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Education Programming

The History of the CompSci Degree 126

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 Cryacin ( 657549 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @07:44PM (#40316521)
    Astronaut. Must have experience with moon landing.

    early programmers couldn't earn a college degree in something that hadn't been created yet.

    And yet, recruiters would still think so.

  • Re:Who Cares (Score:5, Insightful)

    by niftydude ( 1745144 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @08:04PM (#40316765)
    Exactly what I was about to point out. I have a PhD in EE (microelectronics), and a bachelor comp sci, the two things could not be more far removed.

    The PhD in EE was all about things like the physical properties of materials (especially silicon), chemistry, properties of plasmas in a vacuum, etc. the comp sci degree was more about coding algorithms,apis, multitasking and other operating systems concepts.

    Both things are useful to me, and gave me completely different skill sets.
  • Re:engineer (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @08:06PM (#40316785)

    HAHA. You read that charlatan's book and now you think you know something? The guy is a fraud and you swallowed it hook line and sinker. Guess what? You are most certainly not an outlier. :)

  • Re:engineer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @08:16PM (#40316897)

    Bullshit you aren't. If you're earning a PhD you're towards the top of the capable list of people who earned bachelors degrees. Some of the capable people will go off and get real jobs that pay 70 or 80k a year after graduation (which is now all of my former students from a course that finished at the end of 2011 who left academia), but you cannot get into a PhD programme without being well above average. Different fields have differing skill levels and outlooks, but you can't get a PhD in any of the sciences unless you have well above average reasoning and maths skills. You have be passionate about being dispassionate and you have to be able to look at evidence and analyze it properly. Those are extremely rare skills. Even amongst people with undergraduates in science or engineering.

    In physics to get a graduate degree you have to be in the top 70% of graduates from a bachelors more or less, but to pass in physics at all at the undergraduate level is quite hard. You're not all that much more special than people in say, medicine or engineering but when you're in academia and everyone you see over 30 you call "doctor" you forget that only about 10% of the US population has a graduate degree, let alone a PhD.

    Engineering and comp sci are a bit different. They're harder to get into to start with, but it's easier to get into grad school once you pass, because most of your compatriots like money more than they like being able to investigate some novel, as yet unsolved problem that may remain unsolvable. Why is physics easy to get into but is proportionally so hard? Because as part of the regular science faculty they don't really care. If you can get into 'science' in general you can enroll in any of the physics classes. Not enough people are interested in physics for it to be a huge problem. I'm in canada and in my graduating year there were, I think it was about 170 BSc grads in the whole country, and about 2000 in the US. But there were also about 1800 or 1900 PhD's in canada and the US. In comp sci we have about the same, today (a number of years later) number of PhD's as physics, it's up over 2000 ish but not far off. But something like 50k undergrads in comp sci in canada and the US combined.

    I'll grant you, that getting a PhD puts you 'only' the top 10% or so of the population at all, and within that much of the distinction is more interest than specific skill set. But you can't get a PhD without being really good in your area, and really good in general. You can get a BSc and be mediocre, and that's as much about luck and opportunity as anything else. But once you get stuck in a room full of computer nerds universities can pick and choose who they take for PhD degrees. I know where I am they have about 300 qualified applicants a year for about 40 spots in grad school (and it costs about 100 bucks to apply so you don't just fling applications about wildly, but you that doesn't mean only 40 of those 300 will go to grad school at all).

    I grant that there's a lot to be said for when you're born and luck, especially in being financially successful in life, but Academia in north america and europe are very much merit based. It may be luck and opportunity that determines which field you go in, and whether or not you end up a professor of computer science making 130k a year or bill gates making 130k an hour, but in both cases you can be in the top 1% of the population if you manage your money and don't do anything catastrophically stupid professionally.

    TL:DR. I call bullshit. Luck and temporal factors will get you a bachelors and contribute to what field, and how much money you make. But to get even accepted to a PhD programme you have to be in the top quarter or so of graduates from comp sci or engineering.

  • by paskie ( 539112 ) <`zc.wcu' `ta' `yksap'> 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.

  • Re:Who Cares (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @08:20PM (#40316963)

    Comp sci grew very much out of different departments, some places (like waterloo) it's an extension of maths, some places it's physics, some places it's engineering. But you're right, as a discipline comp sci is concerned much more with what is theoretically computable and how complex that is, how you logically envision that problem and how you organize and represent information. Computer engineering is much more about the problem of building all of the components and how they get soldered together.

    Though I grant there are computer scientists who do research on what is computable on real hardware only, and engineers (and physicists) who think about hardware that could be used to solve problems not normally regarded as computable or computable in a particular time. Part of doing research is that you solve a problem and what discipline it happens to be belong to is secondary.

  • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @08:55PM (#40317351)

    Very true. If you're getting a PhD you're trying to do actual science, not just be an IT guy. hell if you want to be an IT guy you don't even need a BSc.

  • Should be renamed (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @11:12PM (#40318427)

    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 degrees are really just teach the current industry and market. Theory is shoved aside to make room for immediately practical skill, so the uni. can say "last year 98% of our c.s. grads got jobs". But 98% of their c.s. grads can only write Android apps or work with Joomla templates, so wtf does that mean for the future of our digital era? Not shit. I shouldn't have to commit myself to the Crypto track to get insider knowledge on Information theory, right? Shouldn't that be general knowledge to any C.S. grad ?? So I say put those "industry now" topics into survey courses as track electives, or assign them to a different degree altogether, or perhaps as a double major or minor. Then I can graduate with a B.S. in C.S. with a A.S. in web tech, or a double B.S. in CIS security, right?

    I am going back to school this fall to finish my B.S. in C.S. degree after switching from religious studies to philosophy to C.S.. Can you imagine I only need 2 upper level math classes to graduate from this particular university? I have to double up with a maths major to get what I think is sufficient material for what I imagine a professional computer scientist ought to know .... it's ridiculous the way this stuff is run these days...

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.