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Monday, August 08, 2022

College 101: Considering A Career Change

I need help giving my younger brother some advice. He’s a freshman this year at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I’m a senior getting ready to graduate in May with a degree in public health. He contacted me last week asking for advice because he’s supposed to submit paperwork declaring a major.


We talked for almost an hour about his options. He seemed convinced that engineering of some kind would make the most sense. His two main reasons are that software engineers make a lot of money and have a flexible lifestyle. He also said that math is rewarding to him but interacting with people a lot makes him anxious.


All those things seemed like important factors for him to reflect on, which is what I told him to do. Now I need to figure out other productive ways to help him out--practical steps that would let him make an informed decision.


Giving academic advice is never an easy task. Most important, however, is ensuring that your brother has access to multiple perspectives. He should examine the pros and cons identified by a wide range of different sources before committing to any decisions. And the best part about him being in the collegiate setting, especially as a freshman, is the fact that he can always change his mind later.


Becoming a developer is definitely becoming one of the more lucrative career paths. In 2011, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that software developers earned an average salary between $92,000 and over $100,000. The money doesn’t necessarily come easy, though. Writer Kate Ray at TechCrunch tells us not to believe anyone who says learning to code is easy. The journey is both time-consuming and extremely rigorous. You should impress that upon your brother, because he’ll likely need to rely on perseverance.


While majoring in computer science is often the most direct path to becoming a web developer, it isn’t the only viable option. Any degree in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) lends itself to software development because all those fields cultivate fundamental skills in logic and practical application. Forbes contributor Rodney Adkins explained in 2012 that students specializing in STEM fields were especially appealing to global employers. In other words, your brother’s career choices are equally promising with a degree in computer science or applied statistics. That might be an important factor to him.


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The best strategy is, like you mentioned, finding a way for him to get some immediate exposure that’s going to be indicative of the job itself. College clearly provides ample opportunities, but sometimes they can be limited due to circumstances like the class enrollment size and the availability of qualified instructors. Those barriers are impossible to predict and exceedingly difficult to overcome. In that case, you might consider suggesting a trade or technical academy to achieve similar ends. For instance, he could enroll in a coding bootcamp in Vancouver to get quick but exacting first-hand professional experience in the same city he’ll be studying in.


The unfortunate downside of a trade or technical academy is having to finance the coursework, which is often very different from how it’s done in a collegiate setting. Nevertheless, these are all valid talking points to help guide another productive discussion.


“If you don’t feel it, flee from it. Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” -- Paul F. Davis

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