Career Path: English Degree to a Job in IT

If someone had told me I'd be a computer programmer after college graduation I would've laughed in his face. I was an English major! I edited student newspapers, wrote poetry and studied Shakespeare. I didn't know a JCL statement from a Legacy system, nor did I care!

I never expected to work in IT, but that's where I ended up. Let me tell you how it happened.

As an undergrad I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I avoided declaring a major for as long as I could and finally chose English because it was the subject I enjoyed the most. I figured, why not? What matters is that I'll have a degree in the end.

I hoped to get a job writing for a local newspaper or maybe copy-editing. But when I started looking for these jobs after graduation, competition was tight and the pay was low-much lower than in the job I'd held down as a student.

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I'd paid for college by working at a call center for Target Corp. It was a great student job, but not something I wanted to keep doing after graduation. Still, I loved the company, so I stalked the internal postings for something that appealed to me.

One day, a posting for a programmer trainee caught my eye. No experience was necessary, just an interest in computer programming. Despite my artsy writer side, I'd always wanted to learn to program, so I sent in my résumé.

I got the job in 2001 and began an intense five-month training program. It was a lot like being in college, except we were getting paid for it! My group of trainees learned COBOL and SQL, rather outdated languages but still used in big companies for certain tasks. After "graduating" we were assigned to IT projects; I landed with a merchandising team.

When I told my manager about my major, he told me that English students make the best programmers.

Here's why: Even though I knew nothing about programming, I found the languages easy to master. I understood the importance of writing clear, clean, readable code; quickly learned to understand other people's code; and created excellent programming logic flow charts. All this came easily to me because it's akin to the communication and organization skills you need to earn an English degree.

I have to admit that had I known I was going to work in information technology, I would have majored in computer science. Coming out of school with the latest programming languages would've helped me progress faster. I wrote and reviewed COBOL programs for several years. To learn more cutting edge languages I had to take classes on my own or wait for the company to offer them. Like most fresh college grads, I lacked the funds to take classes, so I waited for Target to train me.

I was the junior member of the staff, so I had to wait in line to take these classes, which was frustrating. Here I was in the 2000s, still programming in a language that reached its peak before I was born. But eventually I became certified in JAVA, C++ and Visual Basic, and best of all, the company paid for it.

I still work in IT but I've move on from Target Corp. I've had six promotions and no longer write code. But I do review it and dabble in technical writing.

When I feel the need to let loose the creative, English-major side of me I find fun freelance writing jobs to do on the side-like this one.

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