I currently hold a BA in Middle Eastern History, which was a pretty good fit for my last job in the Army. I'm getting ready to move on to the civillian world now, and computer science/programming has always been a hobby for me that I'd like to look into turning into a career.

My question is, what type of program should I look into in order to deepen my knowledge and verify my abilities? Should I look at getting a second undergrad, or would a programming education certificate be enough to get my foot in the door for employment/grad school later on? Are online certificates such as Kaplan/Phoenix respected enough, especially if they are in addition to a traditional degree?

I basically want to know where to set my sights, in order to get going in software development. Getting an additional qualification seems necessary, so which kind makes the most sense for getting started?

  • 15
    Are online certificates such as Kaplan/Phoenix respected enough — Oh dear god I hope not.
    – JeffE
    Jun 22, 2012 at 3:00
  • I've never worked in a job where I needed such a certification, but I think generally Microsoft certifications are given much more respect than something like Kaplan/Phoenix.
    – Dan C
    Jun 22, 2012 at 5:39
  • 3
    this would also be a good question for workplace.stackexchange.com - they may give you different advice, e.g. working on open source projects, networking, etc
    – Amy
    Feb 7, 2013 at 21:11
  • I agree with @Amy, and would actually suggest that, if you're looking for a professional rather than an academic career, you're on the wrong site. There's no particular need to get an academic degree for a career in software development; employers in that field tend to put more value on practical skills, as demonstrated by prior work (including hobbyist work) and/or directly during the hiring process. Certifications may also be useful, at least for satisfying formal qualifications and for demonstrating a basic level of competence. Mar 30, 2013 at 19:51
  • This is not so much about transitioning into computer science, but into software development/programming. Plenty of programming courses are available at different levels. When applying for a job, typically the employer is interested in your programming background (what you claim to know, what you can demonstrate you know, and your experience). So expand your programming knowledge and practice programming, too. Jun 10, 2015 at 20:24

3 Answers 3


I think it's going to depend vastly on what kind of position you want to be headed into, and how deep down the rabbit hole you wish to go.

The one thing I would say you ought to focus on is fundamentals: No matter what kind of work you end up doing, be it programming business processes or pursuing a PhD, getting your fundamentals straight will pay dividends over and over again. Courses in algorithms, software engineering, computer architecture, each will give you a different view into the work you do, no matter where you're doing it. A CS undergraduate degree would be a good choice, especially if grad studies is where you want to go after. I understand they vary in quality though, so that's something to bear in mind.


I teach in the post-bac CS program at Mills College, which is aimed at people (like you) who have earned a bachelor's degree in a field other than CS and want to transition into CS, most in order to go into software engineering (although we also prepare students for PhD programs and teaching).

While not quick or cheap, post-bac programs are usually a better choice than a second bachelor's degree, since students don't have to take anything other than CS and related math courses, and many of your peers will be in a similar position to yours.


Depending on what you are aiming for (i.e. working at a tech. company versus being a professor) you may have enough qualifications already.

The programming industry is still an industry that is extremely forgiving to those who do not have "qualifications" but who can do the necessary work. This is likely due to the age of the industry and the cross-disciplinary nature.

If you feel you need more traditional preparation sites like Coursera and others that provide Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC's) are a great place to get some CS courses and you can take some "Intro" courses and more advanced ones for free (paid certificates are also available). Also working on real open source projects (Github is one place to start looking for them) that align with your interests and skills will proved that you are capable and be a great resume item.

From what you have written I think that you are just as well off spending time finding a company that needs the skills you already have (if you are a hobbyist you likely know at lest one language pretty well) and practicing the skills you do have.

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