Didn’t Do Comp Sci

Thu 09 February 2017

After an inspiring conversation with some coworkers, I wrote this down, because it turns out there’s a lot of us.

Us

We sling code, we do product reviews, we spend hours in a chair with nothing but gdb and silence. And though we talk shop with coworkers about minor features in the x86 architecture, a dark, ugly secret lurks.

We didn’t do computer science. Some of us did some university, some finished, some never started. But a degree in computer science? Nope.

And even though some of us are the resident debugging experts, or do UI/UX work that make customer’s hearts sing, or run teams that are loyal and Get Shit Done On Time, for some reason, we think that we’re less than we are because we didn’t do a 4 year computer science program. There’s an underlying feeling of "oh my god, as soon as someone finds out I didn’t take a compiler course, I’m sunk!"

We come from unorthodox, non-computer science backgrounds. We tend to forget and disqualify our previous experiences, the odd jobs that made us who we are today, and the cultivation of skill-sets that make us more capable at doing our jobs.

You

How you got into computers in the first place doesn’t really matter. You wanted to make video games, or kill time, maybe earn some quick cash for rent. Whatever the case, you got hooked. You kept at it, and it became a career.

Soon people started asking you questions. People realized you were reliable, and kept handing you bigger and more important tasks. You failed, learned, and kept moving forward. And after some time, you became The Person Who Knows All About ‘X.’

You feel like a fraud. You bristle when you hear ‘all programmers should have a license and/or be certified.’ But over the years you’ve met and worked with people who have desk drawers full of certifications, people with degrees (and masters and doctorates, too). You’ve seen first-hand that accreditation isn’t a guarantee of discipline (or even talent or competency). Some have no intuition on how to fix bugs, some live off of copy-pasted scraps from Stack Overflow, some have no sense of ‘the right tool for the job.’

You know there’s holes in your knowledge, and you know that you don’t know about some of the holes in your knowledge. This has left you humble. You’re eager to learn, reading blogs and books outside of work to give you an edge. You hustle not because some motivational speaker told you to, but because that’s been your life. You hustle because staying in the game means you have to think faster, work harder, do better. You know that at job interviews you’re at a disadvantage (if you even made it past the application screening), and you can’t just be slightly better than the competition; you have to blow the competition away.

You know that there’s more to this IT thing than mere technical proficiency. You bring in donuts and coffee for the team, you keep a friendly face (even when you’re screaming inside), and you help out the new people who need that hand up to get to the next level.

You didn’t set out to have a career working with computers. But things are better with you here. Even if you don’t have a comp sci degree.

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