Careers in Technology

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Careers in Technology

Postposted on Sat Jun 16, 2012 11:05 am

So, I have been confused about this issue for ages but I could never seem to ask the right questions to find the answers I was looking for. Even the job I have now, I had no idea what I'd be doing before I got here. I am an air traffic control communications technician. I perform maintenance and repairs on all the radios, antennas, recorders, phone lines, and all the interfacing and infrastructure that goes with these so that the controllers can talk to the pilots and airfield personnel. As much as I love my job and as intellectual as it is, I honestly don't feel that it's very challenging. The problem? Maintenance and repair. There is nothing creative about my job, all I do is make sure that this equipment that someone else created is working properly. I want to get the necessary credentials so that I can do something new, but I don't yet know what that is or what credentials I would need.

The issue is simply this: I don't really know the job descriptions of the different positions that are out there enough to decide which is best for me. There seems to be an awful lot of meaningless jargon that gets tossed around when reading these descriptions in job listings. What are the differences when the same phrases seem to get used over and over? What would I REALLY be doing at this job as opposed to another job? IT, Networking, Security, Systems, Hardware, Software, Creative, Research, Development, Design, Engineers, Architects, and Artists...these are all words that get thrown around along with Senior, Manager, Director and other aministrative titles which I assume are mostly the same but require more experience for a more supervisory role. What do they really mean?

I just thought I'd get myself a Computer Engineering degree and I'd be set, but I don't really know where exactly I'd be set and if that's what I'd even want. Even if that is all I would need to get me going, I don't know what I'd do after that or if there are certain electives that would better help me for one of these over another. Maybe I'd want an Electrical Engineering degree or Computer Science Degree. Maybe I'd even prefer a management or business administration degree that allows me to work closely with teams of engineers. I might even be better suited with a creative writing or art electives if I wanted to work for a video game developer or animation studio. I really have no idea, and no career counselor I've ever spoken to has had an idea either. There just seems to be too many options and nowhere have I seen them all categorized and broken down.

So, gerbils...I know you all come from various backgrounds, but you all share a common interest in technology and computers. Could you provide an explanation of common tech jobs and how to qualify myself for those jobs? Much appreciated.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Sat Jun 16, 2012 12:55 pm

Your questions cover a lot of ground, and I don't think I can even attempt to address all of it. I don't know very much about the video game industry, but I do know a bit about IT, commercial hardware, software, and contract research.

Let me start by saying that Computer Engineering, as a degree, is kind of an "in between" degree - I have a BS in computer engineering, and some of my classmates went into IT, some software engineering, some went into telecom, some went into traditional electrical engineering jobs (like power engineering, hardware design, etc.). I should also note here that if you have a passion for something, and can acquire some basic skills/knowledge (very easy to do in the days of the internet) in a field, your degree shouldn't be much of a barrier. For instance, I have degrees in computer engineering, computer science, and biomedical engineering, and I've worked in IT, hardware, and software research & development. You just need a good answer for the question "So, I see your background is in <X>, why do you want a job doing <Y>?"

Now, a bit about the traditional divisions of labor and different job titles...I don't think you'll find any strong consensus on these things - it really does vary from industry to industry and sometimes from company to company. For instance, sometimes the title "Engineer I" is a high position, sometimes its entry level. In some industries "Senior" Engineer is really the basic/most common position (especially commonplace in R&D where most new hires have an MS).

Here is my view of some of the types of jobs you listed:
IT is mainly support - fixing problems, interacting with users, building out infrastructure for servers, etc. Lots of jobs in lots of different geographic areas. Huge diversity in terms of pay, respect, and expectations.
Hardware spans a large range, but mainly relates to the design and development of computer architectures, ASICs, FPGAs, etc. These jobs seem (to me) to be fairly rare and clustered geographically. My undergrad specialty was "computer architecture", but I have never been able to even get an interview doing anything connected with designing computer architectures (mainly because there are so few companies that do that kind of work).
Telecom (or RF) Engineers: Typically deal with siting cell towers, building out network infrastructure, and managing the design and deployment of telecom networks. There seem to be a lot of jobs in this area, but localized to only a few companies (because there are only a few telecoms....)
Systems Engineer - This role varies, but it is typically hardware oriented and deals with all phases of development of large systems and "systems of systems" (like commercial airliners or submarines). Might interface or draw skills from industrial, mechanical, or software engineering. These are fairly common jobs, but also might be clustered geographically.
Software Engineer - Typically a software engineer deals with all phases in the lifecycle of a software system (requirements, architecture, implementation, testing, deployment, etc.). You might deal with really large software or software/hardware systems. Very common jobs, pretty much anywhere that there is significant numbers of tech jobs, a lot of them will be in software.
Software developer - This typically implies (to me anyway) a more "lightweight" role than software engineer - the focus here is on implementation, or less complex software systems (like web applications, etc.). Same job situation as the SWE.

Regarding management positions - in my industry (software R&D) everyone is technical, all the way up to the level of Vice President of Research. I'm sure there are a few people that have MBAs, but everyone also has an advanced technical degree (MS or more typically, a PhD), and management skills are taught (and there is not usually a shortage of highly motivated technical people who can also "pick up" the skills required for management).

Edit: Lots of typos...
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Sat Jun 16, 2012 9:17 pm

Thank you for your post, it is very informative. Regarding your current position, what exactly is research and development, what kind of personality do you think compliments that particular field, and what is the best way to make my way into a position in R&D other than getting a degree?
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Sun Jun 17, 2012 2:09 pm

The Bureau of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good source for job descriptions.

This first thing to do is narrow your search down to one of the following:
Hardware
Networks
Software
Drawing pictures
Management

There are still multiple sub-options in each one of those, but it's easier to talk about what the sub-options are if a main option is picked.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Sun Jun 17, 2012 6:35 pm

Regarding your current position, what exactly is research and development, what kind of personality do you think compliments that particular field, and what is the best way to make my way into a position in R&D other than getting a degree?


Uh, well R&D is generally about creating new products or solutions to meet customer needs. "Research" in general runs the spectrum from basic research (into very broad scientific phenomenon or algorithms) to applied research, which is developing ideas more focused to practical applications. And there is a whole spectrum - for instance, some of the work we do is about creating prototypes, or mock-ups, then another team will further develop it into an actual full-scale usable product. In general, in my line of work, we take cutting edge algorithms (signal processing, computer vision, machine learning, AI, etc.) and develop systems around them, so that users can solve a problem (automatically track objects in video, mine huge datasets, interactively plan and simulate strategies). People that do well are typically independently minded, and can see connections between otherwise dissimilar things. The downsides are that sometimes you work for a long time on something, and it just doesn't pan out. It also isn't very predictable in terms of what you'll be doing and what skills you'll need. Short of getting an advanced degree, however, it is a tough field to break into.
I think maybe you should do some thinking on your goals out of a job/career - do you want to work on complex things? Do you want to work with users? Do you want to invent new things?
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:54 pm

Flatland_Spider wrote:The Bureau of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good source for job descriptions.

This first thing to do is narrow your search down to one of the following:
Hardware
Networks
Software
Drawing pictures
Management

There are still multiple sub-options in each one of those, but it's easier to talk about what the sub-options are if a main option is picked.

This is a great starting point, though I'd break software into 'making it' (coding), fixing it (every kind of support ever) and 'sort of between' (DBA)
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:07 pm

pikaporeon wrote:This is a great starting point, though I'd break software into 'making it' (coding), fixing it (every kind of support ever) and 'sort of between' (DBA)


Those are the sub options I'm talking about. :) I'd probably add 'implementing it' as a catagory as well to differentiate the system designers from the techs.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:55 pm

Avoid IT like the plague. Never take a job that will require you to be on-call and all IT positions will require you to be on-call.

My honest recommendation is that I doubt you will find fulfillment changing careers. If you find yourself lacking in creativity then you need to find new hobbies outside of work. If you're still set on a career in "technology" (truly a worthless word these days, it means too much to mean anything) and going back to school then I hope you will stick to it until you attain an advanced degree and honestly I wouldn't stop until you have a PhD.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:00 pm

Washer wrote:Avoid IT like the plague. Never take a job that will require you to be on-call and all IT positions will require you to be on-call.

I'm afraid that's just not true.

I'm in my second consecutive IT job, and I've never been on call. (I do answer the phone on a day off if my boss calls to ask about something, but that happens maybe twice a year at most.)

Having a job requirement to be on call when needed may be common in IT, especially at higher (and thus more interesting) levels, but it certainly isn't universal.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:45 pm

Honestly the reason I asked more in-depth about R&D is because that's the field I've been most interested in, but I wasn't sure how it stood apart from other engineering tech jobs. I wasn't sure I knew what I'd doing if I pursued a computer engineering degree whenever I decided to take that step in another direction. I've always wanted a job where my mind is my biggest asset rather than working with my hands, and I have that. However, I don't feel like I contribute as much as I have to offer if my job is not to come up with new ideas. In addition to that, I always look for the opportunity to learn new things. Honestly, I would probably be happy if I could get paid to be a full time student at a university somewhere. Unfortunately, being a student costs more money than is gained in most situations. Also, I've always had a love for technology, which has become apparent by this point.

The biggest questions to ask myself now really are if I am more interested in hardware or software devlopment. This is a hard question for me to answer because most of my background is in electronics hardware and I do get really excited about new hardware technology (which is why I'm a big fan of this site). However, there is much that the software side of things has to offer as far as delivering a product that is going to be presented to the end user. While hardware focuses on the capabilities of technology, software focuses on how that technology will be used on a day-to-day basis. Software also brings up the question on whether I'd prefer to take a more technical approach and focus on coming up with solutions to problems or whether I'd prefer to take a more artistic approach with expressing my creativity to the world in new and unique ways. These are all questions that I still need to look inside myself and try to answer.

The main thing I'm trying to get out of this is what the jobs themselves are really focused towards, because it can be quite confusing. As far as management goes, I may be interested in those jobs later on down the line but it seems to me that those jobs just come in time as you gain the experience required to take a leadership role.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:51 pm

Washer wrote:Avoid IT like the plague. Never take a job that will require you to be on-call and all IT positions will require you to be on-call.

My honest recommendation is that I doubt you will find fulfillment changing careers. If you find yourself lacking in creativity then you need to find new hobbies outside of work. If you're still set on a career in "technology" (truly a worthless word these days, it means too much to mean anything) and going back to school then I hope you will stick to it until you attain an advanced degree and honestly I wouldn't stop until you have a PhD.


Your experience is not necessarily representative of the field, it's only your experience.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 10:58 pm

If you're worried about changing jobs/career, take a look at National Guard and Reserve positions available across the various services. I'm not one to stump for universal military service, but it's a seriously straight-forward way to get educated in a field, get formal education funding assistance, and get credible supervisory/management/leadership experience along the way.

If you're fit for it, that is!
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:01 pm

Airmantharp wrote:If you're worried about changing jobs/career, take a look at National Guard and Reserve positions available across the various services. I'm not one to stump for universal military service, but it's a seriously straight-forward way to get educated in a field, get formal education funding assistance, and get credible supervisory/management/leadership experience along the way.

If you're fit for it, that is!

LOL! Did I forget to mention I'm in the Marine Corps? :D

I'm just planning what to do with my GI Bill when I get out.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:57 pm

I thought you were, after thinking about my post, but I didn't remember!

Still, you can transition to any NG/R component when you get out, avoid a break in service, and possibly get another bonus as well as further benefits :). Have actually met a number of former Marines that have chosen to serve in an Air Reserve Component; even some that have transitioned to combat jobs.

ANYWAY: I'm kind of in the position you are, except that I've chosen Electrical Engineering (I love tinkering with computers, I dislike having to work on them), and I'm just waiting to be admitted. I'll be backing the BSEE up with my BBA and my USAFR/ANG service as well as my Management experience at UPS.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:40 am

DeadOfKnight wrote:LOL! Did I forget to mention I'm in the Marine Corps? :D

I'm just planning what to do with my GI Bill when I get out.


Semper Fi! :D

Ok, that makes more sense. The Marine Corps has outsourced all of the technical stuff to contractors, so I do imagine you're pretty bored.

Here's my brain dump. Keep in mind these programs are going to vary per college, and I'm basing these descriptions on the programs at Oklahoma State.

Most companies are going to ask for Computer Science degree. They think it's liberal arts for computers, but it's not. It's all about low level coding of libraries, compilers, operating system kernels, etc. Now, if you do any of that is up to you. You could get a CS degree and write mobile apps and just reuse libraries. This is actually pretty creative, in a technical, math in action sort of way. (I'm actually in this program.)

Management Systems - Information Systems is more high level. It's more about using computers and light coding. You're not going to create the tools like CS; you're going to be linking the tools together improve business processes. You can be creative in system design.

A business degree will get you into management. Although, I would say getting a technical degree then getting a MBA may be better, but that's just me.

You'll see security and networking degrees as well. Security is all about auditing, building security plans, and knowing regulations. Networking is all about linking stuff together, and best if you like bit twiddling or dealing with binary streams.

Computer engineering is about building chips. You would be dealing with logic gates, transistors, and such.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Wed Jun 20, 2012 12:14 pm

Being in the gov't sphere as a contractor, we're always on the hunt for computer science grads who have or can get a security clearance. I know of a few contracts that use computer engineers and they do some crazy and creative things, but they are a small subset of the market. It's a well-paid subset, though. Software development is a huge, creative industry. Even the boring projects have room for you to scratch your creative itch.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:15 pm

Washer wrote:Avoid IT like the plague. Never take a job that will require you to be on-call and all IT positions will require you to be on-call.

My honest recommendation is that I doubt you will find fulfillment changing careers. If you find yourself lacking in creativity then you need to find new hobbies outside of work. If you're still set on a career in "technology" (truly a worthless word these days, it means too much to mean anything) and going back to school then I hope you will stick to it until you attain an advanced degree and honestly I wouldn't stop until you have a PhD.

This is completely untrue, on every level (I work as an enterprise DBA without a university degree, exclusively doing build tasks and provide no support whatsoever outside of fixing messes I may have caused myself; the fact that I am an anecdotal counterpoint to refute your entire post is pretty entertaining - but not as entertaining as the fact that I'm posting this from my job because it's a dry period.)

Beyond that, some people like an on-call support mindset, I worked as an after hours sysop for three years and loved it, the work was interesting and varied, it was exciting to deal with the pressure and being the go-to guy, and I'd rather work nights than days any time. Of course, this is hardly typical for someone but it's worth mentioning that different strokes for different folks is a thing.

That said, I did mention I don't have a degree - having one will help you immensely, though experience is the first key to success in IT - being able to do something is way more valuable than a school's piece of paper... but bigger companies HR teams that never talk to IT may not see it that way.


Question for the more experienced IT workers - what value have you guys seen from BSci in Computing and Information Systems?
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:30 pm

Completely untrue? Is that why IT careers always do poorly on large sample job satisfaction surveys? I enjoy my current job besides the on-call rotation. On-call means the inability to enjoy my off time because of the requirement of always being in the position to immediately respond to the issue. If your life lacks excitement being the go-to-guy might drive you but I don't like situations where screw ups because I had to jump on a server with two hours of sleep could result in $100,000+ contract hits. Maybe it's just me though. Personally, I rather recommend someone pursue a career that isn't a support position, such as getting an advanced degree and being the actual designer or engineer of the system, software, etc.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:33 pm

You can be a system engineer/designer with just a CS BS. You can be a system engineer/designer with out a CS BS. You just have to put your time in gaining experience, and that means being a mid-level peon that carries the bat phone for several years. I say mid-level because low-level peons get to go home and drop whatever problems they're working on at the end of the day. The only short-cut is to get a development job and never deal with the support side.

I only ever see government jobs that ask for MS in technical areas. MBAs are the only MS degree that I'd recommend IT people get, unless they want to get a PhD. PhDs are their own little world, but most employers will just ask for experience plus a BS for most jobs. I could be wrong, but that is my anecdotal evidence.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Thu Jun 21, 2012 7:12 am

Washer wrote:If your life lacks excitement being the go-to-guy might drive you

That's real mature, jumping straight for the ad hominem as soon as somebody disagrees with you on something that's clearly very subjective.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Thu Jun 21, 2012 7:50 am

Washer wrote:Completely untrue? Is that why IT careers always do poorly on large sample job satisfaction surveys? I enjoy my current job besides the on-call rotation. On-call means the inability to enjoy my off time because of the requirement of always being in the position to immediately respond to the issue. If your life lacks excitement being the go-to-guy might drive you but I don't like situations where screw ups because I had to jump on a server with two hours of sleep could result in $100,000+ contract hits. Maybe it's just me though. Personally, I rather recommend someone pursue a career that isn't a support position, such as getting an advanced degree and being the actual designer or engineer of the system, software, etc.

Thank you for your anecdotal evidence contrary to my anecdotal evidence, except for the fact your statements used carte blanche extremes never listing the facets of the industry you are not exposed to. Nor is every IT career support. But thank you for implying my life lacks excitement, it really lends credence to your statements. Maybe you should find a better job.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Thu Jun 21, 2012 9:03 am

grantmeaname wrote:
Washer wrote:If your life lacks excitement being the go-to-guy might drive you

That's real mature, jumping straight for the ad hominem as soon as somebody disagrees with you on something that's clearly very subjective.


That's true. Some people just like the pressure.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:51 pm

Flatland_Spider wrote:I only ever see government jobs that ask for MS in technical areas. MBAs are the only MS degree that I'd recommend IT people get, unless they want to get a PhD. PhDs are their own little world, but most employers will just ask for experience plus a BS for most jobs. I could be wrong, but that is my anecdotal evidence.
We use a metric of "BS in CompSci or 3+ years equivalent work experience". This is a relic of the dot com era where a lot of people left school to start making money in the tech industry. I don't know of any technical jobs at my company that require a masters degree, although several of my coworkers have them.

Hell, I only have a degree in psychology and I'm deep in code all day.
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Re: Careers in Technology

Postposted on Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:27 pm

grantmeaname wrote:That's real mature, jumping straight for the ad hominem as soon as somebody disagrees with you on something that's clearly very subjective.


pikaporeon wrote:Thank you for your anecdotal evidence contrary to my anecdotal evidence, except for the fact your statements used carte blanche extremes never listing the facets of the industry you are not exposed to. Nor is every IT career support. But thank you for implying my life lacks excitement, it really lends credence to your statements. Maybe you should find a better job.


This is pointless. We can ignore anecdotes entirely and just rely on large sample job satisfaction surveys, your position wouldn't hold up against that evidence. IT careers always do poorly in those polls and surveys. It's undeniable and always the case. As for the rest; whatever. I'm not going to convince you to convince yourself otherwise and frankly I don't care. Now, back to your regularly scheduled thread about how someone wants a different job because shockingly they don't like their current one yet has no clue what they want to do because well...
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