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timmyv
Mar 21, 2008, 03:00 AM
Hello everyone I am new to your forum.
I admittedly know nothing about programming but have some serious questions for anyone whom is willing to help me.
First I am 30 years old and want to change professions. I have been a police officer for 7 years, a paramedic before that and worked in the automotive industry self employed since I was in high school.
I did not receive a college education and feel I am paying the price for my choices. I have always loved computers since I was a child and got my first commodore 64. Since I really don't know anything about programming I don't feel I have a firm grasp on what a professional programmer does.
I have an image in my mind of creating programs and would love to do this.
I recently began researching different schools and have come across widely different recommendations. First I called my local college which has been recognized for its rich science programs; A 4 year bachelors degree in computer science. second a technical school which boasts a associates degree in computer programming. Lastly an institution called Tech Skills.

This Tech Skills insists that you not only do not need a degree to have a successful career in computer programming but if you do receive a degree without receiving certification you will actually be further behind.

I really want to be involved and then ultimately design programs on my own for the macs.

Lastly I need to be able to make a decent salary 60-80k annual.
I am not looking to shortcut an education so honest answers are greatly appreciated.



robbieduncan
Mar 21, 2008, 03:04 AM
You seem to have some romantic idea of a programmer as an artist, lovingly crafting their product to great satisfaction. And, yes, once in a blue moon this happens. But most of the time professional programming is a soul destroying grind of churning out code to meet the demands of unreasonable clients who keep changing your mind pushing you to the verge of mass-murder and madness. Are you sure it's for you?

timmyv
Mar 21, 2008, 04:51 AM
Donno, thats why I asked what a programmer really does and what i need to do to properly get there.
My initial desire was to create database estimating programs.
There are many programs for preparing estimates for vehicle repair but I have specific ideas that would vastly outperform the competition. I guess I am thinking that to create programs/software however stressful as long as I enjoy doing it would be worth the hassle.
I'm not trying to knock your perception of pressure or even say I understand it but I can't imagine doing anything more stressful than what I do now.

Seriously, I am asking the questions BECAUSE I don't know anything about it.
Any clear advice or direction would be very much appreciated.

Eraserhead
Mar 21, 2008, 04:56 AM
This Tech Skills insists that you not only do not need a degree to have a successful career in computer programming but if you do receive a degree without receiving certification you will actually be further behind.

I've heard the best programmers don't actually have degrees, but I don't know how that translates to the real world.

mcgomer
Mar 21, 2008, 08:56 AM
Programming for a living can be rewarding when your app is being used by people who appreciate what it gives them.

It can also be a grind going to a faceless corporate cube farm like dilbert describes in his cartoons.

There are many points between those two extremes.

If you are going to work in the corporate world, you need a college degree. It may teach a lot about design and core OS principles, but it really is just a way to get past the gatekeepers in HR. Most corporations want the degree or experience. Since you dont have the experience, you need the degree.

If you are going to work for your self and build products, you dont need a degree, just the apptitude to do the work. That can be obtained through self study, a course at your local college, or however you best learn. But understand, learning how to build a non-trivial, maintainable, relatively bug free app, that others are willing to pay for is not something that happens overnight. You shouldnt quit your day job until you are sure you can do it. Unless you have a lot of money saved up. :cool:

The nice thing about programming is that you can decide the environment you want to work in. Corporate, a startup, your garage, etc. Do you want to work in a team, or are you going solo. The price to entry for a startup is cheap. You dont need a factory, or inventory, just a computer and a dream and some perserverance.

mcgomer
Mar 21, 2008, 09:11 AM
And as to money,

You can hit the figures you asked for in most markets, if you are working for someone else. i.e. a corporation of some sort. Building a product, all bets are off, both on the low end and the high end.

Depending on the market you are going after ( Mac, Windows, etc.), doing contract work, those numbers should be easy to hit ( approx $30 - $40 an hour would get you those numbers. )

Also, programming for the Mac market is a completely different skill set than is needed to program in the Web Market, vs the Window Thick Client market, vs the unix markets, vs the mainframe world. While the basic programming skills are the usually the same ( coding logic itself ), the toolsets used are different ( xCode, Visual Studio, Eclipse, IBMs Java Ide's), the frameworks used are different ( Cocoa, WPF, J2EE, Struts, JSF, etc. ) and all require a significant investment of time and effort to become proficient in.

This shouldnt scare you, its just the requirements of the different jobs.
:eek:

admanimal
Mar 21, 2008, 01:00 PM
I've heard the best programmers don't actually have degrees, but I don't know how that translates to the real world.

In reality, the best programmers have both technical programming skill which they get from experience/innate ability and a degree so that they understand the theoretical foundations of what they are doing, which can really help you approach a given problem the right way (and of course theres no reason why you can't get this knowledge on your own too, if you are really motivated.)

toddburch
Mar 21, 2008, 01:18 PM
I don't have a college degree, and have been working in IT since 1980, right out of high school, and have been on the software side of the house since 1984. I was working as an auto mechanic before I went to work in IT. In 1990, I moved into programming (from software support) because that's what I wanted to do. I too saw what IT shops were using, and knew I could write better. I've since written several commercial products, single handedly, and on teams, over the past 18 years.

If you want to get into programming, get into it. Pick a platform or platforms, and start reading and doing and asking questions. There was no internet when I started. Today, we all have such an asset available (the internet) for getting answers to questions that it is mind boggling.

No excuses. Do it.

Todd

Amdahl
Mar 21, 2008, 02:58 PM
My advice is to hang on to the police job. If you are going to be good as a programmer, you can find that out in the off-hours without risking what is typically a secure paycheck.

yeroen
Mar 21, 2008, 03:52 PM
Or move to a big city, like Boston, where cops can easily earn over six figures pulling overtime and construction details (city laws require a police presence on all construction sites). Not to mention the lucrative pension plans.

And no one is going to send law enforcement jobs to India and make you train your replacement.

Jeff Hall
Mar 21, 2008, 04:02 PM
Don't quit your day job just yet.

1. Go read some intro programming books where you work through a few projects and learn to build something.

2. Take some programming classes at the local college. Perhaps pick a "certification" series to complete.

If after doing this, you still like programming, you really should consider a 4 year degree. It's the best way to get an interview.

You may have to take an initial pay cut and come in at a junior level. But after a couple of years, you're in the driver's seat and can go as far as you want. You'll have to change companies a few times to move your salary up.

timmyv
Mar 21, 2008, 06:19 PM
Wow, all great posts. Thank you for the comments.
my current plans include continuing to work my current job (at night) and do exactly what was mentioned about college. I have no problem putting in my dues but I fear at the rate i can realistically finish a 4 year degree i will be almost 40...
I can retire from the police department when i'm 43 yrs old.
the whole reason for trying to switch is because I am so incredibly miserable as a cop.
ahhh, well.. perhaps i'm looking at a second career.

Seriously, thank you for the advice. I am a member of several different forums and I don't think i've ever received more straight forward and helpful info from another group.
Thx.

zippyfly
Mar 26, 2008, 12:05 PM
Hello. I can't say I am completely in your shoes but I also have a similar "soul searching" question. I *am* in the tech sector and *do* have some programming experience from years and years ago (even as a kid) but primarily I have been in the BUSINESS side of things (sales, marketing, business development). The funny thing is, most of the people I have worked with in the business side are not technical. At least, not technical enough I reckon. They can do a much better job if they knew more about the technical stuff.

Anyway, on and off I have been getting into programming. I learned all the languages myself just reading books. You can do the same. The problem is, what do you do when you have learned it? I already know BASIC, Pascal, Java, HTML, PHP, etc. and just recently (a matter of a week or two) started to get into Objective-C, which is the language that Apple wants us to program OS X in (that includes Macs and also the iPhone since both run OS X).

So what I am doing is, I am keeping my day job (earning a salary doing the more-business stuff; analogous to your police job) and learning how to program the iPhone.

I do believe the iPhone will be a very important platform and there are so many people who do NOT know how to program in Objective-C. I have an opinion about this since I have observed the tech sector for so long. I reckon a lot of Windows C++ and Java programmers (for example) will resist going to Objective-C for as long as they can. Already I can see a lot of Java programmers just sitting around waiting/praying that a Java VM is going to be released for the iPhone.

Whatever happens, I reckon the demand will grow for Objective-C programmers. OS X is growing tremendously and the iPhone is just gangbusters.

I don't know where my Objective-C will take me but I intend to learn it well this year, and hack out some shareware types of projects myself for the iPhone. I will leverage a lot of open source to learn from the pros and perhaps try to contribute whatever I am capable of.

I don't expect to be adept until maybe 2 years down the road but as long as you are enthusiastic about the skillset, I think nothing can stop you.

I have NO computer science degree. EVERYTHING I know about technology I learned myself. I do have a college degree but really, I think as long as you can program (or know the business), people will hire you for what you know, not what a piece of paper says you MIGHT know. A degree can't hurt but it's not a show stopper.

I suggest you start with something like the Kochan book and get cracking on your Mac. I really don't think you need to bother with school if it eats up your time. Better to spend it all on learning to be a great programmer! I mean it! But don't throw away your meal ticket yet. There are plenty of unemployed smart programmers out there (just like many starving artists with great talent).

(By the way, can I ask you what you hate about your job as a police officer? I am just curious, but I also reckon your answer might also strike a chord with me and others who are also looking for something different.)

zippyfly
Mar 27, 2008, 07:26 AM
By the way, I came across something just now which, serendipitously, might be useful to you (and many of us).

Under the iTunes Store is an area called iTunes U (university).

I discovered there's a whole bunch of free lectures you can listen to, from prestigious universities.

Including computer science courses....

Combine these with free resources on the Internet and a couple of books on Objective-C and Cocoa, and I think you're set for the balance of this year.

The other thing you had me thinking is that maybe you can transition from whatever you are doing into perhaps a cybercrime type of area, where you can use technical skills to help in a police role. Just some random thoughts.

timmyv
Mar 27, 2008, 08:03 AM
Thanks for the thoughts.
As for my distain of police work I have many points about it that i dislike but the worst thing at this point is that i'm just fed up with dealing with scum.
You have to think like them to be able to catch them and i've caught myself driving with my wife and thinking like a "mope" when I see something random.
The smell of a crack head, getting splattered with HIV infected blood, seeing kids that have been abused, dealing with a city that HATES police and screams every time a drug dealer is gunned down during a street shoot out but cheers when a police officer gets hurt. Having to live inside the city i work and fear for my wife to take a walk down the street. making potential life and death decisions but when i've called off sick with a temperature of 101 degrees
a supervisor shows up at my door to "verify" I'm actually sick.
working nights for 6 years without end in sight, working most every holiday and 3 weekends a month and only getting one day off at any given time.
Going to bed at 4am and having to wake up 3 hours later to go to court and have prosecutors, judges and attorneys shake their heads when your rubbing your eyes and trying just to stay awake.
these are just a few things:rolleyes:
I think i'm going to enroll in a two year program at first to see if I like it and go from there. mean while i'm going to see if my Paintless Dent Repair business can support my family full time for a while.

mcgomer
Mar 27, 2008, 08:28 AM
If you bring the same level of stamina and dedication to a programming job as you appear to have brought to your police work, I believe you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

Do whats best for your family and you and get started on the path to a career change.

God Bless, and good luck!

zippyfly
Mar 27, 2008, 11:05 AM
Dude -- sounds really grim (your police story). I reckon there's a book there somewhere for you to write, and meanwhile, all the best of luck to you. As the previous poster said, you have proven you got all the stamina and dedication you need to excel in the programming role. Now if you'll write that book to help the rest of us mortals stay safe and be more aware of what police officers go through, that'll be icing on the cake! :-)

John.B
Mar 27, 2008, 10:11 PM
You seem to have some romantic idea of a programmer as an artist, lovingly crafting their product to great satisfaction. And, yes, once in a blue moon this happens. But most of the time professional programming is a soul destroying grind of churning out code to meet the demands of unreasonable clients who keep changing your mind pushing you to the verge of mass-murder and madness.
And that's just Monday, you'd still have the rest of the week (plus most weekend) to contend with... :eek:

Koreos
Mar 28, 2008, 06:28 AM
I am in the same boat as you timmyv, only that I'm 24 and female :p
I'm going to start college this year in the states (I'm from Europe).
I don't know much of programming, I only know php.. (and html/css but that's not programming). In college they will probably teach me java and other windows based languages... I'll be studying on my own objective c and cocoa.

I share the same kind of enthusiasm for programming as you do... I want to become a talented mac developer and even create my own company! I have too many ideas and inspirations, hehe.

maxjg
Mar 30, 2008, 03:16 AM
You might try your hand at a scripting language first to see if it's something that'd interest you(PHP, perhaps), before you get into the really complicated stuff like Objective-C. And just generally stay the hell away from Java, especially if you intend to eventually develop for OSX.

RedTomato
Mar 30, 2008, 10:06 AM
If you have 7 years experience as a cop, then perhaps you can use that to get away from front-line police work? You've been there, you've paid your dues, proved yourself, so perhaps a different area within the force?

From what you say, it seems the two things you most dislike are:

-night work
-street work / dealing with criminals

If you can shift to a different, technical job in the police, then you'll be getting alway from these two things PLUS you've got the advantage of 7 years seniority, knowledge of police procedure, knowledge of the relevant laws, court appearance experience, credibility with frontline police, etc. All these things are invaluable.

I know someone who works with police data forensics - checking hard drives for erased data etc. Something like that might suit you. It means your face and family name won't be visible on the street any more.

Have a look around. Ask around. There might be a police careers service available to give you some ideas. I hope the police have retraining programs to help you move to different job where you can bring your experience with you.

zippyfly
Mar 30, 2008, 10:45 AM
And just generally stay the hell away from Java, especially if you intend to eventually develop for OSX.

Hi Maxjg -- Curious why you say that?

(I agree with you but just want to see why you feel the same also; find your comment quite funny too haha :)

yeroen
Mar 30, 2008, 11:39 AM
Hi Maxjg -- Curious why you say that?

(I agree with you but just want to see why you feel the same also; find your comment quite funny too haha :)

I happen to feel the same way. The last thing this world needs are more Java-weenies.

maxjg
Mar 30, 2008, 12:11 PM
@zippyfly, yeroen
Just never really have liked Java. Poor performance, awful looking UI, not as nice syntax as Objective-C. You also get far more control over what you're doing with a language like Objective-C over Java, since you're not running in a box. As Gruber put it: "The concept of Java was build once, run everywhere; but it's more like, build once, and nobody will ever run it." It's a dying language. Just look at the iPhone. Do you see anyone(except hardcore Java developers) begging for Java for the iPhone? You see it for flash, but not for Java. I once took a programming class, which happened to teach Java(never, EVER again), and the entire class was basically just printing "hello" over and over. All from the console. No GUI whatsoever.

yeroen
Mar 30, 2008, 07:52 PM
Java's biggest contribution to the computing landscape has thus far been the explosive growth in concomitant acronyms.

The top 100 from the Sun website (play acronym bingo, how many can you match?):

J2EE JAIN ORB JAD J2SE JAIN (again) OTS JAF J2ME SCE POA JOE
JDO JAX JSTL WSDP JAXP JAXB JAXR AXP JWSDP JAX-RPC AVK JAE
JSP SLEE JMS JSAPI JSR JCC JSWDK BMP JVM JCAT JSDK BMTD
JDK JTAPI CTS JAI J2MEWTK JSLEE EAR JAM EJB SIP MIDP JAP SAAJ AWT JTA JSS JCP CORBA JTS JCRE TCK IDL RAR CDC CTT IIOP JAB CLDC
TDK JAR XLL JSSE JSPA JCK JSF CR JRL JDBC JXTA EDR
SPL JFC JDP RDF SISSL PR JTWI PFD WMA RMI RI FAB MMAPI JRE FR JNDI SATSA JNI JES MR OSS/J JIT SCSL MREL

Needless to say, management types really go for this sort of thing.

zippyfly
Mar 30, 2008, 10:32 PM
Agree with both of you. I wonder if we should move this to a new thread (e.g., "Why !java") but in any event:

I agree on the crappy GUI and crazy acronym creep.

But what about the middleware "business logic" stuff? Isn't there a huge (?) economy based around that? I think that might take a while to go away (if ever) but the logic can probably be ported to ObjC efficiently.

I agree ObjC has a far more elegant syntax than Java but the latter has a pretty clear syntax (compare versus the somewhat confusing pointers v. objects hurdle that took me a while to cross).

But having said that, I am happy to see the world move forward to ObjC and end of life both C++ and Java. I am grateful to Java for helping me understand OOP (with single inheritance) but I also feel strongly that the end is near for the other two languages and ObjC is the wave of the future.

Surprisingly it sort of parallels the Mac/NS and Apple/NeXT, coming back from the past to take the world by storm.

timmyv
Mar 31, 2008, 12:51 AM
Unfortunately thats just not the way things work.
Most of the things you just mentioned only happen in the movies.
7 years is not "paying your dues" for my department.
there are officers that have been on 15 years and still work nights still work patrol and still deal with street level crimes.
To get out of patrol it takes seniority, to get into the detective bureau( which might I add is not a promotion) takes seniority, to get into the crime scene unit takes seniority. Our crime scene unit takes polaroid photos still and uses audio tapes to record interviews. Most departments are not that high tech. yet and really are still 20 years behind. I appreciate the suggestions, I really do.

RedTomato
Mar 31, 2008, 04:32 AM
Unfortunately thats just not the way things work.
Most of the things you just mentioned only happen in the movies.
7 years is not "paying your dues" for my department.
there are officers that have been on 15 years and still work nights still work patrol and still deal with street level crimes.
To get out of patrol it takes seniority, to get into the detective bureau( which might I add is not a promotion) takes seniority, to get into the crime scene unit takes seniority. Our crime scene unit takes polaroid photos still and uses audio tapes to record interviews. Most departments are not that high tech. yet and really are still 20 years behind. I appreciate the suggestions, I really do.

What about the units that need specialist outside training? Data forensics, which I just mentioned, surely the police won't hire someone with a computer science degree, and put them on the street for 15 years before letting them into the forensics dept? What I'm suggesting is that you look at the units that *don't* usually take officers from the street, the units that are open to direct entry from graduates and other outside people.

Sidepoint:

You mentioned polaroids and audio tapes - from a technology viewpoint, these are pretty good for the job and don't need updating. The most important thing here is that they're hard to falsify and hard to change after creation, and that it's easy for a judge and jury to see so. (and they last a long time so they can be reviewed after 10 years)

Digital photos and digital audio recordings, while easier to store short term, are also easier to change after creation, it's harder to prove they are unamended, and harder to explain that to a judge, and after 10-20 years, the format/playback software may no longer be in common use.