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Ask TrashSnot: Is a CS Degree Worth it?

Trolling4Dollars (627073) writes | more than 9 years ago

User Journal 12

After having worked professionally with computers since 1997 and having gotten only one professional certificiation (an NT4 MCSE which was dead simple to get), I've often wondered about going back to school to get a CS degree. But is it worth it for a 34 year old guy to do this?

After having worked professionally with computers since 1997 and having gotten only one professional certificiation (an NT4 MCSE which was dead simple to get), I've often wondered about going back to school to get a CS degree. But is it worth it for a 34 year old guy to do this?

My college degree was a BS in Communication (Telecomunication with emphasis on audio production) and was basically just to appease my folks. I've been out of college for over ten years now and the degree only really helped me in terms of being resume helper. Considering that it wasn't a hard science and I suck at math, I imagine I probably have a good deal of catching up to do before I could even pursue a Master's in CS. The thing is that over the past seven years, I've picked up a lot about networking, general OS support, scripting in CMD, Bash, Perl, a little TCL and programming in C (my big project is to really do a lot of C after the kid is born). Computers as a profession never occurred to me before because I mostly used them for music and graphic design. But once I moved to Linux, I got bit by the bug and started to play with computers at a much more advanced level and found it to be enjoyable. The whole D.I.Y. feel of the *nix OSes is much more fun than just using applications on Windows. So... the big question, should I try and take this interest and really hone my skills by getting a CS degree.

Finally, the setback. Like I said earlier, I suck at math. Not that I don't understand it, but I have a severe problem seeing my own mistakes unless someone points them out to me. Once, when I was taking a geometry class in undergrad school, I would literally check my work five times over. This made what should have been a 45 minute homework session more like 4-5 hours. But, I STILL couldn't catch my mistakes. When I would go in to talk to the teacher, they would instantly spot the error. usually a set of transposed digits or a minus sign instead of a plus sign. Even today, when I write something in Perl or Bash, I will make mistakes that I can't see... until the machine points them out. Fortunately, since the machine points them out, I "get" the problem and can usually fix it about 99% of the time. But working with computers hasn't required much actual math for programming in C or writing scripts in Perl/Bash. Instead it seems that logic is much more important and at that I excel. I knew this back in undergrad when I took a deductive logic course and aced it without trying while the rest of the students bemoaned their Cs Ds and Fs. So... in the "real world" of programming, how much math (as in figuring out the calculation before the computer can tell you that you made a mistake) is required?

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12 comments

Depends (1)

the_mad_poster (640772) | more than 9 years ago | (#10486040)

If you're going to be doing business apps like billing management, there's a lot of business math. Basic arithmetic, ratios, and formulas. Doing scientific design is extremely math intensive. Doing "business support" type programming usually doesn't require much, but I've found that when it does, it requires some serious doozies.

I'm a college dropout. I have about half an associate's in "web development" finished, but dropped it in favor of getting work experience. I've mainly been doing the business support type of programming where I build infrastructures for intranets, maintenance apps, etc. The only serious math I've done was in the search engine when I sat down and crunched performance numbers to try and come up with an algorithm that would maximize a stupid Access database's performance. I didn't really HAVE to do it, but it helped me speed the system up a good bit which made the boss folks happy, of course.

I wouldn't worry too much about the math. My girlfriend works in the "learning center" at her school and they seem to cover all the subjects. It's basically just one on one tutoring for people who need a little help, but don't need a full blown tutor. If you seek something like that out on a regular basis or partner up with someone, you should be able to punch through the math courses with little drama. Once you're out of them, you're good to go because it's not so much the math as the logic that you're dealing with in all but the specialized facets of programming once you get out.

It really depends (1)

Scott Lockwood (218839) | more than 9 years ago | (#10486822)

Get your masters. Then, if nothing else, you can teach. I'm still working on my undergrad full time while working, and I'm going for a AAS. in CS followed by a BS in CS... We'll see if it's worth it.

I own a business! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10540994)

Go fuck yourself!

In the Ghetto Part V (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10546627)

In the Ghetto Part V

Vlad farted.

It was a plump, furry fart with a long wet tail. Vlad couldn't tell if the
vibration at the end of the fart was just particularly chaotic or if it had left
a moist surprise for him. He reached down the back of his underwear to feel
around and discovered some moistness on his underwear. He sniffed his fingers
and his mouth watered at the unusual scent. He wiped his fingers dry using his
t-shirt.

Vlad knew this would be a good day.

Degree (1)

Neop2Lemus (683727) | more than 9 years ago | (#10487689)

I have a Counter-Strike degree and it never got me anything.

Contradiction? (1)

Misinformed (741937) | more than 9 years ago | (#10487900)

You say you suck at math but excel at logic. But math is the logical manipulation of numbers/symbols. Perhaps you need to re-learn - not spotting a mistake, but when it is pointed out being able to, suggests you have some doubt or ambiguity in what you're looking at - but math is unambigious so logically reviewing what you've done should bring out any mistakes. Otherwise be more critical and if you don't like reading your own work force yourself to again and again.

As for a Masters, if you have identified something specific you want to learn, or feel you need 'rounding' (and have looked into how various courses could 'round' you) do it, otherwise don't bother - better to put efforts into other areas. All in all, thoroughly look into what any course can offer, and think if that's what you really need.

Re:Contradiction? (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 9 years ago | (#10493509)

It's possible to be good at other forms of logic than mathematics. Euclid isn't the only logical master out there- nor is the form of logic you're familiar with the only set of rules for being logical and thinking things through. Heck, computers don't follow standard mathematical principles- Boolean, not Euclidian, rules inside the computer.

I would point out though that being bad at math and good at logic can get you very far- I never got much better than a C in any math class until I got to Numerical Methods, Discrete Math, and Statistics- and suddenly I was getting A's because somebody finally bothered to explain exactly WHY the axioms are what they are. I still say if you could identify logical and creative geniuses in grade school- Discrete Math should be Second Grade for such people, not Math 412 for seniors getting a Bachelor's Degree.

Let's clear this up (1)

pbox (146337) | more than 9 years ago | (#10490399)

Calculations : Math = Programming : Computing Theory

What I am trying to say is that Math is not what you think Math is. The part you struggled with is more like assembly in programming, which can simply be a sign of mild case of dyslexia. To prove this you could simply use Mathematica (from Wolfram, or Matlab, etc) for doing the part you had problems with. Math is more abstract, it simply relies on that you learn the mechanical part as a skill. My fellow PhD students which were good at math were usually terrible at adding numbers or multiplying in head, but could see the flaw in a theorem before anyone else.

Similarly being excellent at perl (pick any other haxor language) and being able to write wonderful poems in it, or knowing it inside out is not neccessarily Computer Science. Knowing the set of NP incomplete problems and being able to reduce practical problems to existing algorithms; and the Big O() notation is more like it. Or having worked with 20+ languages and truly understand they all achieve the same end with different ways, and to know the difference in the ways and appreciate the nuances in each is more like it.

Well, those are at least my theorems.

no (1)

goon (2774) | more than 9 years ago | (#10490714)

But is it worth it for a 34 year old guy to do this?

If you already have a basic science degree don't bother. Programmers are commodity items, CS will only get you so far. To make dollars these days concentrate on *concept development* (see de Bono [edwarddebono.com] about thinking and ideas) and building a business for yourself. This way is hazardous but ultimately more rewarding. If you want to learn more CS then do some MIT online [mit.edu] courses.



Will add more about this latter gotta go.

My advice, worth what you paid for it :-) (1)

nizo (81281) | more than 9 years ago | (#10493556)

I too am 34 years old; after I lost my job last year I started back to school to get a Professional Writing degree. I had started in CS way back when and then got sick of taking classes and decided to work instead. During my first semester back I ended up getting the (awesome!) job I am in now. I decided against getting a CS degree because the classes have very little to do with any kind of work I want to pursue in the future (but programming might be an exception if that is your thing). My advice? Figure out what you want to do "when you grow up" and take classes to work towards that goal. If they are CS classes, great! One thing I did notice was school actually seemed quite a bit easier this time around, I was waaaaay more disciplined, plus I was taking fewer classes, plus I was taking classes I actually gave a rats-ass about, rather than slogging through some stupid calculus class that seemed more like busywork than something actually useful (btw, in every computer job I have ever had, I have yet to use any calculus. Your mileage may vary.) If music is your thing, maybe something along those lines would trip your trigger more?

Depends what you mean by "worth it" (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 9 years ago | (#10493558)

If you mean paying back the student loans required to get the degree in the first place, NO, software engineering will never again pay well enough to pay for the education required to get the job. As long as India continues to use a combination of taxes and low standard of living to subsidise their students to give them the equivalent of a $40,000 degree for $4,000- you will NEVER be able to earn enough to pay for the degree. If you mean rounding out your education to learn more algorithims and do a better job of what you already do well, YES. A good software engineering school will teach you the basic types of programming, the basic methodologies, allowing you to learn ANY language and be an intermediate level programmer in that language in 48 hours. That alone opens a lot of options. Not good paying options- but a lot of options nonetheless.

Re:Depends what you mean by "worth it" (1)

Monx (742514) | more than 9 years ago | (#10544474)

I'm a software engineer with $0 in student loans. I paid for school with scholarships, but even if I hadn't I could have paid for the 3.5 years of school (BSCS) in my first year at my new job.

I went to a public university and paid in-state tuition of less than $2k/semester. I also worked throughout school and was hired (pending graduation) in my current position before starting my last semester.

As far as math goes, I wouldn't worry about it.

I'm really slow at math and I got through Calc II with a C. The only math I really had to deal with to get my CS degree was matrices, set theory, logic, and modular arithmetic. If any of those had been a problem, it wouldn't have mattered -- the math was a very small part of the degree. I used more math in fulfilling my Physics requirement than I did in CS classes.

In the real world, you can use a TI-89 to get you through most of the math you will ever need in software engineering.
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