Career Paths in Computing

A mountain hiker watching the panorama and the paths behind and in front of them.
Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash

While we all are well aware of the book, ‘Cracking the Coding Interview’ that serves as a bible for all in our pursuit of landing up with a desired job in the field of Computer Science and Information Technology, there isn’t still a resource that provides us a complete picture of how do people navigate their career journey in their workplaces after cracking the coding interviews. The Internet is flooded with MOOCs, industry specific certifications, corporate jargons and misnomers. Often, identifying and progressing towards the right kind of job profile can be challenging.

This project aimed to gather data on how people navigate their career after landing their first job.

Survey study

The ACM Future of Computing Academy collected data from 164 computing professionals to better understand career paths in computing. Each participant was sent a survey through email, including 31 questions, all optional. Participants were reached through different email lists as well as posts on LinkedIn and other networks and were asked to help the project, all participation was voluntary and not compensated.

The respondents lived mostly in India and the United States, but other countries were represented as well.

Location of survey participants

As expected for a survey of computing professionals, the practitioner that identified as male made up 60% of the survey population.

Gender Identification of survey participants

The age distribution was mainly between 25 and 45 years, with very few responded over the age of 65.

Age distribution of survey participants

In the following paragraphs we are going to present some interesting data points found in our survey.

Changing of focus area

One of the outstanding results we collected was when we asked computing professionals for their current job focus like Machine Learning, Full stack development and more. Over 78 percent of professionals have changed their focus when they changed jobs the last time. If compared to their previous three jobs, only 4.8 percent had the same focus throughout their last 4 positions.

Change of focus area when switching jobs

The reasons for changing were many, the biggest with 10.3 percent were an unhealthy work environment or losing interest in the work. 9.7 percent changed due to better salary and only 4.8 percent gave a bad work balance as a reason for leaving.

Switching Jobs

Similarly almost 30 percent of computing professionals never switch jobs, while 33.2 percent changed their job in the last 4 years. Overall looking at the data, more than half of the surveyed computing professionals have worked less than 3 years in their current position.

This changes slightly when taking the age of the participant into consideration.

Distribution of job change frequency split by age

As expected people that are younger have switched less often, or never. Most likely due to being in their first computing job. That changes the older the participants get. One point of note is that the frequency of job changes with age, the older people get, the less often they switch jobs. This could be due to more need for job security due to family needs or just finding a job they like. To be sure a more detailed survey is required.

Looking at how long people have been in their current position paints a similar picture. More than half of the participants have been less than 3 years in their current position, which is no wonder looking at the high turnover rate in the computing industry. Due to those regular changes in position, most professionals have less than 3 years of experience with their current position.

Experience in current position of survey participants

Similarly a split by age group does not show many surprises. The younger the participants are, the less time they spend in their current position. Some remarkable answers that even with older age, there are always some participants who have been less than 3 years in their current position.

Experience in current position split by age

Job Satisfaction

As so many people keep changing positions, it could be assumed they are unhappy, but this is not the case, the average satisfaction on a scale of 1 (not satisfied at all) to 5 (completely satisfied) is 3.8 for all surveyed professionals. More than 50% spend 2 or less hours per week on computing-related projects and activities outside their job, meaning learning and experience gathering happens mostly on the job. Looking at the different areas people work in, the job satisfaction is around the average, no huge differences can be spotted.

Job satisfaction based on area

Education and certifications

41% of the surveyed professionals have a Bachelor degree, while 37% have a Master degree and 19% a PhD. There are a number of professional certifications offered by various organisations globally. It could be observed that 82% of the professionals do not have such a certification. Which could be expected as the computing industry does not require formal certifications and does not rely on degrees as much as other professions. This is of course with the exception of academy, which does not value certificates but rather degrees.

Despite the fact that most of the surveyed professionals do not have a professional certification, most of them agree that acquiring a professional certification adds value during job interviews. However, the work experience gained and the exposure towards a problem domain increases the likelihood of getting a job.

It could be observed from the responses that nearly 50% of the professionals decide to choose a computing career during their high school education or while pursuing their graduate studies. Less than 10% decide to choose computing as a career during middle school and the others after earning a degree or as an option of career switch get into a computing career. The education system followed in various geographic locations also contributes to this. One of the undisputed facts is that one needs to have interest over their career option to continue in the same. This is clearly evident from the survey. More than 60% of respondents stick with their career out of their own interest.

Important Skills

Asked about the most important skills to succeed, communication and problem solving were mentioned, followed by leadership skills.

Advice to young self

One of the most insightful data collected was asking professionals what they would tell their younger self. Some of the insights were:

  • Continually read but focus on doing actual projects with the technology
  • Be willing to move geographically early in your career to give your career a better start and increase early career opportunities.
  • Don’t stay too long at a job you are not happy with
  • Practice, practice, practice!! Spend lots of time coding up little things, experimenting, and automating tasks. It’s worth it to build up experience/fluency in computational thinking and coding skills!
  • Take some risks by joining start-ups. One usually learns more in start-ups than big companies.
  • Also learn about entrepreneurship. Computer Science and Business schools are completely separate. One has to proactively engage both.
  • Learn programming
  • Don’t get stuck on technology. Technology evolves. Work in every area of technology, UI, Backend, database, security, infrastructure in the initial days. It gives you a holistic perspective.
  • Take classes in management and business fundamentals
  • passion is most important to success in career
  • Get into competitive coding very early in your college days. Pick up extracurricular activities and build your portfolio
  • Be more involved in the open source community, take as many online classes as feasible to broaden knowledge

Career Paths in Computing was originally published in ACM Future of Computing Academy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.