Computing As A Profession

Bart Massey 2013-03-04

The Underpants Gnomes

Step 2. ? / Step 3. PROFIT

  • Big jump from taking a CS 161 Python class to "computing as a profession"? Maybe

  • My story is different than yours, but it has some of the same potentials:

    • Learned enough computing to convince someone to pay me
    • Continued to learn computing and get payed
    • Eventually got to the point where I knew what I was doing to some salable degree
    • Became a University Professor
    • ?
    • PROFIT

Career Paths In Computing

  • Preface: Over 100,000 unfilled US computing jobs every year

  • These jobs are not all created equal:

    • Sure, different technology skills are required
    • Different domain knowledge
    • Many require strong people skills, including epic communication skills
    • Average job tenure 3 years, so you'll be doing something new regularly (at least for a while)

Computing Career Commonalities

  • Good working conditions
  • Good coworkers, usually good bosses
  • Lots of opportunity to

    • Start your own business
    • Consult / contract

But What Could I Do Right Now?

  • Go learn a Python-based web framework such as Django

  • Teach yourself Javascript / HTML5

  • Look at open source places to contribute

  • Find a PSU professor / grad student / collaborators and help out with computing stuff

Aren't Computer Folks Unpleasant Soulless Losers?

  • No

  • Fact is, the stereotypes have only the smallest grain of truth

    • Working with really smart people can be great
    • The "technical meritocracy" is a semi-reality
    • Most places teammates care about each other
  • Some admitted downsides

    • Need a "thick skin" sometimes
    • Often expected to be 100% engaged with work all the time

Sounds Great! Where Do I Sign Up?

  • Whoa! Slow down! Here's some things you should think about

    • I know you think you want to be in computer games. You probably do not

    • If you are ever going to take entrepreneurial risk, do it now.

    • If you hate computing at this point, it will only get worse

You Will Be An Expert

  • Computing is a "profession of expertise". This is more than just competence at a narrow skillset

    • Outsiders aren't good at distinguishing skills

    • Expected to have good domain knowledge

    • Expected to have good business knowledge

  • Start developing your skillsets now

Legal Responsibilities

  • You will be expected to be an expert in many areas of law, in particular in "Intellectual Property" (IP) law.

    • Understand the four basic kinds of IP

    • Copyright

    • Trademark
    • Patent
    • Trade Secret
  • Understand how contracts work

  • Understand how civil suits work

  • Know criminal laws that apply

Safety and Security Responsibilities

  • You will be expected to protect "software-intensive" systems

    • From accidents
    • From bad people
  • Security experts will rarely be available

  • Consequences of your software decisions will be real, for good or evil

Ethical Responsibilities

  • Software-intensive systems are complicated and involve human behavior in interesting ways

  • Thus, you will often encounter genuine ethical issues

  • Know your ethical system; make it solid; be on the lookout for situations when you need it

  • There are lots of jobs in this business: if you find yourself in a legally or ethically iffy situation, don't let it slide: CONFRONT AND/OR WALK AWAY!

The Biggest Danger

  • Once you've started down this road: you know a useful amount (of something) about can almost never avoid working with them again

  • The good news? I have known only a couple of people ever who've tried to get away from them. Computing is fun.

  • Yes, fun. An awful lot of us, including me, are pleasantly surprised someone pays us for this stuff.


  • Ask Warren or myself; ask the Student ACM folks; ask your friends in or around the business

  • Again, Calagator is a very good place to find meetings with computing professionals to talk to about the business

    • Buy people lunch--it's a cheap investment
  • Internships both unpaid and paid are available; look into them

Last modified: Wednesday, 6 March 2013, 10:41 AM