Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

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programmerlawyer
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Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby programmerlawyer » Thu Dec 02, 2010 1:23 pm

Background

I'm a computer programmer finishing up a CIS (Computer Information Science) degree, and I've got a few electives remaining.

I would like to take a few courses to supplement my technical background, and I'm trying to decide which courses to take.

At this point, my #1 goal is Georgetown, #2 is UT Austin, and #3 is SMU. I have a huge interest in politics and even foreign relations, and I'd love to be in either D.C. or Austin, as they're both capitals and provide a lot of opportunity both nationally and locally. SMU is my backup, because I live in Dallas, and I think I could get a good scholarship.

Numbers: My current GPA is around a 3.7, but I've finished all my computer science courses and have a number of general requirements left to complete, which will hopefully raise my GPA slightly. I have yet to take the LSAT but am getting projections of a 170.

Softs: I'm 23, but I have six years full-time work experience, I've lived abroad for five years and traveled extensively. In addition, I am semi-fluent in Arabic and am progressing in both Spanish and French.

A Question Regarding Communication vs English Courses

My goal is to take courses that supplement my technical background and make me more rounded.

I've read in a lot of posts that english, philosophy, poli sci, and econ make some of the best majors and that communication as a major is not looked on very favorably because it is seen as easy; however, I'm not choosing a major--I'm supplementing one. My major is Computer Information Science, and I have a several years of full-time work experience as a software engineer. My work experience and resume demonstrate excellence in a demanding field, but I'm concerned that my transcript is my weakest link.

I'm concerned because I keep reading that law schools look for a rigorous course load and because communication classes have a reputation of being "easy".

Would taking a few "easy" communication courses (instead of english/philosophy) be detrimental to my law school application, given that I have a challenging major?

Conversely, could choosing a few communication classes actually be beneficial to my application? Computer programmers tend to be introverts. I'm not sure how much of a factor that would be during the admissions process, but would taking some communication classes actually help to balance that stereotype?

The specific classes I would like to take are Debate and Persuasive Communication, which both require Intro to Speech as a pre-req. Debate, because I'd enjoy it and because it seems like an A there should be a pre-req to any top law school and would help to establish a tiny bit of a baseline. Persuasive Communication, because I believe it would help me in any career and in life in general.

Questions Regarding Recommendations

Another reason I'd like to take those communication classes is I would like a recommendation from that professor, but I've only had her once.

I have only one professor at this point that I've had several times and who I can ask for a review. He was my professor for a number of my computer science classes, but I'm concerned that his recommendation might be less than enthusiastic. Working full-time has affected my grades on multiple semesters, and he's familiar with my situation, but I feel like his opinion of my ability has suffered as a result.

As a CIS major, do I absolutely need a recommendation from a computer science professor? Will it look glaringly suspicious if I do not get one?

I have glowing reviews from managers, project managers, and VP's from my current as well as previous employer. Would a strong recommendation letter from one of them serve as an adequate replacement for his?

If so, would it not serve me well to get a strong recommendation from a professor outside of computer science, to illustrate academic strength in other areas?

I plan to take an additional writing class, regardless. (Maybe Technical Writing?)

I agree that typically English or Philosophy would be more challenging electives, but the question is whether in my situation, I might be better served taking those three communication classes.

Thanks for any advice!

tourdeforcex
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby tourdeforcex » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:00 pm

first, need to know when you plan on applying. after a quick skim, it seems you're not applying this cycle.

Would taking a few "easy" communication courses (instead of english/philosophy) be detrimental to my law school application, given that I have a challenging major?


No. A higher GPA makes a bigger difference. referencing another post on another thread: a 4.0 dance major > 3.5 from quantitative economics.

Conversely, could choosing a few communication classes actually be beneficial to my application?


If you get A's, yes.

would taking some communication classes actually help to balance that stereotype?


Maybe. Not a big deal. IP lawyers and patent lawyers don't necessarily need to be able to socialize to succeed.

As a CIS major, do I absolutely need a recommendation from a computer science professor? Will it look glaringly suspicious if I do not get one?


No and no. Get recommendations from whomever can say great stuff about you and knows you.


My conclusion: take what you want and what you find interesting. while keeping that GPA up.

programmerlawyer
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby programmerlawyer » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:32 pm

Thanks for the response. I plan to apply early next cycle, which means I have through the summer to boost my GPA. I'd be taking all three communication classes this winter / spring, and I'd expect to get A's in all three.

I think you assumed I would go IP law. I'm guessing law schools might make that same assumption at first, though my personal statement is likely to completely alter that impression. Patent law seems to be where I'd thrive, but while I'm leaving that door open, it has very little interest to me. Socializing will likely be fairly important wherever I end up. I don't know that it will even be considered during the admissions process, but I just didn't want it to be a potential red flag.

Very relieved to hear I don't need to ask that particular professor for a review. My communication professor much better understands my goals and what drives me. If I take these classes, I think I'll be in a great position for a recommendation from her.

Thanks again for your feedback.

r6_philly
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby r6_philly » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:53 pm

I am a CS major and a long time programmer/SE. I had LOR written by 2 professors. One CS, one poli sci. I think it's important for the CS professor to write about the vigor of your program (as opposed to communications). The median GPA for CS at my school is sub 3, but 3.3 or so for PS. So my CS professor can put my 4.0 in a better perspective.

But the other responses are credited, whatever gives you the best GPA. That said, if you can show some exposure to the legal world will help you convince the school that you are serious about law school and being a lawyer. We can all write great statements, but actions are stronger. We know unless you are talking about biglaw, CS career is slighly more promising field. You will have to explain 1) why and 2) why you would do well - through your coursework, not your statement. Let's face it, you can easily get help writing your PS, so you need something to back it up.

programmerlawyer
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby programmerlawyer » Thu Dec 02, 2010 4:06 pm

r6_philly wrote:I think it's important for the CS professor to write about the vigor of your program (as opposed to communications). The median GPA for CS at my school is sub 3, but 3.3 or so for PS. So my CS professor can put my 4.0 in a better perspective.


I honestly have no idea what the median GPA is for CS at my school or how it compares to other programs. I should find out.

r6_philly wrote:We know unless you are talking about biglaw, CS career is slighly more promising field.


Yes, we know that, but do they? Leaving an established career when I'm near the top of my peer group has been a big challenge. 5 years from now, if I stay in CS, I'll be set, but if I go to law school, I'll just be starting out.

r6_philly wrote:That said, if you can show some exposure to the legal world will help you convince the school that you are serious about law school and being a lawyer. We can all write great statements, but actions are stronger.


I'll have to look into getting some more "exposure". I've spoken to several friends who are lawyers, most of whom tried to talk me out of it, but the limited extent of my exposure comes from dealing with my own lawyer. And call it twisted, but I enjoy reading the law. It's interesting, and I find reading the law as written vs trying to understand its intent very similar to reading someone else's code and trying to understand his intent. In both situations you both have to see not only what it says, but you have to get inside the head of the author and understand why it was written the way that it was.

My initial motivation, which I attempt to convey in my personal statement, was a combination of too much early success, lack of fulfillment with that success leading to borderline depression, lack of purpose as a programmer and disgust at the idea of writing code for the rest of my life, and then the big one: a huge taste of government corruption when I spent several months doing volunteer work in Iraq during the war. It's a challenge to fully communicate the process that led me to realize I want to be a lawyer, especially since I love writing code, and I'm good at what I do, but ultimately it wasn't satisfying me at a deep enough level, and I didn't see it getting any better as I got deeper into it.

Actions: What I've got right now is I was a successful college dropout at 19. I had no plan to ever finish until I realized I wanted to go to law school. The ONLY reason I returned to school was so that I could go to law school, and that was only after considerable researching to see if there was any way to avoid it. Finishing an undergraduate degree may not seem like much, but taking night classes while working full-time for the last 3 years for a degree that does absolutely nothing for me in my current field has been a huge test of my commitment. To be able to focus exclusively on school, even in a highly challenging environment, seems like a relief after plowing away at this. At times, the only thing that has kept me going has been passion incited by news reports and stories of civil rights infringements where people suffered due to lawyers who were unable to win their cases. But that passion has gotten me through a lot of late nights and frustrating semesters, and the excitement of the challenge is starting to return.

One more year of classes before I can start my new life.

r6_philly
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby r6_philly » Thu Dec 02, 2010 4:24 pm

Well we are very alike, our path and our motivations. However I am gravitating toward internet/cyber law because of a practical natural - I have a difficult time finding decent lawyers who span both industries. So while you sound like you need a career change, I am merely expanding mine. So it's a little more "convincing" shall we say? I did a minor in Poli Sci and took con law, judicial behavior and other legal related course to supplement my CS degree because like you I went back to finish just for law school while still wanting to earn a useful BS.

There are obvious different path to the same goal, but through my own research I decided on a plan of action that is paying dividend. You sound like you want to be in Public Interest/social justice. Well I do too, because I had some really awful past and I want to change the world for the better. Instead of just wanting to do it, I worked in nonprofits, and I am in a MPA program now - which both help to show my commitment to my goals/aspirations. I went to the interview for my MPA and they said, everyone put they want PI in the statement, but few actual show that they have one anything about it, and that's the difference between admit and deny (for that program). So if you want to get into PI/helping the world, then take the right courses, get yourself involved doing the right things, then when you write your PS, it won't be all talk. You may be genuinely passionate about it, but it's just words on paper to someone who doesn't know you personally. Having the motivation and a plan is good, having started that plan is much much better.

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let/them/eat/cake
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby let/them/eat/cake » Thu Dec 02, 2010 4:32 pm

haven't looked at the other responses. my advice is take some english and philosophy courses. i think they will provide a good counterpoint to your existing major, and also, which is more important, I think they will help once you are actually in law school. related to philosophy courses, you could also take some logic courses if that's more up you alley than, say, a class on Heidegger.

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jwaters
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby jwaters » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:20 pm

If you are looking toward English to help with your writing skills, you might want to consider a different subject. I have read from a few people on here who majored in english or some other sort of creative writing who stated they had a hard time adjusting to legal writing because it was so different. So you might want to consider history, poli sci, etc. which has more argumentative and fact-basedl writing. Of course, this just came from a few TLS posters, so take it with a grain of salt.

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vamedic03
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby vamedic03 » Thu Dec 02, 2010 11:28 pm

A couple of good philosophy classes can help you with:

1) improving your writing; and,

2) logically advancing an argument through writing.

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merichard87
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby merichard87 » Fri Dec 03, 2010 7:29 pm

Off-topic: What's the difference betwen CIS and CS?

r6_philly
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby r6_philly » Fri Dec 03, 2010 9:00 pm

merichard87 wrote:Off-topic: What's the difference betwen CIS and CS?


There is usually Computer Science and Information Systems. They are usually offered by a CIS department (Computer and Information Science).

I don't know what CIS program OP is in, but usually CS is more theoretical, you study computational theory and algorithms, with some practical programming courses thrown in so you can apply and test your theories, but the core is usually heavily theory based. CIS focus more on the technology part. You would probably learn more about software engineering, IT and project management, and more practical skills.

CS is like a specialized math extension. As a matter of fact you can probably earn a CS degree without actually using a computer at all.

ETA: to sum it up, CIS has the extra I which refers to actually processing information, whereas CS focus on the process used.

programmerlawyer
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby programmerlawyer » Mon Dec 06, 2010 7:34 pm

Thanks again for all the responses. I've spoken to my advisor about registering for the communications classes. I saw the other replies about philosophy being better preparation for once I'm in law school, but my main concern with this decision is the affect it'll have on getting IN to law school. I'll attempt to take a philosophy class (instead of English) later if my schedule allows it, and I'm working on my reading/writing outside of class, as well.

Good comparison of CS vs CIS. Computer Science is what I consider the more challenging major. It's more technical and in addition to science and math, it requires a concentration in business. I started out as a Computer Science major.

However, strangely, those with Computer Information Science degrees tend to make more money. This is probably because many of them end up in management. I switched programs after completing most of the CS requirements, because the CIS degree was more compatible with my work schedule.

The way I see it, I've taken the CS courses, and I've proven myself at work in the hands-on technical side of things, so the CIS degree may allow me more mobility without sacrificing much in the way of depth.

Regardless, not having a computer science degree will do little to hold back a self-motivated programmer, and rarely is any degree required unless he wants to get into senior management. That's why I kind of prefer the idea of majoring in something other than computers. Accounting, engineering, business, marketing--any of these will provide you with additional marketability. These degrees will allow you to be more than just a programmer. Besides, if you're a good programmer, it is very unlikely you will be held back by not having a degree. 

programmerlawyer
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby programmerlawyer » Mon Dec 06, 2010 7:37 pm

I should clarify--the science/business concentration was only a CS requirement at my school. It may be different elsewhere.

programmerlawyer
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby programmerlawyer » Mon Dec 06, 2010 7:56 pm

Also, I will make an effort to get more involved outside of school to put action behind my words. It's so hard holding a demanding (and often mentally exhausting) full-time job, trying to raise my GPA, (one B- due to a single late assignment two years ago dropped my GPA .10), trying to study for the LSAT and to read up and prepare for my application next year so I don't do something stupid in the meantime, while trying to maintain a minimal social life. This whole endeaver has been a huge investment and one of the most challenging things I've ever had to do. I just don't want to fall short due to poor planning or mistakes that could have been avoided.

To get off topic on my own thread:

How much will having worked full-time nearly the entire time I was in school affect my application? Might it be worth a .05-.1 GPA bump? Or are the T14 schools so concerned with their numbers that they won't be able to do much?

I would love to get involved in local politics or with helping refugees (probably the result of having grown up overseas helping them). Also, I would love to get back in a band (probably the least helpful thing I could do right now). It's all just a matter of time.

Do those activities take less importance due to my full work load?

r6_philly
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby r6_philly » Mon Dec 06, 2010 10:37 pm

programmerlawyer wrote:
How much will having worked full-time nearly the entire time I was in school affect my application? Might it be worth a .05-.1 GPA bump? Or are the T14 schools so concerned with their numbers that they won't be able to do much?


At the top schools, they will encounter students who have taken on such responsibilities with stellar GPAs, I doubt that you will receive any "bump". You may get a leg up on students with the same GPA as you but with limited responsibilities, but you will not be "bumped" up.

I would love to get involved in local politics or with helping refugees (probably the result of having grown up overseas helping them). Also, I would love to get back in a band (probably the least helpful thing I could do right now). It's all just a matter of time.

Do those activities take less importance due to my full work load?


I don't know what you mean by take less importance.

r6_philly
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Re: Supplementing a Technical Background: Communication vs Engl.

Postby r6_philly » Mon Dec 06, 2010 10:46 pm

programmerlawyer wrote:Regardless, not having a computer science degree will do little to hold back a self-motivated programmer, and rarely is any degree required unless he wants to get into senior management. That's why I kind of prefer the idea of majoring in something other than computers. Accounting, engineering, business, marketing--any of these will provide you with additional marketability. These degrees will allow you to be more than just a programmer. Besides, if you're a good programmer, it is very unlikely you will be held back by not having a degree. 


You are right, but that's what a MBA is for. You can open more doors with a good master degree with management focus. Too many UG marketing people end up in sales, and most business admin grads (from UG) still have to work from the ground up. Getting a top flight MBA is the only way to make more money than the top money as a programmer (150+) though.

The rest of the world probably doesn't really care between CS/CIS. I prefer CS because I didn't feel like I need to take the network/tech classes.




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