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What computer education to get?

Posted on 2011-04-30
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I'm making a career switch from accounting to computers.*  I want to know about what kind of education to get.

Every tech guy I talk to seems to have an undergraduate degree in computer science, so I'm about to start that (at Northeastern Illinois University, in Chicago).**  Am I better off getting a master's degree, or are they too research-oriented; the course choice seems, generally, too limited.  I don't want to waste a year of my life writing a master's thesis, unless this will move me from $40k/year jobs to $80k/year jobs.  The jobs that seem least likely to get exported from the US to the 3rd World are on-hands support, either for small (or to a lesser extent large) offices, for example as network/database/applications administrators or as consultants (e.g., working for Best Buy's Geek Squad).  I'd rather work in website development, but these jobs seem too easy to ship off to the 3rd World.

My experience lies almost entirely in the Windows environment.  I'm looking at taking undergraduate courses that lean toward network administration and security, as these seem the most secure, 1st World jobs.  I'd prefer education that would give me the ability to create and administer my own complex website projects, as I have a bunch of good ideas that could prove very lucrative, but I need to be able to earn a living while doing these projects on the side, in case they don't pan out immediately.

So, am I right that a degree with an emphasis on networks and security is the way to go?  What kinds of jobs would I be eligible for and at what pay level?  Much of this should carry over to my projects (which will require technical expertise comparable to the tech staff and creators of YouTube and Facebook), I think.  Or, am I better off getting quasi-academic training (certifications, Etc.) in lieu of a university degree in computer science?

What other sort of education (preferably in the Chicago-land area, where I live) would be valuable?  I'm thinking of various certifications (which ones?) and seminars, especially in WinXP, Win Server 2008, the Windows Registry--l REALLY want to learn about this last topic, as I live in terror of messing with it--a major database package like Oracle or SQL Server, and a major Web design package.  Some knowledge of Linux seems crucial just to run outside-of-Windows security scans on Windows PCs; where can I learn this (I'd settle for a good beginner's book)?  Training in applications that office users actually use (e.g., MS Office) seems like it would be very marketable, but maybe I'm wrong about that.  Where do you go to learn this stuff?

Any info on financial aid would also be helpful.  (BTW, I already have an undergraduate degree, but in an unrelated field.  Anybody know if this will mess up my financial aid situation?)  

How about publications I should be reading?

One final question.  The program I'm about to start teaches Java in its initial courses, which are of course programming, rather than C++.  Am I making a big mistake in entering such a program.  I would, incidentally, after completing this degree and changing jobs, like to start studying electronics.  Am I right in that Java is useless in that field?  Am I a fool to start a degree program not based around C++, even setting aside my future desire to study electronics?  The thing I do like about Java is that learning it would allow me to supplement my income by writing applications for BlackBerries and Androids...or will what I learn be too academic to help me do that?

Any suggestions or corrections on any of these points would be most appreciated.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.



* I currently work in a small office where I have access to XP machines and one Win Server 2008 (I forget the exact edition) machine.  It's likely I'll end up with access in the next year to at least one Win 7 machine, as well.

** The URL for a .pdf of the catalog is http://www.collegesource.org/displayinfo/catalink.asp?pid={1BFA582C-4074-4E0C-A295-501D67CD96AC}&oig={F09AD9FE-EDBB-473D-B661-CB07C5147231}&vt=5  (see pages 121-128, as listed when file opened in Adobe Acrobat X).
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by:Korbus
Korbus earned 360 total points
ID: 35499518
wow, heck of a question!
I'm gonna offer my opinion on just the last part, regarding Java versus C++.  If Java is what they are teaching, go for it.  Your first programming language doesn't really matter, you'll be working on all the programming concepts.  Once you have the basics down, the difference between the languages is really just syntax and libraries of code, which any refernce book can provide.  Also, if you get the chance to take an assumbly/machine code class, definately go for it. Understanding assembly grants powerful insights into how programs actually run in the computer's cpu, memory, Input/Output, etc...

Good luck at school, thereare!

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by:profgeek
profgeek earned 540 total points
ID: 35500425
Are you a CPA currently?  If so, are you leaving accounting because you just don't like it?  I'm asking because a combination CPA and management information systems type of person can command pretty good money.  However, if you are fed up with accounting, don't want to leverage that background, or whatever than you can pursue whatever you want.

If you are interested in leveraging your accounting background, you might consider a program in management information systems instead of computer science.  You wouldn't have to retake any of your business courses and so you would only need the major courses, rather than a completely new degree.  You could take some programming (probably Java, which also translates well to learning java-like languages like PHP and Javascript), some networking, and some security.  Most good MIS programs will include those courses.  I teach in such a program and our undergrads consistently start at 50k plus (I'm also in Illinois), and that's without the additional accounting background you already have.  
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Author Comment

by:therearestupidquestions
ID: 35502497
Korbus:

Thanks for the reply.  I am planning to take an Assembler program along the way.  It's a prerequisite for at least one course.  It always sounded absurdly low-level and pointless, like studying punch-card memory systems.  Good to hear that it will prove more useful.

Profgeek:

Thanks to you, too, for the reply.  My undergraduate major was economics, and I did an accounting minor.  I took additional accounting and business law classes.  If I recall, the only accounting class I didn't take that was required for the major was corporate tax.  I never went for the CPA, although I met the legal requirements at that time in Illinois to do so.  I worked as a corporate accountant for a couple of years.  Since then, I've been working for a family business, doing a variety of tasks, mostly computer-, not accounting-, related.  My accounting skills have atrophied big time.  Plus, I haven't kept up on changes in GAAP.  I'd have a hard time explaining to prospective employers why I got out of accounting.  Also, I'd really like to, ultimately, end up with my own business.  My website ideas are pretty creative, with serious upside potential.  But that all falls under the heading "hopefully this will happen."  I'd like to get trained in a computer area where the skills will allow me to earn a good living, and they'll transfer into the projects I want to pursue in my spare time.

However, your thinking had occurred to me.  I still do understand accounting, and that, along with law, is the language of business.  It would be nice to, as you said, leverage my accounting background to some degree.  I'm not exactly sure what sort of jobs I'd be qualified for with an MIS degree or how I might be able to take advantage of my accounting background if I choose to get the computer science degree.

Any further thoughts you might have would be most appreciated.  I'm still at the beginning of this process, and as you can see, my thinking is still a bit muddy.  BTW, if you can do so, would you suggest good/bad programs/schools in the Chicago area?

Everybody:

I'm still interested in input on any of the issues I raised in the original post.

Thanks all,

therearestupidquestions
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by:Nancy McCullough
Nancy McCullough earned 600 total points
ID: 35701545
I went through these very similar questions while in a similar situation (accounting vs tech) nearly a decade ago. I found that completing an MBA (masters of business admin) gave me the fluidity to traverse everything from employment to opening my own business. The major in Digital Technologies gave me the research, technical and business exposure to the tech industry. It rounded out my goals perfectly - well, almost perfectly. I needed to brush up and extend my education with some certifications and learn some new languages before opening my own business. I found that the combination of the two were masterful! Added Bonus Alert: It helps to have a few combinations of letters beyond one's name ;)

C++ vs java = Learn Java. The earning potential seems to be higher (though I could be wrong. I'm friends with developers of both. The C++ developers earn $50k while the Java developers earn $100k. Whatever you do, be GOOD at what you do and don't give it away for free.

I hope that helps a bit!








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by:therearestupidquestions
ID: 35716558
Citygat:

Thanks for your comments.  I'm curious.  When you say "major in Technical Communications," are you referring to an undergraduate major or some sort of concentration offered in your MBA program?  At what school was the MBA program?

I'm hesitant to go for an MBA, largely for the same reason I'm out of accounting.  I just don't have the right personality for mid-level management.  It's more schmoozing than it is anything else.  I'm awful with names and faces.  I do, however, have a good engineering-type mind.  I like to play around with a problem and find a creative solution for it.  I also do like teaching, and I am good at that sort of social interaction; I just stink at "water cooler talk."

Also, you just barely alluded to "certifications."  Could I trouble you to elaborate?

Thanks again.


Everybody:

I'm still keeping this question open, as I'm hoping to get more input.  I'll give at least some points to anybody who contributes anything even remotely useful, which by the way includes everybody who has contributed thus far.

Thanks.
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by:therearestupidquestions
ID: 35716578
Citygat:

One more question.  I like programming.  I took three courses about a decade ago.  The first was the basic programming structures course, and the second two covered Visual Basic.  My concern about programming as a career is that the jobs seem so easily exported to 3rd World countries.  On the other hand, jobs like network troubleshooting and security seem like they require the expert to be physically located on the scene of the problem, and therefore getting paid 1st World wages.  Do you or your programmer friends have any thoughts on this issue.

Thanks again.
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profgeek earned 540 total points
ID: 35716801
In this Money Magazine article, 10 of the top 30 jobs are in IT, and the list (it has the top 100) may give you some insights into the best areas.  Clearly, network administration and security are hot, and difficult to outsource.

http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bestjobs/2010/full_list/index.html

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by:Korbus
Korbus earned 360 total points
ID: 35721034
Citygat mentioned certification:  you can have a degree in computer engineer or programming, but that does NOT mean you know how to say... configure a CISCO router, configure a microsoft SQL server,  use microsoft development libraries, and so on.  Certification are provided by these companies to show that you can effieciently use their product.  
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by:Nancy McCullough
Nancy McCullough earned 600 total points
ID: 35730932
My MBA-DT (Masters of Business Administration - major Digital Technologies) was earned at Royal Roads University in British Columbia, Canada. (I hated that school - don't go there.... I doubt if the DT major is even offered anymore (grrrrr)). If you like to teach, it may be helpful to know that almost every job as a post-secondary instructor requires an MBA. There is a certain amount of shmoozing and water cooler talk for the MBA, but there is even more technical and mathematical stuff to slog through. You need to be good at both while being able to understand a financial statement well enough to know if it makes logical sense (ie; has money gone missing? should you purchase the plant? is outsourcing the most effective proposal? what credit rating would this statement command?) This is what the MBA is about. The digital technologies major is the second year. Learning all about tech companies, analyzing tech, etc.

Proprietary certifications are valuable. CISCO, Oracle, etc are useful skills and specialties within the industry and can command a nice salary.
Learning a language is NOT a permanent and guaranteed wage-earner. Languages change faster than you can change your shoes and become obsolete. Try to not pigeon hole yourself as a rotary phone repairman.

Network troubleshooting is a fairly low paying job. It is an entry point and little else. However, network security IS BIG and a very important role that nearly every organization needs. If you specialize with network security certifications and can demonstrate your abilities to lock different brands of hardware and software security devices down - you will be in demand.

Every job is at risk of becoming outsourced. If you are GOOD at your job - perhaps the best in the world - you won't generally need to worry about off-shoring.


 

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by:therearestupidquestions
ID: 35837204
Thanks, all, for your responses.

Sorry for the delay in closing this out and awarding points.  I'm going to do so now.

I'll award points considering 3 factors: speed of response, effort (i.e., for all practical purposes, length of response) and helpfulness.

Thanks again.

--therearestupidquestions
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Author Closing Comment

by:therearestupidquestions
ID: 35837234
Was the solution accurate?  I can't really know that, given the nature of the question.  However, since I really can't say "Yes" or "No," at this point in time, I'm saying "Partially."
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