Considering A Career Change to Software Development

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Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Fri Oct 26, 2012 2:04 pm

So I'm a chemist who is getting ready to finish up his masters in Chemistry and I've been considering trying to get into software development due to a combination of a latent interest in programing and the extremely stagnant job market for Chemists. I was wondering if anyone had any advice for someone interested in breaking into the field.

How did you get started programing professionally? Did you get a degree in CS/CE or did you come from another field? Would you have any advice for someone who was coming from a more scientific background?

I've sent off a few resumes to random companies but I almost have no idea where to start looking. Do you know of any companies that would be interested in someone with a scientific background(computational chemistry)? How can I get more experience programing so that I'm more attractive to employers?

ps If you know anyone who might be interested in an entry level programmer with strengths in implementing scientific code in the Chicago area I would love to get in contact with them.

here's my website: http://www.radmap.tk/
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Fri Oct 26, 2012 2:37 pm

I had a background in web development (bachelors) and eventually I saw that web 'designers' were largely a dime a dozen, and programming for the web was exploding (still is). I would think that with your scientific background you could find yourself a really sweet gig in a niche market. If that doesn't appeal to you, I'd recommend trying out a few different languages and seeing what you like before limiting yourself to a something manageable.

Here's something to whet your appetite potentially. http://www.khanacademy.org/cs

edit: I should have mentioned that the link is mostly for Python stuff which I don't have a ton of experience in, but I've been led to believe is a solid language in its own right and works well with web technologies as well as stand alone. It may suite you to start learning with it as a general approach. Once you learn 1 language, the basic tenants and principals are generally extended to other languages with the major difference in syntax. I'm over simplifying of course.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Fri Oct 26, 2012 2:46 pm

I have a degree in CS, but had already self-taught myself a lot about programming before I went to college and had worked at several part-time programming jobs by the time I finished my degree.

Easy availability of free development tools -- both Open Source and free "Express" editions of Microsoft's Visual Studio -- make it very easy to get your feet wet without an initial cash outlay.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Fri Oct 26, 2012 3:03 pm

I think HPC computing is really exciting and people like you are in demand.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Fri Oct 26, 2012 3:14 pm

Some other thoughts...

For scientific computing, GPU-based massively parallel computation is a growing niche. If you intend to focus in this area, you should familiarize yourself with CUDA and/or OpenCL.

If you'd like to start learning about web app development you could set yourself up with a complete LAMP or WAMP stack in a VM or on an unused old PC, and start playing around.

Android development is another area with a lot of recent growth.

Or if you think bare metal "nuts and bolts" embedded type stuff would appeal to you, pick up some Arduino or Microchip PIC hardware to experiment with.

Language-wise, Java, Python, and C++ are all widely used; you'll want to learn at least one of these (if you haven't already). C (which is essentially a subset of C++) still sees quite a bit of use for low-level embedded work; and PHP and Ruby are quite popular for server-side web application development. JavaScript (which in spite of the name is not related to Java at all) is still the defacto standard for client-side (browser) web app work.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:34 pm

Stranger wrote:So I'm a chemist who is getting ready to finish up his masters in Chemistry and I've been considering trying to get into software development due to a combination of a latent interest in programing and the extremely stagnant job market for Chemists. I was wondering if anyone had any advice for someone interested in breaking into the field.

How did you get started programing professionally? Did you get a degree in CS/CE or did you come from another field? Would you have any advice for someone who was coming from a more scientific background?

I've sent off a few resumes to random companies but I almost have no idea where to start looking. Do you know of any companies that would be interested in someone with a scientific background(computational chemistry)? How can I get more experience programing so that I'm more attractive to employers?

ps If you know anyone who might be interested in an entry level programmer with strengths in implementing scientific code in the Chicago area I would love to get in contact with them.

here's my website: http://www.radmap.tk/


Defense contractors love to hire technical folks with an interest in computers. They tend to take the view of "we can teach anyone to write code, but we can't teach them critical thinking and problem solving." Of course, when you work in a cost+ contract environment, you can afford to do this.

I'd second what Moog said regarding HPC. The largest problem in the HPC world is finding folks who speak both "computer" and the end users language, chemistry in your case. The problem here is going to be that you need to be able to demonstrate that you can speak computer in order to get the job. I good way to go about this might be to pick a language and write a chemistry simulation. Then... make it fast, as fast as you possibly can. Then make it faster by switching languages, either to a language that allows for better utilization of the computer hardware, or more efficient handling of the data and computation, depending on your interests and such. This is what I would expect an cross domain expert to do in an HPC environment -- take the users algorithym and make it run as fast as possible in the environment available.

Oil and gas and pharma are the two places that come to mind right off hand where a "computational chemist" might be useful.

One thing to consider here, especially in light of some of the suggested areas of pursuit... If you go into a position that does not require your knowledge of chemistry and experience there, be prepared to be working for entry level software development wages. You might be able to negotiate slightly more due to "experience" and such, but for the most part, that experince won't count and your well honed problem solving/critical thinking skills don't get you a whole lot of credit, though they will allow you to rise quickly if you are in an origanization that can recognize talent, and you are actually talented.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Fri Oct 26, 2012 6:23 pm

If you're finding yourself interested in HPC, I'd check out the vendor list for Nvidia's GTC conference.. (I think AMD may have a similar event as well). HPC was the big talk at the conference this past year, and there were a wide range of science companies there. I think I remember seeing something about CUDA web classes on their website as well.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 7:42 pm

Thanks everyone for taking the time to reply.

I had a background in web development (bachelors) and eventually I saw that web 'designers' were largely a dime a dozen, and programming for the web was exploding (still is). I would think that with your scientific background you could find yourself a really sweet gig in a niche market.

I'd love a sweet niche job.

I think HPC computing is really exciting and people like you are in demand.

Unfortunately most of the big super computers are at national labs and its super difficult to get positions their. plus they really like post docs. Is there any other industries that are getting into HPC?

One thing to consider here, especially in light of some of the suggested areas of pursuit... If you go into a position that does not require your knowledge of chemistry and experience there, be prepared to be working for entry level software development wages.


This is my current plan of attack. It seems like the biggest thing holding me back is that I don't have a CS degree and I don't have any work experience.

If you're finding yourself interested in HPC, I'd check out the vendor list for Nvidia's GTC conference..


This is great idea. I'll definitely have to follow up on that.

I'd second what Moog said regarding HPC. The largest problem in the HPC world is finding folks who speak both "computer" and the end users language, chemistry in your case. The problem here is going to be that you need to be able to demonstrate that you can speak computer in order to get the job. I good way to go about this might be to pick a language and write a chemistry simulation. Then... make it fast, as fast as you possibly can. Then make it faster by switching languages, either to a language that allows for better utilization of the computer hardware, or more efficient handling of the data and computation, depending on your interests and such. This is what I would expect an cross domain expert to do in an HPC environment -- take the users algorithym and make it run as fast as possible in the environment available.


I've actually started writing some programs like that I'll include an excerpt for you guys to look at.

Android development is another area with a lot of recent growth.


This isn't a bad idea. I've been trying to pump out a new project every few weeks. This might be my next one.


Here's my current resume if anyone feels super excited about critiquing it : ).
Code: Select all
Positions, Projects & Accomplishments
xxxxxx, Graduate Project (2012)
•   Developed xxxxxx in java to analyze nonplanar potential energy surfaces of reactive compounds via molecular exclusion surfaces. This program can be used to assess which compounds would make useful starting materials for catalysts without the need for expensive lab work.
•   Utilized these surfaces to accurately predict outcomes of experimental research into xxxxxxxxx spectroscopy.
xxxxxxxxxxxx, Graduate Project (2012)
•   Developed a computational chemistry program in Java to solve the Hartree-Fock equations and compute the energy of the various adducts for xxxxxx.  This Program was designed to replace expensive commercial computational packages such as Gaussian. 
•   Utilized CERN’s COLT Matrix Math Library to handle the matrix decompositions.  Fully multithreaded four center integral evaluations.
•   Utilized JUnit to automate testing.  Data for the unit tests was derived from a FORTRAN IV program from literature.
Academic/Industrial Collaborator with xxxxxx Industries (2011)
•   Developed task specific ionic liquids to be used as high temperature lubricant additives.
Researcher at xxxxxxxx (Dec 2009 to Dec 2010)
•   Used Matlab to Developed Software to estimate Hansen Solubility Parameters for Specialty Coatings and high performance epoxies.
•   Developed a database of solubility parameters for task specific coatings.
•   These Tools were used to create epoxy formulations that were used in new products by a major electronics company.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:07 pm

Stranger wrote:
I think HPC computing is really exciting and people like you are in demand.

Unfortunately most of the big super computers are at national labs and its super difficult to get positions their. plus they really like post docs.

Yeah, and with all the angst about the federal budget, anti-science sentiment on the right (let's leave it at that to keep this out of R&P), and the nexus of high energy particle physics relocating to Europe, it's not like national labs are a major growth industry these days. Many years ago I worked at Fermilab; I left on good terms, but I'd probably have a pretty tough time getting a job there today. And yeah, they loved post docs because they were willing to work cheap... (at least, the ones who decided not to jump ship to work for Wall Street).

That said, HPC isn't limited to just the national labs any more.

Stranger wrote:Is there any other industries that are getting into HPC?

Medical research, oil/gas exploration, Hollywood special effects, financial industry (to name a few). Anywhere that people need lots of numbers crunched really fast. :wink:
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:26 pm

That said, HPC isn't limited to just the national labs any more....Medical research, oil/gas exploration, Hollywood special effects, financial industry (to name a few). Anywhere that people need lots of numbers crunched really fast.


Yeah I'm definitely being myopic at the moment. maybe i just need to start sending out my resume to every company I come across. I guess I'm a bit jaded because the last time I did that with chemistry companies it kind felt like I was throwing my resume in to a big black abyss never to hear anything back.

all the angst about the federal budget


yeah I was talking with a bunch of CIA people at a recent conference I went to and they mentioned that my resume looked great but that they would definitely not be hiring anyone until after congress figures out a budget for next year.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:42 pm

Defense contractors like people with security clearances (you're going to need Secret regardless, which is something akin to a detailed 10-year background check), and they like military. Reserve and Guard units like people with graduate degrees for their officers.

Not sure if that's even an option for you, there's so many dis-qualifiers, but there are perks to this as well.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:44 pm

just brew it! wrote:anti-science sentiment on the right


Would you care to start a thread? I'd (honestly, hard to avoid sarcasm here) like to hear your thoughts on this, as I haven't really run into this before.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:48 pm

Airmantharp wrote:Defense contractors like people with security clearances (you're going to need Secret regardless, which is something akin to a detailed 10-year background check),

The background check goes back 7 years. Been there, done that.

You do need to be rather tolerant of bureaucracy to work in the defense sector; though that requirement certainly isn't limited to defense. :lol:
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:52 pm

Airmantharp wrote:
just brew it! wrote:anti-science sentiment on the right

Would you care to start a thread?

Not particularly; it's more or less been beat to death already. You can start a "Why do some people think the right is anti-science?" thread in R&P yourself if you want...
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:52 pm

just brew it! wrote:
Airmantharp wrote:Defense contractors like people with security clearances (you're going to need Secret regardless, which is something akin to a detailed 10-year background check),

The background check goes back 7 years. Been there, done that.

You do need to be rather tolerant of bureaucracy to work in the defense sector; though that requirement certainly isn't limited to defense. :lol:


I'm not sure about Secret these days- the length and intensity vary with the level and other associations of course, I just meant that as a forewarning for the uninitiated. And bureaucracy is the name of the game, and terrifying at times, but a job's a job, and the defense contractors can pay well if you have a skill they need- they're not in the habit of losing contracts without a fight.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 9:04 pm

Airmantharp wrote:... the defense contractors can pay well if you have a skill they need- they're not in the habit of losing contracts without a fight.

Yes, I got sucked into the eye of the storm on one of those contract battles recently. Crazy, crazy, stuff. I got called at home on a Sunday night, told to pack a suitcase and bring it to the office the next morning because a team of 12 people from multiple divisions around the country was being flown to one of the prime contractor's facilities for an emergency meeting.
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 9:05 pm

Airmantharp wrote:
just brew it! wrote:
Airmantharp wrote:Defense contractors like people with security clearances (you're going to need Secret regardless, which is something akin to a detailed 10-year background check),

The background check goes back 7 years. Been there, done that.

You do need to be rather tolerant of bureaucracy to work in the defense sector; though that requirement certainly isn't limited to defense. :lol:


I'm not sure about Secret these days- the length and intensity vary with the level and other associations of course, I just meant that as a forewarning for the uninitiated. And bureaucracy is the name of the game, and terrifying at times, but a job's a job, and the defense contractors can pay well if you have a skill they need- they're not in the habit of losing contracts without a fight.


Ah yes, time codes -- tracking the day to the tenth of an hour. It does tend to keep meetings from running long though. Depending on what you are working on, obviously, a lot of defense contractor positions require an SSBI (which is 10 years BTW) and grant SCI access on a per project basis. Having an active clearance coming in helps, but you will likely still have to go through a re-investigation which, if your clearance is "Secret", will be about the same as someone without a clearance at all. Been there, done that, many moons ago -- so take anything I say with a grain of salt as the world has tilted greatly since I was in that realm.

--SS
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 9:10 pm

SecretSquirrel wrote:Ah yes, time codes -- tracking the day to the tenth of an hour. It does tend to keep meetings from running long though. Depending on what you are working on, obviously, a lot of defense contractor positions require an SSBI (which is 10 years BTW) and grant SCI access on a per project basis. Having an active clearance coming in helps, but you will likely still have to go through a re-investigation which, if your clearance is "Secret", will be about the same as someone without a clearance at all. Been there, done that, many moons ago -- so take anything I say with a grain of salt as the world has tilted greatly since I was in that realm.

--SS


From recent experience, it hasn't changed a bit. That said, I didn't realize that you lived down the street. There are a stupifying amount of defense contractors all over Texas, with a higher concentration in north Texas than many would think. The military hides itself so well up here...
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Re: Considering A Career Change to Software Development

Postposted on Sun Oct 28, 2012 9:12 pm

I consider myself fortunate that I don't need to handle highly sensitive material in the course of my daily duties; the facility I work at currently doesn't handle anything above ITAR.
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