Computer Science or Computer Engineering/Electrical Engineering?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by ravenvii, Mar 23, 2009.

  1. ravenvii macrumors 604

    ravenvii

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    #1
    I'm thinking about going back to school to get a computer degree.

    I'm split between CS and CE/EE. I know the basic differences between them - CS is mostly software, while CE is a merging of CS and EE. If I'm more interested in the programming side, I should take CS, right? If I have a CE, then want to become a programmer, will I have a problem competing with a CS major?

    And just for curiosity's sake, if I major in CS or CE, and decided I want to work in IT, can I do so? Or am I best served with a IT degree?
     
  2. Tomorrow macrumors 604

    Tomorrow

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    #2
    You should probably check the catalog of whatever school you plan to attend to see how THEY define the different programs.

    In my experience, CS is relatively broad and often falls under the math department, but doesn't necessarily focus on software more than hardware (it's more how to make stuff work than how to build it). CE and EE are more or less the same thing, are somewhat more narrow in scope than CS, and are often under the engineering department (it's more how to design it than how to make it work). IT can be either of these. IS is something different altogether and typically falls under the business department.
     
  3. steve2112 macrumors 68040

    steve2112

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    #3
    This is a toughie. At my alma mater, for example, CS was under the Arts and Sciences school when I first started, along with the likes of Math, Physics, etc. A few years later, they moved it under the College of Engineering. This further blurred the line between CS and CE, since both had the same core requirements. The difference was that CE threw in some requirements from EE, such as digital devices and design, and some other hardware design type classes. CS tended focus more on the programming side.

    As Tomorrow pointed out, in my experience, IS type degrees tend to be under the business school. At my alma mater, we had a BIS/MIS degree. Which one you got depended on how many management classes you took. Oddly enough, both also focused on programming, though they did have some other classes, such as networking, thrown in. The quality of said classes was...debatable, at best, though.

    Truthfully, it depends on what you want to do. If you prefer programming, go for CS type majors. IF you want to do more hands on sysadmin/network admin stuff, go for IS. I have personally seen all of the involved majors doing a wide variety of work.
     
  4. Tomorrow macrumors 604

    Tomorrow

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    #4
    When I did my graduate work in IS, we did do some work with programming - you had to have C++ or Java as a prerequisite - but the programming was more "high level" and didn't include actual code writing, for what that was worth. It was all about how to set up routines and objects in order to accomplish information sorting, evaluating, computing, storing, and mining. I forget the name of the program we used to "write" these "programs," but again, the finished product was very skeletal.

    My classes also included networking, lots of database administration, and management strategies for information systems. Definitely business-oriented, and aside from the programming prerequisite it wasn't really technical at all, in my opinion.
     
  5. 63dot macrumors 603

    63dot

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    #5
    I was briefly a CE student and took all the prerequisite courses. CS and CE are very different. The CS is far more geared towards the programming side. I took those classes, but for fun and none of them counted towards the CE program.

    CE prereqs, if you are not one with a substantial amount of engineering credits or with an engineering degree of some sort, center around the hardware aspects, including some math course work.

    But you will have to know software programs if you are CE - networking, for instance, but not so much the programming side as much as the CS major. The CS major will have a great advantage in the work force as an apps programmer, where the CE major will have the advantage in the hardware side of IT. These days, I think the CE is somewhat safer since a lot of CS programming jobs have been easily ported to the third world.

    CE, and networking skills, and a couple of key certifications from (A+, Network+, most Microsoft certifications that are networking based, and Cisco certifications) are very good and harder to outsource overseas. If you combine an IT Management degree with a couple of certifications, or a CE degree with a couple of certifications, you will be golden. But unlike being a doctor or dentist, you don't have to be certified or degreed to go far in your field, but degrees and certifications help, and not hurt.

    EE is probably even safer than CS or CE, but much more rigorous with the math and science course work. You can technically be weak in math and science and still be a successful programmer, you will need a fair amount for CE, but a lot more for EE.

    In the 1980s in to the early 1990s, there was quite a crossover in these three fields, but as computers and the internet became a bigger industry and more tasks demanded more specialization, CS, CE, and EE started drifting further apart. My EE roommate would go on to design appliances sometimes and at other times computer components. CE people stuck more to computer components. And CS has grown as there are far more languages that are more sophisticated. Very few people could master all, and it is becoming increasingly harder just to be competent in any one of those disciplines as they grow.

    I hope this helps.
     
  6. stevento macrumors 6502

    stevento

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    #6
    You don't even need a degree to work in IT. I'm a CS major, and in class, we laugh at IT people because of how little they know about what their jobs entail. Get a CS degree and get a real career.
     
  7. 63dot macrumors 603

    63dot

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    #7
    In these hard times, at least where I live, an IT job is a good thing, as well as an engineering job or a programmer job and they have some security. Web development still has many ads with decent salaries and is the one I see most often on Monster and other job ads. But right now, it's slightly harder for graphic designers and game developers.
     
  8. Mord macrumors G4

    Mord

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    #8
    I know successful software engineers with both, seriously though I'd avoid going into IT myself unless you enjoy banging your face on your desk repeatedly.

    Wouldn't you rather do something creative than just work in service of others?
     
  9. trule macrumors 6502

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    #9
    Generally, CS will teach you to write software and CE will teach you to design software. CE tends to be much broader in subject matter (and a year longer) which can be beneficial if you don't want to write software for your whole life.

    Some places offer a combination of the two, taking an additional year over the CE to complete. Its questionable if that additional year is real value as on the job experience is far far more valuable than a combined degree.
     
  10. Quad SLi 295 macrumors member

    Quad SLi 295

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    #10
    I'd run with the electrical Engineer, degree as it opens up a word not limited to IT. Electrical Engineers are in all facets of professional society.

    Yes the course is very broad and can lead into almost any heavy industry (plenty of Electrical Engineers in the mining game where I am.) But while doing the course you can tailor your studies to suite your needs and tastes.

    Jimmy

    P.S:
    My Taxes pay for Creative people to be creative. It annoys me greatly.
     
  11. Gelfin macrumors 68020

    Gelfin

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    #11
    As others have said, inquire about specific programs. It is still the case that there is no fast rule for classifying these programs, and this is not my experience. Any competent CS program should have classes on software architecture, though you may need to seek them out as electives.

    At my school, apart from all classes taking place in caves with lessons expressed in the form of crude paintings of antelope hunts, the CPE program (CE is Civil) was affiliated with EE and focused largely on chip design. A lot of schools have merged CPE and EE, or expanded their EE program into an "ECE" (Elec. & Comp) program, though in some schools this is viewed as just Electrical Engineers putting on airs. Where I went, to the extent there was an IT program, it happened in the MIS program at the business school.

    First, decide what you most want to do. Then do campus tours and talk to representatives from all the relevant departments to find out which is the best fit at each school that interests you. Not only is there no standard, but there tends to be a lot of overlap and some intramural competition over what territory properly belongs in what program.

    Honestly, if all you want to do is IT (and are therefore a masochist), I would actually suggest a quality trade school. You'll save money, wrap up quicker, and walk away with knowledge that is a lot more current and practical for what you'll be doing.
     
  12. trule macrumors 6502

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    #12
    CE is most versatile. You can do programming, IT, engineering, design, management and many other things with this one. But it also takes longest and typically is very difficult. You want to be sure your smart with complex mathematics and have a logical mind. You need to be the kind of person who reads the manual ...

    CS degree is great if you know you want to do programming or work in IT since they tend to be shorter and have much less engineering focus.

    IT certifications and courses are OK however they don't compare to a CS or CE degree and in a competitive environment you may find that you can't get programming jobs with that. You will almost for sure not get engineering jobs.


    I would not recommend 4 years of an engineering degree unless you are fairly certain that is what you want.
     
  13. 63dot macrumors 603

    63dot

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    #13
    I have seen several paths for people in high tech. Some may have a business degree or liberal arts degree, be in their later 20s or 30s, but want to break into the field so they get a Microsoft certification (MCP+i or MCSE) within one year and hit the ground running at the lower salary levels. If they prove themselves, they move into mid and higher salary levels in time.

    Other younger kids just out of high school know they are not in a hurry and can invest in a full four years, full time, for the computer science, computer engineering, or EE/EL degree.

    The easier 4 year degrees, like IT Management, will possibly yield a mid-level starting salary, where the hardest degrees like EE or EL will give the graduate the highest starting salaries.

    But in a highly competitive IT market like San Jose, any of those people with a bachelor's degree, with or without additional certifications, often may be asked to move into management. At that point, the most common path is the MBA in IS or IT. There are many people without a master's in business who can tackle project management on large levels, but unless you are a genius that is high profile, employers would like to see that MBA in addition to a high tech degree. Certifications add to the credibility, and experience is absolutely necessary. Nothing beats having it all plus a highly regarded MBA, which where I live is Stanford or Cal.

    I have met people who didn't do college, but were highly gifted in software or hardware (and are later day Wozniaks) who have climbed the ladder to the top or even started their own lucrative companies. But most of us are not that geeky, so a diet of degrees, certifications, and eventually graduate school is a safe and well trodden path. You won't get rich but you will have financial independence and stability.

    But if you are an emerging young Woz, Steve Jobs, Shawn Fanning, or a Michael Dell making computers from your dorm room and becoming rich at a very early age while parents think you are doing homework, don't listen to this thread. :)

    As a rule of thumb when I was a tech, a certified only employee starts at double minimum wage, an BS/IT person just slightly more, CEs three times minimum wage, and EEs and ELs slightly more than that. An unknown MBA with background makes half again as much as the EE/ELs and the highly regarded MBAs with a decade of hard core high tech experience make what we joke as "baseball" money, but really salaries in the Henry (high earning not rich yet) category of over $100K to $250K.
     
  14. Mord macrumors G4

    Mord

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    #14
    It must blow to live in a society that favours advancement :rolleyes:

    Also how on earth is this actually the case, I say "creative" in the sense of those who create/research/discover/advance things in practically useful subjects, not humanities based pursuits, given the context of this thread I thought that this would be assumed.

    Creative people essentially service the general public with what they produce.
     
  15. ravenvii thread starter macrumors 604

    ravenvii

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    #15
    Just a note, I'm not thinking of actually becoming a IT person with those degrees, I'd like to ultimately code apps. For OS X and/or iPhone ideally ;)

    I just brought up IT because it's a "in case" thing - if I can't find a job in coding, but can find a job in IT, I'd take it until something better comes up, you know? I'm just wondering if that's an option with CS/CE/EE degrees. Apparently it is, which is great.

    Should I get a CE/EE (they seem to be interchangeable in some cases) even if I ultimately want to do more on the software side, not the hardware side? Would it make me more flexible for job security, or should I just go for CS?

    (And just to add: I'm going to have a JD degree soon. I'm looking into possibly (a remote possibility, I hate law) in becoming a intellectual property lawyer specializing in computer hardware and software. Just a thought)
     
  16. Mord macrumors G4

    Mord

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    #16
    Just be careful that you don't get trapped in IT, you really want relevant experience on your CV to get into the software engineering business, not a couple of years doing nothing like that only depressing dull windows tech support.
     
  17. trule macrumors 6502

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    #17
    Just do CS, and if after that you can't find a job you like spend a few more years and do a CS masters degree. Then try again. Pick up the odd certification on your vacations if you don't work. LPI is a good one, and perhaps MySQL is also good.

    Sounds like you have already wasted some time on the Law degree, don't waste anymore on an Engineering one as well.

    And start writing iPhone code now, create a small business for it, when you get your CS degree you will have lots of resume padding ... and this will count big time.
     
  18. 63dot macrumors 603

    63dot

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    #18
    Very well said, especially in context with Raven's latest post.

    Any engineering degree would be a waste of time for a person who wants to be a programmer. Basically CS degree = coding/programming, and writing OS X and iPhone apps is coding/programming, not help desk, circuits, designing computer hardware, working as an engineer in the mining industry.

    A person is as likely with a JD degree knowing as much about coding OS X and iPhone apps as a person with an EE degree, or any engineering degree.

    That's why there is the CS degree, which works well to teach both 17 year olds entering college, or older students like Raven with some grad and/or work experience, to learn the art of programming/coding. FWIW, the incredibly short answers required for law school, while at the same time getting to the point, is suited for programming, especially in Java, Visual Basic, etc. In law school, the cleaner the answer, the better ... same with programming.
     
  19. Cromulent macrumors 603

    Cromulent

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    #19
    I agree, go for the CS course. Just make sure you pick a good course that has a decent amount of maths in it and not one of those Java only courses or something silly like that.
     
  20. Blakely028 macrumors regular

    Blakely028

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    #20
    +1 for the CS course.

    I'm planning to do a Software Engineering course this year at University mainly because I'd like to do things like programming and becoming a systems analyst and such things. Learning other programming languages sound quite cool so I'd recommend the CS/Software Engineering option :)
     
  21. chrmjenkins macrumors 603

    chrmjenkins

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    #21
    What kind of apps. Are you more interested in coding desktop software, or software for embedded devices like the iphone and other handheld devices?

    If you want to write desktop applications, you're best served with CS. If you want to write apps for mobile or embedded devices, it wouldn't hurt to get a CE degree (but take as much CS as you can still). Embedded programmers generally need to have a good knowledge of the hardware they are working.

    Judging from what you say, it sounds like CS is the best way to go.
     

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