If you were going back to school...

…to study “computer science and technology,” what would you want to study?

I’m currently doing a weekly supplement to a local newspaper on higher education – targeted at working adults who are looking to change careers or improve their job skills.

Most of the topics – business, education, health care – I either know a little about or I can figure out what the various subfields are with just a little poking around online.

Week after next is “computer science and technology,” though, and I’m completely freaking ignorant in the field. What are the hot and happening areas? What specific skills would you be looking to pick up? What the hell should I be looking for?

Pls. frame your answer in terms a Luddite like myself might understand.

Many, many thanks in advance.

Well, I’m pretty computer savvy, so I may be over your head, depending on how much of a luddite you are.

For someone like me, with lots of computer experience, I’d study a programming language like Java, for writing computer applications. For someone looking to improve their basic computer skills, a class in a program (like, excel or word) would probably be a better bet.

Computer repair is probably a good field for those who are looking to change careers completely. I imagine it would be great for someone who likes to work with their hands but wants to be in computer technology too.

Thanks – and, no, I was able to wade through all that jargon. :smiley:

Helpful info. What about more of a course of study, rather than a single class? Someone is trying to sell me on the idea that “computer security” is the next big field. Is he blowing smoke up my skirt?

I was a technical writer for many years, and taught the subject at a college as well. Tech writing is a field your readers might be interested in–I had many non-engineer students who were looking for a career change, and who had a knack for explaining technology. Of course, any qualifications in engineering would be a plus, but they weren’t absolutely essential. Many of my students, engineer or not, went on to do well at tech writing.

The field paid well, as I recall, though I was a freelance contractor towards the end of my time as a tech writer, so I’m unsure what staff positions would pay nowadays. You can find out more about tech writing, and the people who do it at the Society for Technical Communication web site. Anyway, might be something to mention in your article.

Career options in technology are somewhat limited for people who don’t have a degree in computer science or some related field. That said, compensation is good for those who do, so the degree is a worthwhile investment.

The major fields that degrees are generally offered in are as follows:
[li]Computer Science (CS): This is the academic/theoretical end of things. It has the same relation to other fields as physics has to engineering. Demand for computer scientists is somewhat limited, but people with CS degrees can move into other fields very easily. Hot skills include security, databases, machine learning and graphics.[/li][li]Software Engineering (SE or SWE): If CS is physics, this is mechanical engineering. This is pretty rare as a separate degree, but a lot of computer science programs are very software engineering oriented or can be made so.[/li][li]Information Technology (IT): This is a little more applied, covering the principles behind the technologies that are widely used. It’ll also touch on some specific skills and common products.[/li][li]Information Systems (IS): This is the business school’s equivalent of IT. It tends to focus a little less on the technologies themselves and more on how they fit in with the business needs of the organization. This is an extremely valuable perspective, especially for people who have some finance background (which the typical business school curriculum will cover).[/li][/ol]
Folks without degrees can get into PC repair and tech support, and there are at least certifications for the former.

ETA: Forgot to mention, tech writing is also a valuable skill. It helps to have an IT/IS background.

As always, the Dope to the rescue!

ultrafilter – thank you, thank you, thank you for this extremely clear overview of the field. (And yes, I did need it spelled out like that.) Just to clarifiy – a programmer would be, what, an IT person?

And thanks for the tech writer idea, Spoons – I’ll look into that as well.

I am an adult who has returned to school and I’m doing my minor in GIS (Geographic Information Systems). I took one class and I was hooked. It seems to be very useful for many disciplines.

You’ll pick up programming in any of those four degree programs, or in any engineering or hard science degree.

ETA: It should probably also be mentioned that computer science is not for the math-phobic.

Cool. What’s that mean? :smiley:

The official description is something like this: “GIS are systems of hardware, software, organizations and procedures used to collect, store, manage and display and share spatially referenced info”. It includes things like cartography (map making), remote sensing (collection of data remotely, like satellite imagery), geoprocessing and analysis of data (like the census determining population movements) and the like. It has applications in geology, natural resource planning, city planning, agriculture…the list is endless.

Boy, that does sound cool.

GIS basically means managing data bases connected to maps. For example–open a set of 15 sheets of engineering maps of your city, and count the number of sewer manholes that are connected to 12 inch pipes, but not 24 inch.
I dunno if that’s your idea of cool, but it is a pretty good way to make a living. Related fields are land surveying and CAD - Computer Assisted Drafting.You can get take them to the level of a Phd, but there are also 2-year tech courses that would be appropriate for your audience.

One other possibility is bioinformatics, which is the analysis of genetic data by means of computers. I don’t know exactly what the job market is like for folks without graduate degrees, but it’s not terrible, though, and is certainly worth considering.

My brother was deep into bioinformatics back when it was relatively new, and he had a Ph.D. in genetics & molecular biology besides being a computer whiz. I don’t think that’s career change lite.

Demand is high enough that there are undergrad programs out there.

I’ll tell you one thing that I never thought i’d be doing when i was in school. . .
servicing dental equipment

don’t get me wrong, it’s turning into a very technology driven field, but dental!??!?1!

I go to the dentist every day and very rarely sit in the chair. . . lots of fun, but dental? really?

One thing not mentioned, which someone can pick up fairly quickly without 4 years of college, is website development. This involves for most people using a package, though actually understanding the code the packages produce is useful. It also requires Java and various scripting languages to make those cute applications the Dope has few of.
This might be good for someone with some design skills, since appearance counts. It might also be a way for someone to pick up some extra money, since more people want to have websites than to know how to make them.

Something you might warn people about is game programming. It is a big area, but my impression is that so many people want to get into it that the hours are long and the pay short.

I’ve been working in the GIS field for 10 years with one beginner’s class under my belt, so I’ve recently been thinking of obtaining a masters online. Penn State has a GIS masters program, but many online “certificates” are available, too. Less intense, and a good way to get into the field. (In fact, when I was starting out, those were the only courses offered online.) It’s a great field for those with computer aptitudes (databases, problem solving, general savvy) and who are spatially and visually oriented. There can be field work involved, which is a good break from sitting in front of a screen all day. You can also do nice cartography, programming, database management, web applications… It’s quite varied, which is what keeps me interested.

That’s cool to hear. I wouldn’t mind moving into a natural science/IT field.

For those considering jobs in tech writing, I can recommend a program in graphics design with courses like InDesign, Photoshop and the like. For some reason, I’ve seen a lot of tech writing jobs that require those skills.