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Math Why would IT companies hire someone with BS in mathematics or physics?

  1. Dec 27, 2012 #1


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    Around fifteen percent of people with a BS degree in mathematics or physics get a job in IT sector, but I was wondering why IT companies would sometimes hire people without a formal computer science degree. Is taking one or two C++ programming courses sufficient to get a job as a C++ developer? What about missing hands-on knowledge about operating systems or network protocols?
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  3. Dec 27, 2012 #2
    Mate, demand for programmers is so great that companies will take everyone and their mothers if they eventually can learn how to code. Tbh you don't need to know how to code at all - if you are fast learner it's no problem at all. Welcome to godly job market of programmers.

    But to be honest those people don't do any hands-on stuff and network.
  4. Dec 27, 2012 #3

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  5. Dec 27, 2012 #4
    Once I had been one of those hires. This is how I got hired by an IT company: PhD in applied physics / R&D at national research center (Austria) / self-employed IT consultant / IT infrastructure manager in said research center / hired by Microsoft as a consultant.

    ... not too uncommon, I am aware of some other physics graduates with similar backgrounds. Of course the PhD would not have been required, that's why I said I am one of those hires.

    All of my IT jobs were concerned with networking, security and operating systems: very hands-on and a lot of deep-level troubleshooting on the one hand, lots of politics and designing systems tailored to corporate political constraints on the other hand.

    My conclusion was that IT companies did (not sure if they still do(*)) hire based on track record and skills, not so much based on your degree. When I was hired I could prove that I was able to thrive running my own business and to be able to combine technical and management skills. I also had colleagues in IT who had graduated in biology or who held a humanities degree. And a lot of them have worked self-employed, at least for some time.

    (*) I feel that this is subject to change as there are so much more computer science and software engineering graduates available today.
    But I believe IT still provides more opportunities for "self-educated" experts than other fields. In particular, it does not require any particular license to start your own business in IT.
  6. Dec 27, 2012 #5
    What exactly defines "IT" with respect to the statistic mentioned? Is this a self-report?
  7. Dec 27, 2012 #6


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    My own experience (50 years programming and managing programmers) is that physicists and engineers generally make better programmers than CS majors.

    You can teach a monkey computer language syntax but you can't teach them how to think about new problems.
  8. Dec 27, 2012 #7
    Yes, "IT" can really be vague term! From other reports on "jobs in IT" I know that the key account manager for IT products or even the tele-tales assistant is counted as an "IT job" as long as the company is "in the IT sector".

    I would prefer to use the term for jobs that require (hands-on) skills and theoretical knowledge in software development, protocol design or hardware - no matter if the employer is counted as "IT sector" or not.

    So I would also be interested in the terminology used in compiling the statistics.
  9. Dec 27, 2012 #8
    This is very scary, hearing this coming from people who are recognized on this forum.

    It seems to me that many majors either do not prepare students for the job market or students are making bad college choices.

    I was thinking about either physics, computer science, or some sort of engineering degree; electrical or mechanical. I am not afraid of math and I do enjoy it along with problem solving and programming. In the end I am worried which area will get me the best chance at making a living.
  10. Dec 27, 2012 #9
    Well it is certainly true that there are a lot of degrees out there that do not prepare one of the relevant vocation as well as one would imagine; this isn't unique to computer science and software engineers. It's partially because many of the high ups in universities have never been in industry, or have very little experience in it, and as such have little idea about what it actually requires, but also because universities themselves aren't merely job training factories, but places of academia and learning.
  11. Dec 27, 2012 #10

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    First, college is not supposed to be a trade school.

    Second, there exists a kind of CS degree where one doesn't learn much computer science at all. It's a parade of languages. These are very prevalent in less-competitive and for-profit institutions.

    Third, there is evidence that, by the time students get to college, it's already determined whether or not someone can become a good programmer (Dehnadi and Bornat's "The camel has two humps" is the paper that started this). I would guess that math/physics/engineering grads tend to be in the "can program" group.
  12. Dec 27, 2012 #11
    Unlike medicine, law, material engineering or biotechnology programming is self-taught. It's closer to art (drawing, graphic design) in that regard. You pick up a book/pencil and you do your job. By doing it you get better and better. Sure - school helps but without your own practise it's kinda worthless. So it's not that school is bad. School is simply not enough.

    Because of that the best of the best are those who are passionate about the subject - regardless of their degree. I know programmers without any higher education or with BA in literature.

    Plus because there is huge demand for programmers your entry level skills can be little to no exsistent. Companies are willing to hire you and to do on - job training for you because they lack people. If you play your cards right you can become world-class specialist/consultant within 15 years or so even if you start with very little knowledge.
  13. Dec 27, 2012 #12
    True. But what's that got to do with anything?

    A well designed curriculum can also prepare one for a vocation, profession, or area of employment, on top of being a more general (or more specific) vehicle for learning. So explain why it shouldn't do both.

    Did you decide that colleges shouldn't prepare people for future employment? Because I know professors who take great pride in the fact that they do.
  14. Dec 27, 2012 #13
    Here's an example blurb from a random http://academics.bentley.edu/departments/mathematical-sciences [Broken] program I googled (my emphasis):

    This was the first link I clicked on. Exactly how many of these would I have to post before we dispell this idea that university degree programs are not designed with gainful employment in mind, and can instead say that they sometimes are and sometimes are not?
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  15. Dec 27, 2012 #14
    Vanadium 50,

    I’m stressing this point because it’s not the first time you (and others!) have given this response. See, for example, this thread, where you state:

    Says who? Why can’t it be about both? On the contrary, there seem to be lots of departments that take employment quite seriously. For instance, the second link in my search says:

    You don’t get much more straightforward than that. It appears to me, though I’m not personally familiar with either institution I’ve quoted from, that preparing its students for the job market is important to them.

    So when you say here and here and here that college isn’t vocational or trade school, I agree with the statement of fact, but I disagree with the implication, which is that because it isn’t the same, it can’t also do some of the same things.

    It seems to me that sometimes college is also about preparation for employment, even in the math and science buildings.
  16. Dec 27, 2012 #15

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    You're right. I say it a lot.

    I have no problem with the statement "we learn many things, inside and outside of schools, and some of these things are applicable to our jobs". I would support that statement.

    I don't, however, think it is the primary function of college to be job training. I don't think the fact that one graduates college means that the world owes him a job at all, and it certainly doesn't owe him a job with his desired salary, location, challenges, etc. I also think if you look at college as solely job training, you will miss out on some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that college will provide.
  17. Dec 27, 2012 #16
    After getting a maths degree. my adage is "anything else I do must be simpler than this!"

    In grade 8 I started reading programming books. I read Daniel's McCraken's book on Fortran in a day & I was hooked. At college I studied maths & did a post grad computer science degree.

    It comes down to aptitude. You will gravitate to your niche in life whether it be software development or jewelry design. You need to be adaptable to the realities of the job market too.
  18. Dec 27, 2012 #17
    There are a lot of jobs in IT that relate to network support/management and have very little to do with pure programming. That's why you see the mish-mash of people with different degrees everywhere. You don't need anything really formal so much as knowledge of how to navigate windows computer networks.

    My first decent job was on the network support staff at a local hospital when I only had a bachelors in mathematics. My colleagues there either had no degrees, history degrees, etc. Although, there was one woman I worked closely with who held a PhD in chemical engineering... So there was a wide variety of formal backgrounds. Although they were trending away from that slowly and bringing in CS interns when I left.
  19. Dec 28, 2012 #18


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    On the OP's point, my guess is that IT companies are interested in those who can demonstrate programming and analytical/problem solving skills, as opposed to those with a particular certificate or degree. People who graduate with a math or physics degree (and also those who graduate with an engineering or computer science degree) have these skills (or should have these skills).

    Now on a second note, this thread (like other threads about computer science), computer science is not synonymous with programming. Theoretical computer science, after all, is a mathematical science devoted to the study of algorithms and the nature of computation -- you can spend your time doing research in this area without doing any programming whatsoever.

    That being said, I find it frankly hard to believe that there are people who graduate with a CS degree who are unable to do even basic programming, since every CS graduate that I have ever met were more than capable programmers.
  20. Dec 28, 2012 #19


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  21. Dec 29, 2012 #20
    Because "computer science" isn't really a discipline, like a skill that you learn by rote and then you are a "computer scientist".

    To take the example from the "Coding Horrorstories" article posted earlier:

    The difficulty in this, such as it is, is not in syntax or understanding how computers work, it's the capacity for abstract reasoning and independent problem-solving. The best CS grads are probably as good as the best physics and maths grads at this, but the best physics and maths grads are certainly better than the majority of the CS grad pool.
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