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Questions about college major

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Hi all! I'm planning to attend Rochester's Institute of Technology this fall to major in Computer Science, and if you all will bare with me through my long explanation, I have a quick question that follows... After looking through the course schedules and descriptions I've noticed something that concerns me quite a bit. Computer Science year 1 and 2 both deal with Java and basic programming concepts. This would be fine except for that I took a very detailed course on Computer Science using Java during my 10th grade year, and even at that time had 2+ years of basic C++ knowledge under my belt ( got a 5 on the national AP exam at the end of the course). After I saw the info on the first two years of Computer Science, I skipped ahead to the college's description of their CS Year 4 class, and was rather surprised to find that halfway through the course was a lab titled "Introduction to the Standard Template Library & C++". Now I don't have any large projects under my belt, but I've got close to 5 or 6 years of experience with C++, and in the past few months I've devoted a good deal of my free time to improving my knowledge of it's more advanced concepts and small game development (File formats, memory management, DirectX, SDL, etc.). Now I have heard from many credible sources that both RIT's Computer Science program and it's Game Design program are among the best in the USA. I'm wondering if anyone may be able to help me answer this question: Is it worth my time at this point to major in Computer Science, or should I switch to programming-oriented major in their Game Design program? Also, if you think I should switch to Game Design, would it prevent me from working in a separate Computer Science field in the future? (I certainly don't want to be locked into the Game Design profession for my entire life because my Major says that's what I'm good for.) Thanks for your time.

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It is absolutely worth your time to major in Computer Science. If anything, you'll learn that the languages used are immaterial to the CS you actually learn.

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Yeah, I sort of noticed afterward that I put too much emphasis into the languages I had learned and was proficient in. What I really mean is that I can scroll through any of the course descriptions for CS 1, 2, 3, or 4 and the ONLY topic covered that I haven't learned to do through my own endeavors is the synchronization of multiple running threads that is offered in CS IV. (And that is on my todo list...)

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And you're looking at computer science, not software engineering? The software engineering degree looks a bit more rigorous just looking at the degree requirements. [edit: either way, formal education in programming is a boon. Personal learning only goes so far]

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Your degree is only relevant for the first few years after college(when you don't have enough experience to stand on that alone). After that you are more graded on work experience. As far as their program goes RIT isn't a school that has made for a name for itself, so most interviews you go to will not have heard of it (unless it is well known in the region). If you don't like their program don't go. It is a lot of time and money to spend on something you don't want.

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Originally I was having a hard time choosing between Majoring in Software Engineering, Game Development and Computer Science. I weeded Game Dev. out fairly early on because at the time I thought that with a major in Game Dev. I'd have a harder time getting a job in another CS oriented field if I ever decided I didn't like it. The deciding factor that made me choose Comp. Science over Software Eng. was the course outline which mentioned that with the Computer Science course I could work within a program called Concentration In Game Programming which takes the CS major and throws what you learn into some of the Game Dev. major's classes. This seemed to be a good combination of the two that ruled out Software Engineering.

To be perfectly honest I've had a hard time picking the correct course. I want to get a degree in CS and focus on Artificial Intelligence if I can...

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My college (Georgia Tech) did very little language specific stuff. We used languages to learn methods of doing things. We had 2 Intro-like classes which taught you how to program, and the different techniques available. We then went through classes that taught functional programming (Lisp), OOP (C++), Concurrency programming (C), some procedural stuff (Prolog). Alot of the other stuff was theory based, and had nothing to do with programming languages. Finally, it was software-engineering real-world type things.

The school considered you can learn to use any language if you know how to program and understand the best/most efficient way to do it.

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Just don't confuse computer science with "programming". You could theoretically become a giant in the field of computer science without actually knowing a real programming language (I said theoretically, :-) ).

Computer science is more about how to break down problems and how to describe the solutions to those problems. Doing this effectively requires a solid foundation in math, and will include a firm understanding of the underlying and evolving theories/philosophies of design for compilers and languages, the hardware architectures which influences those philosophies, the algorithms which form the basis for scheduling, resource sharing, etc., in an operating system, etc.

If you see a curriculum that is chock full of "C++", "Java", this language, that language, doing this thing in C, doing that thing in Java, using this library, etc., then go somewhere else.

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Ok that makes me a bit less concerned. The curriculum for my college rarely mentions any languages / libraries at all in the course description, it's mostly just concepts that are being taught. I had to really dig deep into course weekly schedules etc. to find what language was being used. Perhaps I'll look into "testing out" of the first year or two of Computer Programming, as I already basically took them in 10th grade...

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You may be proficient with some programming languages already and understand the major topics of programming--and that's great--but it's highly doubtful that you know everything that would be taught over a four or five year computer science program.

First, you may find that the material is covered with more rigor than you're used to. Besides, it appears your school offers accelerated introductory course sequences for AP students and students with prior programming exposure. I know my school let me skip the lowest-level introductory class. I didn't have to take any tests--my advisor just gave me a list of topics asking if I knew them. When I said I knew them all, she moved me up a class.

There are a lot of very interesting classes that you'll have an opportunity to take. I'd be extremely impressed (and probably skeptical as well [smile]) if you honestly couldn't find enough classes to keep you busy with mostly new content for the final three years of your degree.

But even if you really did know everything the program had to offer, it'd still be in your interest to complete it. First, it would give you a lot of practice. It's an opportunity to meet a lot of people with similar interests and to team up if you so desire. You'll get to work with faculty (professors always like it when students come visit them during office hours--don't be shy!) who are often very intelligent and accomplished people. They're very human, as well--that was surprising for me to learn. [smile] If you plan on going to graduate school, this part's pretty important. Finally, even if this may not be completely fair, if you don't have the degree, most employers aren't going to consider you whether you have the skill, talent, and knowledge anyway.

As a final point, your extensive prior programming experience will make the degree easier for you than for other students who don't have any prior experience. I'd recommend looking into doing a dual major. One good combination is computer science and math. The subjects complement each other quite well, and the math degree will open up a lot of extra opportunities.

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All I can say is wow...

nilkn you basically just cleared up the rest of my concerns about the course I was taking and I thank you for that. I'd just like to say that I was trying (and somewhat failing) to not come off as an ignorant "know-it-all" in my original and subsequent posts. The fact is that I really didn't know what to expect, and when I looked at the course curriculum and saw so many familiar concepts taught all the way through the 4th year it scared me into doubting the course.

I was thinking about a double major at one point and then decided not to because I was afraid the work load would be too much. (I'll admit this was long before I realized I had lots of prior experience with what was going to be taught). Perhaps I will consider it again once I get situated at school and get a feel for the CS major.

One final question. In your opinion (anyone reading this), for someone like myself who loves Artificial Intelligence, and specifically its applications in Game Design, is Computer Science the right major at my school? Or would I be better off in Software Engineering?

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Original post by ChugginWindex
I'd just like to say that I was trying (and somewhat failing) to not come off as an ignorant "know-it-all" in my original and subsequent posts.


Oh, don't worry, you didn't come off that way. I didn't mean in my previous post to make it sound like you did. Your posts here are very well-written and intelligent.

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Original post by ChugginWindex
One final question. In your opinion (anyone reading this), for someone like myself who loves Artificial Intelligence, and specifically its applications in Game Design, is Computer Science the right major at my school? Or would I be better off in Software Engineering?
Computer Science.

Software Engineering has absolutely nothing to do with artificial intelligence... it's more concerned with the design of large software systems and that sort of thing. I know some people really like it and its certainly an important discipline, but--and this is my perception, so don't hate on me people :-) --I always thought of software engineering as the way to prepare for a job in a stuffy corporate cube, developing "requirements", "use cases", designing a system using UML, etc blah blah blah.

Those things are important, but my point is simply that CS is more concerned with tackling interesting abstract problems, while software engineering is concerned with organizing the code that solves those problems in a bigger system.

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my degree is computer engineering but my point is relevant. I went to an school ranked a little higher than RIT. I was motivated to learn outside of the classroom in high school and all through college. I now have a real job as a software engineer and have an order of magnitude better performance than peers of my level.

If you're motivated enough, most undergrad technical courses at schools like ours will be below your competency (even many grad classes at my program - its not very good). For these few motivated people, college is not about technical learning - its about a GPA at the end that gets you your first job. And about whatever soft skills you pick up along the way. And about internships. And about girls.

Later in your program, talk to the people you have to talk to so you can get signed into grad level courses. Far more fun. I wish I didn't waste so much time on bullshit undergrad technical electives in comp sci and elsewhere for minors - I coulda been most of the way through a masters.

I only skimmed the thread to see if my point had already been said, its amusing how many of you have any respect at all for computer science programs at mid tier universities. Your average comp sci kid these days at mid-tier uni is some dumbass who played counterstrike in high school. I can't find the source, but somewhere a teacher reflected (parahprased) "There's two types of computer science students - the naturals who don't need help to learn CS, and those who simply aren't capable of thinking in rigid logic." CS programs can't filter these applicants, and they can't fail half their students, so they pass them along until they pop out with a degree. But all the lecture time is devoted to these students, and the naturals end up bored.

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Original post by thedustbustr
Your average comp sci kid these days at mid-tier uni is some dumbass who played counterstrike in high school. I can't find the source, but somewhere a teacher reflected (parahprased) "There's two types of computer science students - the naturals who don't need help to learn CS, and those who simply aren't capable of thinking in rigid logic." CS programs can't filter these applicants, and they can't fail half their students, so they pass them along until they pop out with a degree. But all the lecture time is devoted to these students, and the naturals end up bored.
You're painting with a cartoonishly large brush, there. I graduated from a "mid-tier" CS program at the University of Central Florida, and they do, in fact, "filter out" a large number of their under-performing students. They have what they call a "foundation exam" which all students must take after a completing the basic curriculum (usually after sophomore year). If you don't pass the exam, which is heavily discreet structures and algorithms, you don't proceed. I believe that about 2/3 of students fail it at least once, and many never pass.

In any case, computer science isn't intrinsically any more ideal for self-teaching than any other science. You seem to be from the school which believes that "programming" equals "computer science", which is not even remotely true.

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if you suck at academic CS, you *might* be an ok programmer. if you suck at programming, you don't have a chance at academic CS. but your school is awesome and i wish my school had been like that. This is the first time I've ever heard of it. I wonder what happens to those who don't make it - after paying two years of tuition, i imagine the school would have a hard time saying "you can't continue at CS, but you can repeat sophomore year in a different discipline". all of these thoughts are far outside of the OP's topic, sorry. edit: last thought, the large software company for which I work highers tons and tons of CS students - for their programming skills. I speculate the vast majority of CS majors end up in a programming job. the whole debate of "cs" vs "programming" (edit: at an undergraduate level) itself is academic and irrelevant to real industry.

[Edited by - thedustbustr on August 1, 2008 5:51:34 PM]

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Original post by thedustbustr
last thought, the large software company for which I work highers tons and tons of CS students - for their programming skills. I speculate the vast majority of CS majors end up in a programming job. the whole debate of "cs" vs "programming" (edit: at an undergraduate level) itself is academic and irrelevant to real industry.
Well, that's true, but the vast majority of students go into CS to get a job programming. Those who are motivated by an interest in CS will find jobs which ask more of them and which utilize their CS knowledge to solve tough problems. Those who aren't interested in the CS will get a job banging out code to do some well-defined thing and will go home at 5:00 and do whatever it is that they do. :-)

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Original post by smitty1276
Quote:
Original post by thedustbustr
last thought, the large software company for which I work highers tons and tons of CS students - for their programming skills. I speculate the vast majority of CS majors end up in a programming job. the whole debate of "cs" vs "programming" (edit: at an undergraduate level) itself is academic and irrelevant to real industry.
Well, that's true, but the vast majority of students go into CS to get a job programming. Those who are motivated by an interest in CS will find jobs which ask more of them and which utilize their CS knowledge to solve tough problems. Those who aren't interested in the CS will get a job banging out code to do some well-defined thing and will go home at 5:00 and do whatever it is that they do. :-)


How dare you be so accurate.

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Original post by thedustbustr
For these few motivated people, college is not about technical learning - its about a GPA at the end that gets you your first job. And about whatever soft skills you pick up along the way. And about internships. And about girls.


That is truly the ideal answer I was looking for! If what you've said is true, then I feel a whole lot better than I already did about my choice to stick with Computer Science as my major. (Also, it's kinda funny because even though RIT's Game Design major is considered very good, I couldn't help but think of it immediately when you mentioned students entering the field because they played CS!)

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bumping because I found a relevant article that concerns OP:

EA recruiter: game degrees like a fashion accessory

Quote:
However, Jeffery also stated that EA prefers graduates who have completed more traditional courses such as maths, physics and computer science over those with more specialised game-related degrees. He expressed concern these courses were creating too many graduates trying to break into the industry and the degrees themselves were not providing students with the skills that EA needs. Of the most concern to Jeffery were courses in game design--of the last 350 hires made at EA, only two were in entry-level game design, and neither of them had took a degree in that area.


EA still unconvinced by game design degrees
Quote:

Speaking in a talk at this week's Leipzig Games Convention, he explained that over the company's past 350 hires EA UK has only taken on two entry level game deisgners and they did not have game degrees.

He said: "The industry has very few entry level game design roles. Warning bells must ring if EA, the largest employer in the UK has not hired a graduate with a games design degree. We will soon reach a saturation point with so many students studying games degrees. What happens if they don't get a job in games? Games degrees are not readily transferable into other industries."


Parting thought on college: have a lot of fun, get good grades but don't study too hard, college is for doing awesome things that are utterly inappropriate in real life. in the 9-5 work force, you aren't really expected to be a technical leader until you have a graduate degree. And if you get into a decent program, your peers will be as motivated as you are, and you'll be expected to learn far faster than is comfortable :)

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Once again, thanks for the info. I'm actually glad to see that a producer as big as EA doesn't hire students with deliberate game design degrees because I was thinking of the same downside that they mention. I didn't see how you could get a degree in games and then ever be able to do anything else for a career (or at least not without gaining sufficient experience that would be obtained in another degree anyway). This in a way comforts me.

I have more to say but it is very late here and I'm going to bed before I lose what's left of my grammar skills and embarrass myself!

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