CS degree a good idea to be a jack of all trades running a biz from home?

Hi everyone,

I am at an odd career crossroad could use some advice on education required for running one’s own web business (constructing sites for myself to monetize rather than build for other people). I am considering going back to school part time- online or state/community college for a CS degree. I’ve been trying to learn more advanced javascript, PHP and mysql to evolve my skill set towards the “developer” arena rather than spinning my wheels in design. I’m pretty sick and tired of building websites that rake in a good amount of greenbacks for other people when I can be doing this for myself. The problem is that my current employer has php developers at their disposal, and I’m not nearly at that programming level yet.

I’ve taught myself as much programming as I possibly can (my degree is in design, not programming). But when I run into an intermediate to advanced programming task with php, I feel like I’m missing a lot of programming knowledge foundation or I don’t know where to start. I’ve cracked open some programming books for help, but they often assume background knowledge that I don’t have. There’s also server administration, website security, creating apps for mobile devices, etc. where I’m stumped on where to get started in learning all of these things. Since I’m trying to go into business for myself so I can quite my day-job, go into business for myself (and start a family), I need to become a jack of all trades until I my websites return enough money to hire some help.

Is it a waste of time to get a CS degree so that I have a better foundation for programming? Or is this something I can learn on my own, eventually, with more study? It has also crossed my mind that perhaps I’m not learning from the proper material, or that I’ve unwittingly tried to learn web programming out of proper sequence.

Any advice would be much appreciated. I’m not sure which direction I should go: school, or keep on trucking with the self education.


It is good that you have a good programming knowledge even if you think that your skills are not good enough. Understanding CSS, HTML and Javascript should become your goal too. Now regarding your question… a jack of all trades? it is hard and tough and stressing because keeping up-to-date is hard.

So definitely expand your knowledge of programming and coding and become a jack of all trades… but concentrate on what you do best… and which is more important what you enjoy the most. After all, if you’re going to run your own website you should be having some fun, too… and you will have to learn lots of things like marketing too. The rest of your knowledge will help you to know who is a good marketer/programmer/designer when you subcontract their services to help you with your growing business.

Hi Molona, thanks very much for the response and the encouragement, it is very much appreciated.

My current skill set is php (intermediate), javascript (beginner), html (advanced), css(advanced), AS3 (rusty, haven’t used flash in a while) UI design, templating for CMS and Ecommerce CMS, SEO and social network marketing, etc… I have learned enough php where I can create basic web applications and I know how to create a database and have some basic mysql knowlege. I’m having trouble teaching myself the next steps. I don’t know anything about server administration, secure coding practices, web security, mobile device apps, and I’m finding that I’m having a lot of trouble understanding how to work with APIs and creating custom modules/plug-ins for Drupal.

When I try to move onto these next steps, that’s where I run into the problems with knowledge gaps, or things just don’t click. My education was in fine arts (new media minor), so I’m wondering if this wall I’m running into is a lack of proper background knowledge that will not be resolved without further education about programming. I’m not sure if this is something that I can resolve with reading books or if I need to go back to school and learn the principals of computer science. I’m always on the lookout for good books, but I took a non-accredited class just to beef up some skills and found that it covered a lot of things the books don’t tell you. This made me wonder if it was time to go back to school.

Are there any former designers out there who have moved up to a programming centric direction that might be able to advise? If you had no previous training in programming or software problem-solving and were self-taught, is there any source of knowledge you came across that helped you bridge the gap? If you have what was it?

First of all, take stock in what you’re actually asking for.

You seem confident in your abilities as a designer, yet you want to go it alone in the big bad world and you want a CS degree. It sounds to me like you’d be far better suited to a MBA so you are able to sell your skills.

Being a developer is far, far more than being able to code JavaScript and PHP. A Computer Science degree is a huge undertaking, even though most community colleges use it as a way to churn out Java code monkeys. If you go down the CS route you’ll end up meeting far scarier things than JavaScript and PHP.

Over time I’ve learned that experience is essential for being a great programmer. Even the smartest people can’t just get a CS degree and some PHP books and become a great developer. They need to be battle-hardened, they need to have built up the hours to really know the language and they need varied experience.

If you want to be a programmer then be a programmer, but I doubt you’ll walk out of university with a CS degree and be able to go it alone as a sole coder.

Again, that depends on what your motives are. You’ve only stated that you want to code your own designs, and if that is your sole goal then four years on a degree is a waste of your time.

I always recommend people take a CS degree because it opens up a million other jobs than being a Web Developer. Once you’ve got your degree, where do you go from there? What if your business doesn’t work out? What if you simply don’t have the time to design and code everything to make your own money? Do you fall back on design, or do you go towards development?

Since you already have a degree, I would recommend looking into conversion masters. They’re masters degrees aimed at people from outside of the field (i.e. a designer who wants to get into CS). After a year they’ll teach you the fundamentals of CS, enough for you to get into a technical role.

You are right! You can teach yourself some basic programming, but advanced level coding is complex and requires proper training. A formal computer programming degree would be much more structured and comprehensive in its scope. There is no way that self-tutoring can compare to a formal course in programming.

While I think you should go for a CS degree to cement your programming skills, I also believe that launching your own venture requires thorough understanding of business principles. You may want to consider taking some business courses as well to help you start your own company!

For your objective, which is to learn programming, a degree in Computer Science may be more than what you need. You should know that programming is just one component of a CS degree. It involves a lot of complex coursework in areas like discreet math, algorithm, logic structures, etc. The goal of the degree is to train students in the theory behind computing.

I think what you’re looking for is a computer programming degree. This degree will cover all that you need to be a good programmer. There are AAS degrees in computer programming you can enroll for. All the best!