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Unread 07-08-2017, 10:15 PM
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Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

Today at my grandpa's house, my uncle (a software engineer) and I (about to start freshman year of college for a computer science degree) were just talking about the field of programming. We kind of talked about the pros and cons of both degrees and, I found it very interesting. I thought this might be a good discussion on CD so I figured I'd post this.

What are some pros and cons of both degrees and which do you feel is better? I'm just curious to hear some viewpoints from some experienced mentors. Thanks.
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2015 Regular Season (w/ 234) 1 District Chairman's (Indianapolis), 2 District Wins (Kokomo: 234, 135, 3865) (Purdue: 234, 1024, 2197),
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Offseason 2 Wins (CORI: 234, 2614, 3266) (CAGE: 234, 868, 2791?), IRI, and IndyRAGE

2016 Regular Season (w/ 234)
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Offseason IRI, Boiler Bot Battle, CAGE, and IndyRAGE

2017 Regular Season (w/ 234) 2 District Wins (Tippecanoe: 234, 1018, 4926) (Perry: 1501, 234, 2197), 1 DCMP (Indiana: QF), and 1 Half-Worlds (Curie: QF)

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Unread 07-09-2017, 03:29 AM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

Oh, hey, a thread that I can contribute to.

I go to a school (RIT) with both Computer Science and Software Engineering BS & MS programs offered. Our SE program was one of the first in the nation, following CMU, I believe. I initially started out as an SE student, but transferred to CS shortly after my 2nd semester.

Overall, both degrees have their pros and cons. Why I switched out of SE to CS is totally personal and isn't reflective of how I felt about the job market or the value of either program - I wanted more math, and CS offers just that.

Anyway, SE has lots of practical purposes. You'll learn a lot more about design patterns, project management, testing methodologies, and actual applications of CS in the real world. For a typical 9-5 software engineering / developer job, SE students will generally be more prepared for the job than a typical CS student. That isn't to say you'll get the job easier, though.

For CS, you'll learn more about "why." You'll learn why certain principles work: while an SE student might learn about how to utilize computer vision, you'll learn the underlying math and fundamentals of computer vision. While an SE student might learn how to properly manage a database and the differences between SQL and NoSQL and graph-based databases, a CS student might learn more about how a database works on a very low level. These are gross, horrible simplifications, however, and you should take these with a grain of salt. Of course, SE students will learn why things work, and CS students will learn applications of the concepts. However, the difference is how much time is spent on each.

A common criticism of SE is that "you'll learn it all on the job anyway, so why not major in CS?" I'm not a fan of criticism, as it's a pretty big dismissal of the entire program in general. Whereas a common criticism of CS is that it turns you into a code monkey and takes longer to transition from academia to the workforce.

Of course, I can't cover everything. Over on the RIT subreddit, this is a very common question, so feel free to check out some of the answers over there.

Typically, most industry jobs for programmers are under the title "software engineer." Which includes CS majors. It's just the nature of the industry -- not everyone goes into research, and that's okay, and also good. We need people in both programs.
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Unread 07-10-2017, 09:14 AM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

The purpose of Software Engineering is to apply so much overhead to the software development process that it covers up the 1000:1 gap that would otherwise be apparent between the worst and the best developers.
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Unread 07-10-2017, 11:04 AM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

As someone who hires Software Engineers/Programmers I don't worry about the Major as much as I do about the classes, and the person.

The development of SE majors is adjusting to a need in the market for more Developers, ready to contribute in an agile environment right out of school. However what I have found is that there are still many issues with new SE grads, and the fit for any new grad has more to do with their choice of classes and interests than it does with their degree.

The roles of engineers who work for me vary from being very R&D heavy with a big focus on algorithms, to being very production oriented where project management, efficiency, and the ability to thrive on an agile team is key. On the surface it would appear that the former would be a better fit for CS and the latter better for SE, however while that can be a good indicator, what is much more common is that I (and the potential employee) realize that 22 year olds don't really know what will interest them in a professional environment until they get out there and try it. I find it a lot more helpful to discuss the applicants most meaningful projects, and classes than to look at their major.

My advice would be to pick whichever major gives you the flexibility to take the classes you want. However if you are going CS be sure to take a Software Development class or two so you can discuss agile development, and have examples of an Object Oriented group project to discuss in interviews. If you go SE be sure to take enough theoretical CS classes to be comfortable talking about sorting algorithms and traversing a tree. Both of these skills are important, and 90+% of interviews will want to talk about both. Beyond these, get hands on experience with anything, learn new languages, and be prepared to talk about how you can adjust to new design patterns, agile models and languages, all of these things can be taught, we (managers) just want to know that you understand the ones you know, and have the flexibility to fit into our needs.
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Unread 07-13-2017, 02:26 PM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

At Purdue University(my alma mater) they do things a bit differently. You can get a computer science degree from the college of science, and within that CS degree you are required to choose one or more "tracks" which are basically focus areas with CS that determine which higher-level courses you take. Software engineering is one such track, along with security, systems programming, programming languages, and a few others. The majority of CS students at Purdue choose the software engineering track. While I chose the security track, many of the courses overlap multiple tracks, and I ended up taking several software engineering courses. To be honest though, I feel like I learned most of what those courses had to offer during my time as an FRC student.
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Unread 07-13-2017, 07:28 PM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

My 2 cents:

I majored in Computer Science, and got a job as a software engineer before graduation, with a large aerospace company.

Many of my other fellow CS majors also had jobs ready before graduation, the software engineering majors seemed to struggle a bit more on the job field. Partly because at my college the CS majors did a lot more projects that we could show on our resumes than the SWE majors did.

What ends up mattering the most is how well you can demonstrate your ability to learn and put what you learned into practice.
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Unread 07-13-2017, 07:36 PM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

Do CS.
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Unread 07-13-2017, 08:34 PM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

A couple of thoughts:
  • A computer science degree is generally not a programming degree. It is a degree in solving problems, usually using computers. The theoretical underpinnings of computer science aren't just interesting, they build strong problem-solving skills that are immensely useful for tackling more applied problems.
  • Computer science theory plays a big role in many technical interviews for software engineering roles. They often, especially at top companies, involve solving some sort of programming problem that tests your knowledge of data structures and algorithms. I would not have been able to land an internship this summer at one of my most desired companies (as a rising junior) if it weren't for a strong foundation in CS theory that made it easy to ace my technical interviews.

I'd recommend going for CS, or if you go for software engineering, make sure you get a good dose of more "pure" CS courses.
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Last edited by Brian Maher : 07-13-2017 at 08:40 PM.
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Unread 07-13-2017, 10:38 PM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

My next question is which degree path would you recommend? Indiana State University offers 2 paths:

Computing Science Concentration:
CS 420 - Theory of Computation 3 credits
CS 421 - Formal Methods 3 credits
CS 458 - Algorithms 3 credits
MATH 131 - Calculus I 4 credits
MATH 132 - Calculus II 4 credits

Information Science Concentration:
CS 170 - Web Programming 3 credits
CS 457 - Data Base Processing 3 credits
CS 469 - Unix/Linux Administration and Networking 3 credits
CS 473 - Computer Networks 3 credits
CS 479 - Web Programming II 3 credits

Classes Both Majors Take:
CS 151 - Introduction to Computer Science 3 credits
CS 201 - Computer Science I 4 credits
CS 202 - Computer Science II 4 credits
CS 303 - Discrete Structures 3 credits
CS 451 - Computer Architecture 3 credits
CS 452 - Software Engineering 3 credits
CS 456 - Systems Programming 3 credits
CS 470 - Programming Languages 3 credits
CS 471 - Operating Systems 3 credits
CS 499 - Senior Seminar 1 credits

Thanks. -Logan
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My FRC Recap so far...
2015 Regular Season (w/ 234) 1 District Chairman's (Indianapolis), 2 District Wins (Kokomo: 234, 135, 3865) (Purdue: 234, 1024, 2197),
1 DCMP Win (Indiana: 234, 1024, 292), and 1 Worlds (Archimedes: SF)
Offseason 2 Wins (CORI: 234, 2614, 3266) (CAGE: 234, 868, 2791?), IRI, and IndyRAGE

2016 Regular Season (w/ 234)
1 NC District (Guilford: QF), 2 IN Districts (Warren: QF) (Perry: QF), and 1 DCMP (Indiana: QF)
Offseason IRI, Boiler Bot Battle, CAGE, and IndyRAGE

2017 Regular Season (w/ 234) 2 District Wins (Tippecanoe: 234, 1018, 4926) (Perry: 1501, 234, 2197), 1 DCMP (Indiana: QF), and 1 Half-Worlds (Curie: QF)

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Unread 07-13-2017, 11:11 PM
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I'm no expert, but probably the Computing Science concentration if you want to write more code and Information Science if you want to go in to a SysAdmin/IT area.
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Unread 07-13-2017, 11:48 PM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

I would definitely go for the computing concentration. Calculus is pretty standard for the majority of CS degrees and down the road, it's a lot easier to teach yourself html/sql/scripting than it is to teach yourself calculus.
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Unread 07-14-2017, 12:01 AM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

Quote:
Originally Posted by frcguy View Post
I'm no expert, but probably the Computing Science concentration if you want to write more code and Information Science if you want to go in to a SysAdmin/IT area.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rangel View Post
I would definitely go for the computing concentration. Calculus is pretty standard for the majority of CS degrees and down the road, it's a lot easier to teach yourself html/sql/scripting than it is to teach yourself calculus.
Thanks for pretty much confirming what I was thinking and adding advice. Great to have such great people on Chief.
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My FRC Recap so far...
2015 Regular Season (w/ 234) 1 District Chairman's (Indianapolis), 2 District Wins (Kokomo: 234, 135, 3865) (Purdue: 234, 1024, 2197),
1 DCMP Win (Indiana: 234, 1024, 292), and 1 Worlds (Archimedes: SF)
Offseason 2 Wins (CORI: 234, 2614, 3266) (CAGE: 234, 868, 2791?), IRI, and IndyRAGE

2016 Regular Season (w/ 234)
1 NC District (Guilford: QF), 2 IN Districts (Warren: QF) (Perry: QF), and 1 DCMP (Indiana: QF)
Offseason IRI, Boiler Bot Battle, CAGE, and IndyRAGE

2017 Regular Season (w/ 234) 2 District Wins (Tippecanoe: 234, 1018, 4926) (Perry: 1501, 234, 2197), 1 DCMP (Indiana: QF), and 1 Half-Worlds (Curie: QF)

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Unread 07-14-2017, 12:12 AM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

If you can, take a couple classes from each and decide from there. It's much easier to decide after having explored both a bit. Plus, it's great to have the exposure
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2016: Tech Valley SF (5236, 2791, 3624) and Quality, Finger Lakes SF (5254, 2791, 2383), Battlecry Winner (195, 2791, 501), Robot Rumble Winner (2791, 195, 6463)

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2015: Mount Olive QF (1257, 1923, 1811) and Safety Award, North Brunswick Finalist (11, 193, 1257) and Team Spirit and Safety Awards
2014: Clifton Winner (1626, 869, 1257), MAR CMP QF (1257, 293, 303)
2013: TCNJ Safety Award
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Unread 07-14-2017, 11:31 AM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

I'd advise you to go with the Information Science concentration. I had to take up to multivariable calculus(plus statistics and linear algebra) during college, but I can honestly say that I have never had a reason to come back to that higher level math for my career. On the other hand, I count the computer networking course I took as one of the most valuable learning experiences of my college career. I am not a network administrator, and most of what I do doesn't revolve around computer networking, but understanding the principles of how computer networks function has given me really useful insight into a lot of situations as a programmer.
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Unread 07-14-2017, 01:50 PM
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Re: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

I'd take the Computing Science Concentration. You can always trade down knowledge of computational theory in to implementing existing systems, but it is harder to walk back up that road.
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