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Are business majors like Marketing relevant for programming jobs. Do employers even consider business degree holders as potential candidates? Let's say, if all I had was a business degree, should I be spending time applying for programming jobs, or should I be doing something else?


I should clarify that I already got the Business degree, and more than half way through the CS one.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

@Andy, why did you major in business and why do you want to program now? What are your goals currently? Have you programmed anything as a hobby or in class or for $? Do you think you would like being a programmer? –  Job Jan 7 '12 at 23:09
It's impossible to answer your question without knowing whether you know how to program or not. If you know how to program, then yes, you can get a programming job. If you don't, then no, you can't get a programming job. Why would you even want a programming job if you don't know how to program? –  Casey Patton Jan 7 '12 at 23:31
@casey I am actually a pretty advanced level programmer, been studying it for some time and actually almost got a CS degree. But I just don't like school. –  Andy Jan 8 '12 at 0:03
"Why would you even want a programming job if you don't know how to program?" codinghorror.com/blog/2007/02/why-cant-programmers-program.html –  jhocking Jan 8 '12 at 0:17
You want to program, don't like school but majored in business. This makes no sense. Are business classes less school-like? –  JeffO Jan 8 '12 at 1:55

13 Answers 13

up vote 9 down vote accepted

TL;DR: Yes; you can get a programming job, but only if you prove you can hack it.

If you can code, you can get a job programming. If you can't code, you can't get a job programming.

If you grok SOLID, constantly push yourself to be a better coder, can turn semi-vaque specifications into working software, and work well on a team of ~6 then I don't care if your degree is in tromboning trombones. I'll hire you.

However: if you don't know (insert reasonably difficult but not absurdly so programming concept here), consider yourself "above" learning new techniques, your claim to fame is your Aunt Bertha's Flower Shop website with the spinny GIFs, and consider your coworkers inferior humans... Well.. I don't care if you triple majored in CS, CE, and Stats. You're not getting anywhere near my software team.

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how to prove i can hack it? –  Andy Jan 7 '12 at 21:55
@Andy Consider applying to companies that would also value your business degree, like consulting firms. Even if not your ideal job, it will give you an opportunity to get experience that can be used to get jobs elsewhere. –  Chris Pitman Jan 7 '12 at 23:10
Possibly get (if you are a smooth talker) but also most likely not keep unless you can actually code. –  user1249 Jan 8 '12 at 1:35
Finishing the CS degree would prove you have staying power. There are lots of people full of talk who can't FINISH things. FINISHING stuff is a long slow boring slog but it has to be done. Get used to it. –  quickly_now Jan 8 '12 at 10:29
@Chris, excellent point. In technical consulting the ability to understand the business case for a piece of software is often just as valuable as your ability to type the magic words that make computers smile. –  Zee Jan 8 '12 at 17:02

I don't know if I speak for anyone else, but I've done resume filtering/interviewing in my own company, so I'll tell you my opinion.

Software engineering is a very soft profession. What I mean by that is you can take two people of equal salary and yet one person might generate 10-20 times the value of the other person. The problem is that in our profession it is super easy to stare at the monitor, type away on the keyboard, look completely busy and productive and yet spend a full 8 hour work day not delivering anything useful.

So the biggest challenge for people doing the hiring is identifying individuals who have a passion for being a software engineer. We look for people who have natural curiosity for learning things. Who enjoy building code just like they enjoyed playing with Lego kits when they were kids (or adults, still acceptable). People who care about what they produce and who get intrinsic value of doing good work and delivering solid code.

So how does an interview demonstrate such passion? Well, what's your story? Here's mine: My father bought a book about Basic when I was 9. I didn't have a computer and yet I read that book cover to cover at least 5 times and I "programmed" in a notebook (the paper kind). I learned C++ in 8th grade and x86 assembly in 9th. I knew I wanted to be software engineer 8 years before entering college. Clearly I picked a CS degree. I come home and I code because as a team lead I spend most of my time doing other things. Coding for me is not work, it's relaxation.

So how does that story compare to yours? Do you have a passion or do you simply think computers is a well-paid profession? Even with all the filtering effort of trying to identify good candidates, we still end up with plenty of people who simply want to work, get paid and go home. And that's fine too, but we are a looking for people who will drive our teams forward, who will push for improvements and for better practices.

Having said that, if you have an business degree, I will not dismiss your resume based on that alone. But you need to show me that you truly enjoy the craft. Even with CS students, I still look for any extra work they might do outside of classes. Do you write code at home? Did you post any online? Do you participate in any clubs? Organizations? If you have an business degree (or CS for that matter) but you are simply looking to make money in programming but never cared for it much outside of required learning, I will definitely pass on you. Having CS degree counts for something (even if not much) so in your case, you'll have to work that much harder at proving yourself.

And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying if you weren't programming in diapers you are not hirable. To give you another example, I gave green light to a guy who never touched computers until college after he changed his major from music to computer engineering. But he demonstrated his drive, determination, curiosity and willingness (as well as ability) to learn. That was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

If you are very serious about changing professions, a while back I heard this advice and I thought it was a very good idea: Don't look for a programming job. Find a company you like (good culture, good people, good product, good future...). Continue doing what you studied to do (i.e. business) and get to know some people. Then strike a casual conversation with an engineer (hallway, lunch... no bathrooms though) and tell them you'd like to learn some programming and are willing to help them with their work outside your normal responsibilities/hours. All engineers are always swamped. At a minimum they'll ask you to write some non-production utilities to take care of some annoying issues that have been bugging them. After few of these projects if they see you having value, you might be able to approach management and ask them to be transferred over permanently the engineering team. You will already have some knowledge of team/product and they already know you can deliver so you would be a much lower risk than hiring a stranger from the outside.

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Generally speaking, I think it is highly unlikely that you will get a job as a programmer when all you have is a business degree. There are exceptions, of course. I myself, for instance, got an MBA majoring in finance and now write trading software for a bank. Though to be fair, I did quite bit of programming on the side as a student and during internships and also had a minor in information systems management.

Also, my story is probably quite unusual, as I am the only on the dev team with a business degree. However, I like to think that having a finance background gives me greater insight into what the trader using my software actually want to accomplish with it, as opposed to what they say they want to accomplish in the requirements (two very different things, sometimes).

In general, though, I think such domain knowledge is probably best acquired through internships in the industry or a minor in the field you want to be working in. I also have to say that my major probably disqualifies me from being considered for more hardcore programming jobs (say working on the Windows kernel), as business majors have no training in classic computer science subjects such as algorithms and data structures and instead you have to pick some if it up as you go.

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Its hardly unusual at all. Most of the programmers I know dont have a comp sci degree. Some dont even have college degrees. –  GrandmasterB Jan 7 '12 at 23:35
I have an MBA in Information Systems Management and a BA in history and philosophy and I got a job as a software developer right out of university. Some of the guys interviewing me did ask what made me look for a job in software. The fact is I had lots of hobbyist programming experience and proven problem-solving skills. In many places that will be enough to get an entry level position. After that you have to prove yourself. –  Joel Brown Jan 8 '12 at 0:45
@GrandmasterB Interesting. While most programmers I know don't have CS degrees either, they are mathematicians, physicists, engineers etc. by training. None are business majors. –  PersonalNexus Jan 8 '12 at 3:59

Your question doesn't have any answer other than "It depends". People have gotten developer jobs by being the 16-year old, computer game playing, nephew of the boss. As several comments have pointed out, some of the largest and most successful companies in the world have been founded by college dropouts. This doesn't imply that playing video games or dropping out of college is a sure-fire career strategy.

In a comment you ask which counts more, a CS degree or a pet project. Obviously the answer here is also "It depends". Is the CS degree from MIT or is it from J. Random Diploma Mill? Is the project the equivalent of Doom or Napster, or is it some crappy, buggy, extension for an unpopular old D&D game? If you have a project that is eating a hole in your brain until you can get it working, and you are willing to live in a basement, and eat nothing but ramen in order to bring it to fruition, then maybe you should give it a shot. If you don't really have any burning ideas for a project, but are just fishing for an alternative to finishing your CS degree, then you may want to stick with the degree.

Much of the western world is still in a severe recession. The job market for programmers in some US cities is better than for many other lines of work, but it is still competitive. To increase your odds of getting a good job you've got to work your butt off on multiple fronts. If you are asking "can I get by with just X", you are taking the wrong tack. Yes, you may be able to land a programming job with just a business degree, but some of your competitors are going to have a CS degree, an MBA, and several whizzy pet projects. Who would you put odds on?

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First off, considered by whom? Other programmers? HR types? The question is pretty vague.

However, if your major says "Business" but your Objectives / Career History say "Programmer", then who cares? Education is usually right above Hobbies, and likely gets about as much attention from the HR folks. Your experience paints a better picture than your education ever will. Generally speaking education doesn't count for much, save for being a high-water mark that HR folks will use to throw out your resume if you don't have something they're looking for. (OK, we're looking for Masters degree; let's cull the Bachelors and below.)

Having a business degree on it's own without elaborating your experience will get your resume round-filed for a programmer position without even a second thought. Having a resume that says "I am a developer who just happens to have a business degree" will likely get you an interview so you can explain your background. At that point it's up to you to shine on the developer side while also bringing up your business experience.

Bottom line: Your degree isn't nearly as important as your ability to do the work at-hand. Any company that would discount your abilities solely on your choice of schooling is probably not anywhere you'd want to work.

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Are business majors like Marketing relevant for programming jobs.


Do employers even consider business degree holders as potential candidates?

Yes. I help interview candidates for my company and I would consider business degree holders (with a caveat, see below)

Let's say, if all I had was a business degree, should I be spending time applying for programming jobs, or should I be doing something else?

Depends. You will have to be able to demonstrate a level of competency in your cv otherwise you don't stand a chance. If you have a few well coded pet projects and/or contributed significantly to an open source project then go for it. A couple of people will overlook you anyway but most good employers won't. If you don't have any good projects to your name then don't bother, find another job and get competent in coding in your spare time before applying.

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pet project or CS degree? which one would they choose? –  Andy Jan 8 '12 at 0:24
@Andy really depends on the candidate. I have interviewed some people with cs degrees who couldn't code their way out of a paper bag. –  Tom Squires Jan 8 '12 at 0:52

When an applicant is qualified for a completely different job, the first question that pops into the decision maker's head is 'will this person quit when the job market for $QUALIFICATION recovers?'

You will be perceived as just wanting a job, any job and will be gone as soon as you can get a job in your real area of expertise. Make sure you explain in your CV/resume/application why you are a fit for the job, why you want to be a programmer and what special skills your qualification brings into the organization.

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Yes, a programmer with a business degree would be a serious candidate for someone needing to develop busiiness applications. You'll find that many people on this site won't consider anyone a programmer just because they have a CS degree, certification or possibly even having held a job/internship as a programmer. You have to be able to program.

There are many who couldn't spot a programmer if their life depended on it. For some, even though their livelyhood depends on it, rely on degrees, certifications, "experience", etc. along with your ability to talk the talk during a phone interview.

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From your other questions, it looks like you do have SOME programming skills. However, I'd suggest that a business degree with some IT/programming skills lends itself more towards business analyst jobs than programming. This in turn could let you get your hands dirty on the programming side.

I work in the insurance industry, and I know our BA roles often call for someone with a BA in a business-related major.

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My company has "Business Analysts" which mainly deal with the customer and trying to get them to organize their thoughts in a manner that allows others to code and occasionally the business analysts will end up making some prototypes for the customer so that they can get a better feel for what their options are. It's the kind of position that you could get with a business degree, but opens up the opportunity to pivot to more of a developer role once you've been at the company a while and have honed the skills you'll know they need.

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It's harder now than it was 25 years ago when I started in this field. There are more people with degrees relevant to PC and web development where back then CS degrees were primarily mainframe oriented.

The Business Analyst route is probably a good route to take and you can probably leverage that into a programming job either at the company you're working for or at another one. Combining BA and programming skills in one person makes sense for some companies/teams.

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If you are a decent programmer, and can show off some successful programming projects/work experience, not having a comp sci degree doesnt have to be a hinderance, and a business/marketing degree might actually help. Unless your experience is notable, you probably wont even get an interview with any company that has an HR department. But many smaller companies wont care about the piece of paper if you can demonstrate you know what you are doing, and many others may specifically look for people with an experience base wider than just coding.

On the other hand, if you have nothing to show for yourself as a programmer, your prospects for a programming job wouldnt be that great. Why should they be? Your best course of action is to get yourself into a job where you can move into programming. For example, tech support, design (if you have artist credentials), business analyst (where you might start with basic Excel automation), etc.

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I don't think there is a general answer to this.

Some companies would employ someone with a business degree in a programming job, and others wouldn't. It probably depends on the actual job they are recruiting for, and ... obviously ... your demonstrable competence as a programmer. Many programming jobs do require considerable business skills, if not immediately then in the future, so it is likely to be viewed as an asset rather than otherwise.

However, I wouldn't advise dropping out of your CS degree. Assuming that you are doing a degree at a half-decent (or better) university, you are choosing your units wisely and you are putting in the effort, you will be learning stuff that is likely to be useful at some point in your future career. Besides, dropping out could send the wrong signal to a future employer; e.g. "doesn't have the ''character'' to see things through ...".

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