How to Build Your Own University Program to Get a Job in Web Development

By Kathleen Taylor, Bud E. Smith

Many colleges and universities allow for a lot of flexibility in their degree programs. This is potentially a great thing for those considering web development as a career choice. Others offer the additional option of specialized majors that are expressly designed to let you do almost whatever you want.

When you go looking for a job, it’s easier if you have a recognized name for your studies, such as computer science. If you want to take a cluster of courses in a particular area, such as database design, you might be able to find a major that has that area in its name; otherwise, you can simply tell potential employers that you had an “emphasis in” the area that you focused on.

You can also put together double majors or interdisciplinary programs. If the healthcare area fascinates you, you can do a combined program of some sort in healthcare, biology, or physiology, along with computer science courses.

Web design jobs are constantly changing, and web design touches just about every area of business, government, and the non-profit world. So combined degrees can be very useful ways into a particular area that interests you.

You can also pursue areas that you might not use directly. A minor in literature or philosophy might help you pursue your own intellectual interests without distracting from your major. Even a double major or interdisciplinary program featuring a non-technical major is unlikely to hurt you much: It shows that you have a broad range of interests, are independent, and have “learned how to learn.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, management jobs in computer science usually require a bachelor’s degree, and the same is true for web development. So if you want to be a manager, and you don’t yet have your bachelor’s degree, figure out how to get one. What specific courses you take on the way to your degree is probably not all that important, as long as each of the courses help you increase your skills in some way.

Check out the BLS’s educational requirements for manager’s jobs in computer science, as part of the overall occupational outlook for this area.

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Finally, you can ask about auditing courses that interest you. Auditing means sitting in a class, and potentially even taking the exams, without getting university credit. Many professors welcome auditors, as they are often working professionals who lend a nice balance to the bright, but inexperienced, young things who fill most of the seats in their courses. It’s a great way to learn, to meet people, and to consider your options for further education.

Wonder what kind of requirement’s a major university’s computer science program has? Stanford is probably the leading school in the world for computer science, and it’s famous for birthing start-ups, with Google being only the most spectacular of many examples. Here is the home page for the Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science at Stanford.

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Mathematical core courses are outlined here.

Course Number Course Name Units
CS 103 Mathematical Foundations of Computing 5
CS 109 Introduction to Probability for Computer Scientists 5
Math 41 and Math 42 Calculus and Calculus 10
Two electives N/A 4

This is Stanford’s core curriculum in science.

Course Number Course Name Units
Physics 41 Mechanics 4
Physics 43 Electricity and Magnetism 4
Elective N/A 3

For the core courses in technology in society, you simply choose your own course from a wide range listed in the catalog.

Here is a list of the requirements in engineering fundamentals.

Course Number Course Name Units
CS 106B or CS 106X Programming Abstractions or Programming Abstractions
(Accelerated)*
5
Engr 40 or Engr 40A or 40M Introductory Electronics or Programming Abstractions
(Accelerated)*
5
Fundamentals Elective (may not be 70A, B, or X) 3-5

This list outlines Stanford’s requirements for writing.

Course Number Course Name Units
CS 181W or CS 191W or CS 194W or CS 210B or CS 294W Computers, Ethics, and Public Policy
Writing Intensive Senior Project
Software Project
Software Project Experience with Corporate Partners
Writing Intensive Research Project in Computer Science
5

The computer science core requirements are covered here.

Course Number Course Name Units
CS 107 Computer Organization and Systems 5
CS 110 Principles of Computer Systems 5
CS 161 Design and Analysis of Algorithms 5

Note the presence in the Stanford Engineering course requirements of CS 106X, Programming Abstractions (Accelerated), in case plain old CS 106B, Programming Abstractions, isn’t, perhaps, abstract enough for you.

If you do pursue a double major or interdisciplinary program, what you’re doing is likely to be more or less unique. Use your portfolio to create projects that use a wide range of your skills and learning.

You should also consider courses that increase “soft skills,” such as skills in communications and project management. Look for courses where you have to do project work in a team and present the results. Also, some schools offer project management courses that are very career-focused. In some cases, at the end of the class, you can sit for a project management certification, such as the first-level Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate.

Technologists are famously irreverent, and looking at Stanford’s core curriculum for computer science is a good test as to whether you have the “irreverent” gene. To some people, a list like this one instantly raises the question, “How am I going to do all that?” These people instantly go into planning mode.

If you have the “irreverent” gene, though, the first thing you might think is, “Well, about half of that looks interesting. The other half, not so much.” And you start picking and choosing interesting and not-interesting courses. You’ll start flipping through the Stanford course catalog, looking everywhere for other courses that might go into a major of your own design.

If that’s your reaction, you have the irreverent gene — and a turbulent, but quite possibly highly successful, career in front of you.