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I'm in a rather unique situation here. I am going to start school for computer science tomorrow (literally) at a local university in a BS program. However, I am starting as a nontraditional student. My background:

I already have the bachelor's and master's degrees in sociology, the latter of which I gained during a PhD program that I left a half a year ago for personal reasons (such as realizing the subject matter and the work involved no longer held any meaning for me). After struggling for months to find employment in this economy -- where years of graduate school and my experience serving as a teaching assistant (and teaching classes) seem to count for very little -- I decided to go back to school for CS. Between a teaching gig at a local college, a part-time job at a local restaurant, and a loan, I can afford this semester's tuition and my living expenses.

I haven't been coding since an early age, like some CS students. Nearly ten years ago, I took a lot of advanced math and science in high school and a couple of programming classes, where I used Java and C++ -- and achieved a respectable level of performance, enough to make an A in each class. I can use a computer competently enough, but I can't do most of the nifty things that true computer nerds and geeks, hackers, etc. can do. I can do some stuff with HTML, but I'm just now learning about the uses of CSS -- nevermind JavaScript, PHP, XML, Ruby on Rails, etc.

So far, I have been reading several threads on this site (as well as pages outside of here) that are geared towards college students in computer science. Thus, I am picking up a lot of general advice -- such as learning to write well, getting internships and independent projects, coding a lot, reading books, keeping current in the field, etc. I do, of course, plan to do all these things. I'm also trying to learn (re)learn HTML (specifically, XHTML) and add CSS, PHP, and MySQL to my repertoire. (Though, from what I've been reading and hearing from friends in technical fields, I should probably be focusing on HTML5 and CSS3.) I've also started reading a book about Python and playing around with coding some.

I can tell right now it will be rough sailing for the next couple of years, but I'm going to do my best. I'm trying to glean as much advice as I can from the various sites I've found and from the threads already started here. Still, I have a few concerns that I was hoping some of you might be willing to address (for me and for any other nontraditional students that might be reading):

  • Can you recommend any good ways to compensate for all those years not spend coding every chance I got? Or is it simply a matter of playing "catch up"?
  • How can I balance the need to code with other responsibilities (schoolwork, jobs, etc.)? Oh, how I fondly remember the days when all my tuition and expenses were paid for by scholarships and the like, haha!
  • One thing I feel like I probably could do is get accepted to a funded summer research program for undergraduates, doing research projects under professorial supervision. Would that look good to potential employers, you think?
  • Because I already have degrees now, I could possibly go into the computer science department's MS program after taking some undergrad classes. The MS program has an emphasis on software development and includes a software engineering final project. Should I just try to go into that program once I've completed enough undergrad material?
  • Do you have any other advice (outside of my own questions) that would be particularly relevant to nontraditional CS students who may have different situations than more traditional students?

Any advice or input you could offer will be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


migration rejected from stackoverflow.com Apr 11 at 9:52

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers. Votes, comments, and answers are locked due to the question being closed here, but it may be eligible for editing and reopening on the site where it originated.

closed as off-topic by MichaelT, durron597, ratchet freak, GlenH7, gnat Apr 11 at 9:52

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking career or education advice are off topic on Programmers. They are only meaningful to the asker and do not generate lasting value for the broader programming community. Furthermore, in most cases, any answer is going to be a subjective opinion that may not take into account all the nuances of a (your) particular circumstance." – MichaelT, durron597, ratchet freak, GlenH7, gnat
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I would vote-to-close as "off-topic", except I've run out of votes for today. –  Oli Charlesworth Jan 23 '11 at 20:57
Voted-to-move to programmers stack. –  Erno Jan 23 '11 at 20:59
My apologies, how can I move this to the proper location? I saw many other "student advice" threads on this site, so I concluded that it was an acceptable topic for here. However, if I need to move it elsewhere, I understand. Please let me know. –  Twirling Hearth Jan 23 '11 at 21:09
What country are you in? In many countries in the world there are no jobs for programmers, especially in the current economy. –  user8685 Jan 23 '11 at 23:30

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I have a non-traditional advice for you - focus on web programming then look for an internship or a starter position with a company which develops some kind of social-network-related product. Your background in sociology should be very welcome there.

As to your studies, keep the practical course. Practice practical development and avoid involvement in very abstract quasi-scientific projects which have no practical application except amusing professors.

With genuine interest and motivation you can get to the top of the class. Most of the group is typically put together of the youngs who don't have a clue and don't want to find it.

Everything will be fine.


I'm a commerce graduate working as a software developer for the past year and a half. Prior to my role, I had no programming experience (not even know what a string was).

I was lucky enough to secure an internship/traineeship at a software company and taking a masters of IT part time. I learnt most things on the job and was basically thrown on the deep end.

For me, the hardest part for me was learning how to debug. It was difficult at the start, debugging with different IDE's (Eclipse, MS Visual Studio) on the server side and front end with Firebug. Once I become more comfortably with debugging, solving problems slowly became easier and easier especially with stack exchange.

So I guess my just learn to debug, and write pseudo code before you write actual code and don't be afraid to make mistakes, I've learnt more by making mistakes than reading a textbook.


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