Next Move: Programming or systems support?

I have completed my bachelor's degree in computer sciences and am planning to do a master's degree. I have done dummy projects in...

I have completed my bachelor's degree in computer sciences and am planning to do a master's degree. I have done dummy projects in C and C++, but do not know which subject to select for my masters. I would prefer to pursue programming, but whenever I search for a job, I find more scope in the networking field in MCSE, CCNA and CCNP. Which path should I follow?

The solution

Demand for talented programmers will rise

It is true that there are more jobs out there for people who are MCSE/CCNA-qualified, but there is a simple reason: all firms now need these sorts of skills. Most firms have an infrastructure that requires support.

Programming is different. Firms that employ people with programming skills will either be technology firms selling software products that need someone to build them, or companies with business-critical systems that require in-house support.

These positions are fewer and far between and will be more technology-specific, meaning that firms looking for staff with Visual Basic may not want graduates with C or C++.

However, the good news is that as companies become more technology-rich, the demand for graduates with programming skills will rise. You should consider that the barrier to entry for programmers is much higher than for support staff (typical minimum requirements being a computer science degree) which means there is less competition.

So, networking equals more jobs but also more candidates, and programming equals fewer jobs and fewer candidates. You should stick to programming - it is something in which you have invested a great deal and you clearly enjoy it - your job prospects will not suffer for it.

Solution by Hung Lee, consultant at Spring Technology Staffing Services

The panel: MSB International, Spring Group, E-Skills UK, British Computer Society, Computer Futures, Computer People, Elan, Reed Technology, Zarak Technology.

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This was last published in May 2004

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