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Am I just setting myself up for failure?

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Hey GameDev Community,

I've been in a constant battle with myself as to whether or not I should even bother applying for graduate programs in CS (for Fall '13). I'll give a few reasons that will make it easy for all of you to understand why.

  • I graduated with a BA in Psychology in 2011, not CS, Math or Engineering.
  • I only really began programming Spring 2011 (besides the intro C++ class I took somewhere during my undergrad).
  • I'm giving myself a year to complete as many of the prerequisite courses for those programs as I can at a local community college.

    I have an overwhelming amount of catching-up to do, and I'm supposed to compete with a huge number of other students that have been in CS for 4+ years. It seemed doable back in December when I decided that Psych research was not my thing (I had no desire to go into therapy or counseling either), but the closer it gets to grad app season, the less plausible it seems. I have no problem dedicating myself to learning. I work full-time in a research lab and learn programming and other CS-related things in my free time. I literally read about programming and game engines in bed before I go to sleep (when I began noticing 6 months ago this I realized that maybe I was going on the wrong career path).
    I think I have a chance of getting in the door eventually, I'm just doubting if I even have a chance for the following Fall. Time, knowledge, and experience are against me on this one...Any thoughts? Be honest. If anyone has been in a similar situation before, please share your experiences!

    There are a few specific things that I am worried about:

    • Is taking CS classes at a community college sufficient enough? Usually schools seem to require on their admissions page a background in courses that are considered upper division CS courses at their campus, or it's some lower division some upper division.
    • Related to the last question - would I be better off going back and applying for a BS in Computer Science, and then move on to grad school? It's a costly option I would like to avoid since I already have loans to pay off, but I'm wondering if it would be worth it in the end.
    • At the community college, I am already planning on taking programming classes. I'm still debating between C++ and Java, since some of the schools I want to apply to (e.g. UCSD) recommend Java classes, but I want to focus on computer graphics, so C++ makes sense. Can anyone see a reason as to why they would use Java instead of C++ as a requisite, or is that just arbitrary?
    • Other classes I plan to take have to do with data structures, computer organization, assembly language, discrete math, and probably more math (multivariable calc and linear algebra). Can you think of any more classes I should look for/absolutely need?

      I would love to hear all your thoughts on the matter. I want to hear your honest opinion. Thanks.

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School dont matter, if you want to learn programming the only thing that matters is how many hour you spend with the compiler trying to come up with something that compiles and does what you want... everything else is paper.

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1. I've been in a constant battle with myself as to whether or not I should even bother applying for graduate programs in CS (for Fall '13).
2. I'll give a few reasons that will make it easy for all of you to understand why.

  • I graduated with a BA in Psychology in 2011, not CS, Math or Engineering.
  • I only really began programming Spring 2011 (besides the intro C++ class I took somewhere during my undergrad).
  • I'm giving myself a year to complete as many of the prerequisite courses for those programs as I can at a local community college.

    3. I have an overwhelming amount of catching-up to do
    4. I think I have a chance of getting in the door eventually,
    5. Is taking CS classes at a community college sufficient enough?
    6. would I be better off going back and applying for a BS in Computer Science, and then move on to grad school?
    7. I'm wondering if it would be worth it in the end.
    8. some of the schools I want to apply to (e.g. UCSD) recommend Java classes, but... Can anyone see a reason as to why they would use Java instead of C++ as a requisite, or is that just arbitrary?
    9. Can you think of any more classes I should look for/absolutely need?


1. Make a decision grid. http://sloperama.com/advice/m70.htm
2. Good, I was going to ask why. But these don't explain why you want to get a Masters. Read http://www.igda.org/games-game-june-2011
3. To get where? You haven't told us what it is you're trying to accomplish in the end.
4. What door? Which game job is it you're aspiring to? I'm guessing "programmer" maybe??
5. Nothing is enough. http://sloperama.com/advice/lesson49.htm What is it you're trying to accomplish? Figure out where you want to go, and what route to take, and what travel method to use.
6. Why don't you ask a counselor at your college?
7. Worth is subjective. http://sloperama.com/advice/route66.htm
8. Why don't you ask them?
9. Take whatever classes you want to take and that you think would be useful, rather than listening to strangers on the internet to whom you've never even told what your end goal and aspiration is.

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1. Make a decision grid. http://sloperama.com/advice/m70.htm
2. Good, I was going to ask why. But these don't explain why you want to get a Masters. Read http://www.igda.org/...-game-june-2011
3. To get where? You haven't told us what it is you're trying to accomplish in the end.
4. What door? Which game job is it you're aspiring to? I'm guessing "programmer" maybe??
5. Nothing is enough. http://sloperama.com...ce/lesson49.htm What is it you're trying to accomplish? Figure out where you want to go, and what route to take, and what travel method to use.
6. Why don't you ask a counselor at your college?
7. Worth is subjective. http://sloperama.com...ice/route66.htm
8. Why don't you ask them?
9. Take whatever classes you want to take and that you think would be useful, rather than listening to strangers on the internet to whom you've never even told what your end goal and aspiration is.


I should have known I was going to get served by you Mr. Sloper. blink.png Anyways I'm still in the process of making a decision grid about grad school, but I can at least answer some of these questions. I'll number my answers according to how you have them above. (btw I had my reply written up 2 times and lost them both times because I accidentally clicked on another link... dry.png)

2. The simplest answer is cost (time and money) vs return (e.g. competitiveness, salary, etc.). I figured why spend more time and money to earn the same level degree when I have the opportunity to earn a higher degree? I also figured that I would need to get an MS in the future anyways to climb up the career ladder. This may be a terribly naiive mode of thinking, but it made the most sense initially.

3. To be considered a plausible worthy grad candidate in CS.

4. I am still referring to getting into a graduate program. As you can see I am slowly becoming discouraged from the idea of making it in this early in the game. Ultimately though my dream job would be working on the tech side of game development (i.e. game engines, specifically the rendering portion). However I hear all the time that the games industry is extremely competitive, so I *think* having a respectable degree in CS will provide me some additional leverage should I want to apply for non-games related jobs.

5 & 7. You were right, those were dumb questions. I guess I would know it is “worth it” if there was not a shot in hell that I would be able to get into the programs I would be happy with my current plan. No one here can predict the future though…

6. I haven’t yet asked an advisor in my university’s CS department, but I have talked to a couple CS professors. What they said a while back led me to where I am now – using my BA as proof of formal education, and taking additional CS classes to show that I have some background in the requisite materials covered in admissions requirements. The problem is that the community colleges around where I live cannot cover all the course requirements mentioned in many of the universities’ admissions pages.

8. I certainly will! cool.png

9. The admissions requirements scare me and I don’t know how to pick out the “absolutely necessary” bullet points from the “recommended but not vital” points. So since it doesn’t seem like I can cover all the classes they want to see, I then feel less confident and more discouraged about my academic plan.

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so I *think* having a respectable degree in CS will provide me some additional leverage should I want to apply for non-games related jobs.

From my experiences a degree is more or less just a minimal requirement, a must-have. If you really want to have an additional lever, you should build up an impressive portfolio (additional to your degree). When you target computer graphics you will have many options to show off your skills.

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[quote name='Robot Ninja' timestamp='1342510902' post='4959912']
so I *think* having a respectable degree in CS will provide me some additional leverage should I want to apply for non-games related jobs.

From my experiences a degree is more or less just a minimal requirement, a must-have. If you really want to have an additional lever, you should build up an impressive portfolio (additional to your degree). When you target computer graphics you will have many options to show off your skills.
[/quote]

So are you saying that I should still go for the degree? Also for everyone - in what example cases would a MS degree make me overqualified?

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So are you saying that I should still go for the degree? Also for everyone - in what example cases would a MS degree make me overqualified?

It would not make you overqualified for any game development job.

The things you learn can make it easier to progress up the career ladder. They can provide leverage later in your career as you enter middle-management and other senior-level jobs. The experiences you might have and the contacts you might make can open doors for you.

Or they might not.

Get the education because you want the education. That is the only direct benefit you get. Don't get the education just because you think it might hypothetically give you some other benefit but you don't want the education.

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Get the education because you want the education. That is the only direct benefit you get. Don't get the education just because you think it might hypothetically give you some other benefit but you don't want the education.


Precisely that. Go for the masters because you want the learning. Not to get the piece of paper.

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From my experiences a degree is more or less just a minimal requirement, a must-have. If you really want to have an additional lever, you should build up an impressive portfolio (additional to your degree). When you target computer graphics you will have many options to show off your skills.



[quote name='frob' timestamp='1342553542' post='4960141']
Get the education because you want the education. That is the only direct benefit you get. Don't get the education just because you think it might hypothetically give you some other benefit but you don't want the education.


Precisely that. Go for the masters because you want the learning. Not to get the piece of paper.
[/quote]

I understand. I know I definitely want the education, but it's a matter of how much time/money I am willing to invest total. I am sure I will want to get my MS eventually.

Furthermore I'm under a lot of pressure from my family and myself. My parents and relatives (Asian, btw) are always breathing down my neck about school and where I am going with my career. If I'm not in school then I should be working, but not working at a place that isn't helping me with my career (e.g. McDonalds). They definitely need to lay off, but the reasoning makes sense.

So I feel like I have to apply to something so that I can keep making progress year after year, whether it be grad school, undergrad, or a programming job. However I have certain reservations about all 3 options:

  • Grad school: Taking this route immediately will mean that I can get to my final level of education much sooner, so that down the line if I want a senior position, I will already have the qualifications - degree-wise - for it. I may also delay payments on my current student loans if I am in school full-time. Unfortunately I'm afraid I won't even have the minimum amount of background to be considered for admissions by the time app deadlines come around this year. Why then spend all the time and resources focusing on that when I could be focusing on current classes, personal projects, and demos for a potential job/internship or future grad applications?
  • Undergrad: I should have an upper hand here. I probably have most of my breadth completed for CS, and will have most of my lower-division CS classes completed by the end of this year. I also understand the general pace of learning as an undergrad - I know what to expect. In the end, having a bachelor's in CS will already open many doors for me job-wise. I may also delay payments on my current student loans if I am in school full-time. On the other hand, taking this route adds to my total student debt, especially if I consider getting an MS afterward, and I will have spent more time in school than I'd like.
  • Applying for Job: I can start working towards building my career now, begin networking with people in the industry, and learn skills and practices that I would not have otherwise learned in school. Lastly I can continue paying off the debt I currently have now. The trouble here is that it will probably much more difficult for me to find a job, since I have nothing on paper telling employers I have the required background currently have no real projects to show for. Hopefully though I will have a number of things to showcase by then end of this year if the only other thing I need to worry about are classes. If I take this route, any upper-division material that I should have learned as an undergrad I will have to learn on my own. This however doesn't seem to be a problem for me since I have been learning on my own while working full-time in a visual perception/cognition lab.

    Regarding the last path I mentioned, would I be just as valuable to employers as an undergrad from CS if I had a good set of demos in my portfolio to showcase, even though my degree is in Psychology? This is in the context of the games industry or any other CG-related industry.

    Thanks, again for everyone's advice and wisdom. smile.png Edited by Robot Ninja

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2. Furthermore I'm under a lot of pressure from my family and myself. My parents and relatives (Asian, btw) are always breathing down my neck about school and where I am going with my career.

1. I have certain reservations about all 3 options:



1. Make a decision grid. http://sloperama.com/advice/m70.htm
2. Then you should include the criteria "will mollify my family somewhat" in your decision grid. And maybe you need to even bring them into the decision grid process. I understand that even that could be tough to handle. You have another option: get a job that'll get them off your back, and become financially independent. Then you can go your own way without any further obligation to them (to whatever extent your upbringing will permit). Certainly you cannot expect a bunch of strangers on the internet (especially the non-Asian ones) to give you a magic solution, much less make your decision for you (certainly not one that your family will hear and go "oh, well, then, that's perfectly fine").
YOU have to sort this out.
Start the decision grid.
When you encounter known unknowns, maybe we can point you to sources of information.
As for the unknown unknowns, you are on your own.
This is all on YOU. It's YOUR life. (It's not your family's life.)

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