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Computer Science or Software Engineering?

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Which 4-year degree program would be more accurate/useful in becoming a game programmer - computer science or software engineering? Most schools offer CS, but software engineering is harder to find. Thanks for any input!

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Depends where your interests lie. Computer science is more general than software engineering, and most CS programs have a handful of software engineering courses anyway that should be enough for game programming. And if the whole game programming thing doesn't pan out, the CS degree gives you some flexibility should you decide to move away from software for a while. The software engineering degree would probably give you a slight head start though, since games are simply large software projects that suffer from the same problems as other software.

Either way, breaking into the industry is about more than just which degree you have. If you can demonstrate passion and ability then both are just as good.

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Well my son wants to do game programming, but he wants a good degree in programming...he wants to be prepared in case he either changes his plan or doesn't get right into the market. Keep his options open, you know?

My biggest concern is that he's looking at college programs based on how much programming they have in their curriculum, and I think there is a lot more to it that he isn't aware of yet. Of course I worry about him getting into the 'wrong' program.

What's the take on an 'Information Technology Applications Software Development' type of program? They end up with a BTech degree (I've never heard of this until now)??

I don't think he's short on passion or ability though ;)

Thanks!

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Ill be honest with you, the game industry (that i have seen thus far) pays very little attention to what degree you have, as long as its a computer/math/physics related field. What they really pay attention to is the skills that he has. In fact, I know someone who worked at EA and now another game studio who only has a 2 year art degree.


What I would suggest to your son is to go for either software engineering or computer science. Best to speak to the counsulers of those departments though to find out about the actual curriculum. Digital Media might be a better for him, but it depends on the college. But after going to college, make sure he gets involved in specific clubs that would be involved with 3d programming or just game programming in general. I have yet to see a college where they do not have one of those. That is a great place to learn 'real world' game programming, rather than theory.

Hope that helps!

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Quote:
My biggest concern is that he's looking at college programs based on how much programming they have in their curriculum, and I think there is a lot more to it that he isn't aware of yet. Of course I worry about him getting into the 'wrong' program.


Your concern is well-placed. "Programming" is an application domain of computer science or software engineering. You'll note the relative lack of degrees with "programming" in the title -- this is because programming itself is, by and large, trivial and isn't something that needs to be taught as a focus of a degree program.

Pretty much any technical, logically-oriented degree will suffice, however (though I would strongly recommend computer science). I wouldn't neccessarily steer him away from "game development" schools (only some of which, like DigiPen or Full Sail, are worthwhile), but I wouldn't neccessarily steer him towards them, either, as they might restrict his options should he ever wish to leave the game development industry (as I did).

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Yep I'd be wary of the "game development" schools too, for keeping his options maximised.
A Computer Science degree would include more low-level computer stuff than the SW Eng one - useful for game dev roles where tool chains are becoming as important as the code.

Ed: 'tool chain' = processing of game data/assets.

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There are lots of these questions around at the moment!

I don't know how different software engineering is to computer science. In the UK most of our courses are a bit of both. And game development needs a fair bit of both. But avoid anything with 'Information Technology' in the title as that is likely to be focusing on computers in the workplace and business-to-business technology.

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I really appreciate all your input. This college search thing is very consuming! There are so few schools with 'software engineering' programs, but most every school has computer science. He needs to hear that it would be fine for programming from someone other than 'mom and dad', if you know what I mean. I guess the college reps will have to take over from here. ;)

Thanks again! I'll keep checking back for any further input on the subject!

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I'll give my advice: software engineering degrees are a waste of time. The people who do software engineering degrees at my university (one of the best in the UK for Informatics) do so to escape the harder mathematics courses required for computer science in the third and fourth years (stuff like programming language semantics, algorithmics and complexity).

It's perfectly possible to pick software engineering courses as a CS undergraduate (in fact, it may be required, one of my required courses in third year was a group practical, split into groups of ten we had to build and programme a robot to clear a minefield).

Your son may want to be a game developer now, but how does he know what he will want to be in four years time? Four years ago, I'd have loved to be a game developer, but, through being exposed to other application areas of CS, I know that it's definitely not for me and other things hold my attention. Be as general as possible in the choice of courses.

Quote:

He needs to hear that it would be fine for programming from someone other than 'mom and dad', if you know what I mean. I guess the college reps will have to take over from here. ;)


My guess is he knows an imperative or OO language like Java, C, Pascal, Basic or C++, right? Has he been exposed to logic programming or functional programming? Prolog, SML, Lisp or Haskell? Those are paradigms that any decent CS course will cover as they're highly technical, but any course that places a high emphasis on programming will not.

MDI (4th year AI + CS undergrad).

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My advice would be CS if he is interested in game development. If he is not exposed to enough math, he will most probably find areas of game development he is not competent enough to handle.

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I would be in favor of CS as well. Jobs in the field are sometimes competitive-- even entry-level positions. Job experience speaks louder than degrees in most cases (from what I've observed), so while your son might not be able to get into game programming right away, the extra options afforded by the more generalized degree would allow him to get work at a variety of locations, with the goal of getting to a game development position later. Having development experience in any software job exposes someone to the process of software development.

That said, having gone through a CS degree and working in the programming field, they are very different focuses. I would argue though that it would be easier for a CS graduate to pick up the software engineering process than the other way around. Perhaps I just learn better with the structure of a class, but like barkholt said, CS would offer a lot more exposure to math. What are 3D graphics if not intense linear algebra? And who would be a better candidate, one who knows only how to use tools, or one who knows how they work as well? Although the theory taught in a CS program can seem very esoteric (anyone remember the pumping lemma?), the groundwork of theory makes the rest make a whole bunch more sense.

And THAT being said, I would love to see more SE practices put into CS programs (source control, test-driven development, good design). CS isn't a degree in programming anymore than English Literature is a degree in the grammar of the English language, but you still need to know the basic principles to function in the field.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
I'm just entering the industry now (have my first position as software dev :P) and based solely on the countless interviews for entry-level positions I've endured the past few weeks, I'd say CS all the way.

I'd guess about 10% of the interview questions were regarding coding, and they were all quite basic, with the majority being logic/reasoning/math. Languages, APIs, programming paradigms change all the time, but algorithms, math and logic don't, and they're a LOT harder to learn on the job.

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