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New take on "practicality" of Comp/Eng degrees

I did a Comp.Sci degree, and although I never used much of the theory explicitly, (Automata, sorting algorithms, Big Oh, etc),  some was used implicitly.  While I was a programmer, I often felt my degree was a waste of time, b/c I ended up being a GUI/DB type of programmer...and totally self-taught on language specifics....

However, later in life, I think it was somewhat indirectly beneficial, b/c it opening my brain up to an entire new way of processing and analyzing.  I think being a Comp.Sci major developed my sense of efficiency, and ability to view things logiclaly and in a structured manner.  That, in the context of ANY career, is helpful. 

As a result, when a young person asks me what major they should choose, I keep in mind that  *most* people do not get a job in their major anyway.    If you're major is totally irrelevant anyways, you might as well take one that will expand your brain capability.  History, English, PolySci, .....you don't need to pay $25k a year to read books and debate.  Communications, marketing,  advertizing, I don't even consider those real majors.  I'd rather do an internship to learn about those areas.

With that, I feel I can legitimately advise someone who has no intentions of being a programmer to major in CompSci. 

Anyways, with my premise, of reccomending a major solely to expand one's mind, and NOT worrying about career direction, what *Engineering* majors out there ALSO fall into this category  (One's that may be practical, or in a convoluted sense, may help their analytic ability in any career)

Bella
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I regularly praise the merits of a fine art degree for the same reasons.  However, something you neglect is that the student makes the major as much as the classes do.  If you want to blow off a major, you can probably still get the piece of paper. However, if you apply yourself and learn instead of just memorizing, you will gain a greater understanding of and ability to function in life.

devinmoore.com
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I've also taken a Comp. Sci. degree, and while I haven't been out in the real world nearly as long as Bella (I graduated five years ago), I'm not sure I can see the usefulness (yet) of taking such a degree without the idea of going into the field or a related one.

I do agree with the portion about not using sorting algorithms, O(n), etc. as a programmer, and yes - you do end up learning new languages on your own.

At the same time, I don't think going through a Comp Sci degree helps people become more organised or logical although what it may do is help people who _already_ think in that fashion further hone their skills.

jedidjab79
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I don't think a Comp Sci degree is that useful as a general education. Same for engineering. Those courses are full of what I now see as tool type courses. (I did one.)

For intellectual training, I think law, history or economics would be more useful.

me
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Of course, it depends on the kind of programming you want to do. If you explicitly want to take up a job that requires a lot of theory, like AI, ALife, operating systems, new computer languages, etc., I don't see how CS can be avoided. Then there are fields in "real" programming which require CS, like graphic engines, audio/image manipulation (depends on the manipulation, though). And finally, there's plain, old academic research (Turing isn't famous for nothing, ya know).

If you explicitly want to get a job in your major, you'll try to do that and avoid ending up with GUI/DB jobs. Otherwise, it's an indicator of personal apathy towards the subject ("well, computers are computers everywhere, aren't they?"), which has little to do with the practicality of the degree.

Perhaps, if one only wants to broaden one's horizons and improve one's thinking methods, it's better to learn math (and not just a branch of it, like CS is) or philosophy?

Vladimir Gritsenko
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Studying fine arts, philosophy, or (gasp) classics, music or divinity would have the beneficial effect of staving off their slow decline. Even History is threatened.

Focusing on the practical application of pure vocational education to exclude of all else will destroy democracy. I kid you not.

trollop
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Democracy's already stone dead.  It's just latent nerve conduction causing it to keep twitching around like it's been.

muppet
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

It's about people and personal motivation, not degrees.

Kalani
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"With that, I feel I can legitimately advise someone who has no intentions of being a programmer to major in CompSci."

One day, it will become even more of a real major: applied philosophy rather than mathematics.

If you read Knuth's Lectures on Computer Science, he talked about the fight it took to make CS its own department. I suspect this fight perverted it into having an overemphasis on mathematics, which means it's essentially accounting. Fortunately it's not all like that.

There is some interesting mathematics, with the complexity theory and halting problems Chaitin covers. But a growing number of people, including Alan Kay and some people I know personally, find it obvious that CS hasn't produced anything interesting for decades. Not because it can't, but because it won't.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

>... Chaitin ...

*meta* mathematics ;)

Anyway, I think that CS is related to mathematics in the sense that its research end has to do with the search for basic principles pulled from a particular class of concepts (like Euclid's "Elements" for computation).  However, it's also distinct in that it provides another means of analysis for other fields which before used "traditional" mathematical analysis, as predicted by this quote by Richard Feynman:

"So I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed, and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the checker board with all its apparent complexities."

Kalani
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Meanwhile we have string theory and all it's brethern. Yeah, what a nice 11-dimensional checkers board ;-)

Vladimir Gritsenko
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

But there are people who think that those aspects of string theory are a modern version of epicycles.  The phenomena of nature are complex, but God favors a short and simple algorithm.  In this respect, I'd think that all programmer/CS types would be more interested in discrete computational models of the world (www.digitalphysics.org).

Kalani
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"God favours"?... does he have a marbles game with Satan to decide or something?

Anyway, it's nice theorizing about our universe being a huge Turing Machine, but that doesn't mean that it's instruction table (or whatever the technical term is) is in any way as trivial as a ruleset for a checkers game.

Epicycles or not (and we'll see how string theory and it's counterparts fair in empirical tests), it's all going pretty much downhill now.

Vladimir Gritsenko
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

>"God favours"?... does he have a marbles game
>with Satan to decide or something?
>
>Anyway, it's nice theorizing about our universe being
>a huge Turing Machine, but that doesn't mean that
>[it] ... is in any way as trivial as a ruleset for a checkers
>game.

My friend, you seem to strongly dislike analogies. ;)

Kalani
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"But a growing number of people, including Alan Kay and some people I know personally, find it obvious that CS hasn't produced anything interesting for decades."

I would certainly consider the Internet, and especially the search and indexing capabilities of Google and the like  "interesting." And CS has certainly produced a lot more than History, or Philosophy, or Literature ever has. 

And what has Mathematics or Physics given us these past decades, for that matter? Quantum theory's been around for over 80 years now. Boring!

Ron
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The whole purpose of education (regardless of the major) is to get you thinking right in a structured way so that after graduation you don't buy into stupid ideas such as "god" etc. You rather deal with the realities effectvely because you are educated.

Raju Patel
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"God favors a short and simple algorithm"

No he doesn't.

Jim
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

From a different perspective, what if my head is already analytical to a fault?

What degree to take then? Psych?

I am Jack Bombeck
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

One of the more important things you learn in college is "how to learn."

Many of the tools and techniques you learn will help you analyse problems in the future. It is my experience that some of what you learn in college for a CS degree are 5-30 years ahead of industry. Things like SQL first started as an "ivory tower" idea/paper about a decade before it became a commercial product. Some of the resistance to new ideas in CS has come from the anti-college crowd. Most of resistance to new things come from the "what the heck are we going to do with THAT?" and "we don't have time for THAT" crowds. Which is why folks look for silver bullets, since they don't have the time to slog thru the swamp to get it done the first time.

Metrics were first written about in the 70s, but most companies and practitioners don't use them at all.

Peter
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"I would certainly consider the Internet, and especially the search and indexing capabilities of Google and the like  "interesting." And CS has certainly produced a lot more than History, or Philosophy, or Literature ever has. "

The point was that while offshots of CS have made something (very exciting things, in fact, like Tierra), there has been no real progress. A lot of the really exciting work was done decades ago, and now there is a sort of stagnation. Well, at least that's the claim. But there are many problems still waiting to be solved, like NP-Completeness.

"And what has Mathematics or Physics given us these past decades, for that matter? Quantum theory's been around for over 80 years now. Boring!"

Math? Fermat's Last Theorem was solved. SOLVED! QM? Quantum Gravity. MUHAHAHAHA!

Vladimir Gritsenko
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"My friend, you seem to strongly dislike analogies. ;)"

"Analogies? We don't need no stinkin' analogies!"

Vladimir Gritsenko
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

----"might as well take one that will expand your brain capability.  History, English, PolySci, .....you don't need to pay $25k a year to read books and debate."---

You pay the $25K to fiind the right books to read, and more importantly, to have the best people to debate with.

And why is it, that those who claim their degree make them think logically are so easily prone to make completely illogical statements about other people's specialities that they know nothing about?

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

> I would certainly consider the Internet, and especially the search and
> indexing capabilities of Google and the like "interesting."

Go to Silicon Valley and make some friends. You'll find out soon enough there's a long distance between inventing something, and commercializing it. Commercializing something means finding and tapping a market. And hiding your sources (at least to the public, not other engineers) so it looks like you invented it.

On your point specifically, look at the most recent Cringely article:

"Networks, graphical computing, hypertext, the mouse -- Doug's the guy behind all of those in one way or another... He's still showing us, still pushing a vision that he first conceived 54 years ago. And though he has the data to prove his points and the growing pile of awards recognizing his genius, Engelbart is still hungry for people to really understand his ideas."
http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20040826.html

Most people in our profession get trapped in our own marketing, because they didn't learn our history.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Most Computer Science majors shoulnd't even be cs majors.  What makes you think we should get more people to pollute the already crappy classes?  Already I hear over and over "man I hate programming" from my fellow CS students, and get frustrated because the teacher has to go over pointers/refrences AGAIN in 3rd year classes.  We shoul dbe trimming the fat not adding it.

vince
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

> Things like SQL first started as an "ivory tower" idea/paper about a decade before it became a commercial product.


IBM invented SQL in the 1970s shortly after Dr. E. F. Codd first invented the concept of a relational database.

Bella
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

So, anyone feel like answering my original question?  Again, I'm looking for specific Engineering degrees out there that would really help a teenager sharpen their analytical and logical skills... 

Again, not for practical application, but something that would prove more rigorous than History, PolySci, Religion (which at the college level, usually entails regurgitating and synopsyzing existing reference material.  ie:  Monkey work)  And not "False business" majors like Advertizing, Communication, Marketing. 

Bella
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

> So, anyone feel like answering my original question?  Again, I'm looking for specific Engineering degrees out there that would really help a teenager sharpen their analytical and logical skills...

Mathematics: it isn't engineering, and it may not teach anything except logic and analysis, but it will teach those. Myself, I might have been better off learning more about people than about logic and analysis.

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"So, anyone feel like answering my original question?  Again, I'm looking for specific Engineering degrees out there that would really help a teenager sharpen their analytical and logical skills... "

One thing I like to do when I'm surfing company web sites (tech and non-tech) is to check out the management team backgrounds.  The CEO, CFO, etc.--what they did, where they went to school.

I think this might be a nice way to empirically discover "the best" engineering degrees (or at least get a good data point on it).  Just take a survey of a broad range of companies that have engineering-degreed upper management, and find out which degrees are the most common.

From casual observation, I think it's BS EE.  That's not too surprising IMO, but I could be wrong.

indeed
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Math here too. I work in the financiial industry and no one at my firm, AFAIK, has a non- mathematics or science degree. We look for people who can think abstractly and see many alternatives; math, science, comp sci graduates seem to be the best bet

Tom Vu
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

What about evaluating a candidate's actual work to determine whether or not he/she is appropriate?

Kalani
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

> And CS has certainly produced a lot more than History, or Philosophy, or Literature ever has. 

And, pray tell, what do you use the internet to read and play, you moron?

me
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I think I'll read another source file now. Mmm ...

me
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

> From casual observation, I think it's BS EE.  That's not too surprising IMO, but I could be wrong.

Or you could attribute that to EE being the most popular Eng. major. (I think)

Bella
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Again, my premise is that MOST majors are random b*llshit that won't be related to your career anyways, so what is the most rigorous academic exercise, and one that stretches the brain the most.

Yes, pure Math could be another reccomendation. 

For the record, I did both those majors. 
Computer Science and Mathematics.

Bella
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The sharp end of Industrial Design.  Applied mathematics and material science, creative flair ...  good jobs only for the very best, so pick the right school to go to.

Architecture can involve engineering, but it's tough gaining acknowledgement of that from those guys.

trollop
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

--------If you're major is totally irrelevant anyways, you might as well take one that will expand your brain capability.  History, English, PolySci, .....you don't need to pay $25k a year to read books and debate.  Communications, marketing,  advertizing, I don't even consider those real majors.------

OH, you missed it!
Why didn't you go for rocket engineering at the very first place.
All other engineering are  b*llshit.
Sorry to say, including your computer science degree.
You end up living a dull, bore, and a life without life.
How can you ever choose to stare a screen for so long!?
This is the last thing I would have expected from my life.
What a b*llshit course you have choosen!?
Now keep on "expanding you brain capabilities".

I am slow at judging but here I am an exception.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

"I think this might be a nice way to empirically discover "the best" engineering degrees (or at least get a good data point on it).  Just take a survey of a broad range of companies that have engineering-degreed upper management, and find out which degrees are the most common."

That only finds out what the "best" degree is if you define best to be "most likely to get you into upper management". I don't see why that's always the case - many people have no desire to obtain such a position.

Iconoclast
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Every person is unique and different. And has his/her own way of seeing at things. So don't try to force your thinking onto other's claiming to be the *best* and *right*.

I am slow at judging but here I am an exception.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Previous comments----for Bella ( OP )

I am slow at judging but here I am an exception.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

"I don't see why that's always the case - many people have no desire to obtain such a position. "

Yes, but I'd argue that most people who have the gusto and skill to reach that level of upper management, can do pretty much anything in the working world.

It's just a heuristic, anyway.

indeed
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Codd's first paper on relational databases: 1969. Chen's paper on entity relation modeling: 1976.
First prototype SQL database by IBM 1974, called System/R, abandonded and then reintroduced in 1978.

First prototype of Ingres came out in 1974 also. Abandoned in 1982, it was reintroduced in 1985 as Postgres.

Oracle was the first commercial product to be made from SQL/relational databases. First version of Oracle released in 1979.

"Ivory tower" paper: 1969.
First commercial product: 1979.
One decade: check.

Peter
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Dear Bella,
                I don't know what two-bit shops your acqaintances studied History, Literature or Philosophy in, but I can assure you that they are rigurous disciplines at any university worth the name.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The reason for the gap between the theoretical underpinning of the relational database/SQL model and its being put into practice was hardware related. It wasn't until the beginning of the eighties that you could get hardware capable of running relational databases.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Hey guys, here's my last try:  What are considered the "most difficult" engineering majors?

Bella
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Bella,
I think it's control systems. At least it's the most difficult branch of EE.

Mr. Roboto
Wednesday, September 01, 2004

"What are considered the "most difficult" engineering majors?"

At the (southern, primarily Engineering) university I attended, Nuclear, Aerospace, and Chemical.

Followed roughly by Electrical, Computer, Civil and Mechanical.

Then maybe Comp Sci, if that's really engineering. :)

I'm not sure where Industrial Engineering would fit on the scale.

indeed
Thursday, September 02, 2004

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