8 answers

What major did you study in college and was it useful in your career?

Asked Tucson, Arizona

I'm considering being a computer software developer and I want to know what degree would get me there. What colleges would you recommend for this career?

#computer-software #software-engineer #college-major

8 answers

Shukun’s Answer

Updated Sunnyvale, California

Hi Rachel,

I studied Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in college and it was very useful in my career.

In college you get a lot of freedom to explore and take different courses. When I first entered college I was not 100% sure what I will be doing in my career, but through out the courses I began to find my interest and passion. It is great that you have an idea about what you might want to do in the future already. To become a software developer the best-fit major is computer science. Some colleges also offer software engineering as a major but computer science or computer engineering are the most common. There are a lot of good colleges that are strong in this field, e.g., Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, MIT, Stanford, etc. These colleges are not only strong in computer science, but also strong in relevant areas such as Maths, Engineering, etc. If you'd like to see the ranking of the schools on computer science I'd recommend the annual college rankings by U.S. News (https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/engineering-doctorate-computer). If you do pick up computer software related majors, I'd also recommend you take courses from other disciplines to broaden your horizon. After all college life is much more than just focusing on your major.

Good luck!

Ryan’s Answer


I studied computer science in college at UC San Diego and am now a full time software engineer at Airbnb. The computer science program at most universities is very theoretical and much of what you will learn will not be directly applicable to a job. However, college will teach you how to learn new things quickly which is extremely important in this field. You will also build solid study habits, make connections with your peers who could give you referrals later on, and learn a lot of fundamentals that you will actually use on a daily basis. If you want to get into software engineering, a computer science degree is definitely the best way to get there.

For a list of specific colleges, just look up top computer science colleges and you will find many sources that put together yearly lists. Aim for the colleges at the top of the list. Even if you don't make it, if you set your goals high you are likely to achieve more than you would have otherwise.

With respect to what colleges are best, here is my take. The difference between top schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, Carnegie Melon, UC San Diego etc. and smaller schools that you may never have heard of can be summed up in one word. Opportunity. No matter which college you attend, you will still experience the same headaches that every college student deals with at some point. Lame professors, general education courses that are not related to your major (although some people like this), unclear assignments, unfair tests.. the list goes on, and no college student escapes these things no matter where they go. My point is, the quality of your education at a top school vs. a smaller school will not be much different in most cases. Often times many colleges even use the same textbooks and teach the exact same curriculum. Your education is what you make it.

What you do get at a top school is recognition and opportunities. At UC San Diego, we had 4-5 job fairs per year where all of the top tech companies would come to aggressively recruit students for internships and full time positions. These job fairs were invaluable. Hundreds of companies would show up, and the fairs were hosted right on campus. Job fairs helped me land 2 internships. My second internship converted to full time after I graduated and ended up being my first real job right out of college which was great. I had friends who went to smaller colleges and they had nowhere near the level of opportunity that I was given at UC San Diego with job fairs. The value of a top school is in the opportunities that you get by attending. Job fairs can jump start your career and give you a huge advantage. Here is a link to some info on UCSD's biggest job fair: http://tesc.ucsd.edu/decaf/

Lastly, don't worry too much about the cost of college. Financial aid and scholarships are abundant and you will have no trouble paying down your debt quickly once you graduate.

Ryan recommends the following next steps:

  • Lookup lists of top CS schools and set goals

Anna’s Answer


Hi Rachel! I majored in Psychology and also studied business sales/marketing at our school's Business Sales program. During my undergrad, I was a research assistant in 3 different psychology research labs focused on various areas such as data gathering & analysis, running participants, literature review, meta-analysis of research publications and more. From those experiences, I learned the importance of data and how spotting trends and correlations can help you make decisions and guide you to the next step in a process. I carry on this experience in my career in regards that data helps you justify your reason to do something and helps you figure out what you need.

On the business sales/marketing side of things, I learned a lot about what makes a business successful, how branding and reputation plays a role, the importance of people relationships, how to build trust and why being genuine is important. This program taught me a lot about how to truly understand the wants and needs of a person, not only in a business situation, but also to understand what values are important to them and I carry and continue to grow these skills everyday. The more people you meet, the more you realize how many different perspectives, opinions and ideas people have and that they are all very important.

At the end of the day, it's not really about what hard skills you have, although that is helpful, it can always be learned. A lot of people are 5, 10 or even 25+ years into their career and still don't know exactly what they want to do. My advice for you would to be always have the mindset of a student and learner, always be curious about other things that are completely foreign to you, be curious about other people and you will see yourself be surrounded by amazing people and things that will inspire and guide you to the right path. Don't be afraid of exploring something new, you never know what that "new" thing can bring!

I hope this is helpful!



Arun’s Answer


Hi Rachel,

I think the obvious answer is the right one here. If you're looking for a career in software as a developer, the most likely match is going to be a degree in Computer Science, or one in ECE (electrical and computer engineering). Not only would you be learning the skills you need to get a job in these fields, a degree in one of those majors is basically a pre-requisite for a lot of companies. I personally majored in EECS (similar to ECE) at Berkeley, and I found it to be a good fit for a lot of the companies I wanted to join.

It's not that this is the only option, however. I definitely know great engineers at Google, Facebook, Airbnb and Twitter who got into the profession without formal training in computer science. A lot of other majors, like math, physics, or statistics offer the analytical skills you need to be a good software developer, but you'll need to teach yourself a lot of stuff on your own time.

One other option, if you want to do less code and more design, is a degree in Interaction or Visual design. This isn't for everyone, and takes some intrinsic talent, but is also a way into a career in software development. Designers are critical to figuring out the right workflows and layouts / looks that go into software you use.

Some great colleges for computer science: MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, UIllinois-Urbana Champagne.

Great colleges for design: RISD, UWashington, USC, UCLA as well as a lot of the above.

Arun recommends the following next steps:

  • Figure out what part of software development attracts you
  • Contribute or participate in open source software development to get a flavor for it

Musaab’s Answer


Hi Rachel,

I studied Math and Computer Science. It gave me a great start in the industry. I think today its better to be a pure computer science major if you can. That would position you best for a career in software engineering. It will cover a lot of the advanced topics that people who study Electrical or Computer engineering will not necessarily cover in their curriculum.

However, I do want to mention that a lot of people who are very successful in the space study a variety of fields, from engineering to even history. That works for some people, but they have to bridge the knowledge gap on their own via taking classes as electives, code camps, or independent study.

Best of luck!


Christopher’s Answer

Updated San Francisco, California

Hi Rachel, I received my degree in Computer Science from Cal Poly. It's very useful because it gave me a solid foundation of knowledge that I have built upon during my career.

One of the most useful things I have done in my career is to be proactive about learning. Computer software is always changing; new techniques/technologies are always popping up, so you have to constantly learn and experiment.

I really enjoyed Cal Poly because the motto of the school is "learn by doing". I created a video game from scratch over two quarters with a group of other students and it was awesome and super fun.

Christopher recommends the following next steps:

  • Research Computer Science
  • Research Colleges offering Computer Science
  • Join girlswhocode.com to get in touch with female software engineers
  • Find a local mentor

Charles’s Answer

Updated San Francisco, California

Software development and engineering is an awesome and wonderful career path, and I'm excited that you're considering it as future career :D

In terms of breaking into the industry, the most common first step would be to work towards a degree in computer science. It's definitely possible to major in something else, but I think computer science would be by far the most helpful degree in terms of education, background, and visibility to recruiters that are looking for new graduates!

In terms of schools that I would recommend, typically colleges with top graduate programs in computer science also have great undergraduate programs. Additionally, companies tend to recruit heavily from universities that have a strong representation in the industry! This list is pretty good in my opinion (though take any "top" list with a grain of salt):


Personally, I studied computer science at Cornell University and had a really great experience!

Charles recommends the following next steps:

  • Graduate with a degree in computer science

Daniel’s Answer


Hi Rachel:

I completed the following before pursuing a career in Information Technology:

• Bachelor of Science in Business Administration / Information Systems

• Associate of Science in Information Systems

• Certificate in Software Technical Writing

• Certificate in Local Area Networking

• Certificate in Object-Oriented Modeling and Analysis using UML

• Certificate in Business Modeling and Analysis

During my career I also completed an umber of Professional Certifications:

• Certificate in Virtualized Infrastructure for Cloud Architects

• Certificate in Cloud Infrastructure and Services

• Certificate in Information Storage and Management

• Certificate in ITIL IT Service Management

All of this training was very important to my starting and advancing in my career as an Information Technologist. You will always need to continue to stay up to date with the latest technologies.