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Education Programming

The History of the CompSci Degree 126

Posted by samzenpus
from the oldest-school dept.
Esther Schindler writes "Young whippersnappers might imagine that Computer Science degrees — and the term "computer science" — have been around forever. But they were invented, after all, and early programmers couldn't earn a college degree in something that hadn't been created yet. In The Evolution of the Computer Science Degree, Karen Heyman traces the history of the term and the degree, and challenges you on a geek trivia question: Which U.S. college offered the first CS degree? (It's not an obvious answer.)"
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The History of the CompSci Degree

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  • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:33PM (#40316381) Journal

    I want to see how long it takes a site specializing in guys good at CompSci in the age of Google to find that answer!

  • *yawn* glad I'm smart enough, passionate enough, and imaginative enough to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering.

    • Re:engineer (Score:5, Informative)

      by brunes69 (86786) <> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @08:04PM (#40316761) Homepage

      Every person I know who has a Computer Engineering degree makes less money than I do. I also work with people who have nothing more than tech school diplomas who make more than I do and frankly can run circles around myself.

      When you graduate you will realize your degree is not what is important to be successful in the workforce. It is all about hard work, connections, raw talent, and a bit of good luck sprinkled in.

      Signed, someone with a BCS degree.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ff1324 (783953)

        Many moons ago, I was a junior in college and chasing down CS as my bachelor's degree. One day, I decided I'd had enough arguing with machines. Now, as a firefighter, I love coming to work, and make more than most of my friends who continued on to CS degrees.


        I'm doing the IT / programming / database / GIS work for my fire department...still arguing with machines, but now its enhanced by arguing with bureaucrats.

      • It might make a bit of difference *where* you got your degree from. but I'll agree that connections are king.
        (Interestingly, the former often can effect the latter.)

  • ... I did not graduated with a comp sci bachelor degree

    I graduated with a EE degree, simply because the courses in comp sci in my university was more towards software and I was more interesting in hardware

  • Interesting but... (Score:5, Informative)

    by madprof (4723) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:40PM (#40316475)

    The first taught computing course in the world was at Cambridge University, UK in 1953. Why not be a little more international in outlook?

    • by mister_dave (1613441) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:48PM (#40316563)

      Why not be a little more international in outlook?

      If you read the article, it is:

      For reasons of space, I limited the question to American universities, but computer historian and former IEEE Computer Society president Michael R. Williams points out that many universities worldwide were offering CS degrees by this period. He received his own PhD in CS from the University of Glasgow in 1968. He believes Glasgow’s program dates as far back as 1957, since he was an invited speaker at its 40th anniversary in 1997.

      • by madprof (4723)

        I stand corrected on that point, thank you.

      • by KPU (118762)

        Reasons of space? "Cambridge University" is indeed longer than "Purdue" but the difference is less than the excuse takes.

        • by Jay L (74152)

          No, you misunderstood the reasoning. The United States takes up more space than England.

        • Reasons of time-and-space continuum. The author contacted a lot of universities (as I think is obvious from the number of people quoted), and had to put a limit on her time somehow.
    • and when TFA says the answer isn't obvious - it kind of is. Cambridge was the home of the first computer lab, staffed with people like Maurice Wilkes and Roger Needham. That's exactly why I'd expect it to be the answer.
    • When I read computing at Cambridge, they'd just extended the duration of the course from 1 year to 2 - and even that was (as I recall) based on two hours of lectures per day and a couple of harware labs per week. You had to enter as an undergraduate on the assumption you were going to read something else and read CS as an afterthought..

      I think this was very useful as it ensured students had a background in something else (like maths or engineering), but also gave them some spare time to attend lectures in o

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      When I (an American) spent a term at the University of Aberdeen back in '86, I was amused that they insisted on expanding "CompSci" as "Computing Science", further evidence that the US and UK are divided by a common language.

  • ... don't have a degree in anything. Just graduates from the school of hard knocks.
  • I would say my Uncle is/was a "computer Scientist". He graduated with a BS in Math in 1962 or so. Then did 6 years in the Marines(on AWACs). I'd say he fits the bill. No degree in CS though...
  • ACM out of touch (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:50PM (#40316605) Homepage

    âoeAt an academic level, it's a very different background,â says Bobby Schnabel, Dean of the School of Informatics at Indiana University and chair of the ACMâ(TM)s Education Policy Committee. "The calculus and differential equations that underlie engineering are not what underlies computer science. It's really discrete mathematics."

    That was true a few decades ago. Today, though, all that discrete math isn't as useful. Today, you need calculus and Bayesian statistics for machine learning. You need differential equations and computational geometry for game development and robotics. Number theory, mathematical logic, graph theory, and automata theory just aren't that important any more. Most of what's needed from those fields is now embodied in well-known algorithms.

    I got all the classic discrete math training, but over the years, I've had to use far more number-crunching math.

    • by paskie (539112) <> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @08:16PM (#40316909) Homepage

      Basic automata theory is essential to software engineering - understanding capabilities of various computation models (what all can you do with a regex?), writing parsers and compilers, etc. Understanding basic graph theory (shortest paths, minimum spanning trees, bipartite graphs, maximum flows, coloring) is very important all across the field, from optimization to game development - sure it's well-known algorithms, but they are well-known only if you study and grok them. In the end, these really are the foundations of computer science and algorithmic thinking, while calculus etc. get useful when you get involved with real-world applications or simulations (or machine learning).

      I'd agree that number theory is not that useful outside of crypto and anything regarding mathematical logic feels extremely old-fashioned in current AI research.

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      Sure, but there's still a lot of research on a automata theory and graph theory going on, it just depends on what field you land it and what problem is most needing solved where you are.

      If you're making compilers for a living it's a very different job than if you're making user interface API's. And I have some friends who work for the same company, in the same building, on the same floor, where one does one, one does the other, and the skillsets required are completely different.

    • by bug1 (96678)

      To me, design is an essential and unapreciated component of programming.

      There arent many jobs where you just write big slabs of algorithms, it still requires a programmer to present the information as well.

      When you implement mathematical algorthims, design is the difference between writing spageti code and low maintence code.

      Students would be better served learning to appreciate design rather than learn more algorithms IMO.

      • by loufoque (1400831)

        Software design is part of Software Engineering, not Computer Science. Those two are about as different as Electrical Engineering and Physics.

        • by bug1 (96678)

          In my day Computer Science was run by Physics department

          • by loufoque (1400831)

            Then it wasn't really Computer Science. Computer Science is a theoretical field akin to Meta-Mathematics and Logic.

            True, its main application is to solve problems, and the most complex and interesting problems are usually in Physics. But that's just an application, it's not what the discipline itself is.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cryptizard (2629853)
      Depends on what area of computer science you are in. For every field you point out that uses calculus I can point you to two more active areas of research that focus on discrete. Personally, I am in cryptography (which no one can argue as being "solved") where modern research still relies on new developments in the areas you downplay i.e number theory and graph theory (check out the new biclique attack on AES for an example).
  • by charnov (183495) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:54PM (#40316653) Homepage Journal

    Purdue was first in 1962... and no I'm not THAT old and I didn't have to RTFA. I went there.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Not a surprising answer really.

      When I applied to schools in 1980, I noted that Stanford did not have an undergraduate computer science degree which seemed a bit ironic considering that so many CS advances came from Stanford.

      The thing is, what "computer science" meant was not a very well defined thing. It could be computational theory at some schools, or it could be an engineering program at others, or a mathematical elective at others.

  • Ok when the did the tech schools had degree as part them???

    Yes there is a need for tech schools but maybe the not the degree part.

    Maybe they will be better off not being tied down to rules cover by degrees and can be more about teaching real job skills.

  • Especially with the fresh grad hires with BSCS degrees, there seems to be more BS than CS.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    CS is a new and brilliant approach based on mathematics to an idea which never existed in any person's head until von neumann & turing and even lady ada before. It's a new science which literally changes every day.

    Get the degree : It's _so so so _ worth it

  • I wrote my first, very simple computer program around 1966 in a class in numerical analysis when I was an undergraduate math major. I was going to a small liberal arts college, less than 2000 students. The college computer was a PDP 8. You bought decks of cards, punched them up with your program and submitted them to a clerk in the Admin Building and hoped the thing would run. In the mid-1970s, after a hitch in the Navy, I went back to school at a somewhat larger place on the GI Bill. We timeshared on

  • Should be renamed (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Computer science now has "routes", "track", or "emphasis". C.S. with emphasis on Web, or Security, or Artificial Intelligence, or Crypto, or Machine Learning, or Software Engineering, or General/Mathematics, or Foundational/Theoretical. So I can tell an employer, "Yea, I am a computer scientist. But only the kind that works with web tech. I don't know enough about Embedded systems to get your water pumps working in sync, sorry!" I've even seen a "Developer" track offered. Hmm.

    What's going on is these degree

    • we need to move to the badges system and free up CS for real CS with all the other stuff on it's own []

    • Someone please mod this up!

    • Depends. Supposedly, at the university I attended, Software Engineers took one course from every track, while Computer Scientists took 3 from two tracks (for a total of six). In my case, I took Operating Systems (threading + the linux kernel) and Machine Vision / Graphics (designing GUIs + implementing mathematical algorithms for drawing Java *shudders*). I already had experience with OpenGl, so not having a class in it was not a major issue; although doing image work in Java nearly made me brea

  • "Sheldon-like snobbish mathematicians who look down on CS majors as failed math majors."

    Hence, I can conclude that Physicists are lazy math majors. I can vouch for that at least :)

  • "Which U.S. college offered the first CS degree?"

    I believe it was Jerry Falwell's Liberty Christian University. But the computer was an abacus, and it could only count up to 6,000.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > I believe it was Jerry Falwell's Liberty Christian University. But the computer was an abacus, and it could only count up to 6,000.

      As subscribers to the theory of intelligent design, Liberty doesn't believe the modern computer "evolved" from the abacus - certain features of the abacus and of a modern computer are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

  • From [] --

    Northeastern created the nation’s first college devoted to computer science in 1982, and today’s College of Computer and Information Science remains a national leader in education and research innovation...

    I graduated with the first five-year class of NUCCS in 1988. Five years because Co-Op experience was mandatory and built into the curriculum. Freshmen and Sophomores used Pascal; by Middler (3d year) you had to take the 1-credit "lab" course in C

  • Much like typing and shorthand. The original word "computer" referred to mostly female clerks, who tallied long calculations by hand or adding machines in backrooms of laboratories and insurance companies. Many of these same women migrated to the early electronic computers in the 1940s programming them by setting dials, rewiring, and punch cards. I believe the feminine clerk side of the business gave computer programming a low status in the early decades.

    I attended MIT before they had a formal departmen
  • "On most university campuses, CS grew out of mathematics or engineering departments, not (ahem) from accounting or business departments, according to Williams and others."

    You mean a specialized mathematics degree started in mathematics and engineering departments and not in departments that are completely unrelated? SHOCKER!
  • Dear snotnoses:

    When I went back to Philly Community College[1][2] in 1978, I got into a track for an Associate's Degree... in Data Processing.[3] There were a *lot* of folks taking DP. That was, of course, before the escalation of titles (that's a sanitary engineer, not a janitor). I also have an ex who's library science degree title included information systems

    mark, BS, CIS[4], 1995

    1. Phila., PA, USA
    2. CCP, just on

  • As an undergrad at Ga. Tech back in 1969-1973, they had a GRADUATE program in C.S., but no undergrad program. I had a roomate who was working on his masters in C.S., but I could not major in that. Also at that time, there was no minor program available (for anything--not just C.S.). So I majored in physics and took a lot of computer courses when I could. Good old Basic, ALGOL, and Fortran for the most part. I even recall an assembly-level simulation language called "Dummiestron" (or Dummystron?).
    • by WildTurk (317470)

      Georgia Tech had an undergrad ICS (information and computer science) program that started in 1972. I started in 1973 with the second class of undergrads. IIRC, when I was looking at undergrad Computer Science programs at the time there were only two. Stanford and GA Tech.

The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell. -- Confucius