Working professionals with a variety of backgrounds are finding pathways to higher-paying careers in tech.
More than 60,000 software developers now work in the Seattle area. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a software developer is about $104,000 a year, and the growth in the number of jobs is strong. Developers typically create applications or underlying technology systems and sought-after software engineer qualities include analytical, communication, interpersonal and problem-solving skills, along with a knack for details and creativity.
The standard qualification for getting one of these jobs is a degree in computer science. Yet, many students didn’t choose that route. They spent their undergraduate years focusing on deconstructionism, not databases, or poli-sci, not programming. Now they are looking for a pathway to a higher-paying career in tech. To pull off a career change, some students are headed back to school, specifically to colleges and universities offering credit-based certificates preparing them to tackle a master’s degree program in computer science.
“There’s a former philosophy major now working at Amazon,” says Sheila Oh, senior instructor and director of the Computer Science Fundamentals Certificate Program at Seattle U. “And a former English Lit major who went into consulting.”
Both attended Seattle U’s certificate program tailored to those without prior experience in computer science.
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At Seattle University, the graduate certificate in Computer Science Fundamentals is dubbed the “Career Change Certificate,” due to those who use the certificate for a new career in tech. Many certificate programs are part time to accommodate a working professional’s schedule.
To apply to this type of certificate program, students need only a bachelor’s degree from a four-year, regionally accredited institution. The type of degree doesn’t matter.
“Over half of the students don’t have STEM backgrounds at all,” Oh says. “We have English majors, philosophy majors and majors in chemistry and political science.”
Students changing careers do need to have some of the fundamentals down, though, especially concerning programming and math. For example, if the last math class was taken 15 years ago, Oh says brushing up via an online math module or a program might be wise. Candidates without any programming experience can sign up for a program like Seattle U’s Programming Boot Camp.
Accelerated entry and beyond
Most certificate students apply for a Master of Science in Computer Science program next. At Seattle U, students who maintained a B average in certificate courses have the master’s degree requirements waived — no need to sit for the GRE.
After graduating with an MSCS degree, most students go into software programming or engineering, while others turn toward artificial intelligence or machine learning, Oh says. Some get a spot at the larger companies in the area, while others gravitate toward the smaller startups. An MSCS also opens the door to a research-focused career. Oh knows of at least one former student who went into robotics within a Ph.D. program.
MSCS grads from any program might go into computer systems design, including programming services, design services and other related services, which are all growing career segments, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other in-demand fields include cloud computing and cybersecurity, along with health care IT, mobile networking and data management. Another trending career available to those with an MSCS degree: computer systems analysts, who often work as consultants to troubleshoot computer systems and offer efficiency strategies within a business context.
One way to discover more about a potential career change is to speak with those working in the technology field now, by asking friends for any references or ideas for an informational interview. An informational interview with someone working in the technology sector right now can reveal more about a potential position, field or business.
It takes time to complete the certificate program and the master’s program. But in the end, there’s a higher salary and, perhaps, something less quantifiable, too.
One student in his 50s is particularly memorable, Oh says. He related that he was unsure about starting over with a new career in computer science, when he had few years left in the workforce, even though he was unhappy in his current job. His wife told the career changer, “At least you’ll be happy for the last 10 years.”
“Really, 10 years is a lot of time,” Oh says. “It’s never too late to change careers.”
The College of Science and Engineering is the STEM college at Seattle University, with more than a dozen majors spanning science, mathematics, engineering and computer science.