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Computer Science Curriculum in College 654

Ludwig Feuerbach writes "As it's back to school for university students, including Computer Science undergraduates like myself, I look at my course schedule for this semester and I have courses with titles like: Theory of Computation, Numerical Analysis, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and History of Economics from Plato to Keynes. The first 4 courses are required in my CS program. I had thought nothing of it until I read an opinion piece by Dan Zambonini, who stresses the type of courses I'm taking are, essentially, useless for getting a job. He lists several CS courses useful for a job. Is he right? I tend to think that an university education should stress scientific topics over vocational ones, but since I'm just planning to get a job after I grad, am I in the right program?"
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Computer Science Curriculum in College

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  • by the_2nd_coming ( 444906 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:32AM (#13531690) Homepage
    for a job, then go into CIS.

    it is oriented at getting the student to learn how to use computer systems found in business, how to create tools for those systems and how to manage and build on those systems.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:51AM (#13531817)
      Agreed 110% - Information Systems work IS the "steady-eddy/bread & butter" end of this field... & there is ALWAYS work in it.

      No two corporate entities structure their data or use EXACTLY the same data (unless part of same company) typically, so custom information systems work (e.g.-> custom databases & such + reporting apps etc./et all) will always need to be designed & redesigned or added onto (or even modded/improved for changing conditions).

      Another REALLY useful (imo) course, is "DataStructures" if it was not included in said list from the URL document: It teaches you a great many things & patterns of thought (such as which types of sorts to use, when, & with what datatypes & sizes of sets to sort thru, as one example of what you acquire/learn from it).

      How much of it do you REALLY use in IS/IT/MIS work? Not much, but it is a GREAT course for anyone into computing imo!

      * :)


      P.S.=> The reason I agree SO strongly with the init. poster & his comment of:

      "for a job, then go into CIS."

      I assume he meant information systems work/databasing in general (often called "data processing" as well)... I have made more than a decade worth of money from it, for the very reasons I state above:

      Sometimes, there is NO "canned/prebuilt/turnkey" instant solution out there for various enterprises out there or their data - you HAVE to build them, for them! apk
      • by oc255 ( 218044 ) <> on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:45PM (#13532146) Homepage
        I would agree with the usefulness of a Data Structures Course. It just so happens that I started a Jr Development (Java mostly) position recently and I was not a CIS/CS major (career change from SA/Unix).

        I find myself trying to create a data structure/tree like a family tree or a directory structure. Each node has multiple children, a node can have no children, a fast way to find a path from a child to the root, etc. And in wondering how to create such a tree I find the usefulness of textbook knowledge, specifically the jargon. I'm reading like crazy about red/black trees, linked lists, doubly linked lists, binary trees, what a map is compared to a list, etc etc. It goes on and on. And I'm sure a course would have covered this or at least given me the knowledge to see quickly if the standard Java libraries have this structure already built.

        Many of the Java books I'm reading have wording like, "if you remember from your CS class what a binary tree is, here's how to implement one in Java ..." The theory background would have made this a lot easier/faster, rather than jumping right into a specific language.

        I definitely envy those who took any kind of data structures course.
    • Having been to both University and College (Canadian terms. US equiv is, I believe, College and Community College?), I can say that I can't see not having both.

      Although it is true that CS is a highly academic and theoretical field, almost all of its applications are (appropriately enough) applied.

      So, what are some of the most common arguments?

      If you don't know how to actually program a computer, an employer won't care if you know the theory behind machine code

      Essentially true. Unless you get some plum "sit around and think about computers" job, most employers will want you to be able to actually DO the job they hire you to. However, on the flip side of that:

      An employer doesn't want someone who has only been trained to use Language X. They want someone who wholly understands the concepts of programming and can adapt to any situation as the company grows.

      Again, essentially true. Unless you are doing a temp contract, most employers will be looking for a Programmer (or some buzzword, like Solutions Analyst)... not a C++ Do..Until Loop Programmer.

      But, as you can see, both of those requirments seem to contradict each other by seemingly presenting an either/or case. Either you know Programming OR you know C++.

      And the same applies for just about any field in CS. (Either you know Network Administration, or your know Cisco Routers. Either you know Web Mastering, or you know Apache. Etc, etc.)

      I first completed a college diploma, and learned how to build a network (Cisco style), how to set up and maintian websites (Apache style), and how to run databases (MySQL style). Although there was a spattering of "theory" in each course (usually consisting of the introductory lecture to each course), it was all "hands on".

      I graduated and transferred over to University. By Year Two, I felt so detached from actual computers. I was learning a lot of facinating theory stuff, but really wanted to do something with it. Of course, "doing stuff" was a 4th year course. ;)

      So, after getting most of the requirements for the Bachelor degree, I decided to switch back to college. In Ontario, colleges have been allowed to grant Applied Degrees.

      Having experienced a good chunk of the cirriculum, I have to say that this is a great solution. It's a nice mix of theory AND practicality. Personally, I'd like to see the Universities lean more towards an Applied Degree, with all the serious intensive THEORY courses offered as 3rd/4th year electives... and as Masters. (I firmly believe that Masters should be near 100% theory. You SHOULD get a Masters in Network Science, not a Masters In Cisco IOS).

      • 1) "Having both" can mean something as simple as getting a CS degree and having a junior-year or junior summer internship in your field of interest.

        Virginia Tech does this [], and their grads are quite well-placed in the job market.

        2) Besides, why should CS degrees be undesirable? All the stories these days are about CS departments losing [] enrollment. [] Seems like a good time to "buy in."

        3) The money isn't in's in management. You are *far* more likely to land a management position with a degree.

  • by JymBrittain ( 880082 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:32AM (#13531692)
    The types of classes you prefer will depend, essentially, on what you see as the purpose of a higher ed degree or some would even argue the purpose of an education. Some would argue that it is to prepare you for a job through the acculumation of a set of skills or a knowlege set. Others would argue that it is to prepare you for a lifetime of learning. In this day and age, odds are unless you're in a position where you can call in rich, you'll take more than one career zig or zag in your lifetime. Yet another group are those that see the purpose as a mixture of both. In the end, your choice as to the purpose of education should be one of the fundamental questions you get a personal grasp on before you even apply to an institution of higher learning.
    • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:18PM (#13531976) Homepage Journal
      the purpose of an education. Some would argue that it is to prepare you for a job through the acculumation of a set of skills or a knowlege set. Others would argue that it is to prepare you for a lifetime of learning. In this day and age, odds are unless you're in a position where you can call in rich, you'll take more than one career zig or zag in your lifetime.

      The issue I have with evaluating everything in terms of "but will it get me a job?" is that, as you say, over your lifetime you'll probably make a few jumps in career path, so the skills you invest in now might not be what you find yourself doing in 5 or 10 years time. Add to that the fact that, especially in the IT field, there is a lot of churn in what are considered the "right skills" and you could easily find that the job skills you spent time learning are not much in demand by the time you've finished learning them.

      That's not to knock vocational courses - they can be very useful and help give you the skills to get things done. Your life shouldn't revolve around your job however, and not everything should be devoted to that end. The best vocational courses are the ones that are unashamedly so, are usually short (a few weeks or months for the whole course) and something you can pursue when you need it. University courses are supposed to be about learning because you want to know and understand. Some of that may be useful for finding a job simply because people who understand some concepts may well be rare, and in demand. Some of that may be useful in a job because you have a good grasp of underlying concepts and understand what you're doing rather than just mechanistically repeating a process. Employment is shouldn't be the point of learning such things however, it should be a small side benefit. If you want a job, take some vocational training. If the job you want requires you to understand things for which you need a university degree then either that's something you want to learn regardless just so you can understand it yourself, or you need to seriously consider your career goals.

      In the end the ability to learn new things efficiently, and the skills involved in such learning are the most valuable job skills you'll get. You'll rarely end up doing a job that is precisely what you trained for, so the ability to learn and adapt is highly beneficial. Those are things no university, trade school, college, or otherwise will teach you, it's something you have to learn for yourself. Of course any sort of education can give you practice.

      • by LazyLawyer ( 610380 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @03:14PM (#13532958)

        I got my CS degree in 1984. It's still useful, because they taught me theory, The languages they used (Pascal, PL/1 and LISP primarily) aren't.

        My enthusiasm got me jobs. The degree only helped.

        When I went to law school, almost everything I learned was theory. When I started the practice of law, I knew virtually nothing about actually running a trial. Now, I'm writing the book, and a publisher pays me for it.

        Much of what I learned from the practice of CS and of law could have been taught at a trade school. 95% of the time, my work would be competent.

        But that remaining 5% distinguishes between a tradesman and a professional. As a prosecutor, cross-examining the defence's psychologist or engineer, I have the advantage of knowing the basic theory behind their disciplines, because of the courses I took at university. I only tinker with writing software now, but I grok the new languages fast enough (when I get the chance to turn my mind to them).

        I don't knock the trade schools. Enthusiasm to learn takes some people all the way through the theory they need to be pros. They don't need a university degree to be good.

        And uninspired university graduates are so useless that should not be permitted to do anything important. I wouldn't hire them.

        I remember that IBM used to hire only people with university degrees. Not just CS. Any degrees. IBM wasn't interested in what they learned at university. They wanted people who had the the enthusiasm/fortitude to slug their way through dry theory. A degree proved that the kid could work. Isn't that what an employer wants?

        So what do you want? A job or a career? How much do you want it?

        • by Tim ( 686 ) <timr@alumni.was[ ... u ['hin' in gap]> on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:04PM (#13533472) Homepage
          So what do you want? A job or a career? How much do you want it?

          I think that there is a deeper subtext to your post than you are emphasizing.

          Look at your career: you earned a CS degree. You worked as an engineer. Then, you went to law school.

          Granted, you don't tell us why you made that decision, and I'm not going to speculate. But I am going to generalize, and say that your story is becoming the norm, and not the exception. I know a huge number of people who have switched careers mid-track. And the funny thing is, I see a correlation with intelligence -- the smarter the person, the less satisfied they are with their first career.

          Why is this the case? Who knows? But I think it's significant, and I think it speaks to the way that a student should treat his/her college education: Try things. Experiment. Learn ideas, not facts. Learn how to read. Learn how to write. Learn how to live.

          I speak from some experience here -- I spent a huge amount of time as an undergraduate studying the technical, and very little time learning about books, music and culture. Today, I'm a technology burnout. I would much rather read, write, paint, draw, photograph or perform -- basically, anything but spend the rest of my life sitting in front of a computer. I wish I had done things differently.

          Perhaps, had I balanced my education a bit better in college, I wouldn't be facing this problem today. Perhaps not. But either way, I would be much better prepared for the difficulties of life, had I spent a little less time treating college like a trade school for science and technology....
        • Exactly!

          Knowing the time complixity of sorting and searching algorithms, data structures, different programming paradigms (oo, procedural, functional etc.) is something you can always rely on next year, or 20 years from now, but is not something they will teach you at a community college.

          What you need is BOTH. Finish your BS at a University, learn about algorithms, data encoding, database theory, AI, optimization, machine learning, HCI theory, data security, networks, then as your electives go to that

    • And from what I hear, one of the most useful classes you can take to get a job after completing a CS degree is Hindi [].
    • Those are good points. I would add to that by saying that the greatest value of a scientific/technical college education is not just the specific knowledge and skills that it teaches you, but the fact that -- if you do it right -- it teaches you how to learn new things. And this, really, is the most valuable job skill of all. Whatever cutting-edge software or hardware you become familiar with in your university education are almost certainly going to become obsolete in your lifetime -- even abstract concept

  • by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot@ja w t h e s h a r k . com> on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:33AM (#13531694) Homepage Journal
    If you want to learn about computer science (which is for a big part just maths), you're in the right program. However, computer science doesn't teach you to be a software engineer, or a programmer. It teaches you the sience behind it all, the foundations of "how this stuff" works. (Which is mostly theory, by the way) It isn't all that useful for your job, but an academic degree doesn't make you ready for "a job". It makes sure that you can handle what comes after that. The ability to adapt, to learn and research on yourself when your job requires you to do so.
    Sometimes the stuff you learn there seems completely and utterly unimportant for day to day usage. Still, often you suddenly get into a situation where no other non-CS guy can't find a certain bug because they lack the understanding of the background. I've been in the stuation myself where I was able to fix a bug that resulted out of the use of floating-point numbers. The guy that implemented the routine just didn't know about the mathematical boundaries of floating point numbers. It's just an example...

    If you just want to become a programmer, just follow some evening courses... That's all you need... Programming isn't all that hard, but don't come complaining to me because the sorting routine you wrote is too slow and don't know why.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      That's just not true. Or rather, maybe it was at your college.

      First of all, a degree is very important when looking for a job. Most colleges and universities don't offer a degree in Programming.

      Second, as a CS graduate working as a software engineer, I can say with absolute certainty that while most of the classes don't have any direct bearing on what you may end up doing, knowing the theory and fundamentals are key to being a well-rounded programmer.
    • by Etyenne ( 4915 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:03PM (#13531886)
      The problem with your position is that the job market have come to expect CS degree from programmers. Vocationnal school degrees, while being more down-to-earth in their approach, are considered inferior by the vast majority of employers. So, if you want to make a living programming, CS degree is considered a must. I know it make no sense in the real world, but would you rather get to begin your career on a lower rung because you choose the most appropriate curriculum for your career path ? For most people, the answer is no, thus we are collectively trying to retrofit computer "scientists" into programming roles.

      Some people sugggested MIS as a better academic path for programmer. I don't know. At my University, the MIS curriculum involve a lot of business bullshit such as marketing or finance. I know these are good to know from the organizational point-of-view, but if you expect to produce decent programmers, you need to keep some focus.

      Actually, I think there is no good path for those who want to get into programming in the current academic model. It's even worse for IT. What would a prospective system administrator take as degree ?
      • by llefler ( 184847 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @01:05PM (#13532269)
        Some people sugggested MIS as a better academic path for programmer. I don't know. At my University, the MIS curriculum involve a lot of business bullshit such as marketing or finance. I know these are good to know from the organizational point-of-view, but if you expect to produce decent programmers, you need to keep some focus.

        It depends a lot on what type of job you are looking for. I would guess that the majority of programming jobs are for managing in-house applications. Companies writing software to manage their own business. In those jobs, it's just as important to understand the business as it is to know how to write a program. Maybe more so, since advancement above a certain level will generally be into management.

        In various classes over the years, I have taken Cobol, RPG II, Assembler (s360), BASIC, C, C++, and Java. And over my career I've mostly worked in Delphi. OTOH, everything I learned in accounting and economics applies pretty much the same today as it did 20 years ago. With computer curriculums you have to be careful and make sure you are focusing on teaching how to be a programmer and not how to use a particular language. That's why classes should focus on data structures and SDLC. And sadly, proper GUI design is nearly universally ignored.
    • Try explaining that to the numerous companies in and around Canada's "Tech Triangle" (which happens to include Waterloo, Ontario, the home of the supposedly famous University of Waterloo's CS program). I went to Conestoga College [], which has a very good, very relevent Computer Programmer/Analyst course. While it's a programming course and gives you a very good basis, it also relates it to the business aspect of the world. I came out knowing how to program complete systems end-to-end regardless of the lang
    • While I agree with you, the programmers I've had work for me with no theoretical background are usually pretty bad programmers. The good programmers usually had a pretty strong theoretical background. Of course, it's not a necessary and sufficient condition - I have met a few with strong theoretical knowledge and poor practical programming skills.

      But I've almost never met a *great* programmer (i.e. somebody who can independently design and develop complicated solutions and implement them efficiently) with
  • by Ckwop ( 707653 ) * <> on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:33AM (#13531703) Homepage

    A degree is an academic certification and as such it should not cover topics simply because they're trendy in CS related jobs at the moment. It should teach a curriculum that gives CS students a good background in a wide range of topics and above all else it should be interesting and set up a good basis for more advanced academic training.

    It is not surprising that sometimes what is good course academically is not necessarily a good course from a business standpoint. As a professional programmer I think that CS graduates are typically no better than someone with no degree at all. I understand that this is a pretty damning thing to say considering the majority of slashdotters probably have a CS degree but in reality the CS degree gives you nothing in terms the ability to write good code.

    In fact, a CS degree typically makes for a more dangerous coder due to their belief that the few programing projects they did on their course makes them a professional programmer. It also trains the wrong instincts. Academic coding is about producing beautiful programs - business coding is about being pragmatic. Often they have a hard time rejecting these academic instincts.

    I liken programming to playing chess. Anybody can learn the game in a day but to become a master takes dedication, a willingness to learn and a lot of time. I've stressed the "lot of time" point because I think this is a key problem with CS students. You get the typical line out of them at an interview "I didn't learn C# in Comp Science but I could learn it in an afternoon.." I'm a young guy (22) and I've been programing professionally for nearly four years and I can tell you that this is simply false. Make no mistake about it, I'm still no coding grand-master and probably wont be for another ten years. When somebody says that they can learn a language in an afternoon it doesn't make me think they're lying, it just makes it blatantly obvious how ignorant they are of intricacies of writing code.

    In conclusion.. I think that having a CS degree is no real advantage over having a physics, chemistry or maths degree. What a degree shows you is the person in-front of you applied themselves to a long term project and got a result. The same conclusion can be drawn from a person sat across from me without a degree but three years of experience. Really, both routes are equally valid and I hold neither higher than the other.


    • by the_2nd_coming ( 444906 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:40AM (#13531767) Homepage
      you had me until it came to the part about learning a new language. I am sorry, but once you know how to program, learning a new syntax, especially one that is so close to one that most CS students have had experience with, is easy to do.

      yes, you still need to learn the library but the language is trivial.
      • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @01:09PM (#13532291)
        Have you programmed in ML? Lisp? What about Prolog?

        Maybe you haven't programmed in some or any of these languages. If you have, though, you'll probably know what I mean when I say that, compared to C/C++, none of them are exactly a walk in the park. They require you to think differently about not just syntax, but the entire form of your programs.

        What if your only programming experience was ten years of (not Visual) Basic, and suddenly you were faced with learning Java? The concepts of object-oriented programming would be completely foreign to a person coming from a language that doesn't even have user-definable data structures.

        When I learned PHP (no, I'm no master), I was able to draw on my knowledge of C/C++, which is syntactically practically identical but more importantly the same paradigm []. Learning how to tinker around in it was a snap. On the other hand, learning a language like Lisp, coming from C/C++, was much more of a challenge - yes, the syntax was different, but I had the whole ample use of parentheses thing down quickly. It was the fact that Lisp flows as a functional language but stutters as an imperative one that gave me fits. You'll never be a good Lisp programmer until you resign yourself to the fact that when you try to fit Lisp in to the C++ mold, you get crappy Lisp programs.

        You're probably thinking, why the hell do I want to learn how to program in Lisp? I'll probably never use it. True, in a production environment, Lisp isn't anywhere near the most commonly used language. But college is about teaching you how to think more so than what to think. By learning Lisp while you're in college (or another language that doesn't fit into the C/C++/Java/PHP/etc. motif), you give yourself another way to think about how to do things. When you finish your degree and go into job training wherever you end up, that will help you just as much as the program design courses that give you the depth you need to get a leg up in the job market.

    • by CyborgWarrior ( 633205 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:42AM (#13531775) Homepage
      I disagree with you on the point that you can't learn a language in an afteroon. Every programming langauge has its own set of syntax rules and functions. You can take an afternono and learn the basic syntax of the language, memorize a couple of the functions that you will use often, and find the best resources for help about the language. After that, your learning process will be just learning as you code. You said yourself it's going to be another 10 years before you would consider yourself really good at it. You aren't going to get there by just sitting and examining tutorials. You learn it by actually programming it and doing google searches / resource searches every time you come across something you need a tip on.

      So while learning it in an afternoon won't make you a killer coder right away, it is enough time to set you up to be able to code just about any app and learn as you go. If you already know other langauges, then it will be fairly easy to apply the rules of good clean coding to this new language as you go.
      • Which is fastest for comparing two strings (ignoring case):

        string1.ToLower() == string2.ToLower()

        string.Compare(string1, string2, true) == 0

        Learning the syntax is the easy part. Learning how to use the syntax effectively is a different ball game all together. It's this aspect of coding that takes a lot of time to develop. I agree that once you can program to a high level in one language you can transfer to another much more quickly but it still takes a while to really understand the language. It's this kno
        • and as a new developer on a team, the experienced guys can clue him/her in on the stuff he does not know.

          to say that a person should be able to know the finer points of a language before he tried to get a job for that language is ridiculous.
        • Not knowing C#, just knowing what the names say it does, my guess is that the second one is faster.

          The first one is going to require two copies and a compare.

          Three main loops, and a whole slew of slow, slow copies. The second doesn't need to do any copying, all it has to do is check that each letter in the string is the upper or lower case equivelent of the other. In ASCII, for example, you can use neato-keen bitwise tricks to do this in less than 10 instructions (on most architectures) if you want. Much
        • Well then you are arguing symantics about what it means to 'learn' a language. Most fresh grad CS monkies ARE capable of picking up basic syntax of a new language in an afternoon. They are capable of turning out working code. Whether or not it is perfect and completely optimized code for the particular solution in question is an entirely different matter and I doubt if you ask them very many would make the claim that they could. But when a CS major says "I can learn it in an afternoon" all they are saying i
        • by Viv ( 54519 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:49PM (#13532167)
          I would also point out that either of those is likely to be a roughly O(n) operation, so neither selection is obviously rediculous, and the use of them took very little programmer time to implement. If they become a bottleneck, identify them as such, and choose a better algorithm.

          I'm far more likely to get bent out of shape if a programmer who works for me chooses to use a bubble sort algorithm to sort a 5 million record database, or if he spends three weeks trying to find an algorithm to optimally solve a 3SAT equivalent problem. (unless, of course, he actually succeeds in the second case!)

          Fact is, someone with real study in CS is less likely to make the above mistakes than someone with just programming experience. And programmer time costs way more than processor time.
    • No kidding. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:49AM (#13531805)
      I've got degrees in Physics and Math; and have never, ever taken a Computer course. I've also done a heck of a lot more than the author has.

      What the author doesn't recognize is that one of the reasons you should take courses which aren't job related is to make yourself well-rounded. That is, capable of handling anything which comes up, instead of just being technically proficient in a few TLA's of the moment.

      He completely fails to understand that the computer training you received in College will typically be obsolete in 5 years. However, if you've received an Education (instead of training), you can likely adapt to handle the new stuff as it develops.

      Somebody who can actually think can pick up anything. Someone who just has job training is going to be in trouble unless they know how to adapt.

      The only constant in this universe is change. You're best off preparing for it.

    • "I didn't learn C# in Comp Science but I could learn it in an afternoon.." I'm a young guy (22) and I've been programing professionally for nearly four years and I can tell you that this is simply false. Make no mistake about it, I'm still no coding grand-master and probably wont be for another ten years. When somebody says that they can learn a language in an afternoon it doesn't make me think they're lying, it just makes it blatantly obvious how ignorant they are of intricacies of writing code.

      Hmmm I'm

    • by sribe ( 304414 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:03PM (#13531884)
      ...the majority of slashdotters probably have a CS degree...

      What planet are you from?

      You get the typical line out of them at an interview "I didn't learn C# in Comp Science but I could learn it in an afternoon.." I'm a young guy (22) and I've been programing professionally for nearly four years and I can tell you that this is simply false.

      Well, I'm an old guy (42), who has not just learned, but used in shipped products, over a dozen languages. And I can tell you that I learn and master new languages a whole lot faster than all you guys without CS degrees who keep shooting off your mouths about how little use CS degrees are. Learning a new language in an afternoon is indeed an exaggeration, but learning a new language is a whole lot faster when you understand the fundamental mathematics on which all programs are based, and the way they are commonly expressed through language features.
    • Think about it in terms of a spoken language. At the age of ten, most kids can speak well enough to express anything they want... how they feel, what they want, etc. They have complete freedom with the language; virtually no idea cannot be expressed with the vocabulary and rhetoric of a ten year old. Essentially what is being said is that a ten year old is on the same level as Hemingway or Dickens, because the kid, like these authors of immense literary genius, has the same freedom of language.

      I'm only
    • I've stressed the "lot of time" point because I think this is a key problem with CS students. You get the typical line out of them at an interview "I didn't learn C# in Comp Science but I could learn it in an afternoon.." I'm a young guy (22) and I've been programing professionally for nearly four years and I can tell you that this is simply false.

      I must take issue with this. I did my time in one of the top CS programs in the US. I'm pretty sure that I could learn C# in an afternoon. I wouldn't say that I'd

    • You get the typical line out of them at an interview "I didn't learn C# in Comp Science but I could learn it in an afternoon.." I'm a young guy (22) and I've been programing professionally for nearly four years and I can tell you that this is simply false. CS major here with the same number years of experience (although mixed with part time and internships). I didn't do it in an afternoon. I did it over 3 nights. I read the APIs and learned the syntax. Where's the challenge?
    • by jwiegley ( 520444 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @03:10PM (#13532935)
      Disclaimer: I am a university professor in CS. So, clearly, I believe in the value of a university education. But I'll try to explain why...

      "I didn't learn C# in Comp Science but I could learn it in an afternoon.." I'm a young guy (22) and I've been programing professionally for nearly four years and I can tell you that this is simply false. Make no mistake about it, I'm still no coding grand-master and probably wont be for another ten years.

      I think your statement here sums everything up nicely in favor of university degrees. You don't have such a degree, you can't learn new languages fast, can't recognize that ability in others and after four years you're still not an expert at the one language you do know and use daily.

      Aside from the exaggeration of "[one] afternoon" which I agree is insufficient. You believe it's impossible because you yourself are unable to accomplish it due to your limited vocational training. Then you falsely project your own limitations on to others. As other posters have replied: yes. with a well grounded backround in theory and fundamentals it is possible to pick up yet another language in a very compressed period of time. (Though some of us benefit from an advantage in age over you.)

      I have been proficient in the past with Fortran, Pascal, Modula-2, LISP and various assembly languages. I am currently proficient in Perl and shell and an expert in C, C++ and Java. (not trying to brag, a lot of /.ers have similar, or larger, skill sets and will relate to the rapid shifts in technologies that result in such sets.) The last job I took up required teaching advanced data structures in Java; a language I hadn't touched before the first day of class. Within one week I was productive in the language, within two proficient and within a month I was expert and using most of the advanced features of the language. I can't count the number of times my employment positions have put me in such a position where the programming requirements of the job have changed abruptly. I have always been ready to adapt to the challenge in a very, very short time frame and I believe this is due to my university-based education. I'm not afraid to change jobs or be fired because I know I can adapt and be valuable and productive in any new environment.

      Here's two more examples:

      1. Never during my education in CS did I expect to become a programmer and systems administrator for a Nortel phone system. But it did happen. I was ready for it and saved my company a lot of money in consulting fees because a dedicated technician didn't have to be called in to fix little issues.
      2. Second example: One of my students obtained a job with an aerospace company and it was my responsibility to monitor them for a year to make sure everybody was happy with the arrangement. I asked what they were working on and they replied "debugging HPL programs. I've never even heard of HPL! How am I suppose to know this?". I said "neither have I. How are you doing at it". They said "Fine."
      They were "fine" because they had the necessary theory fundamentals squared away. I would trust this student to pick up anything new and previously unknown in a short time period. In general, I would trust university educated people to have this adaptability more than vocationally trained peopl.

      I'm really sorry for all the excellent, creative problem solvers you turned away because of your bias towards a single answer. "I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer (in any context) and doesn't, in itself, indicate an unworthy candidate. "I don't know; but I can learn it real fast" can indicate a truly flexible, useful person. Your loss; not the candidates.

    • I'm a young guy (22) and I've been programing professionally for nearly four years and I can tell you that this is simply false. Make no mistake about it, I'm still no coding grand-master and probably wont be for another ten years. When somebody says that they can learn a language in an afternoon it doesn't make me think they're lying, it just makes it blatantly obvious how ignorant they are of intricacies of writing code.

      I don't know about C#, but I learned Tcl and Python in about two days each. I do the

  • Maybe... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:33AM (#13531705)
    The classes you have to take are required for the degree, and the degree is very important. On the other hand, some people have great success just learning how to program on their own.

    I'd say there are more successful people in the programming world with degrees than without, though, so I'd stick with the courses your college requires.

    If you really want to stand out when you're looking for a job, use your spare time to write a well-designed app that you can show to potential employers.
  • not useless (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OffTheLip ( 636691 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:34AM (#13531710)
    You are learning to think critically and hone problem solving skills. CS is not computer programming alone. The biggest problem in computer design is and always will be applying the best solution to a problem within the constraints allowed.
  • by [ella] ( 122929 ) *
    I stopped university and got a 'lower' but much more practical degree. This actually meant I was on the market sooner, and by the time I would have gotten my university degree, I was making the same amount of money as somebody who gets out of university.
    And guess what? I already had work experience...

    University is something you (should) do for the love of science, not for just getting a job.
  • There are many college programs which are designed to grind out more teachers of those programs to other students who in turn teach them to other students and so on. Think of all the History degrees and all the other esoteric programs like that. This CIS program appears to be of that ilk.
  • I use to be proud of the fact that I held a CS degree, but that changed when CS became more about job training than a science. If you want a real CS degree, then become a math major.
  • Common Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wsloand ( 176072 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:35AM (#13531719)
    This seems like a common question. There will be plenty of people who think that college should provide vocational training and plenty more who think that college should teach you "how to think independently".

    I'm personally more in the second camp. I think that there are vocational schools for those who want to learn the vocation, but those skills will need to be constantly updated. I think that what you learn in college (as opposed to vocational schools) should be applicable to more fields than just the one that you learn and that you should be able to apply the lessons beyond what the curriculum specifically teaches.

    Essentially, if you want to learn the theory of how databases work and know how to write a database you're taking the right sort of classes. If you're wanting to become a DBA, you should really go to a vocational school.
    • Yeah, but all that theory can't be put to any practical use without at least one general-purpose programming language under your belt. I've heard about programs that are all about theory, and don't even have a single practical course. That's a shortcut to irrelevancy if ever I've heard one.

      I'm not saying the courses should be vocational, but students should at least have one practical programming course per semester so that by the time they graduate, they have three years or so of continuous programming exp
  • by Taladar ( 717494 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:36AM (#13531724)
    I don't know about American Universities but here in Germany the theoretical courses are the only ones that have long-time-useful information. The practical courses focus mostly on technologies that will be outdated when I leave college. They also usually focus on details that won't stick in my head after the test because they are easily re-discoverable via Google. The theoretical courses are the ones that enable me to read about new stuff and actually understanding what it does as they are the timeless background for all of CS.
  • Computer Science is the science behind software and computer technology. It's not really meant to be practical to most of what goes on in the professional realm. If you're not meaning to do research or interesting things like AI, creating computer languages, and the like, then, yes, it's the wrong program.

    I wouldn't worry, though, as most everyone else is going to be coming from this "wrong" program as well.

  • I had one coding job right out of college where those classes were irrelevant. I was working with mostly EE's. The next job I had was working with math phd's. In that job, those courses were definitely necessary and I was actually inadequately prepared on the theoretical side.

    I liked the second job much more and it paid a lot better.

    If you ever want to get into the business side, take all the econ you can get. I'm now at a top 10 law school and THANK GOD I took some econ or I would be toast.
  • by Foredecker ( 161844 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:38AM (#13531734) Homepage Journal
    I've been a software development manager for a long time and I've hired a lot of people. Fundamental development skills are essential. This includes knowledge of data structures, algorithms, C/C++ and another 'major' language (c/C++ is a must have), a basic understanding of micro processor archithecture (this means some ability to debug in assembly, at least a little), good written and verbal communication skills (e.g. can you write a decent bug report?, can you lead a decent code walkthrough?). Funcatinal knowledge of operating system fundamentals such as memory management, scheduling, I/O (Syncronous, async), and networked I/O (TCP/IP) are also important. Again, I don't expect folks to be able to write a kernel, but they do need to at least be able to use more than one thread to do I/O or handle UI while doing something else, or open a socket and do a little client/server work. Note that economics isn' bad, but it should be micro, not macro. Even entry level devs need to have some inkling of business trade offs.
  • It's ok to be in programs like that. Just make sure to get a 3.5 GPA and do as many high-profile internships as possible. The combination of those two things will get you a job.

    My schooling was kind of a joke, but job experience, GPA, and activities participation helped me land the job I have now.

    Good luck!
  • There are plenty of vocational training progams in computers out there, if that's what you want, get one of those degrees, and not a BS in Comp. Sci..

    There are numerous jobs available in high end, research grade computing. There may not be as many as there are CS graduates (for one thing many essentially require an advanced degree, as well,) but they exist, and they make heavy use of the cutting edge stuff, particularly what I do, which is in Biology.

    That said, if a particular employer wou
  • Jobs aren't all. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by matman ( 71405 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:40AM (#13531760)
    Once you're working you'll realize that getting the job isn't where you stop setting goals. You'll want to do a good job and make insightful decisions. You'll learn that you want to contribute to the field that you're working in, beyond hacking out whatever the business tells you to. You'll want to contribute to society. For these things, the better your understanding of your field and the world, the better you'll do - that's why you're going to university.

    Now, you can do all of these things without university, but you've got to be very driven and interested in what you're doing. Interest and ambition to contribute more than just labor is the biggest factor in my experience. Jesus isn't remembered for being a carpenter. Ghandi's not remembered for being a lawyer.
  • If you can handle all those theoretical courses, it probably shows you're smart. OK, "smart" is a vague term, but for instance, it probably shows you can do hard math, understand hard textbooks, and do abstract reasoning.

    I teach physics, often to biology majors who think it's irrelevant to them (even though biology is based on chemistry, and chemistry is based on physics). If they can do well in my class, it says something good about their intellectual abilities. And anyway, what about the person who never

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:41AM (#13531770) Homepage Journal
    The point of good education is not so much to learn stuff, but to learn how to learn stuff.

    In the decades of your career you'll work on totally different subjects and will have to learn new programming languages and techniques. Knowing how to learn these "new tricks" is what distinguishes an educated person from a trained one.

    Learning theory while using "academic" languages, which nobody uses in "real life" will be very useful... You will be able to pick practical things up quicker and there will be no shortage of that later in life.

  • If you don't know what computer science is, then you're lost already. Studying the science of computers means you are going into a field of science dealing with the fundamentals of computers. No, it doesn't translate into a typical job, but it can be used for lots of jobs. CS plus other practical classes can give you an incredible edge. If you are trying for just getting a job, stay out of CS. In fact, PLEASE stay out of CS if that is all you want. CS is being deluted by that kind of attitude. A computer sc
  • When I was coming to the end of my degree, nearly 10 years ago, I took part in a consultation exercise. Another panel member complained about the lack of vocational aspects to the course, saying "We did a module on networking, yet Novell wasn't mentioned once".

    But he was wrong. While Novell still exist, Novell networking as you might have recognised it in 1995 is all but dead, whereas the theories and paradigms I learnt during the degree still serve me well.

    And that's just one example.
    • With my CS degree we had most everything theoretical. There are a few classes though which do tend to teach more on the vocational side.

      So it was the flavour of the time, but the idea is that principle is taught along with the application.

      However, I come from a slightly different branch which had a good deal of focus on embedded systems. (Design, theory, logic, electrical.. the whole mix... wildly useful to this date)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    >I tend to think that an university education should stress scientific topics over vocational ones

    I'm glad people like you still exist... you wouldn't believe the number of students who whine to me that computer science courses are "useless". They want courses like "How to program for Windows XP" and "How to install network drivers"....

    The analogy isn't quite apt, but I'll use it anyways: taking a computer science degree to become a line programmer is liking taking a physics degree to learn how to operat
  • Just keep that in mind. Some places you won't work without a degree -- I have a couple friends who would have liked to work at the university like I am, but can't since they didn't have their degrees finished.

    They've all gotten jobs in the area, but aren't particularly happy with them.

    Not that you'd expect my degree (MS in CS) to have anything to do with my job (systems administrator), but it does. My MS was in parallel computation, and now I manage a supercomputer. The degree has been useful: good for trac
  • If you want to be a code monkey, take vocational courses: learn Java and C++, learn about the buzzwords du jour (XML, SOAP. Ajax, whatever.)

    If you actually want to be a serious programmer/designer, get a strong grounding in CS - that means data structures + algorithms, automata, numerics, compilers, OS design, etc. Know C++, Lisp, and a functional language.

    So DZ doesn't want programmers who know how to write a compiler? Great, on his next big project, he'll wind up with a system with several embedded a
  • In the Aug 23 story [] on how most students prefer Interdisciplinary studies to CS. This poster [] had the best response to the topic I've read.

  • There seems to be a disconnect between what CS is and what most curriculums offer. It seems that the submitter is getting a solid CS background when he might be looking for a degree in Software Engineering.
    This seems to be a common occurance. My alma mater offered a CS degree which was actually more of a software engineering degree. Sure they offered courses in AI and more scientific branches, but I learned more practical programming than anything
    I believe this confusion comes from the fact that college
  • by wk633 ( 442820 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @11:58AM (#13531852)
    If you just want a job, go to a 2 year college and cram in as much as possible off his list. Do some stuff on your own if you have to. Fast, cheap, you'll be in the job market right away.

    On the other hand, if you find yourself asking deeper questions in class, and instructors either not able, or not willing to take the class time to answer, maybe you should go to a 4 year after all.

    I've used very little of my B.Sc directly in the last 12 years. But I can't count the number of times that something I learned has been very important to what I do. I also have a better perspective. People without a broad background tend to focus on solutions in their knowledge domain. People who understand how big the domain is can look outside it.

    XML? Good grief! What do people like me who finished school before XML even existed do? Cry that we missed out? Or just learn it on the job, like every other new technology that appears after graduation day? The cutting edge is a moving target. If you try to aim for it, you'll be out of date by the time you finish. If you build a strong background, you'll be sharpening the edge.

    Sure, there will be employers out there who expect to already have experience in some obscure specific software they use. But there are those willing to treat coursework as experience. 2 years in the workforce, and it will be irrelevant.

    One thing I will say, is that you should round yourself out with some electives such as: business, economics, accounting, law, etc. A lot of people can write code. Not everyone understands the business reasons behind the code.
  • History of Econ class sounds interesting. Your in college at least partly to expand your horizons. Definately stay in that.

    Otherwise, yeah, what you learn in school isn't the most relevent to finding jobs. That's why it is most important that you get an internship or failing that contribute to an open source project.

    Classes just don't give you the opportunity to work on projects of an acceptable scale to be real experience.

    Theory of Computation can actually be a fairly useful course. Much more so that I tho
  • University.

    If you want a "job" then go to a tech school. University is for people interested in advancing a field of study.

    One of the biggest problems with the education system is the massive influx of people who don't care about education, but about training.

    On the other hand, if you actually care about algorithmic efficiency and want to work doing CS research, say at Google or any other lab, then these courses are indeed useful for "getting a job" -- or rather, starting a career.

    There are a few questions
  • Yeah, I have a BSCS. I also have a boatload of physics and maths that weren't required for the degree.

    Very few of my classes turned out to be useful right out of school. However, the ones that I use most now are the ones I thought would be least useful at the time. Those theory classes don't do you any good right away, but they're utterly indispensible as a foundation for staying current for the rest of your life.

    I promise you, the vocational stuff will all be in a landfill fifteen years from now, bu

  • by Tsu Dho Nimh ( 663417 ) <abacaxi@hot[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:05PM (#13531899)
    Make sure you include a couple of courses on report writing and writing for buisness.

    Many times your department or project will live or die based on how well you write your reports and memos. And your user base will love or hate you depending on your ability to clearly communicate - at their level and from their perspective - how to use whatever you are running.

  • by prozac79 ( 651102 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:14PM (#13531947)
    While I agree with some of the classes that Dan Zambonini suggests, most of them are way too specific for a CS education. The purpose of computer science is to provide someone a toolkit of knowledge which can then be applied in a wide range of fields. It is not solely to teach people the mechanics of programming, but instead on how to think through problems. Classes like AI, Operating Systems, etc. may seem pointless once you get out into the "real world". However, they are teaching you different ways of approaching problems. For example, I'm not working in building the next Deep Blue, Linux OS, or gcc compiler, but I have had to bust out concepts learned from my AI, OS, and compiler classes more than once to design and implement some programs at work.

    Dan Zambonini basically wants things learned on the job to be placed in the classroom. I have learned things like test-first development, extreme programming, system engineering, etc. where I should be... on the job. Think of Computer Science like law. You don't spend three years in law school going over courtroom procedure (because not every lawyer ends up in a courtroom for starters). Instead, you study cases and build up a toolkit of knowledge which you can then apply later in whatever environment you land in. Same with CS... study the concepts and learn how to think. If you know how to solve problems, then you can more easily learn the mechanics of programming.

  • ...go to a Trade School. If you want to be well-rounded, go to a University.

    As someone who has made a nice living developing computer software, overseeing software projects, *and* playing the piano (!), my liberal arts education (math major, music minor) came in very handy. If you want to specialize, to it in your graduate degree.

  • by supabeast! ( 84658 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:24PM (#13532010)
    Of the hundreds of tech workers I've known, I've never met one with a CS degree. I have, however, known many people in retail management with CS degrees. All those nice theory and science classes are cool, but they aren't job skills or job experience.

    One of the nastiest problems in the IT industry is a near-total lack of entry level jobs. If you show up for an interview that requires a CS degree, but some 18-year-old who can code circles around you and has been working a help-desk for six months also shows up, he'll often get the job.

    If you're going to stick with CS and want to get a job, here are a few resume builders to keep in mind.
    - Do work study helping the sysadmins manage the networks, or at least helping inept students in lab classes.
    - Find a good internship every single summer.
    - If you program, do useful work on worthwhile open-source projects.
    - Go ahead and get a master's degree immediately upon finishing up your BS. Then you become a serious computer scholar, and not just another kid who got a CS degree for the money.
  • by Paradox ( 13555 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:24PM (#13532011) Homepage Journal
    The difference between most college educations and a trade school education is that in college, you learn the basics of an entire field. English majors learn how to do a lot of things in one degree. Art majors (at good art schools) don't have specific classes like "Low Bandwidth Internet Art." Math majors don't have classes like, "The Math and Engineering of Dams."

    Likewise, Computer Science Majors don't have super-specific classes. Instead, they teach you the things that you wouldn't think to learn on your own. Fundamentals that make all your work as a compsci major easier. Having a solid understanding of algorithms, what's slow, what's complex, and why has helped me produce better work many times.

    If I were in charge of hiring and I had a developer position open, I probably wouldn't hire someone if their school curriculum consisted of the classes he listed. Tech and code come and go, but fundamentals last forever.

    Besides, if you can't learn that stuff as you go, you're not suited to a career in computer science. Only motivated and fast learners need apply!

  • It's a bit like Art (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:31PM (#13532058) Journal
    So what if the current job market for artists/designers requires you to know Photoshop version X, Macromedia, Pantone, etc. You should be able to learn that stuff in a timely manner. But if you can't draw and aren't creative in the first place, maybe you're in the wrong field - it might take a bit too long to teach you that eh?

    What's worth it is learning stuff that would take you a lot longer (like maybe never) if you had to do it yourself, or interesting things that you would never have thought of learning - never knew was there to be learnt in the first place. So what if it seems "Theoretical" only.

    If I were an employer, I'd ask you what projects you'd recently done for fun, not because you were told to or forced to do by your course or previous employer.

    If you call yourself an artist and the last time you drew something was 3 months ago as part of your college course, well that just isn't very convincing. In contrast, you're a pretty good artist if you're absentmindedly doodling a decent caricature of me during the interview ("right brain" just has to do something whilst "left brain" is talking to me).

    Same goes for programmers. I'd expect your college to teach you the theory stuff that will remain true for decades at least - algorithms, information theory etc. But I'd expect you to mess around with current stuff too, on your own, just for fun/interest - it doesn't have to be very much, and nowadays most stuff is just a few google searches away.

    Oh yeah, it's fine if you don't know the fancy tools/buzzwords in the industry. But if you can't do the programmer equivalent of using a "pencil" and sketch something passable, there are plenty of cheaper people in India who can and _will_.

    Saying you know UML and all the buzzwords won't be as compelling to me as you actually having written something interesting which you can describe and explain to me in the interview what bits you think are nifty.

    Anyone can say they know some buzzword and regurgitate the relevant keywords and phrases, and stick that in their CV. If people needed that, they should use google. If they only need just a bit more AI, maybe they should outsource ;).

    However, I'm not an employer at the moment, so maybe you should go with the flow, and listen to that buzzword guy ;).
  • Dan doesn't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daVinci1980 ( 73174 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @12:58PM (#13532221) Homepage
    Now that we've established that Dan doesn't know where to look for jobs in the game industry, [] let's talk about some of the other things he doesn't seem to get.

    For one thing, the "programs" Dan is talking about are primarily things that I've discovered through years of experience (for example, real world Database Design), or things that I've picked up in a weekend over the course of my employment (for example, a second 'Big' language, a scripting/'agile' language or two, XML (and why it's actually a pretty terrible file format), and common protocols).

    But they all share one thing in common: the courses that Dan are suggesting would be great at somewhere like ITT Technical Institute, or at Devry "University," but they do not belong at an academic institution--by and large. The things he is proposing are largely vocational. They'll make for an okay programmer, and probably only a okay programmer in one field. They do not make a well-rounded computer scientist, nor do they help you out when you decide that you don't want to do database design anymore, you want to write commerical shrinkwrap software instead.

    My well-rounded CS education has allowed me to run the gamut of employment in computer science related areas. I started out in Telcom, moved to commercial shrinkwrap, wrote several video games for very large video game publishers, and now I design graphics hardware for the market leading graphics chip company.

    Which of the courses there in Dan's suggested curriculum are going to allow me to do all of that? I'll give you a hint; they aren't there.

    Without advanced mathematics (Calc II, Linear Algebra), I would've never been able to do graphics programming, which would've kept me out of the commercial shrinkwrap business (where I did image editing software). It would've further kept me from doing 3D grapihcs applications, which would've kept me out of the game industry as well as my current position. Without Advanced Data Structures, and Automata theory, I would've been unable to write code that was efficient enough for the high performance needs of the games I worked on.

    In short (too late), Dan's proposed course load (of bullshit) would lead you to be a moderately acceptable programmer. You would be able to make a living, but you would always be one of the first to be laid off. Get a real education from a real institution of higher learning, and bring me good fundamentals. Because for pretty much all junior level positions, it's on-the-job-training. Without good fundamentals you will be unable to learn quickly enough to be of any use to an employer.
  • by mpechner ( 637217 ) * on Sunday September 11, 2005 @01:14PM (#13532324) Homepage

    I've been out there with a CS degree for over 20 years. Yes, the theoretical classes are very important. A good mathmatical CS backgroud will give you a leg up in the long run. As others have said, it is important to learn the theory and why different approaches, OS's and languages exist. It will help you dig into the practical topics as programming languages, platforms and operating systems change. It will let you keep up with different philosophies of how to design a system, and maybe you'll understand why the flavor of the month is popular. Hopefully you'll learn to not be dogmatic.

    Being dogmatic and a lack of flexibility has you using the equivilent of a hammer for everything. Very soon that will cause a career change and not by choice. Employers want people with a full tool belt. People who know how their tools work and why they use them. They also like to see that you change your tools as things evolve.

    Where it is offered, takes classes where design or working within a team is required. It will give you an idea of programming within a team. People skills are important in the real world.

    Do not pass on internships, involvement in open source or school projects. Anywhere there is a team of people writting code that will be used in a production environment by more than a few people. This will give you the leg up when you graduate. To say that you worked on code that is in production somewhere. Even if you can show you fixed a bug a month in firefox or apache. It shows you wrote peer reviewed code. You have code in production.

    Use the internships to find out what you want to do. Try to get an internship with different companies each summer. Different evironments. Different types of projects. Different industries. Do not choose based on the cool company. Some cool startup doing something new might be cooler than google or microsoft.

  • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @02:04PM (#13532589) Homepage telling them that you go to university "to get a better job."

    The courses you listed are indeed useless for "getting a job" as they are in nearly every undergraduate major at major universities. And, contrary to what most high school students are told, the more elite the university, the less your degree will be helpful to you in just "getting a job."

    Universities do not claim, and do not intend, to create workers. They do not provide "job training." They are not designed to find you a place at a company, but rather to give you the skills that you need to establish for yourself a place in the world.

    Mere job-seeking and work as "an employee" requires that you limit the authority that you take for yourself and your actions; job seekers must order their universe using the already existing structures of the marketplace and the companies within it, and must order their daily lives and work according to dictates from above, in whatever company the end up working for.

    Universities by contrast, in particular the elite ones, develop individuals who transcend marketplace, corporate, authority, and governmental structures. Their goals are to produce amazing people who will someday create those structures for others (i.e. the job-seekers and employees) rather than efficient people to populate them.

    Many people are not suited to life outside of the employer-employee relationship. It implies a higher level of initiative, a greater amount of responsibility, a greater amount of culpabilility, greater stress (and possibly uncertainty) in life, and the requirement that you always think globally, flexibly, and adaptably, across a number of fields, criteria, consequences, and fronts, rather than just locally within your current task or field.

    Young slashdotters: if you just want "a good job that pays well" with a minimum of other responsibilities, entanglements, or with guarantees about wages, responsibilities, and futures, you should be thinking about trade schools and vocational schools, not university, especially not top universities.

    You simply do not go to a top university "to land a better job." Unfortunately, too many students do just that and then find themselves sitting around afterward unqualified for "jobs," unable to find "work" (because they are actively looking within the existing marketplace and corporate infrastructure of society, which universities by and large do not address), and saddled with debt.

    For the right segment of the population -- bright, creative, self-directed, wanting to change the world rather than to work in it, willing to be flexible and to forego promises and stability -- university is precisely what the doctor ordered. For the 75% of the population that doesn't care what they do so long as it pays well, gives them a 401(k), health insurance, and the chance to climb the authority "ladder" within a single company, university is a colossal waste of time and money.
  • "Getting" a job (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @03:02PM (#13532896) Homepage
    Sure, these courses may not be essential for getting a job. However, they're quite handy when it comes to keeping a job. Just about anyone who's read a tech book can code. Knowing how to write code that is computationally efficient, and knowing how common concepts work, will get you much farther. If all you've done is learned a bunch of languages but not the theory behind them, you have a lot more catching up to do when the next language comes along.
  • Wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tom7 ( 102298 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @03:02PM (#13532902) Homepage Journal
    I doubt I'm the only one saying this, but let me reiterate:

    * A Computer Science degree is not primarily about getting a job
    * Understanding theory does in fact make you a better, and more employable, programmer
  • by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @04:05PM (#13533228) Homepage
    The shopping list that Dan Zambonini has come up with is fine, as far as it goes. I'd consider someone who'd mastered that list to be well qualified as a computer technologist. He's chosen subject matter which is widely applicable and technologically stable. So this could be an appropriate curriculum for a good technical college. Most colleges, in my experience, fall far short of satisfying this list, so I'd agree that there is definitely room for improvement.

    But it's not science. It could be argued that a typical computer science curriculum doesn't teach much science either. Quite possibly the coursework needs to be strengthened, though I know from my modest contacts with curriculum development that in practice it very much depends on how fast students can absorb the material and consider its implications. Faculty discuss this challenge all the time. To get the basics of computer science in four years is, not surprisingly therefore, about the same process, and about as hard, as doing the same thing in chemistry or any other scientific field.

    So it seems inevitable that improvements to the computer science curriculum will move it some distance further away from Zambonini's shopping list than it is already. Science, after all, is a systematic discipline for discovering the nature of the universe.

    I notice that Zambonini is not in the least concerned about that. So why look to a science degree to deliver something that's not in fact about science? You're shopping in the wrong store. Learning how to program, for example, is like learning how to operate a mass spectrometer. Of course you have to master the tools, but in science that itself is strictly not the goal. In a technology diploma it pretty much is.

  • by aduzik ( 705453 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @05:49PM (#13533646) Homepage
    I read TFA, and I can't believe that this guy is advocating software engineering. I reread an old, but not too old, paper by Edsgar Dijkstra called "On the Cruelty of Really Teaching Computer Science". In it, he refers to software engineering as "how to program if you cannot." That one had me rolling on the floor because, more often than not, it agrees with my own observations and experience.

    Our university teaches software engineering. The professor who teaches most of the software engineering courses is an idiot. For my project, my group and I wrote a pretty kick-ass app with some pretty kick-ass code. How? We snuck in some agile methodology, which just seemed perfect given the size of the group and the size of the project. Even though our project was the best in the class, we got a C because the specifications weren't complete, and she wasn't convinced that our automated tests would really test the code. (The other groups who got A's for testing wrote some very non-specific paragraphs about how they might test their code. None of them actually did any testing)

    What this proves to me is that software engineering is easily the most useless discipline in computer science. I have never had a good experience with it. I've never known anyone who said that software engineering really makes things run smoothly. It's a business-centered/management-centered unrealistic approach to software development. It may make your boss feel all warm and fuzzy, but it won't get the software out the door on time, nor will the developers have any degree of confidence in it.

  • by borgheron ( 172546 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @08:49PM (#13534472) Homepage Journal
    Most people think that you can just be sat down in front of a computer and taught to "program". What is the essence of programming? Is it the language? No. Is it the operating system? No.

    It's the *CONCEPTS*! Computer Science teaches the concepts behind the programming and why you should do certain things. It teaches you to discern for yourself how complex systems act. People who have certificates have reduces this profession to something most people think of as a "vocation" which is a crying shame.

    A vocation is something that people learn to do without much understanding of the science or technical justifications behind what they are doing? Do you think a mechanic knows the physics of how a car works down to the smallest level? No, he only knows that which he needs to get the job in front of him done. And guess what, when he needs to learn about a new car he has to go back to school to learn about it.

    Computer Science gives you the tools you need to get the job done AND it provides you with the knowledge you will need in the future to adapt because you have a deep undestanding of how things work, instead of simple rote memorization.

    Understanding the concepts is what give Computer Science and, indeed, any science or engineering discipline it's power over a simple "vocation."

    Don't listen to the guy who wrote the article (I already forgot his name) he sounds like he doesn't know what he's talking about.

    Later, GJC
  • by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @12:06AM (#13535357) Homepage Journal
    I did. Having graduated from collage, I now realized I knew enough going in to do most programming jobs out there. Computer science is a branch of mathimatics. If you just want to program without learning anything, take MIS, and quit cha bitching.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.