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Ask HN: Is there a space in the tech scene for the not numerically-inclined?
11 points by llampx on Oct 22, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 18 comments
As I was going through a brain teaser today, I realized that I just may not have the numerically-inclined type of brain.

I've never been good at math. I do well with languages and can write up a storm, however. Is there space in the tech scene for someone like me? I am interested in everything data, but it seems that that field requires a numerical brain. Is the analytical part of your brain something you can build and improve?

First, it depends on what you mean by these terms "math" / "numeric" / "analytical".

The vast majority of software development and even computer science relies mostly on logic rather than "numeric" math (some sub-disciplines aside).

I initially ignored CS because I hated math in high school and thought it would be "too much math". Turns out I am really good at CS even though I sucked at things like calculus.

So my first point would be to make sure you try some actual programming before you get scared away about any "math"-related concerns.


> Is the analytical part of your brain something you can build and improve?

Absolutely. It is just like a muscle. The more you practice, the easier it will become. To be able to build powerful software you have to learn new patterns of thinking, which takes time. But it is definitely doable, provided you enjoy it enough to push through the tedium. But it's not everyone's cup of tea.

For the idea of building and improving the analytical part of your brain, I highly recommend the Coursera course Learning How to Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley. [0] An excerpt from her Wikipedia page[1]:

After her Army duties ended, Oakley decided to challenge herself and see if her brain, more used to the study of languages, could be 'retooled' to study mathematical subjects. She chose to study engineering, in order to better understand the communications equipment she had been working with in the Army.

[0]: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn [1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Oakley

A random internet stranger really can't answer this for you. I suggest you start a file and start collecting articles and other snippets that have meaningful information for you.

I have a strong-ish math background, but language is more my forte. I've picked up some HTML, CSS and I have a certificate in GIS. I'm currently the very part-time webmaster for a local nonprofit, though I'm not actually a programmer.

I also homeschooled my 2e kids and did pro bono professional work for an education oriented voluntary health and welfare organization. My son has difficulties with numbers, but I was able to teach him the concepts. You can always use a calculator or spreadsheet to crunch numbers for you, but not everyone gets the concepts, which turns into a case of garbage in, garbage out. He's gotten good at finding the math errors -- or logic errors in using math -- in games he plays.

So even if you really are terrible with numbers per se, that doesn't mean you can't learn important math concepts for purposes of analysis. You may just need to look for the right materials that present it in a way that works well for you.

But the best thing you can do to develop a career path is pick up a book like "What color is your parachute?", do the exercises and some informational interviews and sort this yourself. You are the person most qualified to recognize if some role fits your criteria for being in tech and also something you could comfortably do.

The vast majority of coding these days doesn't involve anything mathematical. (Behind the scenes yes, but for application development that you will likely be coding no.)

This is technically true, but what typically makes a person good at math is the ability to think logically, critically, and understand systems at a high level of abstraction. The correlation is probably not 1:1, but I have yet to meet a good dev who is terrible at math. That doesn't mean they remember all of the details from school, but they can understand it.

I will say that most web/iOS/android/similar developers rarely have to do anything more than simple division, multiplication, modulo etc when it comes to math.

Yes, many developers are good at math but I'd say that's mostly correlation, not causation.

NOTE: This is my personal, anecdotal experience.

If you had enough experience in tech such that you were actually building things, then this question would have answered itself on the basis that you can build things, which extrapolates to things that you can get paid to build.

But since you don't have that experience apparently (despite whatever "write up a storm" means), then you have no clue what might be preventing you from entering the tech scene as it may (and is far more likely to) be related to any of the other things that keep people out of tech, like tenuous interest in the subject at all.

Tech companies employ non-stem skills all the time. Communication, marketing, branding, design, hr, so many more.

I know an old lady who wrote history books who now works for a major financial company editing quarterly tech briefs for their high profile publications. She knows more about the workings and impact of bitcoin than I do by editing. She literally did bootstrap her knowledge at the age of 60.

It takes all kinds and the maths-only stereotype needs to die. Anyone can help.

Years (going on decades) ago, I would have said the same thing about myself - I'm just not that "good with" numbers, but I'm good with coding and problem solving. And I actually did just fine - but one day I came across an interesting problem on Usenet about drawing a block arrow that could orient itself in any direction. Out of curiosity, I started trying to implement it and I realized I needed to recall the algebra that I remembered just enough of to pass the test when I was an undergraduate. Suddenly, in context, it became interesting, and I started re-learning all of the "number stuff" that I dreaded when I was younger. Not only did it start to make more and more sense, but I found myself becoming a better programmer incidentally: solving these simple, ready-made problems (that happened to involve manipulating numbers) sharpened my ability to concentrate and focus on bigger, fuzzier problems. I don't think anybody - or maybe only very few - people are "naturally" numerically inclined; it's something you have to work at, but I also think it's something that anybody can master if they really put their mind to it.

Back in grade school a lot of the educators believed that in order to do programming (BASIC) kids needed first to understand algebra in order to grok the concept of variables and such...

I myself wasn't all that good at algebra but while programming I was able to grasp math concepts in application trying to figure out how can I get x to equal y etc. For me my math application skills improved vastly by learning software development. Even now I can get frustrated by purely algebraic problem solving puzzles, just not my thing.

I can see if you are good at such things it is a great benefit to know some of the concepts where I had to do a lot more research, trial and error to get some results. But also, if that's all you are good at you probably aren't coming up with the next flappy bird.

You don't really need a numerical brain but you do need to be determined solve problems, have good memory. And I think as you work with it you will exercise those abilities.

I would find some computing aspect you like and research that, find some easy language/platform (or open source project already in progress) to play on and see where it gets you.

Same here. Never really had the motivation in my mathematics courses at uni, too much theory. But with a concrete goal and visual feedback I was able to solve quite some problems.

Example, I didn't do well in my linear algebra course, but afterwards I made a (simple and slow) physics simulator with the very same concepts. Each thing I discovered, length between vectors, dot product, projection made a whooole lot of sense once I could actually draw the lines on a screen.


A lot of programming is more linguistic than mathematical. If you stay away from hard core algorithms, graphics, scientific computing, AI, and similar things, you're likely to be able to get by with high school math and algebra.

One big area is UI/UX, which usually requires little math but does require design skills and good intuition about what makes a convenient intuitive user interface. Unless you are coding a rendering engine from scratch the math you'll hit in UI/UX coding will be arithmetic, basic bit manipulation (AND/OR/XOR), and maybe a little algebra.

Check out UI/UX design and development. Web development in particular. It isn't quite mathematically charged like data science is but it's a great way to build tools to visualize data!

This. UX designer with implementation skills - not numerically oriented at all; designers with implementation skills are not in great supply.

You could be a business analyst or product owner at a tech company.

Basically, your job would be to translate what the client wants into pieces of work that your development team can do.

It’s not coding but it’s still a very interesting position.

As someone who has done both, in enterprise internal tech rather than a tech firm—at times simultaneously, on different projects—business/system/domain analysis tends, IME, to be no less numerical/analytical than coding on the same system.

UX / product manager / business analyst ( non financial / math domain ) / sctummaster / project manager / training / sales

It's all about messaging.

quoting: Soon we will have chips with thousands of cores with high-bandwidth interconnect. Such chips will power the next generation of Intelligent Applications.

Since message passing between Actors is the standard method to communicate, languages like Erlang are highly relevant.

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