Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

The Competition from Non-CS in IT

Recently, an article has been much circulated around my social media circles, asking about the value of studying Computer Science. This question could mean two things. Is it wise to study Computer Science if you want to go into an IT career, or if studying Computer Science will lead you to the best career options, IT or otherwise?

NUS SOC 40 Years

I studied in a computing course. My school this year celebrates its 40th year of existence, though technically it originally started out as a department within the faculty of science. “IT” was really hot, from around roughly the time I graduated. The dot-com bubble burst, then in Singapore, the government started to shift focus to other disciplines. There was a sort of down period for computing. It’s been on a rise again in recent years.

IT is practically in everything we do, everything we live in, everything we use. On the one hand, you could say that having studied Computer Science, you’d find out skills required in every possible industry that exists. It’s really cool.

But having said that, it seems like it really isn’t that difficult for anyone and everyone to also get into IT, without a formal university training in that field. You don’t really need computer science majors to do IT. Of course, there could be some jobs where a solid foundation in a computer science discipline is really necessary. However, in many cases, you really only need people to know what you need them to know, and often that isn’t the whole lot of stuff they learn from a degree in a computing discipline.

To a certain extent, I thought standardised industry certifications seem to be very useful. For example, if you’re looking for a Cisco network technician, wouldn’t it be really good to know that a candidate is a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) ? Someone who’s CCNA-certified can be assumed to be reasonably conversant with basic network routing and switching skills, and familiar with using entry-level Cisco network equipment. They can hit the ground running.

There are no shortage of such certifications. Security, IT project management, IT service management, etc, whatever skills you want, there is a certification for it. There are product specific ones, and there are others not. So perhaps if need an IT person for your business organisation, it might work just as well to hire a Business graduate who possesses all the IT skills you need that person to have.

If you didn’t get the “right” degree from university, it’s easy to prove your worth to potential employers by getting a bunch of these industry certifications. These are your alternative paper qualifications, over and above, I’m assuming, other work, projects, and experiences that should go to demonstrate your value to potential employers.

The challenge, then, is for a computer science school to attract students, as much as it is for students to figure out if it is worth their while to study computer science.

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