics is projected onto network infrastructure and you are - though officially a technical expert - effectively more of a counsellor or mediator. This role is similar to the architect in civil engineering who has to do all the co-ordination between different systems vendors.

    Let me add a personal comment: I am slowly leaving IT though I have been truly successful and I have really liked it. But deep in my heart I had never stopped to feel rather like a physicist or engineer and I have never closed these doors completely. I had gradually selected jobs / fields by their "physics / science factor".
    I would recommend this to anybody switching to IT from a related field. There are e.g. physicists who develop software for engineering companies.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2011
  5. Sep 19, 2011 #4
    Re: Physics BS going into IT work....

    My background experience for coding is taking a intro programming C++ class (required for major), Matlab, and basic experience with Python.
    As for project work, some opensource contributions on sourceforge and some coding in Python for my senior project.

    I'm getting the hint, from responses, software development tends to offer me more of my preferred work environment...I have heard repetitively that a lot of the projects are outsourced now?

    I really find network theory and administration interesting BUT do realize that it is a position that requires a large amount of responsibility and things can/do go wrong on a moments notice...

    How would I move away from networking if I wanted to pursue being a programmer. So far I have been doing techno grunt work mainly under the employment title of "help desk specialist"; I think my job is currently getting me closer to network/voice than coding even though I am trying to focus more on applications. In terms of hardware/user interface side, I have been working with Cisco and older IBM infrastructure and Microsoft OS but familiar with linux as well.

    Thanks again for your time!
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2011
  6. Sep 19, 2011 #5
    Re: Physics BS going into IT work....

    I am from Europe - here this is true. Large companies are hiring self-employed specialists as contractors for a period of time (~ 1 year). Typically you are not hired by the client directly but by an intermediate "project staffing company". A large staffing company is Hays - you can check current project offers at their web site: www.hays.com

    If you want to change your focus (networking --> software) it is all about tailoring your professional "profile", very similar to tailoring the resume when you apply for a permanent position. You need to demonstrate that you did a "project" - you might also sell them an internal or non-profit project.
  7. Sep 19, 2011 #6


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    Re: Physics BS going into IT work....

    That is some varied experience which is good. Any experience where you have contributed to large scale projects (or code repositories) is a good thing, since this is the kind of environment that you will most likely work in, in your day job.

    One thing that I want to (re)emphasize is demonstrating the ability to work with different code-bases and platforms and integrate the functionality of each together. This is what happens most of the time. The fact is that it takes too much time to do everything yourself and usually what happens is that the lead programmer has agreed to use a certain library, and as such someone (or some people) have the job of doing the integration.

    This gives experience in a few ways: firstly you can see how horrible it is to debug errors in repositories that have multiple libraries or code-bases. Secondly you get experience at doing rapid development. Thirdly (I know I keep saying this but anyway), this is what you do and it's the only way that stuff (complex stuff), gets done.

    I think you should get an idea of what it is like to work in an environment that mimics the development atmosphere for at least a month or two. It can be nightmare looking for bugs in huge repositories, and it's an even bigger nightmare when you (god forbid) have to step through some machine-code representation or assembler representation of a compiled library. It's even worse if the dependency on some library is very high.

    You might love it, and if you do that's great. Also there are different jobs that have different platforms, different technical expertise and requirements, and different scope for complexity. In saying this, you should probably do some kind of project for a few months and see how you cope with that.

    Again I emphasize like other project based jobs, your "portfolio" forms a major part of your resume. If you want to development and you haven't got any entries for your portfolio, then you need to work on that immediately.

    You also need to pick a domain. It is not reasonable for a programmer to be a specialist in everything, in the same way that you don't expect a heart surgeon to also be a neurosurgeon or an ophthalmologist. In saying this though, all of these people know general medicine and how to specifically apply it to their job, and in the context of programming, you also need to know how to apply basic knowledge (data structures, documentation, design techniques, how to quickly write (or learn how to write) code in a procedural language, and so on) to your domain.

    Again with the doctor analogy above, find your domain and get experience to become the "neurosurgeon" of the area you want to go into. There is no reason why you can't learn different things, but you'll find out that it usually takes a really long time to become really good in one or two areas. Given that experience it might make learning a third, fourth, or tenth area a lot easier due to the overlaps (to put this into context, imagine learning a fourth spoken and written language after learning three already), but getting that initial context is going to probably be hard going.

    With respect to "offshoring" jobs, that is indeed happening by reading some posts of people who are still developing software in other forums. This is just my opinion, but I think there will always be certain kinds of development jobs that will never be moved overseas. I haven't done coding in a job for a little while now (I'm looking to become a statistician), but two-fish is an active programmer, so it would be good to get his take on this point because he has mentioned this issue in other threads.
  8. Sep 25, 2011 #7
    Re: Physics BS going into IT work....

    Thank you for you input. Your advice has been immensely interesting and insightful. Very grateful to have received such in-depth response from Elkement too, based on his education etc he seems like quite a "seasoned scholar".

    Additionally, it seems my next move will be to gain more project development experience to further build my portfolio.

    That's also interesting you are looking to become a statistician.

    I have read Two-fish's posts from since I registered and have found them very interesting (even though more about finance path than what I am looking to pursue). Hopefully he would be obliged to offer any advice if his time will permit.
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