What you can REALLY expect from a degree in computer science
|January 4, 2011||Posted by Angry Nerd under Humor, Rants, technology, work|
The IT industry is hotter than ever, and even in turbulent times there seem to be no shortage of work. A career in network infrastructure, system development or database administration promises excellent job security (compared to many other careers), relative ease of finding a job, good pay and exciting challenges.
Yeah. Right. And the gingerbread cottage is a great place to rest for the night, and there’s a puppy for you in the back of that black van with no license plates. If you’re considering a career in IT, I feel I owe it to you to tell you what you can REALLY expect to get out of it. I’ve gotten Bill from “Office space” and the Pointy Haired Boss from “Dilbert” to help out with the more complicated explanations.
Enjoy godlike power over the common users
(and find out why, if god exists, he’s not making many appearances)
Computers are complicated. While our systems have gone from 8 to 16 to 32 to 64 bits, most people are still using 2 bit brains that can’t stand 1 bit of change, and go to bits at the first error message. Assuming you’re one of the few people who can handle such catastrophic events as the printer running out of toner, or the router needing a reboot, you will appear as a technical genius to your computer-illiterate coworkers. Compared to the peons in sales, the effeminate fops in marketing and the inbred aristocrats in management, you will appear like a god!
Seems good, doesn’t it?
It is, until you start realizing what exactly people will ask god for. A few weeks as a system administrator will make even the most militant atheist feel pangs of sympathy for any divine beings that happen to be out there. The sad truth is that the more problems you solve, the more problems people will bring to you. If praying to the almighty can solve all your problems, why do it yourself? God fixes your car? Why not ask him to repaint your house too? As the almighty computer literate person at the office, you can expect an increased workload whenever you manage to solve an issue. If management spends $50 000 on a $5 000 system intended to do the work of a $100 000 system, and you somehow make it work, the only thanks YOU can expect is that they ask why you’ve been taking so long doing it, while they cash in bonuses for spending only half as much as the system was expected to cost. And because you’re “so good at fixing computer problems”, you can expect to be contacted for the most mundane (“How do I check my email again!”) to the most aggravating (“I placed a bunch of refrigerator magnets on my computer and now it can’t boot, please recover all my business-vital files by lunch”) problem.
Exciting opportunities to diversify your career
(by being assigned tasks you have neither skill nor training for, in addition to your existing workload)
Because most people don’t understand the fine details of computer science, they tend to think that IT is a single field, and if you work within it, you can deal with everything in that field. So if you’re a .NET system developer, you’re OBVIOUSLY the right man to handle the configuration of the UNIX mail server. “What, it’s all computers, isn’t it?” Sadly, because most of us geeks don’t learn a great deal of conflict resolution, we usually find it easier to make some quick fixes than to try to explain to management that hardware and software are two different things, and that cloud computing does NOT involve being able to use your iPhone on an airplane.
And after you’ve built a success record with your godlike powers (see above), people may not even believe you when you tell them something is beyond your capabilities. You’ve always been able to handle it before, so you’re clearly just slacking now!
Become part of a creative team
(and suffer for the unorthodox solutions of your coworkers)
Whenever you change jobs, you can be pretty sure that the guy who you are replacing was over worked and had to make lots of quick fixes to keep the system going. These quick fixes includes “dirty” code solutions, a total lack of documentation, and the kind of twisted designs you normally find only among the criminally insane or members of congress. But they work fine. As long as the guy who wrote them is there to maintain them.
Once you take over, it won’t take long before things start to unravel. No matter how skilled you are, you can’t simply take over a completely undocumented system and make it run smoothly from the start. And you can’t really expect any help from the last guy, because he will be in exactly the same position at his new job (unless he was fired, in which case he probably isn’t all that friendly towards your current employer).
Enjoy spirited debate
(with the village idiots)
If you manage to advance far enough into an organization where you have some say in technical investments, you will face a lot of this. Recently, there has emerged a sub-sect of computer literate people; people who USE computers but don’t UNDERSTAND them. These people generally hold positions such as 1st line support, project managers, vendors and web designers.
These people would be the main threat to your job satisfaction, if you in fact had any. Because they can get by without asking questions like “Where is the ‘any’ key on this keyboard”, think of themselves as elite hackers, and will have opinions on everything. Because most of these people have more social skills than you do (their job requires it), they can sometimes convince management that they should be allowed a say in many of the matter you are responsible for. This makes about as much sense as letting your barber have a say about brain surgery, because he works with heads all day.
You may be tempted to give them enough rope to hang themselves, by letting them do things their way as long as they take full responsibility for the results, but this is only ever a short term solution. If you let IT projects be ran by morons (that is, bigger morons than you are), sooner or later the company will collapse. And if your company is financially stable enough to survive the mismanagement of these dolts (they might be good at THEIR jobs even though they are terrible at yours), sooner or later your boss will expect you to “help them out with their project” in “your spare time”. If you don’t, you may not be considered a team player, which can affect your next raise.
However, the worst problem with these kinds of people is that they will likely love everything made by Apple, and you will be flooded in requests for iPhones, iMacs, iPads and iDontGiveAFucks. But that’s material enough for its own article…
So there you have it, the truth about what you can expect from a computer science degree
If this isn’t depressing you enough, then consider the fact that despite this, computer science is STILL one of the better careers out there. Makes you think, perhaps we were better off living in trees flinging poo at each other. Though if that’s your thing, a career in support may be close enough.