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Sunday, February 05, 2023

College 101: Crash Course On Coding Careers

I could use a second opinion. I’m a senior graduating this coming May with a mechanical engineering degree. I’ve already been offered a job as a junior product manager at a startup in Seattle, which I’m very excited about. That’s somewhat beside the point, though.

The issue is my younger cousin, who’s a sophomore attending the University of Toronto. He’s been an undeclared major up until this point but he has to make a decision before the end of the year, especially if he plans to eventually graduate on-time. He called me the other day asking for advice since he knew I’d already landed a solid job.

He caught me by surprise and I basically deflected him for the time being. All I know is that he’s “obsessed with building things” and looking for something challenging and lucrative. That could almost be anything. What should I be telling him?

You should be honored that your cousin came to you for career guidance. Unfortunately, giving appropriate guidance is no simple feat. Mentors know this struggle especially well. The trick isn’t telling your cousin the answer, but rather helping to show himself what the answer might possibly be. Success often depends on tremendous nuance and emotional intelligence, which always makes the opportunity a ripe learning experience.

Building things, solving problems, and making sufficient income are important deciding factors. Your cousin might consider majoring in a STEM field (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) much like you did. It was in 2012 that a Forbes contributor declared that America desperately needed STEM students. Crucial advancements in every industry conceivable (and especially the inconceivable ones) are most likely to depend on those disciplines. More recently, there’s a growing consensus that true success relies on a balanced approach that values STEM as much as the arts and humanities.

That’s a key suggestion to make to your cousin. He could and should definitely focus his core studies on something technical, but it’s equally important to complement them with softer skills. Employers tend to prefer well-rounded workers over savants. The second key suggestion is having your cousin investigate career paths for STEM students. Writers at GetEducated published an informative article highlighting 23 STEM majors that result in high paying careers. Many of the examples on the list will also involve building things and solving problems.

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It would also be helpful to have him explore different companies that operate in industries that he finds interesting. Evaluating entry-level positions they offer can help him understand what majors might be relevant and/or acceptable to a future employer. Students can sometimes mistakenly assume what’s relevant and/or acceptable instead doing the necessary research to find out. That’s why another related tactic would be prioritizing possible internship opportunities. Selecting a major is only the first step in a series, which is something you’ll want to emphasize to your cousin.

The final suggestion returns to the concept of being well-rounded. It won’t be enough to take dedicated coursework in an academic setting. Future employers are also searching for candidates with first-hand experience in a professional setting. Internships and externships are the most common paths taken by students but they aren’t the only viable options. Trade and technical academies can be just as appealing. Enrolling in a Coding Bootcamp Toronto would let your cousin gain rigorous practical experience while simultaneously exposing him to a different professional environment.

“Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.” -- Charles Bukowski

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