Monday, March 12, 2012

Mathematics, Informatics or Finance?

I was asked by a friend to share my opinion on the question: 'which one of the following studies: mathematics, informatics or finance, is the best choice when it comes to the career?

There are no clear rules when it comes to picking up the 'best' subject to study. Your choice should be made based on:
  1. Your personal skills and incentives
  2. The country you are living in;
  3. and the country you would like to make a career in.
Let us start with some pros and contra-s:
  • Mathematics: Disadvantages:
  1. It is a very tough subject; you will need to strain your brain much more then if you go for finance or informatics.
  2. You need to study long years before you get the necessary qualification and start working and getting really good money. With a B.Sc. degree in informatics, you can quickly get a relatively good job. With mathematics, you either have to re-skill yourself (e.g. get a training in software development), or study until a Ph.D. degree, or even both.
  3. You need very good teachers / lecturers. One can learn Java from a book + a bit of practical experience. One cannot do this with e.g. statistics.
  • Mathematics: Advantages
  1. If you are inclined to it, mathematics is the most interesting subject you can study.
  2. Today, there are many good software developers and finance people, but only few good mathematicians.
  3. With a degree in mathematics, you have a proven record of excellent analytical skills and ability to handle complex problems. Most employers value these general skills more then the specific knowledge in e.g. finance or business administration.
  • Informatics: Disadvantages
  1. You have only two choices: you study some stupid theory; or you study some technologies and tools which are going to be obsolete when you graduate.
  2. Even excellent programming skills are not sufficient to get you a good job. Today, most companies require more: better analytical skills, knowledge in finance or business administration processes, creativity etc.
  3. Most employers require practical experience in addition to a degree. That is why it is very hard to get the first job.
  • Informatics: Advantages:
  1. What else may a computer freak study?
  2. The IT and software market is actually quite stable. In times of economic downturns, banks will fire out first the finance people working in front- or back-office, and only then will consider the IT people.
  3. With a bit of a luck, you can get a good job quickly and in any part of the world, including the poorer countries in Africa, Asia, or South America. Finance people need strong businesses around.
  • Finance: Disadvantages
  1. Almost no chance of decent jobs in a poorer country. Finance people are the first to be hit by a financial crisis also in the highly developed countries (a financial crisis happens every 6 to 10 years).
  2. A degree in finance in itself means almost nothing; you need contacts and long years of experience.
  3. Most of the jobs in finance are anything else but creative; actually you may get bored to death.
  • Finance: Advantages
  1. Finance is relatively easier to study; clever guys & girls get their degree quickly and without efforts, and then jump straight into their career
  2. The software development can be relatively easily outsourced to another country (e.g. can go from USA to India). Most of the jobs in finance cannot.
  3. During your study, you will learn things which you will actually apply in the real job (unlike with mathematics).
Summary: Carefully consider the advantages and the disadvantages. Try to broaden your skills and contacts. If you do mathematics or finance, learn at least one programming language. If you do mathematics or informatics, try to get some courses in finance. Do not avoid the hard mathematical courses (they are excellent for your analytical skills). In any case be open and try to get contacts: this will help you with the first job.

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