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Old May 26, 2009, 06:03 PM   #1
wadejc85
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Software Engineering vs Computer Science

Hi Everyone!

Essentially, what are the main differences in Master's degrees? I'm quite new to software and programming. I am going to go back to school (work is paying ), and I'm trying to discern whether to do software engineering or computer science. I did some internet searches, and people seem to be in constant debate about the two. I want to choose the one that's right for me.

My boss said he didn't want me to do software engineering, because "they're shipping them all overseas". Is this true?

What I would like to do is to design and write programs based on others' needs. My cousin has a computer science Master's degree, and she absolutely loved where she worked (she's a stay-at-home parent now). She said she designed and wrote programs (which is what I want to do). I'm getting confused, because I thought that's what software engineers did.

Are these two options even right for me? Is there something else out there that I am overlooking? Just an FYI, I'm looking at Drexel University.

Please, please, please help me out! Thanks!!

Wade
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Old May 26, 2009, 06:06 PM   #2
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get the bs over the ba lol
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Old May 26, 2009, 06:17 PM   #3
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That was one main reason I liked the software engineering over the computer science. I don't understand why some schools have the CS degree under the "Arts" and why some have it under the "Science" department. Crazy!
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Old May 26, 2009, 06:23 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wadejc85 View Post
That was one main reason I liked the software engineering over the computer science. I don't understand why some schools have the CS degree under the "Arts" and why some have it under the "Science" department. Crazy!
Being a good programmer actually involves some of both, an artistic element and a scientific element.
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Old May 26, 2009, 06:36 PM   #5
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So which program would provide the best balance of both artistic and scientific elements? I read somewhere (I can't remember) that software engineers develop programs to solve people's needs using current technology while computer science majors develop programs to solve people's needs by trying to come up with new methods/technologies.
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Old May 26, 2009, 06:59 PM   #6
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regardless, isnt it more about the languages you are proficient at?

surely thats the important part
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Old May 26, 2009, 07:06 PM   #7
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regardless, isnt it more about the languages you are proficient at?

surely thats the important part
Actually I believe that's the least important. What good is knowing a computer language if you're not good at analysis or problem solving. Just because you may know a language backwards and forwards doesn't translate into producing a program that solves a problem. Analytical skills provides the tools to create a solution to which you can code
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Old May 26, 2009, 07:43 PM   #8
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What you're asking varies incredibly widely from school to school. Decades on, there is still no real agreement about how to classify or decompose computer-centric educational programs. Your CS program might be an MA instead of MS because in some schools mathematics is an arts degree, and early on somebody stuck CS there beside it, and it never got moved.

If you must pick blind, "Computer Science" is the label with the most resume-compatible "brand recognition." When you browse job listings they will usually ask for BS or MS in CS "or equivalent." Ideally what you'll prefer is to determine ahead of time what you want to get out of the degree, and then interview all the potentially relevant departments at candidate schools to determine which one is the best fit for your objectives.

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regardless, isnt it more about the languages you are proficient at?

surely thats the important part
Definitely not. With experience, picking up a new language is easy.
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Old May 26, 2009, 08:36 PM   #9
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regardless, isnt it more about the languages you are proficient at?

surely thats the important part
It is important, but...

Quote:
Originally Posted by maflynn View Post
Actually I believe that's the least important. What good is knowing a computer language if you're not good at analysis or problem solving. Just because you may know a language backwards and forwards doesn't translate into producing a program that solves a problem. Analytical skills provides the tools to create a solution to which you can code
I agree with this, too. I do believe I have the analytical skills required... I already have an engineering degree, and I work as a project reviewer for a government agency.

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Originally Posted by Gelfin View Post
What you're asking varies incredibly widely from school to school. Decades on, there is still no real agreement about how to classify or decompose computer-centric educational programs. Your CS program might be an MA instead of MS because in some schools mathematics is an arts degree, and early on somebody stuck CS there beside it, and it never got moved.

If you must pick blind, "Computer Science" is the label with the most resume-compatible "brand recognition." When you browse job listings they will usually ask for BS or MS in CS "or equivalent." Ideally what you'll prefer is to determine ahead of time what you want to get out of the degree, and then interview all the potentially relevant departments at candidate schools to determine which one is the best fit for your objectives.



Definitely not. With experience, picking up a new language is easy.
I don't think I'd pick blindly... that's what got me into my undergraduate engineering degree! (Not that I don't like it...) But I do agree with you on it varying from school to school. I think this is why my boss got so confused. He's listening to his son, who thinks he knows a lot about computers, but doesn't. And he's a boss, so naturally he doesn't listen to a word I have to say.

The CS is a MS not MA.

It's interesting to see that there really isn't a consensus on how the programs differ.

I think I just may go for the computer science degree.

Thanks for all the help!!
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Old May 26, 2009, 08:54 PM   #10
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Maybe I'm missing something, but after looking at the curriculum at Drexel, it seems as if I could combine the elective courses to complete the same courses for the different degrees. Crazy!
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Old May 26, 2009, 09:59 PM   #11
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As a recent CS graduate (like, 2 weeks ago)....

When I was looking into things 4 years ago, no College/University had a "Software Engineering" major. A few Tech schools did, like Georgia Tech for Example.

As far as my understanding went, back then, was that Computer Science involved the "Science of Computers", which is taught to you through computer languages. Certainly all this knowledge can easily be applied to the software field, but it is not focused on, say writing UI oriented programs for Windows based machines (regardless of language). My degree included everything from an Electrical Engineering class, to Computer Architecture, Databases, Algorithm Analysis, not to mention a bunch of math classes.

I still remember one of the opening lines one of my CS profs said on the first day of class, "I'm going to teach you how to think, not how to program".

But I also understood Computer Science to be a field of study, and Software Engineering to be a field of Application, correct?
Perhaps similar to getting a PhD in Medicine (a field of study) and applying it in the field of application, a Physician.

I hope that all made sense. I realized I need to rush out of here, but wanted to respond
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Old May 26, 2009, 10:15 PM   #12
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As a recent CS graduate (like, 2 weeks ago)....

When I was looking into things 4 years ago, no College/University had a "Software Engineering" major. A few Tech schools did, like Georgia Tech for Example.

As far as my understanding went, back then, was that Computer Science involved the "Science of Computers", which is taught to you through computer languages. Certainly all this knowledge can easily be applied to the software field, but it is not focused on, say writing UI oriented programs for Windows based machines (regardless of language). My degree included everything from an Electrical Engineering class, to Computer Architecture, Databases, Algorithm Analysis, not to mention a bunch of math classes.

I still remember one of the opening lines one of my CS profs said on the first day of class, "I'm going to teach you how to think, not how to program".

But I also understood Computer Science to be a field of study, and Software Engineering to be a field of Application, correct?
Perhaps similar to getting a PhD in Medicine (a field of study) and applying it in the field of application, a Physician.

I hope that all made sense. I realized I need to rush out of here, but wanted to respond
Thanks for taking the time to respond!

Thank God I already have all the prerequisites completed (e.g. electrical, math)! So anotherwords....

Computer science is a degree in which one extensively learns about software and hardware and works "more" in a company's research division rather than in a development division. Software engineering is a degree in which one extensively learns about software with potential electives in hardware and works more in development, rather than in research. Is that somewhat close?

I'm sorry I'm so hung up on the differences between programs.
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Old May 27, 2009, 12:45 AM   #13
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It is best not to talk in generalities regarding these areas of study, as their interpretation will vary greatly from person to person, and from department to department.

So from the Drexel programs, here are the differences in the textual descriptions, and other high-level info from next year's course catalog:
MSSE is in the College of Information Science and Engineering, but co-sponsored by the College of Engineering
MSCS is in the College of Engineering
This is unfortunate if you wanted to double major, as you'd have to be dealing w/ 2 separate colleges, but you'll be dealing to some degree w/ the College of Engineering w/ either.

As for the high-level descriptions of the programs, the gist is that SE is about practical applications, with the chance to deal with broader subject areas through the "track" system (one of these is CS, which would draw this much closer to the CS degree). The CS degree is focused on some practice, but also theory and the research interests of the faculty. This prepares you more for further research or academic pursuit than the SE degree might. What really codifies these differences is the stress, though it is not required, on the Co-op program for SE compared to the stress, though it is not required, on a thesis in the CS program.

Between the CS and Engineering track of the MSSE, there are 27 courses that are mentioned specifically in the catalog that are also mentioned specifically for MSCS. The track most divorced from CS is the InfoSci track, which shares no specific courses with CS.

There are only about a dozen CS courses that are mentioned specifically for the MSCS program that are not mentioned for the MSSE program. Again, if one were to choose the InfoSci track for the MSSE, there are many distinct courses from the MSCS. There are quite a few for the engineering track also, only specifically sharing 3 ECEC courses. Sensibly, for the CS track there are only 2-3 courses mentioned in the MSSE that are not mentioned in the MSCS, but these could still be taken for the CS degree.

It seems like the best compromise would be the MSSE with the CS track, but breadth may not be what you are looking for. You didn't say either way, but I'd deduce that academic research is not a long term goal, but there are other avenues that the MSCS offer that may be more appealing to you than MSSE.

The long and short of it is that what we, other members of industry, the university, the respective colleges, and others think of the two tracks is largely irrelevant. What matters is what you (and your employer, since they're your benefactor in this endeavor) want to get out of it. My opinion of the matter would be to go CS, but I'm jaded because that's what I have my (undergraduate, and only) degree in. It seems that SE is a younger program, that is an off-shoot of CS designed to prepare students for a career in industry. CS provides this as well, but stresses research and future academic pursuits to a greater degree.

Have you contacted advisors from either college to get their input on this matter? I'm sure this is a pretty common question from perspective students that they probably have some insight on.

Either way, good for you. I'm jealous that you have the opportunity, especially on someone else's dime (though I'm guessing their buy-in gets them some commitment of future service from you).

-Lee

EDIT:
Responding specifically to:
Quote:
Originally Posted by wadejc85 View Post
Computer science is a degree in which one extensively learns about software and hardware and works "more" in a company's research division rather than in a development division. Software engineering is a degree in which one extensively learns about software with potential electives in hardware and works more in development, rather than in research. Is that somewhat close?
Unfortunately, it is really not that clear cut. Certainly the MSCS at Drexel focuses more on research, so if that was the sort of position you were wanting it might be more applicable. However, you can get plenty of hardware background from the MSSE, it isn't limited to those pursuing an MSCS.

Last edited by lee1210; May 27, 2009 at 12:53 AM.
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Old May 27, 2009, 02:40 AM   #14
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regardless, isnt it more about the languages you are proficient at?

surely thats the important part
Nope. Learning programming languages is the easy part. If you already know one language you can normally learn another one in a short amount of time (assuming they have common elements).

Even if it is a completely new language that is totally out of this world it'll still be easier to learn than your first language.
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Old May 27, 2009, 06:59 AM   #15
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I can't speak much for the differences; but Computer Science for me has taught a ton of useful concepts for various aspects of computing. It covered a load of requirements-gathering/design stuff, as well as appreciation for good-algorithms for solving problems. For example; unless you're manipulating a grid, nested loops are usually a sign of an overly complex algorithm, things like that.

This being in addition to teaching a proficiency in Java, and a good understanding of how a program you write may be executed by the hardware so you can consider that certain types of operations may be inefficient on memory-access, or why you need a good balance of threads (more can mean a more responsive program, but too many destroys performance).

I got the impression that the software-engineers who were doing some of the same classes, weren't learning the same kind of breadth of subjects as we also covered security, law, and others in addition to the stuff I already mentioned.
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Old May 27, 2009, 12:04 PM   #16
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Thank you for your long and thoughtful response, lee1210! From your descriptions, it seems that I would much rather be in computer science than in software engineering. I consider myself an analytical person who enjoys learning; thus, I'd rather have a much more in-depth degree than one that is an overview (please excuse my generalization).

I've tried contacting the school, but I was only able to talk to someone that was a general adviser and had absolutely no clue what the degrees meant. I asked for a contact number, and all she said was that she'd have someone contact me. Well, a week later and my phone hasn't rang (from them ).

I am extremely grateful for my job allowing me to go back to school, especially in an area that isn't really my expertise. My background is the environment--e.g. water resource management, water/wastewater treatment, pollution prevention, etc--and I work in water resources. As long as I take one class a semester, they require no commitment from me. One class a semester might not allow me to get the degree completed fast enough, so I might end up paying for a few classes (if I can afford $875 a credit).

Cromulent, thank you for your comments, as well! I've dabbled in HTML, C++, Visual Basic, and PHP. Unfortunately, most of my knowledge is extremely basic and I don't know anything by heart. I haven't been exposed to it on a daily basis.

haravikk, thanks for your comments, too! I completely understand what you mean. I've been in those situations in some of my undergraduate courses--e.g. where I understood chemistry better than others, but didn't understand strength of materials as well as others.

Personally, I want a degree that is very in-depth and analytical. All I remember from my C++ class is that I always did the homework/projects/programs the night they were assigned, never the day before they were due. I loved writing the code and understood it perfectly, then (which I need to refresh!).

Thank you all for your help, and I would appreciate any more comments/insights/recommendations or anything you have (even rants ).
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Old May 27, 2009, 01:32 PM   #17
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I don't know who you spoke to already, but you may want to try the individual colleges:
for the iSchool (for the SE program):
215.895.2474
email info@ischool.drexel.edu

For the CS department (part of the college of engineering):
215-895-2669
cs-info-grad@cs.drexel.edu

I worked at the university i attended, and found that knowing who to talk to and getting their direct number is pretty critical. This page:
http://www.ischool.drexel.edu/Home/people/staff
Has a list of all staff at the iSchool. There are 3 graduate advisors and one graduate admissions officer. Any of them would probably have some good information.

Here is a similar page for the CS department:
https://www.cs.drexel.edu/users/csstaff
The only person that looks promising there is the graduate program coordinator
and for the College of Engineering:
http://www.drexel.edu/coe/stuserv/staff-sserv.asp
There are a number of advisors there. It may be better to start there than the CS department, since there are no advisors listed under the CS staff page.

-Lee
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