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Digipen or CS at a University?

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Hello. I know that this thread topic has been beaten to death but wanted some advice since my situation is slightly different. I've been teaching myself programming (C++) since high school. When I graduated HS, I attended college with the intent to major in CS. I did start off but I had a weak foundation in math so I just gave up and decided to major in sociology which was a major I found interest in during college. I finished university with a B.A. in Sociology just last June '08 with a great GPA. I thought I wanted to get into social work but my heart has changed. I'm currently in a limbo and am just deciding what to do next. I'm thinking of going back to my first passion which is computer science. When I was intending to major in CS at the beginning of my college career, I wanted to do so because I wanted to be a game developer. So, since I'm thinking of going back I was wondering if I should go back to a traditional university or go to a more specialized school like Digipen. The thing that I'm worried about with Digipen is that if I eventually want to get out of making games, will I have skills to go into other areas of computer science? Should I just go to a traditional university for CS? Also, I've heard most recommend that you should attend university so that you grow more "wholly". Do they mean within computer science as a field or because you are exposed to different things besides computer science? Since I already have a Bachelors in Sociology I'm wondering if going to Digipen is better if it's the latter.

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If you want to be a programmer, you should probably just go back to university. It won't take you as long to get a second degree, since you already have a bunch of the elective stuff out of the way, so you'll probably only have to take CS classes, math, and maybe a lab science (chem physics etc.). Since you already have so many classes out of the way, you could probably even work and take classes at the same time, and still get done in 4-5 years. Even if you didn't work and kept going to school full time, you would probably end up taking a bunch of classes you don't need, and still graduating in over 3 years in order to make up pre-requisite trees (unless you can get them to waive classes or let you take some simultaneously due to your previous programming experience).

If you get a regular university CS degree, you will definitely be able to get out of game programming if you want to, or if it doesn't work out. In order to maximize your chances of getting a job in the industry, you would have to work on a portfolio in your spare time, whereas if you go to digipenn or something similar, you will probably just be able to use coursework as the majority of your portfolio, but as you said you wouldn't be as prepared to work outside the industry.

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a CS degree is your best bet, there are graphics courses you can take, but it will enable you to get another programming job if you can't immediately find a game programming job. It will, as you said, give you a better education, exposing you to more areas in computer science, and give you an oppritunity to get courses in game related things like physics. game programming is a lot more like software development than some people understand, to be a good programmer, game or otherwise really requires you to have a firm understanding of computation and underlying architecture as well as game specific stuff.

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I currently am attending DigiPen as an Undergraduate student who is on the verge of graduating this Summer. I'll try to give you an unbiased opinion as best as I can. As far as being worried about being able to take your skills to do something else in other areas of Computer Science, I can confidently tell you there is no reason to worry. Interactive Simulations aka Video Games are perhaps the most complex and incredibly difficult programs to create in all of Computer Science. If you know how to program a game, you will know almost everything about the field of Computer Science because to make a game you must have extensive knowledge of almost everything in the field.

I would suggest you learn C/C++, some types of Graphics API such as DirectX or OpenGL, as well as brush up on linear algebra before you attend any Computer Science school or prepare to go into the game industry. DigiPen happens to focus on games, but you will spend the majority of your time taking mostly Computer Science courses to become a competent programmer. It is an extremely difficult school to get through as it destroys anything of a possible social life with its work load, but if you apply yourself you will know everything you need to know to get a job as a programmer in any Computer Science field. Job opportunities are also easier to come by at DigiPen, but that does not mean if you don't go to the school you won't be able to get into the industry. If you're passionate enough you can get into the industry through any means.

A potential pitfall that most people don't realize is that the school is ridiculously expensive though. It will probably cost you about $100,000 - $120,000 to get through the program (this includes rent and food). If you don't want to be in that much debt it's alright to apply to a normal Computer Science Degree in a normal college. Like I said as long as you know C/C++, some graphics API, and have good knowledge of linear algebra, you should be alright. You could also spend time learning scripting languages depending on what you want to do. I'd suggest you first try to make a simple 2D game in your free time, and if that's your cup of tea, then apply to DigiPen, or another college at your choosing. I hope my post helped you. If you have more questions, just ask.

[Edited by - DigiMan Shart on January 7, 2009 9:20:47 PM]

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Well, a large part of University for most people is the social aspect, as well as the exposure to studies not directly related to their coursework, whether through non-core program requirements (ie humanities), additional courses taken out of interest or simply through friends. If you've already been there and done that, I wouldn't place it as a con against DigiPen.

That said, semi-common misconception about Digipen is that there are no non-core classes -- to the contrary, there are required credits in english, sociology and art, and opportunity to expand your studies into the EE program offerings, Art program offerings, or additional general electives -- certainly not as broad as a big university, but broad enough that some offering will fill your curiousity.

Socially, DigiPen students aren't nearly as introverted a group as you might think. Student ages are anywhere between 18 and 35. Lots of varied interests, from gaming to martial arts, to soccer, to music, to nightlife. The University of Washington campus is 15 minutes away and provides all the college-town amenities (parties, girls, hippies...) and I made it a point to socialize with UW students every week while I was at Digipen.

Educationally, a University CS Program is more broad, but many lack practical depth in any specific area -- something DigiPen is very good at providing in their chosen subject matter. Digipen tends to serve some of the broader "theoretical" topics somewhat shallowly -- for instance, you won't write a compiler in class (though you might write a script compiler in your game project), but we did develop an algorithm parser that would optimize and evaluate algebraic expressions, complete with variables -- which is sort of a compiler-lite. On the other hand, Most universities might teach you enough OpenGL to get your work done and do some neat things, but DigiPen will teach you how to write a software renderer that will go from vertices in a file to pixels on the screen and cast shadows to boot -- and you'll write it all yourself, giving you an intimate understanding of the rendering process.

My own perception of DigiPen vs. a University CS program is not so much that you'll learn any more or less, but where the studies are focused. You'll learn a whole lot more about game specifically (and in a game-slanted light) at DigiPen, but you'll learn more varied things, to a certain depth, at University.

The choice essentially comes down to: Go to University, study game technology on the side and make a portfolio if you want to go into gaming, or, go to DigiPen and study/practice broad-based, marketable topics if you want to move outside gaming. DigiPen gave me plenty of foundation to direct my own efforts into other fields as necessary, heck, my first job out of DigiPen was doing Web stuff in C#, XML and javascript, with some SQL thrown in -- I was able to do that work just fine, too bad it didn't interest me in the slightest.


One word of warning, however, is that any CS degree, DigiPen's included, is hard and heavy on math, math and more math. If your math skills aren't surpassing what they were when you attempted CS before, it would be wise to work at bringing them up to par. At digipen, the math classes in particular move very quickly, and if you fall behind, you'll be to far back to catch up in short order. Math skills are essential to software development, and in games particularly. You'll need to be versed in basic and linear algebra, geometry, trig, calculus (single and multi-variable), discreet math... and those are generally just to serve as a basis for specific applications such as 3D mathematics, physics, error-estimation, or any number of others you find in game development. If you don't like (or at least have an apptitude for) math, you might want to reconsider Computer Science in any form.

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Quote:
Original post by DigiMan Shart
As far as being worried about being able to take your skills to do something else in other areas of Computer Science, I can confidently tell you there is no reason to worry. Interactive Simulations aka Video Games are perhaps the most complex and incredibly difficult programs to great in all of Computer Science. If you know how to program a game, you will know almost everything about the fields of Computer Science because to make a game takes extensive knowledge of everything in the field.


This is somewhat of a misconception... We game devs like to think of ourselves in elitist terms, as rockstars and cowboys, but the truth is that what we do is no more advanced than many areas of development. Professional game development lacks in a lot of areas, engineering and maintanability for one -- games get made and the code is done. Some code may get pulled into the next project, but its likely heavily re-factored when doing so. Practically no one in the game's industry does stuff thinking that the code their writing now will be supported in 5 years.

What I'm driving at is that someone in game development isn't automatically qualified to go work on Oracle's database system or joining the Search team at Google, or even joining the Microsoft Office team necessarily -- The constraints and objectives of each are so widely varied that the trasition between any of the above would be un-natural for all but the truly brilliant practitioners of computer science.

GameDev is not greater than DBDev (or SearchDev, or OSDev, or AppDev) so please do show the proper respect to our brethren in other fields.

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I'll be graduating from DigiPen this May and I feel as though the time, money, and effort are all worth it. Currently, I'm beginning my second internship which will hopefully turn in to a full time job.

As others have said, mathematics is going to be shoved down your throat as soon as you step in the door. In fact, because so many of the required courses are math courses, if you use just two of your electives towards mathematics courses you will have a minor. If you can get a jump on your linear algebra I would suggest doing so.

After going through the system though, I feel the experience has been a mixed bag. DigiPen seems to run it's school with more of a business state of mind rather than academic. This is to say that the professors are great, but sometimes I feel the administration gets in the way of allowing DigiPen to be more than it currently is.

An example would be the current accreditation that DigiPen has. Because of this accreditation, most outside universities will be unable to transfer any of your credits. This means that if you end up having a change of heart mid way and decide to head over to the University of Washington, you will most likely be starting from scratch. (Note: My plan was to get a Masters at UW once I was done with Digipen, this seems unlikely now because of DPs accreditation. This is to say that I am probably biased and it is quite likely the accreditation won't matter to you at all.)

I would also add that the school is becoming very crowded. It seems that DigiPen allows more and more students in to the program each year and each year the available computers in labs seems to dwindle. I was also displeased when the programmer and art campuses decided to split in order to better deal with the overcrowding situation (art campus is now about a 1.5 mile drive away). Not only does this mean that most of the female population left (a major concern) but working on junior and senior year games becomes more difficult as programmers and artists have to work a little harder to get together. Also, you may have classes located on both campuses which means that you'll either be driving or taking the bus between locations. I've personally not had any classes on the art campus though as the new building was put in place last year and most of the art campus classes seem to be lower level electives.

I probably don't paint the prettiest of pictures but I must emphasize that if you put in the work you will get a lot out of the program.

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Thanks all for the replies.

I think going the CS route would be best for me.

Yes, math is a weakness but after finishing college and maturing with age, I realized that you just can't give up on things because they are difficult which was what I did my first year in college. I'm sure that with hard work and determination I'll be able to plow through the math courses this time around.

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Happy to hear you are going to do CS, I am unsure where you live but I live in WA (where Digipen is located) and have a few friends that go there. Math is a strong suit there as well. If you live in WA then the CS program at least in respect to UW mainly involves Calc and Topology. But since you have already decided I am not going to say more just happy you decided CS since it is more broad and doesn't keep you in a specific area.
EDIT: Sorry I just saw you are from Seattle. I go to the University of Washington Tacoma school which is almost exactly like UW Seattle except it is more application sided then theory sided. If you want to stay in state I would suggest UWT, UWB (bothel), UW, WSU, Western and then their are some nice private schools but those are expensive. If you wanted to enter next year, UWT and UWB I believe you can apply to still and WSU. I think Western and UW Seattle are both closed. However it is much harder to get into the programs at UW then any of the others so if your grades for the college you have done so far is not that great but also enough to get directly into the program then you might have a problem at a few of them. If you want some assistance I can help you out just send me a privite message.

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