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Specifically, what is meant by "related field"?

I'm in the process of pursuing an IT Infrastructure B.A.S. from the U of M (Twin Cities), but have been playing around with the idea of just doing the CSCI B.S.

I don't want to be a hardcore programmer, but would having the CSCI degree, instead of the ITI degree, open more doors to whatever profession within the IT world I end up setting my sights on?

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I always read that to mean that the recruiter has little idea what the job requirements actually are, but someone told him/her that it had to do with computers. –  Alex Feinman Aug 1 '11 at 17:14
It's a blunt tool used as a scare tactic and weilded by those who don't know how to identify quality developers. Any head hunter calls them with an experienced candidate will be able to get their client an interview even if they don't have a degree if the price is right. –  JeffO Aug 1 '11 at 19:49

8 Answers 8

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Honestly? It means that the employer would like to see evidence that you have the persistence and minimal amount of competence to complete all four years of a technical or engineering degree. The details are less important.

It is highly unlikely that it means they are counting on a specific set of knowledge and skills picked up at college -- the "or related field" is a giveaway for that, even if there were enough similarity between what is taught as Computer Science at different schools to be useful.

Now, this may not be the best proxy for persistence and a minimal skillset that they could have chosen, but it's a reasonable first pass; I've certainly known some very good programmers and engineers who had no degree whatsoever, but when looking at candidates without prior work history, you have to start somewhere.

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I would interpret related field more broadly to include say maths or physics - basically any mathematical/analytical science sort of degree.

On the other hand a recruiter that would accept an MIS degree but not a mathematician is probably not somewhere you want to work

Edit - some evidence; of the 44 ACM Turing prize winners whose bio lists an undergrad degree
26 - Mathematics
8 - Physics
5 - Electrical Eng
3 - Mech Eng
1 - Astronomy
1 - chemistry

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I work with a lot of people who have degrees in related fields (your definition) but didn't get the kind of training that comes with a BSCS or related-field (my definition) degree. Most of these people are brilliant in their degreed fields, but the software they produce wouldn't qualify them to hold a BSCS-or-related-required position. –  Blrfl Aug 1 '11 at 12:44
Some of the best devs I know, that produce amazing code and are constantly on the cutting edge, have no BSCS. –  Eric Wilson Aug 1 '11 at 17:56
The mathematics doesn't surprise me at all. Theoretical computer science is mostly applying mathematics to computational problems. In fact, before there was a degree in computer science, those topics were often grouped in with mathematics. –  Thomas Owens Aug 1 '11 at 19:41
Keep in mind that a lot of these people predate CS as a field. The very first CS program to actually have that name was in 1953. I imagine it took a while after that for CS programs to spread to other universities. But yeah, there is no question that a mathematics education can produce a great programmer (as well as other fields like Physics or EE). Also, one Turing award winner studied Political Science, of all things, but I think that is just a coincidence. –  Tikhon Jelvis Jul 4 '12 at 10:47
And Tony Hoare (quicksort) studied classics –  Martin Beckett Jul 4 '12 at 13:15

When we do hiring, "or related field" is generally interpreted fairly broadly. However, the farther away from CS you get, the more that you need to demonstrate competency in what we are hiring you to do. The most important thing is to have projects that you can talk about. What you did, the technologies that were used, problems that you ran into and how they were solved. When it comes down to it, any company that you actually want to work for cares more about how you can contribute than what your degree is. This becomes even more true after a few years or working.

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If it looks like you could do the job, then your degree is 'related'. Apply. All they can do is say no.

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+1, they are really just looking for a 4 year degree –  Wyatt Barnett Jul 4 '12 at 11:27

Related field means another degree which is related to the degree you took, i.e. related to computer science. For example, I have just completed a Computing BSC degree and a related field could be a Computer and Society or Computer Science degree.

Hope this helps.

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As a rule of thumb I would say a related course would need to teach you how to program.

This is generally what employeers mean when they require a related degree for a job posting. An employeer does not care if you know what P = NP means but they do care if you can knock out some code to solve a problem they have.

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I think that "related field" depends on the job description. Personally, I would look at not only the degrees held by the candidate, but also their minors, tracks, and work experience to try to determine if they have some combination of classroom experience and practical work experience in the domain that I'm hiring for.

For example, for an embedded systems engineer, that could mean the candidate could hold a degree in software engineering or computer science (especially with concentrations in computer or electrical engineering), computer engineering, or electrical engineering (with some low-level programming experience). I probably wouldn't hire an IT or Management Information Systems graduate for this position. However, for building an enterprise application system, I probably wouldn't consider a computer or electrical engineer who has most of their classroom and/or work experience in lower-level programming. And for another position, an algorithm developer, I would look toward computer science, software engineering, or mathematics with a programming background.

From an HR perspective, it's a catch phrase used to allow people who have graduated from different degree programs to have opportunities at jobs they are qualified for. Different universities call different programs different things. By saying "or related field" in a job posting, it opens the door to letting the company look at every qualified applicant, without regard for what their degree says on it.

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Typically we DO look at the CS degree as superior, just from the standpoint that it is usually a more rigorous curriculum and the applicant usually has better critical thinking skills. That being said, it is sort of position specific, and if you don't REALLY like to program, then MIS is probably not a bad route.

In short, yes, I believe that CS degree will open more doors, but you need to make sure those are doors you want to step through

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