Ask HN: Starting a CS degree at 28?

26 points by miguelrochefort 10 days ago

At 21, I started a CS degree but quit after just 1 semester because I already knew how to program and didn't think I would ever need the piece of paper.

Today I'm 28, I have 4 years of experience as a mobile application developer, and I recently quit my job to travel and "find meaning to my life". Spoiler: I didn't.

I'm now considering going back to school to get a CS degree. I always worry that my lack of degree will/does hurt my career. I'm Canadian and can't get a visa to work in the US, I can't work in some companies, I can't get some promotions, I always have to work harder to prove my worth, etc. It doesn't help that all of my family and friends have at least a Bachelor's degree.

I have many questions/worries:

- I would (hopefully) graduate at 32. Then what?

- What doors will the degree open? Will I still care about those then (i.e., trying to get a job in the US at FAANG).

- How much work is a CS degree for someone who's already a programmer?

- Can I both get a CS degree and work full-time?

- What's the opportunity cost, in time/money/experience?

- How likely am I to complete the degree, given that things in my life could change (opportunities, disease, motivation, depression, passion, love, children)?

- Should the excuses I attribute to my lack of degree be attributed to something else (mental barrier, low confidence, imposter syndrome)?

- Assuming the most important part is to have a Bachelor's degree, and not necessarily a CS degree, should I study something else in which I would actually learn something useful (as opposed to learning things I already know)?

- Are there different career paths in which I won't have to worry as much about my lack of degree (i.e., freelancing)? Are they sustainable?

- Is there a shortcut to get an accredited Master's degree without getting a Bachelor's degree?

What would you do in my situation?

Someone1234 10 days ago

Reads like "travel and find meaning to my life" version 2.0.

You're currently doing something you dislike. You want to stop, go take a bunch of years out studying (something you previously hated), only to return almost exactly to where you started. The implied expectation being that you'll be happier when you get there...

See I don't get it. You're already employerable, a degree won't move the needle too much, just give you a debt boat-anchor meaning you'll less flexible going forward and less able to find the thing that makes you happy.

In general I think CS degrees are great. But in your case it seems needless and like you're repeating recent mistakes, like you want to check out for another few years while you discover yourself.

I'd strongly recommend you think extremely carefully before you indebted yourself to student loans. If this plain fails, you're stuck in those jobs you hate for tens of years while you pay it off.

  • miguelrochefort 10 days ago

    > Reads like "travel and find meaning to my life" version 2.0.

    I don't expect to learn anything from that CS degree, or find meaning to my life. I would do it exclusively for the piece of paper. I would likely do it online, do the bare minimum work, and not network with other students/teachers at all.

    > See I don't get it. You're already employerable, a degree won't move the needle too much, just give you a debt boat-anchor meaning you'll less flexible going forward and less able to find the thing that makes you happy.

    I'm employable, but I don't get to be picky in what I work on. A lot of doors are (I think, I could be wrong) closed to me because of my lack of degree. There are not jobs I ever thought I would want (banking, government, management), but I can already feel that I might seek these things when I get older with a family and kids and a need for security.

    > I'd strongly recommend you think extremely carefully before you indebted yourself to student loans. If this plain fails, you're stuck in those jobs you hate for tens of years while you pay it off.

    What if I could get a degree in 3 years for $10,000? Would your advice still stand? This might actually be a possibility.

    • Someone1234 10 days ago

      > What if I could get a degree in 3 years for $10,000? Would your advice still stand? This might actually be a possibility.

      I suppose it makes the boat anchor smaller. I'm not really sure how you'd get a degree for $10K though.

      • ascar 10 days ago

        Go abroad. Universities in some countries are free and education is on the same level. Maybe even better, because going abroad usually influences you in a positive way.

      • jki275 10 days ago

        I haven't paid any attention to BS degrees in a lot of years, but GA Tech offers their MSCS online for about 7k.

        • Jtsummers 10 days ago

          That’s $7k for 30 credit hours. A bachelors is on the order of 120-140 for CS. Even at the same $/hr rate, you’d be paying 4x the cost ($28k+).

          • jki275 10 days ago

            That's a fair point. Generally grad credits are 2-4 times more than undergrad, though GA Tech is not adhering to that model.

  • zapperdapper 10 days ago

    Completely agree.

    My very real experience is a lack of a degree won't hold you back, a lack of passion will.

    It definitely sounds like there's a deeper issue in play here...

    • vldx 10 days ago

      I think I understand the sentiment here, but I don’t think it applies well to OP’s specific case. He mentions that he is considering the idea moving to the states. The bureaucratic machine doesn’t care about your passion. I’m from EU country and the wizard form on Canada’s immigration site ends abruptly after the step concerning my formal education.

gulato 10 days ago

Maybe this isn't the type of answer you're looking for but …

Today I am 44. I started my CS degree at a Canadian university at 38. I was a self-taught programmer, but had never worked in industry.

- What doors will the degree open? Will I still care about those then (i.e., trying to get a job in the US at FAANG). I don't know the answer to this. I'm eligible to work in the US through another method so I never looked in to it.

- I would (hopefully) graduate at 32. Then what? I graduated at 44 and found a job immediately. Maybe not a sexy job with a ping pong table in the break room and beer on Friday, but it pays.

- Can I both get a CS degree and work full-time? I worked full-time, except for in the final year, I worked 22.5 hours for the final push. That said, scheduling everything was … hard. I couldn't find a way in Canada take an entire CS degree online (except Athabasca, and I was not interested in a degree from that school). So attending classes, mostly during business hours is required. If you don't have a job with flexibility in scheduling you will use a lot of vacation time. Sleep was minimal throughout.

- What's the opportunity cost, in time/money/experience? Only you can answer that. What else is going on for you? What are you going to do with the degree when you're done?

- How likely am I to complete the degree, given that things in my life could change (opportunities, disease, motivation, depression, passion, love, children)? Again, only you can answer that. Does taking 3-4 classes a term and working 40 hours a week sound like something you can do? I would work, in one form or another, from 6am-10pm for months on end.

I would say only the first 1.5 years worth of classes was easy for someone who could program. After that things weren't really programming directly anymore. Once the higher year classes started I was able to aim my projects to things I didn't know, or things I knew (depending on how busy I was that school term and how much effort I wanted to put in to a particular class)

  • miguelrochefort 10 days ago

    This is exactly the type of answer I'm looking for.

    > I graduated at 44 and found a job immediately. Maybe not a sexy job with a ping pong table in the break room and beer on Friday, but it pays.

    Before I recently quit, I had a job. The same job a CS degree holder would have (all my coworkers had CS degrees). There was even a ping pong table and beer taps on Friday. Getting a job is not what I'm worried about. Getting the flexibility to work in many roles at any company in any country is.

    > I worked full-time, except for in the final year, I worked 22.5 hours for the final push. That said, scheduling everything was … hard. I couldn't find a way in Canada take an entire CS degree online (except Athabasca, and I was not interested in a degree from that school). So attending classes, mostly during business hours is required. If you don't have a job with flexibility in scheduling you will use a lot of vacation time. Sleep was minimal throughout.

    I'm considering a completely online CS degree. I don't think I would be able to physically attend school, the commute alone would kill me. I've always preferred to learn things on my own, outside of class, and never attended optional lectures.

    > What are you going to do with the degree when you're done?

    Right now, I think I would apply to FAANG or other US tech companies. I expect that working there for 5 years (if that's even possible with a TN visa) would more than make up for the opportunity cost of going back to school. But I don't know if the plan will hold by then.

    > Does taking 3-4 classes a term and working 40 hours a week sound like something you can do? I would work, in one form or another, from 6am-10pm for months on end.

    This sounds like hell. I imagined that 5 classes would take closer to 25 hours a week. How much knowledge of CS did you have prior to taking these classes? What takes the most time? Are lectures long? Are there a lot of homework? Big team projects/labs? Maybe my expectations are skewed.

    Congrats on finishing your degree. Your perspective is very useful. Thank you.

    • jki275 10 days ago

      5 classes is 15 credit hours. That would generally be about 50 hours of work per week bare minimum, more for some classes.

      I'm in GA Tech's MSCS now. I watch lectures and write code until midnight every single weekday. I generally study/watch lectures/code from 6am to 10pm both days on weekends. I take a day off work every now and then to finish up particularly nasty assignments. That's for two classes. I'm taking the hard classes, but the easy ones aren't that much easier. There is a ton of homework -- that's all they can use to evaluate you.

      You need to manage your expectations here -- an online degree is harder than one in residence.

      • jnbiche 9 days ago

        > You need to manage your expectations here -- an online degree is harder than one in residence.

        Are you counting commute time? Because for many people, that adds on an additional 10-15 hours a week.

        You have none of that with online classes.

        • jki275 9 days ago

          If you're working, you're commuting for your job. Commuting doesn't go away unless you're independently wealthy and can sit at home and not work.

          • jnbiche 9 days ago

            Yes, but going to university usually involves extra commute. Rarely do people live within a short walk or drive to both their work and a university.

            Also, I've definitely not independently wealthy, but have worked remotely for 2 of the last 5 years, with no commute.

            • jki275 9 days ago

              I'm not really even sure what you're trying to argue. Driving isn't difficult. Everyone does it. Good for you you've got a remote job I guess.

              • jnbiche 6 days ago

                So the worker that commutes 2 hours a day, and the worker that commutes 10 minutes a day? Same thing?

                You implied above that it doesn't matter.

                If you really don't understand what I'm trying to argue, then I'd suggest reviewing your responses to me in this thread.

                Also, no, once again, everyone doesn't commute (and the remark about the difficulty of driving is a total non-sequitur). And many people only commute a few blocks. That makes a huge difference in life quality. If you don't understand why, do the math.

                • jki275 4 days ago

                  If you are commuting to work in one direction and school in another, you've made poor choices in where to live, work, and go to school.

                  That wasn't the point. You're blathering about things that don't matter to the discussion.

    • gulato 10 days ago

      How much knowledge of CS did you have prior to taking these classes? What takes the most time? Are lectures long? Are there a lot of homework? Big team projects/labs?

      Previous CS knowledge -> If you gave me a design with some business requirements I could kludge something together that worked in Java. If you told me to code a linked list, traverse it, delete from it, explain A*, explain probability properly, explain any of the core design paradigms, programming paradigms, or any of the other (really trivial) core CS concepts, I could not. At my uni anyway, most classes met two times a week for 1.5 hours per meeting. Completing the homework in 2 hours may have been possible in 1st year during the intro classes, but that just simply wasn't enough time for me during algorithms, linear algebra, or discrete math classes. 3-4th year classes had lots of group projects, and it took over 2 hours a week just getting the group focused and on task in a coordinated way. This doesn't include the time to revise, understand the content, or actually code something for submission. Additionally, my degree had electives. I tried to pick things I found interesting, but writing papers on Pliny's views on mining, (and other somewhat interesting but unrelated to CS stuff,) took time =)

ThePhysicist 10 days ago

28 is not “old” by any reasonable standard, I know many people that started studying at that age and that do fine.

One thing I’d like you to consider is going to Europe for your studies, e.g. to Germany, Switzerland or one of the Skandinavien countries. There are excellent technical universities there (e.g. TU Munich, TU Delf, ETH Zürich but also many others that are easier to get into). Most of them charge only nominal tuition (in Germany 100-300 € per year) so you will save a ton of money as compared to the US. Most of them also offer programs that are entirely in English so you don’t have to learn some weird language like German ;) (would be great if you want to of course). And it will give you experience of living abroad, which can be valuable as well. Since you said you were traveling I assume you have the freedom to go and live abroad for a while, so I’d say it’s a valuable experience and a good investment.

Please be aware that a typical CS degree is not (much) about programming but a lot about math and abstractions. There are other degrees that focus specifically on software engineering and that might be a better fit for you from what you wrote.

  • ascar 10 days ago

    adding to that: A CS degree in Germany takes regularly three years not four. So you save one year. The time you save mostly comes from a faster ramp up in the beginning and less electives in the end compared to the US. Our Master degree programs take usually 2 years and are mostly electives and research.

    It's also very easy to work 20hours/week as a "working student", especially at TU Munich, because there is basically no mandatory attendance. More than 20 hours a week is not allowed due to student visa regulations, unless you get a work visa (more difficult without a degree and you need a job offer).

    > Is there a shortcut to get an accredited Master's degree without getting a Bachelor's degree?

    Some universities in Germany actually allow that with enough work experience and maybe a few courses as additional workload. I don't know more than that it's theoretically possible though.

ghufran_syed 10 days ago

It sounds like you are really trying to figure out what direction to go next, rather than specifically asking about a CS degree. I have been in a similar position several times in my life, and found the following two books helpful: "What color is your parachute?" by Richard Bolles and "What should I do with my life?" by Po Bronson. The first is more of a manual to work through to help you figure what you want, and where you might find it. The second is basically a bunch of true stories about people who faced the same kind of question, and what they did - it's NOT a manual on what to do,I think of it more like a "peer group" - psychologically it's helpful to see what other people did and didn't do in these situations (spoiler -there is no 'right' answer, but there are some useful principles that might help you narrow down your choices)

If at some point you do decide that doing a (CS?) degree might be useful, get in touch - I am currently studying for another degree in my 40'swhile working, with several family members doing online CS degrees while working

ention 10 days ago

In your situation, I might look to do the degree part-time while working.

What do you perceive to be the downsides of the degree from Athabasca? I only ask because here, people don't really care about the institution, unless you're going for jobs in graduate programs at the big companies.

I made the choice to go back to school to do a Bachelor's degree in CS, and graduated at 31 a couple of years ago, but I already had a couple of other unrelated degrees. I'm lucky in that I did not have to worry about the financial side of things, and don't have kids to worry about. It was an accelerated program through an Australian university, but done externally through my home country. I initially did my CS degree part-time in the evenings after work, and then went full-time for the last bit so that I could concentrate on the really difficult things - operating systems programming and the final year group project. On hindsight my degree was nowhere close to being as rigorous as I would have liked (we didn't do the calculus or crazy math that people have mentioned) but I did appreciate getting time to work on programming, having had very little experience before that. There are loads of opening for developers in my country, your situation might be different. If you're a citizen or permanent resident, as long as you have the ability to do the work, even a diploma would be sufficient, it will be dead easy to find a job. The deficiencies in my course have not been a problem yet in terms of finding a job. I don't regret my decision - I am now working full-time in a startup that does very interesting work. It pays decently, but of course nowhere close to Silicon Valley levels. I'm not at all interested in finding a job there, based on what I've learned from friends.

ascar 10 days ago

> should I study something else in which I would actually learn something useful (as opposed to learning things I already know)?

Unless you did intensively study computer science while programming, it's not something you already know. At my university programming is less than 20% of the content of the computer science degree. You won't learn a lot of practical stuff in an (academic focused) university, but the theory and grand scheme behind how software works. From assembly, over automata theory and higher math, over operating system theory to the OSI network model. Additionally you will/can study the management and organisational side of software: designing, planning, managing. You usually don't use all that stuff directly in work, but it's a valuable background for reasoning.

Maybe you studied all that on your own, then it's probably only a piece of paper that might open doors for promotions or it might not. But you most certainly haven't learned most of it while programming.

decasteve 10 days ago

I started my programming career at 17. Suffered burnout at 21. Went to university for a year but was offered a job that was too good to pass up. So I left and didn’t return to school until I was 30.

I took 2-3 classes per semester plus spring and summer courses through correspondence. I continued to work (freelance/consulting) during that time.

My degree is an Honours Math degree (no minor), but took a few upper level CS courses, linguistics, classics, and a few other electives which were all very rewarding in terms of academic experience.

I had in mind to pursue a PhD but I’ve been successfully freelancing since graduating.

It took me at least a year or two of asking the same questions you are before I finally made the decision to start taking classes again. I was in a good situation financially so that wasn’t a hurdle. In the end I felt it was just something I had to do.

oldprogrammer2 10 days ago

Beyond the cost/benefit analysis, and apart from the programming element, are you up for 3 semesters of calculus, linear algebra, and discrete math, and differential equations? Are you prepared to start calculus in your first semester (you have a working knowledge of functional algebra and trigonometry, right)? If not, you will need extra time to level up your math skills before you can advance very far, possibly stretching your time to finish out by another year or two.

  • miguelrochefort 10 days ago

    I did most of those already back in 2011-2012, except discrete mathematics.

    It's been a while since I've used algebra and trigonometry, and I suspect I would need to re-do most of these classes, but I imagine it should be easier than the first time.

    • 50 10 days ago

      I suggest you complete your lower division courses at a community college then transfer to a university for your upper division courses. You'll save a lot of money doing so. It sounds like you might have some of your general education courses done and you'll just need to complete computer science lower division perquisites for those upper division courses. This is all assuming the Canadian undergraduate academic pathway is similar to the United States's.

      I just completed my associate's of science degree in computer science at a community college at twenty-three-years old (I spent five years going to community colleges after high school graduation - mostly just taking exhausting all the courses that seemed interesting) and now I'm transferring to a university this fall to complete my bachelor's of science. Unfortunately, my grade point average isn't too hot so I'll mostly likely attend a state school, i.e. San Francisco State University - I hope the job opportunities in that regard will still be wide.

      P.S. I took discrete mathematics (it's called discrete structures where I took it) a few years ago and it was interesting and fun, despite doing poorly on counting/probability. This textbook covers most of what you will learn in that course: http://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/aspnes/classes/202/notes.pdf

limeblack 10 days ago

Start at a community college with Calculus 1 & 2. Linear Algebra(depends on the school reqs). Engineering Statistics if they offer it. And Maybe a CSC class or 2. If you can't get through those classes it likely doesn't make sense to take out additional loans. I majored in something different because of the Math requirements. Information Technology may be a better choice if you struggle with Math.

  • miguelrochefort 10 days ago

    I already did calculus and linear algebra, before and during my first semester at University back in 2011-2012. I didn't attend any lecture or put much effort into it, and I got bad grades (although I passed). I don't remember anything about them, and I might have to do them again (I'm not sure if they're transferable).

    I have enough savings to pay for university in my home province without taking any loan.

arandr0x 10 days ago

Will you want to move to California at 32? It's kinda old to be starting over in a brand new place with no friends, high cost of living and terrible traffic (as well as about zero dating prospects). I mean usually 32 is the kind of age where you care about more than money.

OTOH there are plenty of places in Canada where you can go to university in-province for not a lot of money, most of the classes are online, and Canadian employers care more about degree than US ones. (But... if you eventually want to move to the US... does that matter?)

There are ways to achieve the move to the US part without the degree part, of which the two easiest ones are probably find a job at a multinational, get transferred, apply for green card and start vacationing in the area you eventually want to live, meet a nice girl, marry her, go join her family. Both would take years but so would getting a degree, so really, the only advantage of the degree is with it you can apply to FAANG internships.

> Can I both get a CS degree and work full-time?

Yes.

> How likely am I to complete the degree, given that things in my life could change (opportunities, disease, motivation, depression, passion, love, children)?

> What's the opportunity cost, in time/money/experience?

>Should the excuses I attribute to my lack of degree be attributed to something else (mental barrier, low confidence, imposter syndrome)?

That's something only you know.

> Is there a shortcut to get an accredited Master's degree without getting a Bachelor's degree?

Not really. There are ways to get a MS degree is a different field than your BS, or to get a MS degree if your BS GPA doesn't meet the degree program requirements, but I don't know anyone who'se done it with no degree.

> Are there different career paths in which I won't have to worry as much about my lack of degree (i.e., freelancing)? Are they sustainable?

I know people who freelance and have no problem making a living doing so, including some people who have always been freelancers. It depends what your professional network looks like.

  • miguelrochefort 9 days ago

    > Will you want to move to California at 32? It's kinda old to be starting over in a brand new place with no friends, high cost of living and terrible traffic (as well as about zero dating prospects). I mean usually 32 is the kind of age where you care about more than money.

    It was extremely appealing at 21, and I still would not hesitate to do it today, but I'm not sure I will at 32. I now see it as a get-rich-quick scheme, so that I could retire earlier. I still can't believe the salaries people are earning there.

    > There are ways to achieve the move to the US part without the degree part, of which the two easiest ones are probably find a job at a multinational, get transferred, apply for green card and start vacationing in the area you eventually want to live, meet a nice girl, marry her, go join her family. Both would take years but so would getting a degree, so really, the only advantage of the degree is with it you can apply to FAANG internships.

    These almost seem more problematic than getting a degree.

    > I know people who freelance and have no problem making a living doing so, including some people who have always been freelancers. It depends what your professional network looks like.

    I've considered freelancing, but I'm not interested in marketing or sales. Working for an employer that takes care of all the paperwork seems like an overlooked luxury. A lot of people are happy to go back to a stable full-time job after freelancing for a few years.

vldx 10 days ago

Some commenters are mentioning that you can’t pursue MS w/o having BS. This is not true — it’s possible.

I’m pursuing master’s at the moment and I don’t have bachelor’s. It’s from red-brick university, part of the Russell Group. The program is online/remote and it’s suitable for working professionals. To meet the entry requirements I had to prove ~10 years of industry experience, incl. gather glowing recommendation letters from c-level execs.

@OP — I was in similar situation as you and I enrolled when I was ~29 years old. I don’t regret my decision. I can hit you up on mail if you need more details.

  • miguelrochefort 9 days ago

    I'd love to chat with you.

    I don't have 10 years of professional experience, nor glowing recommendation letters from c-level execs.

colek42 10 days ago

Graduated at 31 from a no name University. Found a job 3 months before I graduated for over 100k in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina. Now I work remotely and don't ever really worry about money. It was tough juggling life work and school, but worth every second. Just make sure you get a good internship and code as much as possible on your own. If possible try to combine existing skills with your new skill set. If you were in health care, getting a job writing software for that industry will get you much more success.

nextos 10 days ago

If you have savings to support yourself, you could try applying to some good EU schools with free tuition.

Some Scandinavian ones come to mind specializing in pretty cool stuff (e.g. formal methods) that might become trendy in the future, is intellectually rewarding and secures yourself a position in a niche.

You could also easily land a part-time tech job there while you study, but student lifestyle is pretty cheap.

EnderMB 10 days ago

When I was at university, there was one guy that came along to study sessions who was getting his degree part-time. He was already a software developer, writing embedded system software for a defence company, so he was already an established programmer. He was getting his degree in CS in order to complete his body of knowledge, and to try and open up other career avenues for him.

He'd been studying for four years already, and was in his final year of doing it part-time - working four days a week, and studying one.

To answer your questions from what happened to him:

* This guy left his job after graduating, because his department was closed, and he ended up joining a startup. I'm not sure if the CS degree helped him there or not.

* I can't speak for this guy, but the work he does now is in stuff we learned at uni, and not stuff he was doing before. In terms of FAANG, it's hard to say because a degree won't guarantee you an interview. I have a CS degree, and I've applied to each FAANG company, but haven't ever been offered an interview.

* I remember asking this, because I wanted to be a Web Developer, and he said that he found it easier to learn how before learning why, because when he learned the theory he could put it into action without confusing the subject. * No idea on opportunity cost. I think a lot of it depends on the CS curriculum you'll be following.

* I'd say so. It's why this guy said he studied for his degree part-time.

* In my experience, a lot of places that want a graduate don't particularly care what the degree is in, so it's up to you. I've worked with capable programmers with all sorts of unrelated degrees, from philosophy to medicine to art history. With that being said, I've never worked at a company with degree requirements that wouldn't interbiew an experienced developer with no degree.

* Arguably, a degree isn't relevant. If you're already a capable programmer, you shouldn't need a CS degree to continue what you're doing.

* It depends on where you are from, but it can happen. One of the guys I used to do BJJ with has a doctorate in physics (from a good university) and no bachelors degree, based on previous work experience and a prior working relationship with a professor. It seems very rare, though, so I wouldn't hinge any bets on getting a masters in CS unless you can point towards significant contributions to the field in your previous work.

jki275 10 days ago

A CS degree will open some doors for you that would have been closed without it. It will likely open up higher top end salaries eventually.

Yes, FAANGs are easier to land with a degree than without.

I got my degree and worked full time. It took me twenty years. YMMV.

No, in general you must have a BS in order to apply to any MS program that is worth anything.

WestCoastJustin 10 days ago

Flip it around. Is getting a BSc going to hurt you in any way? Opportunity loss? Debt? Missed opportunities? I'd look at it from that angle.

Biggest advantage I can think of as being a Canadian + BSc would be that you can use the TN visa provision of NAFTA (USMCA), and make 2X+ what you would in Canada (living in the States). This opens you up to working at Google/Amazon/Facebook/Apple/etc. I'm not sure where you live, but in Victoria, BC, where I live most regular tech jobs are 60-90k CAD but in the US you can easily make 120k+ USD. So, that is 2X+ with the currency conversion. But, cost of living might be more too, plus the whole work life balance thing. Money isn't everything! Sometimes it is nice to make less money, have less stress, and be able to do stuff on the weekends. I'd suggest working while going to school too (if you go that route).

Starting your own business and remotely contacting to companies in the USA could work too (without a degree). You are basically working for yourself, so a degree doesn't matter, as you are just working off your skill level. You can also charge in USD and live in Canada. The best of both worlds. You can use the "professional services" provision of NAFTA to only pay taxes in Canada. You cannot do any work in the US though. Might be worth researching if you are into that. This is high risk though as you are totally self dependant and running your own company. But, high risk / high reward.

Another option, without a degree, is you can just as easily spend 6-12 months, while working, and build an awesome on-line portfolio that would probably make you stand out more than a BSc would. This will get you jobs too. Then you will totally stand out. Obviously this is not a quick trick but can pay off huge. Plus, you'll have people offering you jobs vs you hunting for them. But, this takes time too, a long time, and needs some planning, but is well worth it. This has worked well for me but took a few years of building.

Those are the three things I have seen people do. It highly depends on your appetite for risk and your goals. So, I cannot really say what might work. You don't want to spend 4 years, plus tons of money, to be in the exact same place. So, I'd create some type of long term goal of where you want to be, and then shoot for that. If you search HN there are many threads on this topic too with good advice. Use https://hn.algolia.com/ and search for things like Degree, Bachelor, etc. I have seen at least a half dozen over the years.

  • miguelrochefort 10 days ago

    I deeply regret not getting the degree early, mainly because of the insane salaries (and prestige) of companies like Google/Amazon/Facebook/Apple. It's closer to 3-4x the salaries I've had here. I love the US, and I would not have hesitated to work there if I had a degree.

    Will that remain true in 4 years? Will getting jobs there be more difficult because of saturation/competition? Will getting jobs there be more difficult because of my age? Will the NAFTA clause still hold? Will I still want to live away from my friends/family then? What if I have a wife and kids? Will my cost/standard of living be as low as it is today?

    Investing 4 years in school for opportunities that may disappear in the future seems quite risky.

    The degree will also seem like a waste of time/resources if the demand for developers keeps going up, if degrees stop becoming hard requirements, if I'm not interested in managing roles, if I'm not interested in big/conservative/governmental companies, if I start a business and become self-employed.

    I really can't tell which strategy is best from a regret minimization framework point of view.

    I've been on HN for years, and browsed through https://hn.algolia.com/ results earlier today (not all of them). Every person has a different situation, and I don't perfectly relate to people who live in the US (where I feel opportunities are greater for those without a degree), to people who are younger, to people who truly lack CS knowledge, to people changing career, etc. I read a lot of contradicting advice, and I'm more confused than when I started.

    If someone could assess each of my questions/worries, that would be most helpful. I would also love to hear whether people who were in my situation regret their decision or not.

    I really don't want to come back here in 4 years, and post the same Ask HN.

    • gamechangr 5 days ago

      If you have your heart set on FAANG, you should certainly go to school and get a strong foundation in everything CS to has to offer. Go to the best school you have access to and supplement that with online learning.

      Good news - it's easier than it used to be to get a job at FAANG companies. I have friends that started at google and they unanimously agree that it's easier now than it used to be to get a job offer. Some of that has to do with the size of the workforce (as in some of these companies need 5,000 more CS grads than they used to need).

      Age should not hold you back. There are plenty of 35 year old programmers.

      Degree value is undoubtedly going down, but it's still extremely valuable at FAANG like companies.

      It's not a waste of time. You will for a fact learn some new things. It's not the best use of your economic opportunity in the short run. Letting go of 4 years income is something you should not do lightly.

      Do it if you can afford to do it. After all, learning as much as possible has some value just for the sake of it.

      We all have different dreams. Be the last to give up on yourself.

    • wbkang 10 days ago

      Some of Google/Amazon/Facebook/Apple have offices in Canada and they will probably pay you 2+x (not as much as in US but still good). I am not sure if they actually require a degree for experienced people like you though.

zapperdapper 10 days ago

> I recently quit my job to travel and "find meaning to my life". Spoiler: I didn't.

Wherever you go, there'll you be.

> I always worry that my lack of degree will/does hurt my career

I doubt it's that holding you back.

mk926 10 days ago

I started learning CS at 24, that made me left my hometown, got a job at big city, and settled down there, even made me got a job from Oracle later which was a good job in my country.

jason_slack 10 days ago

I’m finishing a degree in Economics at 42. Follow your dreams, you owe it to yourself.

  • miguelrochefort 10 days ago

    My dream is not to get a Bachelor's degree. I'm mostly interested in it for job security and peace of mind.

    My dream is to work at Xerox PARC (although Microsoft Research or Google X seem more realistic). I'm really into Human-Computer Interaction. But I can't imagine going to school for 10 years, just to start working on interesting problems. I thought I could just do my own research lab in my apartment, but then reality struck me.

    It's good to see that you did it at 42. Congratulations.

bitshifts 10 days ago

I would check out the Lambda School

elipsey 10 days ago

I did something very similar, although I'm a US citizen, so I'm not sure how well my advice applies. With that caveat, I'll answer the questions I can:

>> I would (hopefully) graduate at 32. Then what?

Sounds like you want to work as a dev, which you already are, but are hoping a degree will open doors at larger, more prestigious companies, perhaps for more money. Is that what you want?

Hopefully, you’ll have the resources to look for a job for a little while. Also, lot’s of people don’t graduate on time for various reasons. Can you handle, financially, and emotionally, finishing a semester or two later? If not, that’s a lot of pressure if anything doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

>> What doors will the degree open? Will I still care about those then (i.e., trying to get a job in the US at FAANG).

I would guess that it’s necessary but not sufficient. I’m guessing you also need a very good resume and coding chops, and maybe the right connections wouldn’t hurt. I have never applied to those, but I know a couple of people who work there. If you want to know what you’re in for in an interview, get a copy of ‘Cracking the Coding Interview’.

>> How much work is a CS degree for someone who's already a programmer?

Getting BS in anything is a lot of work. Getting STEM degree is a fucking lot work. I had to work 60 – 80 hours a week as a CS senior. There was room for almost nothing else in my life. (Pro tip: as a student (and probably anything else hard) make time for reasonable diet, exercise, sleep, and going out side in full day light even if you think you don’t have time. If you don’t, you will go slowly insane and perform badly.)

The intro and mid level programming classes will be easy for you. IMHO, junior and senior CS course work are only easy for people who are repeating them, and the instructor. Keep in mind that you will have to take lots of general requirements that might not be too hard, but are time consuming and will contain busy work. Also, you’ll probably have to take several advanced math courses, and a couple semesters of calculus based physics. Everyone else there will have just finished taking calculus and physics in high-school or junior college or something, while you are struggling to learn or re-learn all the material they already know.

>> Can I both get a CS degree and work full-time?

I wouldn’t even attempt this. I was fortunate not to have to. School is a full time job. Either do it full time, or expect to go proportionately slower, and to be at a disadvantage compared to other students.

>> How likely am I to complete the degree, given that things in my life could change (opportunities, disease, motivation, depression, passion, love, children)?

Only you can answer this, and only by experiment. Prior academic performance might be a hint. I was very determined to finish school, and I did, but it was very stressful and personally costly to me. If you had trouble with your past performance, consider how you will better. If you did OK, but are worried about those other things getting in the way, I would ask whether those problems are hurting your performance now; if so, they aren’t going to go away by themselves so you had better have a plan to address them.

>> Should the excuses I attribute to my lack of degree be attributed to something else (mental barrier, low confidence, imposter syndrome)?

I don’t know, but I do know that problems with health (mental or otherwise), motivation, and priorities will not go away when you get a degree. Some employers really just won’t talk to you without the degree, hopefully it’s a listed requirement in that case, but who knows?

I don’t know what you feel the need to excuse, but I promise you that “mental barrier, low confidence, [and] imposter syndrome” do not go away just because we have college degrees :)

Maybe try counseling or CBT or something?

>> Assuming the most important part is to have a Bachelor's degree, and not necessarily a CS degree, should I study something else in which I would actually learn something useful (as opposed to learning things I already know)?

Most dev jobs I have applied for list “BS Computer Science or equivalent”. Software Eng., Computer Eng., or EE might be good, but aside from SE, those are just adding hardware and electronics. Unless you want that, CS seems like a good choice. Other hard science or STEM degrees (math, physics) might be close enough, but why would you do that? A Bachelor’s of Arts, or something else unrelated seems unlikely to help you, unless you want to work for something like a state agency that just arbitrarily requires that.

Unless you you quit CS right at the end of your senior, how do you know you wouldn’t learn anything? In my opinion, the most valuable CS classes were probably D&A, Analysis of Algorithms, Software Eng., Programming Languages/compilers, and maybe Discrete Math.

Did you already learn, and still remember everything in all those courses? If so, I’m impressed! Coding interviews have tested me on this kind of stuff, and even as a recent grad, I think they are hard.

>> Is there a shortcut to get an accredited Master's degree without getting a Bachelor's degree?

My school had things like this. Ask the advisors while you are shopping for college(s).

>> What would you do in my situation?

Here are the questions I would need to answer yes to before proceeding:

--Can you afford to go to school for a few years without working?

--Can you handle the pressure of college while remaining reasonably well adjusted and mentally healthy? (Was it ok the first time? Can you handle people younger than you being ahead in their work? Triage of deadlines, bad grades, scolding instructors and childish policies without freaking out?)

--Do you have enough slack to finish behind schedule? --Will you be satisfied with the result of meeting the BS requirement even if interviewing afterwards is brutal, and you still feel like an impostor?

--Have you tried looking at/applying for jobs that have the BS requirement, so you know really know what the next step will be, and what your in for?

  • ascar 10 days ago

    > Getting BS in anything is a lot of work. Getting STEM degree is a fucking lot work. I had to work 60 – 80 hours a week as a CS senior.

    it's a classical YMMV thing. It really depends on the person, the work attitude, personal interest in topics and speed you can pick stuff up. I managed to get my degree with good grades with an average of 10 hours/week and maybe 2-4 weeks of 60-80 hours workload each year.

    I also worked part time alongside. I'm not the type to do regular 60-80 hours weeks, so full-time work would definitely not have been my thing, but 10-20 hours of work and 10-20 hours of studying with a few busy weeks of exam preparations or finishing project work, felt very good for me.

  • miguelrochefort 10 days ago

    > Sounds like you want to work as a dev, which you already are, but are hoping a degree will open doors at larger, more prestigious companies, perhaps for more money. Is that what you want?

    Pretty much. I'm mainly looking for security. I might eventually want to become a manager, as I start caring more about people and less about code.

    My dream was to be a HCI researcher, but I think it's too late for that.

    > I would guess that it’s necessary but not sufficient. I’m guessing you also need a very good resume and coding chops, and maybe the right connections wouldn’t hurt. I have never applied to those, but I know a couple of people who work there. If you want to know what you’re in for in an interview, get a copy of ‘Cracking the Coding Interview’.

    I looked into this stuff. I'm not great at it. I'd rather do higher-level stuff, like architecture and design. Maybe non-FAANG tech companies in the US would be a good compromise.

    > Getting BS in anything is a lot of work. Getting STEM degree is a fucking lot work. I had to work 60 – 80 hours a week as a CS senior. There was room for almost nothing else in my life. (Pro tip: as a student (and probably anything else hard) make time for reasonable diet, exercise, sleep, and going out side in full day light even if you think you don’t have time. If you don’t, you will go slowly insane and perform badly.)

    I never thought school was very difficult. Learning things I'm not interested in is more challenging, but not difficult. I'm more concerned with the volume of work than I am concerned with anything else.

    > Unless you you quit CS right at the end of your senior, how do you know you wouldn’t learn anything? In my opinion, the most valuable CS classes were probably D&A, Analysis of Algorithms, Software Eng., Programming Languages/compilers, and maybe Discrete Math.

    I'm learning every day and I regularly watch lectures or read research papers in my spare time. I expect most of CS courses to be about things I've been exposed to before, albeit not in depth. I have already internalized how these topics fit within everyday software development, and I can appreciate them in a way that someone who's never been exposed to them can't. Isn't it much easier to learn something you can already relate to, as opposed to some alien abstract concept that only make sense in retrospect? I can't really tell without seeing what a "difficult" course looks like.

    > My school had things like this. Ask the advisors while you are shopping for college(s).

    Wouldn't this solve all my problems? Seems to good to be true. I wonder what their requirements are.

    > Here are the questions I would need to answer yes to before proceeding:

    > --Can you afford to go to school for a few years without working?

    Yes, although I will feel the opportunity cost.

    > --Can you handle the pressure of college while remaining reasonably well adjusted and mentally healthy? (Was it ok the first time? Can you handle people younger than you being ahead in their work? Triage of deadlines, bad grades, scolding instructors and childish policies without freaking out?)

    I think school is generally well-structured and relatively easy. But I've never had to deal with other obligations when going to school. I'm not worried about other students or instructors, I would do an online degree. I do have a problem with procrastination.

    > --Do you have enough slack to finish behind schedule?

    Yes, but I would feel devastated.

    > --Will you be satisfied with the result of meeting the BS requirement even if interviewing afterwards is brutal, and you still feel like an impostor?

    No. I guess my excuse would switch from lacking a degree to lacking coding interview skills, and I would post "Ask HN: Practicing 'Cracking the Coding Interview' at 32".

    > --Have you tried looking at/applying for jobs that have the BS requirement, so you know really know what the next step will be, and what your in for?

    I have not. I only interviewed at one company, and only worked there. The interview was easy. Pretty much all my coworkers had BS degrees. My performance was on a par with if not better than theirs.

    For a decade, I thought I was special and would change the world. The delusion is now fading, and I'm trying to reverse it by seeking conformity and security. I guess that's what happen when you get older and more mature.

hk-mars 10 days ago

28 ages is young, just do it.