Be Different in Tech (if you want)

Don’t be afraid to be different while pursuing a career in technology.

A lot of undergraduate students studying engineering disciplines such as Computer Science, Software Engineering, or Computer Engineering feel like they have to fit in some sort of box. They feel as if they have to intern at a “Big 5” company or they won’t be labeled as successful by their peers. Other individuals seem to ask the question too often of “Why are you studying computer science if you don’t want to be a developer?” These kinds of questions and false assumptions are crippling the undergraduate education experience and ability to expand into fields that could benefit from people having a technical background.

False Expectations

Many people have false assumptions of what it means to be a computer scientist or the supposed “criteria” that must be satisfied to meet this title. If you aren’t quite sure why a lot of pedantic discussions regarding topics such as VIM v. Emacs are a true waste of time, I encourage you to read some of my thoughts.

Similar to trivial technical debates that we have within the field of computer science, such as which text editor is best, we seem to have this preconceived notion of what type of job someone studying computer science should pursue. As suggested before, this criteria seems to be working at a large technology company were developers are paid top dollar for their work. While there is nothing wrong with choosing this career path, and many people who are pursuing a career in computer science aspire for this kind of position, we must realize that there are alternatives to this. As a community and a profession we must be more open and accepting of individuals who wish to have a formal technical education, but desire to apply their skill set to something other than software development.

Some Alternatives

There are a huge number of alternative opportunities that exist that require a technical background but aren’t as closely tied to software development. As software becomes more ubiquitous there are more and more job opportunities appearing that require a technical background; so why are we discouraging people from pursuing these new and unique opportunities?

We are living in a day and age where technologies such as encryption are being called into question and are in the forefront of all of our lives. Yet there are law and policy makers that completely disregard technical advice and call technical experts geeks. When we are making landmark case decisions that could affect the general population for years to come based on a law passed in 1977 something isn’t quite right. We need more people that understand technology and computer science that will advocate for the growth and freedom of technology in a realistic and practical way. So why are we discouraging our peers from filling this need? This doesn’t only apply to areas regarding law or public policy. There are many other fields that benefit from individuals having a strong technical background, and the number of fields will continue to grow. We have a responsibility to encourage as many people as we can to fill these needs because someone needs to do it.

More and more we are seeing companies like Workday or any Software as a Service based company that need technically inclined individuals to properly sell and market their products. Many of these companies have to on-board individuals that have a non-technical education focus such as business or communications. While this isn’t a bad thing, there are still people in computer science that we should be promoting to pursue opportunities like this if they are so inclined. Technical people with a focus on business operations and a knack for communication and sales should feel free to explore these opportunities without being discouraged by their friends or colleagues for pursuing a career that isn’t as a software developer.

Encourage Being Different

Technical sales and public policy and law are just a few examples of many fields that could benefit from having individuals with a technical background. As numerous industries are tied closer together with technology having a technical background or at least understanding of technical concepts are in the public’s best interest. We should encourage people that have no technical background to familiarize themselves with some of the more common concepts, and not shoot them down if they are not pedantically correct. It’s more important that they are trying than to be perfect. We aren’t perfect. Similarly, allow your friends to pursue careers outside of the norms that we have created from false expectations. Change the norms to be accepting and open to people who have visions different than our own.

Don’t encourage your friends to fit your goals and aspirations, but encourage them to be the computer scientists that they want to be.