Selling an Unusual Skillset

I have degrees in Aerospace Engineering (B.S.) and Astronomy (M.S.) but these days I make my living as a software engineer (at an astronomy institution). I like programming and I plan to make a career out of it in one way or another. During my visit to Toronto multiple people asked me: if I had time traveling powers, would I go back and get a computer science education instead?

The answer is, I guess, yes. Especially for my undergraduate education I wish now that I had taken computer science. I feel a bit encumbered on the job market because I don’t have a CS degree. Going to school to get a CS degree is still an option but I’m not sure whether my career development effort would be best spent there, on contributing to open source projects (like AstroPy), or even contributing to something like Software Carpentry. (To work on my education in the meantime I have taken the AI Class and CS373 from Udacity. CS253 starts April 16.)

Though software is my passion, I like science and if I could make a good living combining the two that would be ideal. Maybe it’ll happen! But I’m not a computer scientist, and I’m not a PhD scientist, so how am I going to sell myself the next time I’m looking for a job? I think I have a few things to offer:

Adaptable: I’m comfortable working outside of a set comfort zone.

Versatile: I can communicate easily with a lot of different groups and handle a lot of different tasks. Physics, calculus, data, stats, plots? I can do that.

I Can Learn: I’m more or less a self taught software engineer and I can learn new skills in a hurry, without a lot of help. (Though I love working with someone.)

I Can Teach: Grad school means being a TA and I always got high marks from my students. Plus, I actually enjoy it.

I Can Code: If I couldn’t, why would anyone hire me?

3 thoughts on “Selling an Unusual Skillset

  1. Having a BS in CS is really only important when you’re getting your first couple of entry-level jobs; after that, having built real stuff (and having people who are willing to say you can build real stuff) matters a lot more. Everyone *says* they’re adaptable, they can learn, they play well with others, etc. (in 25 years, I’ve never seen a resume that started, “I’m a rigid, close-minded, grumpy misanthropist”) — you can point to software you’ve shipped, to your quantitative skills (in much demand right now), and to your continuing self-improvement, and honestly, you don’t want to work for anyone who isn’t smart enough to see the value of those. Really, the only thing that might slow you down is your choice to use a WordPress theme that puts white text on a black background :-)

  2. I ended up here following the link in your Udacity profile. I looked up the STSCI so I’ve got to ask: if you are there, why would you want to be anywhere else? I’m sure it’s complicated but that looks like one of those one in the universe kind of places that should be pretty fullfilling – unless the management sucks.

    I’ve been with the same institute for almost 30 years (even though it sucks) as a biologist with an MS in stat’s. Oddly enough, I was just talking to someone today about my ‘unusual skillset.’ When I was getting my biology degree, the intro C.S. courses were only open to C.S. majors because they were basically overbooked so I had to find courses in other departments. My biology advisor thought I was nuts to be taking so much ‘hard’ science. The way it worked out was that when I got my degree I got a job because I could program and I’m still hanging on.

    Computer programming for programming’s sake or just to make a buck isn’t what really excites me. It’s all the cool science that can be done that makes it interesting.

    Good luck to ya… name entered is handle in Udacity.

    PS: I agree with Greg about the font choice but maybe it makes you think of space?

    • Actually, I’ve got no real complaints about STSCI, it’s a great place to work. They’re probably under-paying me substantially, but I don’t even really mind. My wife, on the other hand, has found her job there to be a bit of a rut.

      But the real issue is location. It’s in Baltimore and my wife and I are both native Californians. And now that we have a kid it’s even tougher being so far from our families.

      I hope that when I eventually get another job that I’m still supporting science or some other kind of good work. I do like that.

      Thanks for the comment, and good luck!

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