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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:07 PM   #1
j0hnnys
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Help choosing my major for programming?

So I'm a senior for in high school right now, and I'm beginning my applications for different colleges. One of those colleges required me to choose my major at the time of the application. I had a hard time choosing between Software Engineering or Computer Science. My currently Computer Science teacher tells me it's pretty much the same, except Software Engineering would look better in these days and the coming years. Yet, I researched about it and different sources say there are plenty of differences between them, but what they say seems that you can apply it to both sides. So, what are the major differences between them?
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:23 PM   #2
grapes911
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This is my opinion summed up as tight as possible.

Computer science focuses on algorithms, problem solving, networking, and computer languages. Most of all, it concentrates on the theories that make a computer work.

This is good for people who want to be:
  • programmers, which is different from developers
  • researchers / academics
  • problem solvers (example how to improve the searching efficiency of this program)

Software engineering focuses on creating real software and the development life-cycle.

Examples:
  • gathering requirements
  • creating specifications
  • designing software
  • maintaining software

Both are great paths to take. As a technical lead of a development team with hiring power, I look for an a mix of both, along with some other backgrounds. I tend to believe that while their education is different, they can do the same jobs. I find it's their personalities that differ more than their education. (Warning, I'm generalizing about my team in the next few sentences!) CS people want tasks and they like details. The big picture doesn't matter as much to them. SE people want to document the entire overall picture and let the details will work themselves out. Neither is right or wrong. I need both.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:31 PM   #3
lee1210
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You need to compare the requirements for both majors at all of the Universities you apply to. Look up the course catalogs and see what the differences are. At some Universities the differences may be subtle, and you may be able to bridge the gaps with electives making the difference moot. At others, they may be in totally different colleges (i.e. Engineering vs. Natural Sciences) and have wildly different requirements. Per school you should decide which is best for you.

Then, you'll get into some schools, you'll pick one, you'll be there for a few semesters, and you may totally change your mind. You might change majors (declaring as a freshman or before is ludicrous anyway), you may transfer to a different University, you might drop out and start a company and become a m/billionaire.

At 16/17/18 you're unlikely to know specifically what you want to spend your academic or professional career doing. It's wrong for them to ask you to decide now, even if it simplifies their admissions process.

-Lee

P.S. My degree is in CS. I loved it. Software engineering wasn't offered at my school. Computer Engineering was, but that was hardware focused. Hey, there's one more major to consider!

Last edited by lee1210; Oct 5, 2010 at 07:36 PM.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:35 PM   #4
j0hnnys
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grapes911 View Post
[*]programmers, which is different from developers
Don't both make programs/software?

And I'm guessing Software Engineering would be a better choice for me since I wish to create software in a team by utilizing (hopefully) programming language.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:38 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by j0hnnys View Post
Don't both make programs/software?
Software engineering generally focuses on the process of creating software. CS does cover that, but covers many other areas as well.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:40 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by j0hnnys View Post
And I'm guessing Software Engineering would be a better choice for me since I wish to create software in a team by utilizing (hopefully) programming language.
I wouldn't jump to that conclusion. It might be better, but that's what I do and I studied CS. One thing to note: CS isn't about programming. Depending on the school SE might not be either. That's why you need to read the catalogs.

-Lee
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:48 PM   #7
grapes911
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lee1210 View Post
I wouldn't jump to that conclusion.
I agree. I started in computer engineering, then switched to electrical engineering, then computer science. I dabbled in cognitive science and artificial intelligence, but got tired of everything computer related so I tried business administration. I finally graduated with an BS in Information Systems. I got a job as a analyst / developer and worked my way up from there.

Moral of the story, you can change you mind. Part of college is finding yourself and figuring out what to do with your life.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:53 PM   #8
j0hnnys
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Do most employers consider CS and SE equivalent?

Quote:
Originally Posted by grapes911 View Post
Part of college is finding yourself and figuring out what to do with your life.
That quote makes me feel so much better and less stressed.
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Last edited by grapes911; Oct 5, 2010 at 08:02 PM. Reason: merge due to consecutive posts
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 07:58 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lee1210 View Post
I wouldn't jump to that conclusion. It might be better, but that's what I do and I studied CS. One thing to note: CS isn't about programming. Depending on the school SE might not be either. That's why you need to read the catalogs.
Underlined for truth.

I once looked into some courses listed as "Software Engineering". The content description seemed odd to me, until I realized it was primarily about how to organize one's software production process to obtain ISO-9000 certification.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_9000


I'm tempted to say "Demonstrate programming skills by writing a program in a language of your choice that compares course content descriptions along multi-dimensional axes based on keyword extraction and performs multivariate correlation between course outlines from different providers. Provide source, build or makefile, and source-data URLs." Oh wait, I just did.

Last edited by chown33; Oct 5, 2010 at 08:04 PM.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 08:12 PM   #10
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at every single shop I've worked at in the last 16 years CS degrees with few exceptions were IT, whereas the programmers had math or physics... one even had a law degree.

none of the best programmers I know held a CS degree from the US, except for one fellow from Princeton that had a BA in comp sci.. odd I know..

I may be a little old(er), but that's my experience.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 08:18 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by nephilim7 View Post
at every single shop I've worked at in the last 16 years CS degrees with few exceptions were IT, whereas the programmers had math or physics... one even had a law degree.

none of the best programmers I know held a CS degree from the US, except for one fellow from Princeton that had a BA in comp sci.. odd I know..

I may be a little old(er), but that's my experience.
Well, as an anecdotal counter-example I feel that I'm a pretty good programmer and I have a BA in CS from UT Austin, and a number of very good programmers I work with have degrees in CS, too. Others have no degree or an unrelated degree, including a JD as well.

-Lee
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