Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

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Olaz
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Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Olaz » Wed Aug 03, 2016 11:39 pm

Researched my liberal arts school's "2015 Annual Student Employment Outcome" report today for employment ideas. I noted that most of the comp sci majors had the employment title "Software Engineer" after their major at places like Google and Amazon. I imagine that comes with 80k+ out the door and a decent place to work. The geology majors had shit-pay but well-known outdoor education companies or research assistance-ships or went off to more schooling in grad school.

The other non-Stem majors were all over the place, from Teach for America, to Joe Blow Company, to Grad School, to Analyst at places like GS (most of Econ). Part of me wonders whether I should've stuck past that first comp sci class, even if it was hard as hell at the time and I didn't like it or do well as a result. Humph.

In any case, I've recently been reading about the salary and lifestyle differences between (most of) STEM and the liberal arts; it's quite dismal, even with liberal arts degrees from top tier schools. This brings to light the question: what do you think about choosing college majors -- always the opportunity-bearing part of STEM or are the liberal arts OK as a college major? This should be an interesting question considering my hunch that most of you do STEM.
Last edited by Olaz on Thu Aug 04, 2016 12:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by FBeyer » Thu Aug 04, 2016 12:23 am

Yes you fucked up. Bad. Good pay is everything. Everything I tell you!!!

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Olaz » Thu Aug 04, 2016 12:34 am

FBeyer wrote:Yes you fucked up. Bad. Good pay is everything. Everything I tell you!!!
:P I've been on a high pay/STEM research spree recently, mostly fueled by a rather opinionated Youtuber. I admit it is not simply high pay that is the difference between most of STEM and the liberal arts, but the % of grads that get hired, the amount of student debt, the amount of networking and ass-kissing that needs to be exchanged for a job, the places where one can live, how much responsibility you get right out of school, the amount of extra school/certifications required, the time to FI, etc. In short, major selection is actually significantly more important than I was originally lead to believe in many respects.

I do not think it is simply coincidence that many in the MMM crowd and here are able to achieve FI with a nice buffer so quickly; the higher starting salary and opportunity is useful at the least.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by General Snoopy » Thu Aug 04, 2016 1:59 am

FIRST, you decide what you want to do.
THEN, you decide on the major that best supports that goal.

I received a degree in Engineering. I made the decision to become an engineer when I was in middle school.

I thought you wanted to go into Finance? Choose degrees that will help you attain that goal.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by tonyedgecombe » Thu Aug 04, 2016 2:48 am

Olaz wrote:Part of me wonders whether I should've stuck past that first comp sci class, even if it was hard as hell at the time and I didn't like it or do well as a result.
It's not obvious to me that you made the wrong decision. In the UK the unemployment rate amongst computer science graduates is one of the worst, the government is currently running a study into why.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by FBeyer » Thu Aug 04, 2016 4:02 am

Olaz wrote:...
I do not think it is simply coincidence that many in the MMM crowd and here are able to achieve FI with a nice buffer so quickly; the higher starting salary and opportunity is useful at the least.
Judging from your behaviour on ERE, I don't think you'd feel well in a STEM environment.
That had nothing to do with your intelligence but your overtly inquisitive nature and all-over-the-place interests. I can't say how easy it is to carve a niche for someone else with so with diverse interests. I've succeeded, for now, but I know nothing(*) about actual workforce demands for STEM people with only superficial skills in high performance computing, linear algebra, statistics, quantum mechanics, and software development.

I have no idea of what kind of job I'm looking to find, because I don't think I could pass a lot of interview questions, hell I can't even answer a lot of the basic math questions on Khan Academy, but I can potentially (and have done so already) solve a lot of completely unrelated and complex tasks given time and peace to do so. That's not very STEM I tell ya'. Not judging from the reaction of those around me anyway. I've been laughed at(**) by professors and heads of departments for the things I've done throughout my education. You HAVE to find struggling through obscure mathematics and oddly written code is (if not fun then at least) rewarding. And you have to think it's fun to do so for years on end...

It seems you, very much like me, don't have a completely single minded focus on a few things you find rewarding, but are rather random walking all over the variable space to see what comes out when you learn/do/try something new. STEM people, I find, are very much optimizers whereas I am very much a:
Oooooh Shiny!!!!
kind of person.
I feel that I have been very lucky to find a PhD (a paid position around here, mind you) where those exact qualities were needed, but I cannot speak for the American job market.

As I've stated in my own journal, and naturally my advice to you comes from that perspective: I don't think it's worth pursuing FI if you're selling your soul on the way. Enjoying your life is more important than the speed of progress towards FI.

If CompSci's basic classes sucked, odds are it'll only get worse as you progress along that particular path.

(*)Jon Snow...
(**) Literally


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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Sclass » Thu Aug 04, 2016 8:36 am

Good points by fbeyer.

some random thoughts.

I sometimes wonder if it is as easy to say "I will major in CS and get a job coding for XXX inc" at age 19 and then do it.

As other posts have implied, a certain type follows that path.

Marisa Mayer said in an interview that she polled Google programmers and found 98% had exposure to computers before high school. Her conclusion (perhaps wrongheaded) was if you want to be a programmer at Google you want to get introduced to computer systems as a kid. What I think is really going on is a certain type of kid gets interested in this kind of thing and obsessively puts in the time required to get his 10,000 hours of practice to gain some proficiency. My feeling is you don't become that kind of person at age 19 when you look down a list of majors and declare one.

So I see a lot of young humanities majors or business majors around me complaining they cannot get a living wage if they cannot be info tech types. I hear regrets. But I don't think many of these folks understand they were never in the race from the get go.

I retreaded out of the sciences to work in the electronics industry. It got me paid which was why I did it but it was a boring move.

After working twelve years designing electronics realized it wasn't for me. It was very obvious that I didn't belong there even though I could do the work. I looked like an alien who crash landed into the cubicle farm. I just never fit in. I fought the industry's reflex to spit me out for years.

Only after retirement I'm starting to see I just didn't belong there. A paycheck alone wasn't sufficient motivation to sustain the force fit. Kind of the whore's conundrum. I kept it up a little longer by starting two tech businesses. It was different designing one product than being on the design treadmill. But even that got old. Wrong place, wrong people, wrong work.

There is a big world out there if you are creative. I don't think you have to worry that you (specifically you Olaz...what happened to Zalo anyway?) didn't take such a cut and dried approach to getting a paycheck. Just don't sit around waiting for the paycheck to be plunked in your lap.

There is a great thread in DIY skills about Jack Schwager's Wizards series. As a struggling engineer I always wondered why I wasn't making the big bucks like the traders in his books. Maybe I even said shallow things like "did I totally fuck myself for not going into finance/economics/system trading." The interviews in the books come from guys who started as mathematicians, history majors, geography majors, economics majors and even a home audio installer.

My advice for a young person is first figure out what kind of a person you are. If you are really uncreative go get a degree in something boring that will get you paid right out of the gate. The lower limit of that is getting a pipe fitter's certification. On the other end go get a degree in psychology or philosophy and find your way in the world. If you're any good you'll do great.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by ether » Thu Aug 04, 2016 8:37 am

I'm fascinated by games of chance & odds, so I used that skill when deciding a career.
I started by going on the US government jobs website & did some research on careers I wanted.
Here's the page for Geologists & here is the page for computer analysts.

Some obvious things off the bat. Similar pay, but one profession has 15x more people employed in it. Then I compared the size of my college's geology programs & their technology programs. For there you can calculate your odds of job placement!

What's good about technology is it's fluid & you don't have to be programmer to succeed in the profession. Just need experience.
If you want to get into IT my advice is to take a part time volunteer position doing technology work for a charity or library. Just go on your local library website & look into their volunteer page. They always need people that can teach people how to use technology. Congratulations, you're now a help desk expert. Read the page on the profession here. Do that for a couple month & congrats you're now an experienced IT worker & can apply for large corporation's IT departments. There are TONS of programs out there for recent grads in IT, so just go to your career center's office & ask for the name of companies with IT programs for grads. Congrats, you are now in STEM & you didn't need to major in it.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Dragline » Thu Aug 04, 2016 8:56 am

In answer to OP - "No." But you may have to work a little harder in the short term or take a different path than someone who majored in computer science.

I think people should choose college majors by what will give them some useful skills and hopefully a useful certificate within a reasonable range of their interests, since the sheepskin is what you are really paying for. You don't need to go to college to gain knowledge in any particular field anymore, but often you do need the right certification to walk down certain paths later. Work experience while in school also counts, too.

I've made it pretty clear to my kids that (a) college is an expensive investment and needs to be treated like one; and (b) I expect them to get a useful sheepskin, but they are pretty STEM oriented to begin with anyway.

Note that liberal arts majors who learn good writing/communication skills (unfortunately usually not taught in most classes) usually can do pretty well, although it may take a little more effort to get going. But most people come out of college not really knowing how to compose a written piece quickly and coherently, because they don't get enough practice or take that skill seriously enough. This skill is usually what separates successful liberal arts majors from unsuccessful ones in the workplace.

People that just read text books, talk about a topic for awhile and take a few tests generally aren't learning many or very useful skills.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by FBeyer » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:03 am

Dragline wrote:In answer to OP - "No." But you may have to work a little harder in the short term or take a different path than someone who majored in computer science.
...
Pre scriptum: I feel like I'm trolling you at the moment, that's really not my intention.

I really want to highlight this line and change it into what I experienced going through university
Dragline wrote:In answer to OP - "No." But you may have to work a lot harder in the short term, every time you decide to try something new, or take a different path than someone who majored in computer science.
...
Changing from mesoscopic physics to theoretical chemistry was a lot of work.
Changing from theoretical chemistry to high performance computing was a lot of work.
Changing from High performance computing to high level statistics is currently a hell of a lot of work!
And those are all considered to be within the STEM field.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by saving-10-years » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:06 am

@tonyedgecombe
In the UK the unemployment rate amongst computer science graduates is one of the worst, the government is currently running a study into why.
Thanks, this was news to me. DS is about to start a computer science degree at York and we visited a number of unis during 2015. Those he was interested in had graduate employment levels in the 87-100% range - Sheffield was claiming 100%. The average starting salary was also decent with a few going into jobs starting at £50l+ and with some internships while students paying £35k (generally banking jobs in London).

In the UK (not sure of the US picture, but assume its the same) employment prospects are great for those who attend the top 'high tariff' universities (as @Zalo is doing) and the pay should be good. But it appears that in CS 65% are studying in the 'post-92' universities https://www.software.ac.uk/blog/2013-10 ... scientists, i.e. relatively recently minted unis that used to be polytechnics or further education colleges. The Shabdolt review published in May (which I think you refer to in the quote) points out that
[the CS] student population present particular features which appear to have a bearing on why its graduates suffer from higher unemployment rates (11.7% six months after graduation) relative to other STEM disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (8.4%). Computer Sciences includes the largest family of disciplines within STEM, with almost 2,000 courses available from 95 out of 130 HEIs in England. …The findings show a mixed picture: although more likely to be unemployed, compared to other
STEM graduates, Computer Sciences graduates who are in employment are more likely to be in graduate level work and well paid.

… the very highest unemployment rates cluster in a small number of HEIs with the lowest average tariff scores. These HEIs also offer the lowest proportion of courses that include a formal sandwich year [another indicator of high employability is work experience]. But they teach the highest proportion of Computer Sciences students from under-represented groups (including Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students, women, mature students and students from backgrounds where people have traditionally not participated in HE, known as low participation neighbourhoods, or LPNs)

… growth in the proportion of entrants from backgrounds where people have traditionally not participated in higher education (LPNs) over the last decade is double that of other STEM subjects.

A 2011 report, The Returns to Higher Education Qualifications, by London Economics for BIS showed that graduates of Computer Sciences were among the subjects that provide the Exchequer with the most net benefits after Medicine and Dentistry, Law and Architecture.
So its possible to do very well with this degree but its not a scarce degree nowadays and completing the course is not a golden ticket. Fortunately DS is of the CS mindset and will enjoy it.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by steelerfan » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:17 am

Honestly Zalo/Olaz, I am not sure it matters too much what you major in to a degree. You seem to be all over the place as far as what you want to do and it seems that what you are really after is $x to plug into and early retirement spreadsheet. If you like STEM, chances are you were tinkering with things and coding since you were a little kid. Not that many kids do that and that is why they are somewhat rare.

Liberal Arts gets a bad rap sometimes. A lot of the people find themselves in it because they got to college and did not want to know what they wanted to be. I graduated with a degree in Psychology and a business minor. I sold shoes all through high school and college. Today, I am an accountant by trade. There are many people I know that went the business route that look like an accountant from central casting. They knew what they wanted from day 1. I never had a problem grasping the concepts of business and had no problem passing the CPA exam, doing my tasks, etc. But I really am not like the central casting accountant. I am wired differently from many of my peers. I do a lot of the coding and do a lot of the more creative tasks that my buttoned down central casting boss and peers struggle with. The finance guy who is a little above my bosses level on the scale has a degree in chemistry. I don't think this guy could put a set of statements together but somehow the company values his insight. And they may be right. Go figure.

My son is a CS major (BA). He had the choice to get it either through the Arts and Science School or the Engineering School. He was going to go engineering but now is deciding to remain in Arts and Science (liberal arts). It makes sense, because he was less of a tinkerer and more of a dreamer/philospher. He is looking at a BA in CS Math double major although he loves astronomy. He has little interest in bit twidlling on a circuit board. His roomate is a traditional BS track CS. They both will get what they want although they are on a different path.

The point of this is that there are different ways to skin a cat. If you want a lot of money and are an extrovert, be a salesman. They have fun and make a lot of money but very few people are wired for that, especially here. If you like STEM stuff then go do it. You don't need x degree to start. Integrate your interests into something that is uniquely you. You will be better for it! Good luck.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Dragline » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:29 am

FBeyer wrote: Changing from mesoscopic physics to theoretical chemistry was a lot of work.
Changing from theoretical chemistry to high performance computing was a lot of work.
Changing from High performance computing to high level statistics is currently a hell of a lot of work!
And those are all considered to be within the STEM field.
Ooh, I don't doubt that. But the last two seem not too far apart as far as initial job-matching is concerned -- i.e., you could probably get hired as a programmer or an actuary or a patent-examiner-in-training with either.

Did you ever consider multiples (which I know might not be available)? After disabusing myself of the notions of astrophysics, my initial B.S. degrees were in Materials Science Engineering and Economics, which yielded a lot of optionality. My eldest is currently plodding through Biomedical Engineering with minors in Computer Science and Business, but still has no idea where he is going.

Interestingly, he never took a comp sci class before college, but has taken an affinity to Discrete Mathematics. (What Dad really cares about is that it got him a T.A. job and is wishing he'd be more aggressive in finding other such positions.)

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Sclass » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:41 am

Dragline wrote:In answer to OP - "No." But you may have to work a little harder in the short term or take a different path than someone who majored in computer science.
Yes. Searching and being creative is hard. But I think the uncertainty to the upside is worth it.

I've already seen the endgame for the older tech worker. In the majority of cases it isn't pretty. (Unless they hang around here.). That's why I am amused everyone suddenly wants to be one.

I was introduced the director of engineering at Uber. He was a biomedical engineering major. I don't think he knew where he was going till recently.
Last edited by Sclass on Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by FBeyer » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:42 am

Dragline: My communication skills on this forum are truly terrible. I left out the part of my post where I wanted to use your quote to address Zalo's question, not refer to you directly. :roll:

BUT since you commented: Theoretical chemistry and statistics are actually much closer than HPC and statistics. Chemistry is all wet lab and rote memorization, until you get to theoretical chemistry, at which point everything blows up and turns into discrete mathematics and linear algebra like you wouldn't believe. It's an amazingly creative field of science actually. Just way too difficult for me. The ratio between difficulty and employability is not as good as stats (I hope...).

My job strategy is to leverage a very brash, efficient, honest and curious persona, rather than the quiet, specialist.
'gotta fin' ma' niche.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by BRUTE » Thu Aug 04, 2016 9:45 am

Olaz wrote:I imagine that comes with 80k+ out the door and a decent place to work.
more likely +.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by BRUTE » Thu Aug 04, 2016 10:00 am

brute can only agree with humans on this thread. it's probably similar to physics or other fields. humans don't just decide in high school they want to become physicists or artists because the pay looked good.

humans have to be pretty far over on the spectrum to be able to enjoy talking to a machine or spending the whole day in their heads for 50 years straight.

brute was coding when others learned to talk to girls. brute was coding when others went to dance class. brute was coding when others went to parties. brute literally skipped a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event to take advantage of free modem lines.

brute would say that "being STEM" is more of a condition than an education, it just happens to be a condition that's very much in demand right now. in other times, it would have been debilitating.

looking at it the other way, can Loza imagine it the other way around? if there were abundant STEM grads and being a painter or an author was very well-paid? can Azol imagine hordes of tech spectrum humans deciding to "learn to become artistic"? (hint: what coders are also ends in -tistic).

btw, brute thought the +- Intel joke was hilarious.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Sclass » Thu Aug 04, 2016 10:08 am

I think a lot about these questions when I watch these

The Lego Movie (2014)

And

Robots (2005)

Stories about being young and making your way in the machine.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Sclass » Thu Aug 04, 2016 10:13 am

BRUTE wrote: Azol imagine hordes of tech spectrum humans deciding to "learn to become artistic"? (hint: what coders are also ends in -tistic.
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: yes!

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by GandK » Thu Aug 04, 2016 10:29 am

Dragline wrote:I think people should choose college majors by what will give them some useful skills and hopefully a useful certificate within a reasonable range of their interests, since the sheepskin is what you are really paying for.
I agree with this. The current trend of using the university "experience" to self-actualize is about enriching the universities, not the students.

My advice: step away from the majors and careers paradigm for a minute, and take an inventory of what you're good at, not what you're most interested in today. Include skills like "sailing" and "writing," but also things like "conceptual thinking" and "the ability to work alone." And then look that list over for patterns, and for things you can easily monetize. Something may jump out at you.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Tyler9000 » Thu Aug 04, 2016 12:04 pm

@ Bizarro-Zalo:

I tend to agree with FBeyer and GandK -- If you truly want to be successful, following the same old worn road as everyone else probably isn't the best plan. Instead, take stock of your inherent skills and interests and carve out a niche in an area where you bring something new to the table.

The most important thing to remember is that a college degree is not designed to maximize your personal potential. Only you can do that. Even as useful as a STEM degree might be (I have one myself), it's still basically an industrial muffin tin and cooking process designed to churn out a consistent baked good for industry consumption. Unless you proactively supplement it to cater to your personal strengths and goals, it's more likely to let you down than to set you on the guaranteed road to happiness.

I always looked at my education and series of different jobs as building my personal marketing story that made me as attractive and well-rounded as possible in my ultimate goal -- making cool stuff.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by chicago81 » Thu Aug 04, 2016 12:30 pm

Sclass wrote: Marisa Mayer said in an interview that she polled Google programmers and found 98% had exposure to computers before high school. Her conclusion (perhaps wrongheaded) was if you want to be a programmer at Google you want to get introduced to computer systems as a kid. What I think is really going on is a certain type of kid gets interested in this kind of thing and obsessively puts in the time required to get his 10,000 hours of practice to gain some proficiency. My feeling is you don't become that kind of person at age 19 when you look down a list of majors and declare one.

So I see a lot of young humanities majors or business majors around me complaining they cannot get a living wage if they cannot be info tech types. I hear regrets. But I don't think many of these folks understand [they were never in the race from the get go.
I couldn't agree more with this. I have a CS degree, and I was using computers from a very young age -- because I found it interesting and challenging. I can't even count how many people I knew at the university who studied CS in the mid-00's because they thought it was the ticket to get rich (even though they had no interest in the topic.) Hardly any of those people made it through to graduation, and even fewer ended up with a job right out of school.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by Scott 2 » Thu Aug 04, 2016 1:51 pm

You've earned freedom by learning how money works. Don't refasten the shackles trying to maximize the monetary value of your life.

Stem majors are paid well, because the people who are wired to thrive while doing it are rare. Everyone else in the field hates it. They do their damnedest to derive identity outside of work, and would run if not for the pay. You don't have to be one of them. That's great news.

If you must, pick up a couple of CS classes this year. Tick a CS or MIS style minor if you can. Look for a tech job at a large company with diversity requirements. I bet you find something pretty easily.

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Re: Did I fuck up by not majoring in Computer Science? STEM Vs. Liberal Arts

Post by jacob » Thu Aug 04, 2016 2:49 pm

Fully agree that if you haven't loved or don't love(*) STEM to the point of doing it to the exclusion of almost everything else such as silly but cool things like going to parties (LAN parties are okay though), watching football, kissing girls or boys, ... don't bother. You're not expending nearly enough mental fuel on this to be competitive to make it worth bothering.

(*) And by love I mean you're willing to work yourself into an early death for it if it has to come to that.

However, if you have some small interest in STEM, you could make a fairly lucrative career out of connecting the obsessive nerds with "normal humans" working in software sales, software consulting, tech support, or managing.

If I had to divide my fellow STEM students into groups, here's how my physics class of 1997-2004 (BS to PhD) has turned out so far:
Top of the class believers: perma-postdocs and professors
Bottom of the class believers: highschool teachers
Top of the class nonbelievers: renegade pf bloggers(*), six-sigma belt managers
Bottom of the class nonbelievers: small industry staff scientists, software sales consultants

(*) Yeah, that guy! Always an embarrassment when placement is discussed.

Incidentally, top/bottom was established within 3 months of freshman classes. Faith or the abandonment thereof happened several years into the studies.

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