As children, many of us dream about the exciting careers we might have when we finally become adults. Those ambitions are often guided by our hobbies and interests and limited only by our imaginations. For Sahil Hamal, it wasn’t imagination that fueled his career dreams; instead, they were driven by cultural expectations. Growing up in Nepal, a small South Asian nation bordering China and India, Hamal suspected from an early age where his career was headed.
“In Nepal, it’s actually fairly straightforward,” says Hamal. “You’ve got to be an engineer or a doctor. That’s pretty much it. You’ve got to pick one of those two.”
This limited choice presented Hamal with a bit of a problem. He wasn’t too keen on the idea of medicine, and while he proved to be very strong in math and physics in high school, he wasn’t sure if he had the skills to be a “hands-on” engineer. Instead, he chose to use his love of technology and his problem-solving skills to engineer a slightly different career.
“I had a good science background, and with that knowledge, I knew that I could go into anything,” says Hamal. “I was really into the idea of developing my theoretical knowledge and saw that a computer science degree could open up a wide range of computer science jobs for me in what appeared to be a really hot field.”
Despite his initial enthusiasm, Hamal wanted to test the waters before fully committing to an educational path that would lead to a computer industry career. Before moving to the U.S. and enrolling in TROY’s computer science degree program, Hamal spoke with the University’s international office about his options.
“The U.S. has an education system where you can come in, see what is right for you and how you feel about it before fully committing,” says Hamal. “If it’s not right, you can switch your major fairly easily. Switching majors wasn’t something I had to worry about because I found out pretty quickly that I loved my computer science classes!”
Hamal’s cautious approach is endorsed by Dr. Bill Zhong, Department Chair and Associate Professor in TROY’s computer science program.
“I always tell students when they ask me, ‘What is computer science?’ to take a class at their earliest convenience, so they know whether they like it or not,” says Dr. Zhong. “If they like it, stay. If they don’t like it, then maybe there are better things for them.” Hamal most definitely chose to stay.
TROY: Alabama’s International University
As an international student, Hamal knew he was looking for certain things in a U.S. education, and he chose TROY for his computer science degree for several reasons. TROY’s academic quality was one deciding factor.
“TROY does a great job academically,” says Hamal. “I think the program is really well designed. It provides the foundation that graduates need in computer science to get them ready to take their first steps in their career and develop the lifelong learning skills they will need to be successful in the industry.”
Far from his own country, Hamal also needed to be somewhere that could also be “home.” TROY provided an environment where Hamal felt comfortable and welcome.
“I didn’t want to go to a big school,” says Hamal. “I wanted to go somewhere where you are welcome and where you feel at home, and TROY did a pretty good job at this. I was coming from a small country and wanted to go somewhere with a close-knit community.”
This sense of community at TROY was cemented long before Hamal arrived on campus.
“I contacted the international office and the advisor was so lovely,” says Hamal. “I talked to her so many times, and she responded every single time, answering all of my questions. That really made the deal for me and I couldn’t wait to come here.”
Once on campus, Hamal found it easy to build solid relationships with all his professors and other faculty members.
“I personally knew each professor, and they knew me as well,” says Hamal. And his relationship with his professors continued well after graduation.
“Since graduation, I have regularly spoken with Dr. Zhong and sought his advice,” says Hamal. “He’s still very happy to talk with me. That’s amazing because I’m still early in my career and still learning, so it’s good to have his expert advice.”
Alongside the academic opportunities, Hamal also fully immersed himself in the social aspects of life at TROY.
“I really enjoyed the extracurricular activities at TROY,” says Hamal. “I enjoy swimming, so the natatorium was a big thing for me. We also had a band field behind the dorms where we would play soccer under the lights, and there were tennis courts just a 10-minute walk from campus.”
Living in a different culture also created brand new interests: Hamal quickly fell in love with college football.
“The college football was amazing,” says Hamal. “Being an international student, I initially had no idea about American football, but I became a big fan. I went to almost every home game and even drove to LSU in Louisiana to watch a game. It was a great experience.”
Computer Science Club
Hamal believes that the combination of his academic work and his participation in the school’s computer science club helped further develop his passion for computer science.
“In the first week of the first semester, I went to a computer science club meeting and discovered there was an opening for the position of vice president of the club,” says Hamal. “I went up, made a pitch, and I got elected. That pushed me more into computer science because when you are in that position of trust, you have to do more. I got more involved with the faculty. I talked to some professors and enjoyed the interaction. In turn, I started to enjoy the classes as I got more out of them.”
Hamal also developed friendships with his fellow club members, many of whom shared his love for computer gaming.
“Everyone in the program had their own mindset, but if I had to find one commonality in the group, that would be everyone was into games,” says Hamal. “We’d have game nights in the dorms where everyone would come over and play FIFA. Games require a lot of problem-solving, and that’s what drives the brain towards computer science. You have to figure out something, and then you have to solve it.”
However, life wasn’t all fun and games for Hamal. While he credits his TROY computer science degree with giving him the solid foundation to build his career, he also cites his experience while interning with various companies during the program. He says these internships gave him a competitive edge in the job market.
“I interned at multiple places,” says Hamal. “I interned at General Electric in New Orleans, Louisiana, and at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas, Texas. It was thanks to these internships that I was able to say, ‘I want to work in this industry.’”
Hamal believes internship experiences helped him secure a job as a software engineer with Deutsche Bank immediately after graduation. As an international student, he thought it would be much harder to secure a job quickly. Thanks to his proactive job search, he got the position six months before graduating and received numerous offers to interview with other organizations.
“You cannot beat experience,” says Hamal. “You can learn as much as you want in class or online, but nothing beats the experience that you get on-site because you are doing real work and seeing what happens in the real world — that’s really valuable.”
After a year working with Deutsche Bank in North Carolina, and later in New York, Hamal moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he currently works as a software engineer/researcher at Johns Hopkins University.
He is currently working with a small team of programmers, doctors and scientists, developing an application to analyze different layers of cells.
“We’re creating an application to make their work easier,” says Hamal. “It’s about creating an in-house solution suited to their specific needs, but that also helps save money so it’s more affordable to use on a daily basis.”
Hamal explains there is a huge difference between working for a financial organization and academia, but the switch appealed to his inquisitive nature and enabled him to be more creative in his approach to computer science.
“In finance, there are a lot of restrictions,” says Hamal. “There are only certain applications that they allow you to use. These tend to be older applications because they need to be stable and not prone to failure. However, in academia, I can use whatever I want. There are no restrictions. Of course, you want to use the best tool available, but there is more freedom. I can do research on my own and decide what works best. There are pros and cons to both fields, and I’ve been thankful that I’ve had different experiences.”
Careers in Computer Science
Dr. Zhong isn’t surprised by Hamal’s success in the computer industry.
“There are a lot of job openings when it comes to computer science,” says Dr. Zhong. “It’s just so versatile. Every business in every industry needs programmers, cybersecurity professionals and IT analysts.”
The pace of change also dictates that many more technology careers will come online in the coming years and decades.
“Once you have your foundations laid well, the possibilities are limitless in computer science,” says Dr. Zhong. “You don’t have to worry so much about job security because people are constantly coming up with the next ‘hot-button’ area in computer science.”
Artificial intelligence is one field Dr. Zhong points to as a “hot” area.
“Everyone wants to get into things like artificial intelligence or machine learning,” says Dr. Zhong. “These are all very promising areas in computer science, but students need to lay their foundations well first. You have to learn math, you have to learn how to program, and you have to learn how to design algorithms.”
Shifts in Global Tech Jobs
By their very nature, global technology companies work across international borders unrestricted, for the most part, by location. These “soft” borders have created opportunities in many emerging economies to develop and compete globally with homegrown computer science services and businesses. However, despite the apparent ease with which companies can offshore computer science projects, Dr. Zhong believes there will always be plenty of jobs that will remain in the United States.
“There are certain tasks that simply cannot be outsourced, says Dr. Zhong. “There are trade secrets and issues relating to intellectual property that companies just aren’t willing to ship to foreign countries. In many cases, when projects are managed out of this country, it’s hard to monitor and make sure that intellectual property and rules are followed.”
Dr. Zhong also highlights that communication challenges are shifting computer science jobs back to the U.S.
“You might save on the salary by offshoring a project where you can pay people less than they would get in the U.S., but then there are issues that arise from communication errors,” says Dr. Zhong. “Because of this, we are seeing more and more companies pulling work back to the U.S. and having it done here. That’s a real trend.”
Computer Science Programs at TROY
Alongside the computer science degree program, TROY also offers a cyber security certificate program. The certificate program addresses the needs of another computer industry field in high demand, as businesses and governments face the never-ending threat of cyberattacks. Students in both the computer science and cyber security programs can learn in the classroom, online or in a blended program.
Zhong also highlights the information systems program offered by TROY’s Sorrell College of Business.
“It’s related to computer science but housed in the business school,” says Dr. Zhong. “It’s a blend of computer science and business. So, for someone that wanted to have some knowledge of technology and computer science but was more interested in becoming a business analyst rather than a programmer, I would say that that would be a great major to consider.”
Dr. Zhong explains that part of the business analyst’s role is acting as a “translator” between programmers who speak “technology lingo” and clients who speak “business lingo.”
When it comes to technology careers, Dr. Zhong says TROY students are in demand. “Businesses are always looking to hire TROY students,” says Dr. Zhong. “Increasingly, this is our computer science majors and our information systems majors.”
To learn more about how TROY can help you engineer an exciting computer industry career, visit our website’s computer science degree page.
Illustration by Hannah Hogan © 2021 Troy University