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I'm a computer science student in my last year, and I want to get a job, but have difficulties finding one in my city where I can use what I already know pretty well. There is a company which does PHP/web that insists to work for them, and it is tempting, because pay would be good (for someone who is still a student) and the working conditions are great; the problem is that in no way I want a career in web developement, because I love low-level programming (C++, C, a bit of C# and Python - for my thesis I'm working on a complete C compiler with optimizations - I will make it open source later this year). This job would be only until I graduate and find something I like.

Now the question: could taking this job reduce my chances in being accepted on a job where low-level things are done? I think it might, because the interviewer could say something like "Well, if you pretend to know so much low-level stuff, why did you choose a job where you're doing the complete opposite?"

Here PHP is considered by many a language used by novice programmers (I know it's not entirely true) and I fear it doesn't give a good impression to claim I have deep knowledge of low-level stuff while having a PHP job (and the only one) listed on my CV.

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You "want" to get a job, or you "need" to get a job? If you don't need the money, stay the hell away from the PHP gig. Work for free on some low level C/C++ open source project, or just put that extra energy into your thesis. –  red-dirt Sep 18 '11 at 11:33
    
Actually I 'need' one, but if it would be something that I like to do I would also 'want' it. –  Gratian Lup Sep 18 '11 at 12:20
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marked as duplicate by MichaelT, gnat, Martijn Pieters, GlenH7, Joris Timmermans May 6 '13 at 14:11

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8 Answers

I'd say it depends: Would you work as part time in that PHP job and would it slow down your last studying year? Or do you think about taking that job once you're finished with your studies?

My suggestion is: Think about what your main goals are.

  • If getting job experience, working in a team and looking beyond your low-level programming horizon are amongst them: go for it. If someone asks you in a future job application why you took this job, you can tell them the just mentioned reasons.
  • Otherwise, i.e. if you are really certain that low-level programming is by far the most important thing you want to learn, look for other possibilities, e.g.
    • finishing your studies more quickly and then look for a suitable fulltime job. If you need money now, maybe federal student support or scholarship is a solution for you.
    • ask your thesis supervisor whether he has a student assistant job for you. You'd probably get paid much less than in industry, but also consider how worthy the appropriate experience is.
    • take the initiative and ask corporations who are closer to your field. My experience is that unsolicited applications have a quite high chance, and initiative from your side looks really good, too. Since many firms are doing their budget plans right now, the timing would be good, too.
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I doubt anyone would say that.

Any experience is better than No experience. (Even having worked at a hamburger restaurant is better than having NO experience, especially for people new to the working life)

There is lots you can learn about being a software developer and working in a professional environment (at the PHP shop) that will be applicable regardless of what language you work in.

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I suggest moving into a bigger city, where it's easier to find job with c++ programming. It might seem difficult now, but imagine yourself in 5 years, how difficult it will be when you have children or what not.

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Hobby projects always play an important role in the life of many developers. Based on what you said about good payment and salary and a good working condition, I suggest that you work in web development (of course, by considering this premise that you're not able to find low-level programming job in your city), but at the same time, start a hobby project and work on it in your free time.

This is what I've done during my career history. I liked web development, but since I wasn't good at JavaScript, HTML and CSS, I couldn't become a good web developer. So, because I needed money to live, I decided to start with Windows Applications (VB.NET and SQL Server), but then I gradually transferred to web development.

After all, IMHO, a year is not a big deal in your career.

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In your situation, the most important thing is "taking a job."

Web development won't preclude a career in programming, because the two are related. And it IS a form of work experience.

If you said, "wait on tables," that wouldn't be so good, because it has nothing to do with programming, or even math.

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A year of working as a professional programmer (even part time) will be a great addition to your resume after school. Having any experience as a developer is a good thing, and will help your career prospects, even if the experience is not 100% applicable to your desired career.

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Why I believe I'm qualified to give an answer? In my late teens when I absolutely had to a have a job and bring money home I went for enterprise programming gig because they'd have me and, more importantly, pay me outright instead of a systems programming job where I was told "please come back once you've learned X". Over the years I became a sought after specialist in my professional area and I love it, on the other hand I'd have to take a serious pay cut and still learn X properly and then still would have to look very hard for a systems programming job to make an entry, because there are not that many of them.

I'd seen this pattern repeat itself many times over with talented people aspiring to be systems or games programmers becoming highly successful business analysts, quants or system administrators because of the first paid job they took. There is nothing wrong with specialising in any other type of programming or becoming analyst if that's what you eventually became good at.

There are many more web development jobs out there than system programming jobs and until you earn yourself a name in systems programming finding a well paid systems programming gig will be hard.

Breaking into low level programming is unlikely to become much easier once you had a PHP job. Most of PHP web development out there is just not hard enough to demonstrate to a potential employer that you've got what it takes to hack compilers and operating systems.

This is not to say that PHP jobs are dead easy (take Facebook as an example), they require a lot of brain power but complexity is not technical, the complexity is in analysing intricate and often arbitrary business problems, then applying fairly basic coding to create a solution.

And this is probably the wrong type of complexity to keep your brain occupied. A job like that might influence what you think about most of the time and the thing on top of your mind might become "the best way of generating customer mailings based on a range of pdf templates without buying expensive third-party components" instead of "building C compiler with tail call optimisation" or "designing a better Java".

The emphasis in run-of-the-mill commercial web development is on delivering code what is just good enough in most scenarios as fast and as cheaply as possible. In systems programming on the other hand a program must behave predictably in all conceivable scenarios. This results in rather different working practises.

None of what I said is cast in stone, career and life are not about certainties, but little things do count at the end.

Here are some questions to ask oneself:

  • Have you looked for a low level programming job hard enough?

  • Have you looked for a systems programming job at all or are you tempted by first web job that presented itself without much effort on your part?

  • Is there any other job you could take that is not going to displace systems programming from the top of your mind?

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Unfortunately it is all too easy to become pigeon-holed in this business. The resume scanners will assume that all you can do is what you've done in the past; you might be able to impress someone at an interview, but you'll never get to interview in the first place. You need to find a way to get them to look past the listed qualifications, the best way is to know someone on the inside who can advocate for you.

Being a fresh graduate may help, as you'll be looking for an entry level job and the "relevant" experience should be less of a factor.

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