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How Important is a Well-Known CS Degree?

Cliff posted about 10 years ago | from the which-matters-more-the-school-or-the-knowledge dept.

Education 1280

syynnapse asks: "I've been interested in computer science since my mother taught me how to program in QBASIC when I was eleven, and I've wanted to be a developer ever since I learned C++ in AP Computer Science while in high-school. Now I'm in my sophomore year of college studying CS at a state university that isn't particularly known for its CS program, but I'm quite happy and personally think I'm learning plenty. My father thinks otherwise, and the deadline for transferring successfully is approaching quickly. What chance do I have in the real world with a not-so-prestigious degree? Am I likely to be learning what's important? Am I looking at a series of awful jobs if I don't transfer?"

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Experience is key... (5, Informative)

danielrm26 (567852) | about 10 years ago | (#10965683)

I honestly don't think it matters much. I imagine there are a few organizations that it does matter to, but I think those are few and far between.

The most important thing in the market today is experience. Go look on Monster or any of the other sites right now, and you'll see one phrase quite a bit - ...or equivalent experience.

In other words, a degree is a bonus now rather than a prerequisite if you have talent and experience. If you have no experience and no big certifications, then a degree is something (and perhaps the degree from a bigger school could help a little), but the jobs available to you in this boat are not all that appealing for the most part anyway.

The great jobs go to those with solid experience, and for those people (and the people hiring them), the degree they have is considered decoration rather than the meat of the resume.

Perhaps this is different in the development field, but I doubt it; I'm coming from the infosec side of things and I imagine things are much the same for programmers.

In short, degrees and certifications are "get you in the door"-oriented credentials; the big jobs rarely go this breed of applicant.

Re:Experience is key... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965778)

Really agree here. People fresh out of collage that i have interviewed more get points for internships or contract jobs (read EXPERIENCE) than how well they did in school or what school they went to.

Re:Experience is key... (4, Interesting)

solodex2151 (700977) | about 10 years ago | (#10965822)

Experience is definitely the key, and many times more important than a piece of paper saying you know what you know + 20%. I know of several highly succesful people (including some CS folks) that are still going through college, yet they get regularly hired by companies to do high end jobs and are picked above people coming from prestigous universities. A degree is one thing, but experience serves as proof that you can do the job and are worth it. If possible, start building up your job portfolio now. Intern with a company or program on the side. That will make you a far more favorable candidate in the future than any piece of paper will.

Re:Experience is key... (5, Insightful)

eln (21727) | about 10 years ago | (#10965827)

Degrees can also make you more flexible. If you're, say, a Perl programmer without a degree, the only jobs people will hire you for is Perl programming. If you're a Perl programmer with a CS degree, you are far more likely to get hired for jobs using, say, C++ if the Perl market is dry where you are. You are also more likely to be considered as a candidate for management, if that's what you want, if you have a degree behind you.

Getting a job that matches your particular skillset is easy if you're good at what you do, degree or not. But getting a job that may deviate from your skillset, but still exists in the same general area, will be impossible without the degree, but may be reachable with it.

As for schools, in my experience, the only schools that have been looked at with derision are the known degree-factory schools, particularly online and "nationally accredited" schools like the University of Phoenix. If the school sounds like a traditional university, it probably doesn't make a whole lot of difference which one it is.

Oft heard, but bullshit: Experience is key... (2, Insightful)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | about 10 years ago | (#10965833)

The most important thing in the market today is experience. Go look on Monster or any of the other sites right now, and you'll see one phrase quite a bit - ...or equivalent experience.

You may see "or equivalent experience", but that's not most employers first choice. In most cases the degree does have significant weight, and given two people who are more or less equal, the guy with paper will win. Likewise, between the guy with a second tier state university CS degree will lose to the guy who went to a big name public university or well know private university.

Sorry, but it's a tough market out there, and if you ever want to be more than just a coder making half decent monkey money, you better go for the well known school.

Re:Experience is key... (4, Insightful)

ViolentGreen (704134) | about 10 years ago | (#10965837)

I agree whole-heartedly. IMO, one of the most important things you should look for in a CS program is that they have a co-op program. This is a good way to get your foot in the door with a company before you graduate (and earn money.) Even if you don't stay with that company after graduation, recent graduate with 1 year of co-op experience will be looked on much more favorably that one without.

Demonstrate by doing (4, Interesting)

PIPBoy3000 (619296) | about 10 years ago | (#10965869)

I have virtually no formal CS training, other than a fortran class in college. I'm pretty much self-taught, working with computers since I was 8 in some capacity or another. My formal background is in Biology Education, though I quickly discovered that teaching high school biology wasn't for me.

What led me to my current position was a lot of persistance and being able to demonstrate that I was a smart, capable person. I started as an entry level programmer (mostly hired to teach the occasional Access class), caught the whole "web application" wave, and ended up in a well-paying position some eight years later.

The trick in many cases is just getting in the door. For that, being able to say you're certified with a particular skill or have a degree is good enough. Once you're hired, the key is to show that you really know your stuff and can make your customers happy.

Re:Experience is key... (3, Funny)

eeg3 (785382) | about 10 years ago | (#10965875)

You're right. Which is why joining the military is a good start to your occupation. It looks great on resumes, and you get lots of training. Not to mention, they pay for college.

Most people that enter the military make much more than the average person, when they leave and enter the private sector.

Re:Experience is key... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965880)

I've found just the opposite here on the East Coast. Even if the job posting says "or equivalent experience" most companies toss out applicants who don't have a degree, regardless of experience.

Re:Experience is key... (1)

hhlost (757118) | about 10 years ago | (#10965882)

I got a cs degree from a small state school. I worked for 3 years for a very small company where I did a summer internship. I learned a *LOT* from the experience of working there, but there's so much that I learned in school that I use constantly to this day, despite having the attitude of "when will I ever need to know this crap?" the whole way through.

I now own a Web design company and would not ever hire a programmer without a cs degree. I believe that the self-taught skip things that they don't see as important and there are a lot of things that one doesn't realize are important untill they know them, and use them in practice. In short, experience is much more valuable when the programmer starts with a solid foundation of knowledge and practice.

As for the question of the well-know school versus the not-so-well-known one, I'd say that it doesn't matter. As long as the program covers more-or-less the same stuff as any reputable cs program, you'll be fine. Smaller schools are a plus IMHO---harder to slip through the cracks without learning anything.


I doesn't matter in 99% of the cases. (5, Insightful)

Willie_the_Wimp (128267) | about 10 years ago | (#10965690)

Here's my general rule on quality of college:

Unless you want to go for an ivy league type of degree (MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, etc.), as long as the college offers a strong program, where you go to school has ZERO effect on your life after your first job. I went to a average school (Cal State University, Chico), and got average grades. (3.0 average). I found a good starter job when I gradiuated, and started progressing on *merit* after that. Now, I am in a top design position at a huge networking company, and no one looks at my degree. When I interview people, I never look at the college, other than to verify that they got a degree.

The only caveat is if you want to get a high profile degree from a top of the line college. All the Phds I work with come from top drawer schools, and went to top schools from the bachlor stage on. It is more of a pedigree at that point, and it clearly matters.

Go to a school that has a good CS program, has energetic professors, is fun to live in (you can't beat Chico), and just do your best. Once you get a job, your accomplishments will distinguish you from the rest.

I am sure to be flamed by people who went to well known schools and swear by it, but none of the people I work with who have BS desgrees went anywhere recognizable. It is all about how you perform.

Good luck!


Re:I doesn't matter in 99% of the cases. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965735)

Yes, you don't matter 99% of the time ;)

Re:I doesn't matter in 99% of the cases. (1)

jon855 (803537) | about 10 years ago | (#10965747)

I whole heartly agree with you. I mean I'm majoring in IT/CS dept at www.rit.edu I have sometimes wondered if I went to MIT, would I be hired faster and etc, but then it hit me... You just need a desgree that says blah ur a guru in bah major... That's basically it. I'm working towards my Networking Security/System Admin BS Degree... I couldn;t imagine which college it would matter to some companies, unless they're obiviously high rep corps such as Intel then those might matters. Good luck on getting the degree...

Re:I doesn't matter in 99% of the cases. (1)

dhakbar (783117) | about 10 years ago | (#10965832)

"I whole heartly agree with you."

This is a college student? Why does nobody know how to read and write English anymore?

Re:I doesn't matter in 99% of the cases. (1)

Monistat7 (663761) | about 10 years ago | (#10965805)

w00t! fellow CSUC CS brethern... ;)

Re:I doesn't matter in 99% of the cases. (1)

Hieremias (718708) | about 10 years ago | (#10965812)

I agree with this. I have a CS degree and once you get out into the real world, they don't even ask where you went to school.

Re:I doesn't matter in 99% of the cases. (2, Informative)

Pro_Piracy_Guy (699942) | about 10 years ago | (#10965871)

I went to a average school (Cal State University, Chico), and got average grades. (3.0 average).

Although I do agree with most of your comment, as far as CS is concerned, I would hardly call Chico 'average'. The only two things Chico is known for are:
1.) Huge partys
2.) Their awsome CS program.

All your pr0n are belong to us.

Not very when I graduated... (5, Insightful)

scottm (288) | about 10 years ago | (#10965692)

I have a CS degree from a state university that's not especially known for it's CS department.

I graduated in 2000 and didn't find the degree to be a hinderance at all. Granted this was at the tail of the bubble, but I was hired ahead of a Purdue and a U-Wisconsin graduate, both of which I'd consider to have far superior programs.

Why? First, because I interviewed well. I was able to interact with my future bosses and coworkers, I didn't lie on my resume, and I was eager to learn. Second, because I had relevent experience gained while I was a student. I found that working as a programmer for the campus IT department 15 hours/week and volunteering as a lead sysadmin for a student government / organization webserver to be far more relevent to the job then anything I learned in class.

Since that first job, I've found references and contacts to be the key to getting other interviews and offers. I don't feel like a state-U degree hurt me at all; college is what you make of it so learn to socialize, volunteer or take a part time job relevent to the field you want to work in, and concentrate on getting a good broad education. Take liberal arts classes and business classes, etc.

Re:Not very when I graduated... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965764)

>I have a CS degree from a state university that's not especially known for it's CS department.

Nor either for its English department.

Re:Not very when I graduated... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965808)

But did you get a BMW as a signing bonus? That was happening at Stanford career fairs.

Even during the bubble, a tier-1 school helps.

Are you learning? (4, Insightful)

FTL (112112) | about 10 years ago | (#10965699)

> ... and personally think I'm learning plenty.

If you are learning, stay exactly where you are. You don't want to discover how horrible it is to attend class after class, year after year, and be learning nothing. I'm currently studying at a well-known university that's crashed a probe into Mars. But reputation and content are two very different things. As long as you're learning, stay where you are.

Besides, your university credentials are mainly useful in getting your first job. After that they are more interested in your previous jobs. So at worst an unknown university will just add one stepping stone on your career path.

CS (5, Funny)

carninja (792514) | about 10 years ago | (#10965702)

They make Counter-Strike Degrees? sign me up!

Re:CS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965846)

Yeah, that's what MCSE stands for. At least it sure seems that's what they teach based on all the MCSE's I've hired.

Trust your Instincts (5, Insightful)

Skyshadow (508) | about 10 years ago | (#10965707)

If you're happy and comfortable with your program, you should be extremely resistant to the idea of switching situations just for the sake of having a big name school on the top of your degree.

Remember: *Learning* is what's important here, especially when we're talking about an undergrad degree -- I went to a small state school where there were 10-20 people in my classes and I recieved a much, much better education than my peers who went to large universities. Why? Because I could walk into my professor's office and spend an hour talking to him about class material, advances in computing or the state of the industry or whatever.

In my experience, the sort of jobs you'll get with an undergrad degree tend to value understanding and skill over who your degree is from -- if you can do the work, you're their person. If you're going to a job that requires a graduate degree, well, you can go to a high-profile school for your grad work, eh?

Aside from all of that, I've learned the hard way that you should follow your instincts. Follow yours on this one and stay put.

Re:Trust your Instincts (2, Interesting)

brw12 (763380) | about 10 years ago | (#10965804)

I agree strongly that learning is more important than prestige. I got a CS degree at Columbia University, and believe you me, that doesn't mean much knowledge of how to actually program in real life.

When I graduated, my ivy league degree opened exactly zero doors for me. I became a junior programmer under a Bulgarian guy who went to some university no one ever heard of but who could program like a fiend. He's writing his own programming ticket now, and I'm teaching math to high school kids (fun but not lucrative!)

Ditto on grad school -- save your money on the undergrad degree, get a good gpa, do subsidized research in a prestigious grad school, and you come out on top in a big way with little debt!

Re:Trust your Instincts (1)

GMFTatsujin (239569) | about 10 years ago | (#10965881)

Absolutely. An education that *you* value is far more important than an education that some mythical employer may or may not value.
You get educated for you, not for your boss. This is the kind of thinking that lets you be your *own* boss someday.

Cynics may disagree (and sometimes I am one), but it is still entirely possible to write your own ticket to personal success. It may mean not settling into some company's swanky job at first, but you do have a shot at creating your own custom swanky job over the long run.

Just my opinion... (2, Insightful)

Ikn (712788) | about 10 years ago | (#10965713)

And money is money, but if a company doesn't hire you because your degree says Univ. of Random and not MIT, it's probably not a company you'd be hapy working for anyway. Though admittedly MIT is an exception; it WILl stand out. At least I think it would.

for the most part (1)

Neotrantor (597070) | about 10 years ago | (#10965721)

90% of schools are on the same level.. unless your transcript says MIT or some such thing it really won't be different from most people. a graduate from my school (www.wcupa.edu) got a 40k a year job right out of school doing database application stuff... and our school a typical university

Connections are all that matter (2, Insightful)

Saint Stephen (19450) | about 10 years ago | (#10965726)

Your first job is all about who you know.
My college math prof.'s wife had a computer programming company; that's how I got my first job.

You're not going to be rich. You're just going to be a working stiff like everybody else.

Still, I'd listen to your dad. A really boring degree is a plus. It communicates to the rest of the world that you are willing to do will shit boring things, which is the value they're looking for.

Major in Business and take a lot of programming courses.

I've got a top knotch CS degree (5, Funny)

phats garage (760661) | about 10 years ago | (#10965727)

this allowed me to get a job at the best convenience store in the state. Highly recommended!

Re:I've got a top knotch CS degree (5, Funny)

jandrese (485) | about 10 years ago | (#10965791)

You CS types are stealing the jobs normally held by English and Philosphy majors! Shame on you!

it doens't matter at all (4, Insightful)

hsmith (818216) | about 10 years ago | (#10965731)

well i mean if you go to podunk community college, then year it may. but any major college, you will be fine.

i had one of the worst graduating GPA's in my CS class, but i managed to get one of the best jobs out of college. why? becuase of what i knew and what i did on my own time.

college simply teaches you how to teach yourself. if you are basing how you will do off how you do in class, then you are in for a suprise.

if you can teach yourself the new technologies and get your name out there somehow, you will be set.

but then again i am planning on getting out of the tech field in 2 years so take it for what it is worth.

What matters most... (1)

ShinyBrowncoat (692095) | about 10 years ago | (#10965734)

Short term, your school. Long term, your knowledge, experience, and skill.

who not what or where (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965736)

It all relates to who you know, going to a larger school, and meeting more important people because of that would be the only benefit you get out of a more noted school. In all honesty, the people who are going to get you a good job working for another person or entity will have nothing to do with computers. If you know what you are doing, it is simple, just meet the right people and you will find someone who needs your services, and since they know you... A lot of people in the IT world don't know anything but people.

Foo (1)

Sivar (316343) | about 10 years ago | (#10965737)

since my mother taught me how to program in QBASIC when I was eleven
Wow--you have a cool mother.

To answer the question, I don't think it really matters much. While a degree from MIT would definitely put you above the rest, most of the rest doesn't have an "elite" degree either.

What really matters is that you can show you know your stuff, that you actually fo know your stuff, and that you get real-world experience.

Two words for ya... (5, Insightful)

tekiegreg (674773) | about 10 years ago | (#10965738)


Seriously, take a look at my resume (http://www.codesweep.com/about.cfm) you will see that there are plenty of interesting jobs on it (and I haven't throughly revised it in awhile, I could state more). While my college degree is a footnote at the bottom. While Cal Poly Pomona is a good school, it doesn't matter based on what's more attractive, the work or the school.

Bottom line: Find a good (even if cheap) job NOW. Failing that, grab an open source project at http://www.sourceforge.net and contribute something to get your name on the developers list. Something, anything for your resume besides a degree (whether Ivy League or State U) is paramount to a good job. If you can accomplish this, it won't matter if your degree says "WTF Coding University".

Answer: (2, Insightful)

acidrain69 (632468) | about 10 years ago | (#10965741)

Not as important as having some kind of experience. Have you tried looking at job requirements these days? They expect you to have written every program since the dawn of time.

Not that my CS degree from UCF is all that prestigious.

Re:Answer: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965863)

They expect you to have written every program since the dawn of time.

Not at our company. Oh, it used to be that way. We require 15 years Java experience. Now we are liberalizing our requirements. We only need 5 years .Net experience.

Re:Answer: (1)

DarkAurora (324657) | about 10 years ago | (#10965866)

University of Central Florida?

You underestimate that degree. I spent 3 years at Penn State, and even though PSU is far more well known than UCF, the program at UCF is far superior.

Don't sweat it too much (1)

bunhed (208100) | about 10 years ago | (#10965743)

If you company you are looking at thinks your CS degree is the most important issue, you probably don't want to work for them anyway. I wager they've already missed the point.

degree and experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965744)

The fact is that today a degree is becoming more important. Most of the InfoSec jobs are asking for certificates(CISSP), BS degree, and experience. I have only encountered a handful of organizations that really care where you got the degree as long as it is from a reputable school.

Basically, keep going where you are if you are happy, but finish the degree! As more people have degrees out there, it will be an item the human resource departments filter on.

Bah! (1)

emars (142040) | about 10 years ago | (#10965746)

I graduated with a BS in CS from "Metropolitan State College of Denver". I had no problem finding work. Remember, in the end it's not WHAT you know, it's WHO you know.

Re:Bah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965802)

Close...in the beginning, it's not what you know, but who you know. When it comes to downsizing day...it's what you know.

Well, speaking from experience.. (5, Insightful)

cmowire (254489) | about 10 years ago | (#10965748)

It does matter for your first job.

Unless you know somebody, it's hard to get in to the truly cool jobs. Most companies only recruit at a relatively defined set of universities, generally where the founders and a few of the early employees came from. Which means you have to seek out companies more if you want to avoid being a coding grunt.

Once you are out for a bit, it matters far less.

Oh yeah, and a good CS degree is not about being taught. It's about being tortured into learning because your professor is really bright but can't teach. So he gives you hard tests and you have to teach stuff to yourself in order to pass. At least, that's the shared experience amongst most of the grads from top-10 CS schools that I've talked to.

Re:Well, speaking from experience.. (1)

NessusRed (710227) | about 10 years ago | (#10965801)

You sir are a moron. That is all.

Bah... (1)

cibus (670787) | about 10 years ago | (#10965749)

The company that can't look further than the name of the college you graduated from is not likley to be the company you want to work for anyway ;-)

A tier-1 school helps in many areas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965750)

If your degree is from one of the top schools everyone's heard of (MIT, CalTech, Berkely, Stanford, for technology ; Harvard, Yale, Cambridge for other stuff) it helps a lot.

Second vs. third tier schools don't matter as much. There aren't that many people who know whether University of New Mexico is better or worse than New Mexico State, etc - or even how they compare to the non-famous members of the UC schools.

With a Stanford BS, I've gotten offers "requiring" PhD degrees.

TRY to transfer to a top school (1)

nweaver (113078) | about 10 years ago | (#10965751)

It does make a difference, especially early on, to have a degree from a top-tier school.

So at least try to transfer to one of the best schools.

Re:TRY to transfer to a top school (1)

airrage (514164) | about 10 years ago | (#10965879)

I completely agree.

H1B Worker [itt-tech.edu]

It's more than what you know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965752)

The funny thing is that everybody in the planet knows someone with a CS degree. It's kind of sad but a lot of times to get the better jobs it's more of WHO you know...

degree means very little (1)

PoopJuggler (688445) | about 10 years ago | (#10965753)

From my experience where your degree is from and even what your degree is in have little bearing on programming jobs. People with chemistry and mathematics degrees are just as likely to get the job as people with CS degrees. It comes down to skillset and experience. If you really want to be a programmer, while you are still in college be an intern or assistant or something or get a part-time job programming so when you apply for your first job you have experience and references. Those will be far more valuable than any degree.

FWIW (1)

psbrogna (611644) | about 10 years ago | (#10965757)

I never got any degree, have been in the industry for over 20 years and am now at the executive level at a small publishing company. When I hire, a degree from anywhere is nice to see, and a prestigous one more so. It's never a stand alone criteria though, more of a risk management factor.

Learn your craft (2, Insightful)

wowbagger (69688) | about 10 years ago | (#10965758)

Listen, I've worked with people who had degrees from prestigious schools, and people with degrees from state universities. I've seen little correlation between where the degree came from and the skill of the person.

If you are a moron, you will not learn at the best of universities.

If you are gifted, you will learn at the lowest of universities.

You would be FAR better served by going to a school you can afford, that you may spend your time learning rather than working to earn enough to go to school.

If you want to build up your resume, work on projects that you can point to - being a contributor to, or better still the maintainer of a well known project will look much better on your resume than a degree with no other experience.

I'd be more concerned about trying to find a good internship during your summers off - that counts for a lot more when looking for a job.

Extreme Good News (1)

WyerByter (727074) | about 10 years ago | (#10965759)

I got a BA in CS/Math from a liberal arts school and had a job developing a 3D modeling software package within two months of graduating. And that was last summer.

Simple plan (1)

Democritus2 (553661) | about 10 years ago | (#10965761)

Just move to India, and you will be fine, otherwise ......

it's just one part of the difference (2, Insightful)

mqx (792882) | about 10 years ago | (#10965762)

Employers weigh up the total sum of what you present in a CV. Other issues can outweigh you having going to a top school, e.g. track record. Additionally, going to a top school is no guarantee that you're a top student. However, when the employer weighs things up, a better school adds to the overall point count that leans in your favour, especially in comparison to other equivalent candidates (similar experience, different schools, for example). Even if you are "fresh paint" as a graduate job seeker: other issues count (e.g. you could come from a mid tier school, but you show that in the last 3 years, you've a passion for software that meant you contributed to multiple F/OSS projects, and you know your way around CVS, tools, unix, etc: employer will know they are getting a really capable and hands on person, not just someone who did well at exams).

Like most things in life: do your best to work at the highest level (i.e. going to the best schools, etc), but don't deprive yourself of a life in doing so.

Go to Med School (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965763)

You can learn a lot and have a challenging career in Medicine. You need an advanced degree to practice medicine.

You can pick up all the skills you need in computers by working hard at a paying job. You don't need a degree.

When I hire people... (1)

Supp0rtLinux (594509) | about 10 years ago | (#10965766)

I look for the degree and experience... not the institution that gave the degree. Of course, a CS from Berkeley would have more clout to me than one from U of Phoenix, but only because of the UNIX roots. Otherwise, a degree is a degree in that the main basics are the same.

What are your goals? (1)

kaos.geo (587126) | about 10 years ago | (#10965767)

If you want to work for a big name corporation (whether it is IT oriented or not) a well known degree helps.
On the other hand I agree with the person who posted above, experience is key.
Also there is a supposed "glass ceiling" that prevents you to get the top gun job if you are not from a big name U. This tends to be true, but you can easily circumvent it with good contacts ;).
If you are not crazy about the corporate world (and believe me, you SHOULDNT) stay where it feels good and enjoy.

what do you want to do? (1)

convolvatron (176505) | about 10 years ago | (#10965771)

if you picture yourself going to grad school and becoming a cs researcher, then by all means. you have to. its a very status-conscious discipline.

if you just want to go into industry, then do whatever you want. the kinds of things you need aren't what they teach in school (although some of them are very cool and can be helpful). you will rise to your natural level in a company and no one will ever think about your credentials at all. work on projects, school is incidental

Something I wish I had known. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965772)

Something I wish I had known.

Youre not in college to get a degree.

Youre in college to get a job. Which normally means you need an internship or some useful contacts for when you get to the work world.

Most good employers don't have to hire someone with out experience, people want to work for them. So get some experience soon!

Depends (1)

bryan986 (833912) | about 10 years ago | (#10965774)

As long as its not from Boris College you will be fine :D

Ivy League and everyone else (1)

vaidhy (14207) | about 10 years ago | (#10965775)

From what I have seen, there is the ivy league and there is everyone else (at least for the first job you get).

From then on, it is mostly whom you know. Most of the job offers I have got is through my contacts. Having you name known also helps.

So concentrate on learning, write articles, code for projects so that you name shows up on google and you should be set :)

Degree for intuition and connections (1)

anglete (782289) | about 10 years ago | (#10965777)

To me, a degree is not supposed to teach you how to program something specific, its supposed to teach you intuition and theory about why your program works the way it works. That intuation can lead to more efficient ways of programming because you know how the computer executes what its programmed to do.

That, and they teach you tools that can be used in any language for many functions. That is, they teach you algorithms to complete a general class of things.

Also, the college experience is one that shouldn't be missed. The friends you meet get you a lifelong connection to parts of industry you never knew existed.

bah...screw school (1)

MalaclypseTheYounger (726934) | about 10 years ago | (#10965780)

If you've been interested in computers for this long, and are learning fast enough, then just teach yourself. You're wasting valuable time and dollars in college that you could be using towards getting job / life experience.

College was the best party I ever paid for, but because I consider myself to be ultra-elite and the smartest person in the world, I've gotten myself way past where I could have if I completed college. (I still haven't).

Having 4 years of helpdesk experience, assistant LAN adminstrator experience, or even doing side jobs as a contractor (fixing friends/relatives PC's for a couple bucks) is worth more than a college degree, IMHO. Sure, it doesn't necessarily teach you programming skills, but if you pick the right company to start with, you can work your way up, and have the COMPANY pay for your degree. Although I haven't gone the degree route (yet, and not sure if I will, and if I do, it looks like I'll go for MBA, not CS) I have spend several thousands of my companies' dollars on training, instead of my own.

This worked for me. Maybe it won't for you. But as a 1-year college student making nearly 6 digits, (and I'm not in Silicon valley where janitors make that much) I'm just saying it can be done.

my 2 cents (1)

retrev (367302) | about 10 years ago | (#10965783)

It does and it doesn't. Its not so much the name of the institution, it's what's in the program. I went to a pretty prestigious CS school and I know people who have gone to less prestigious schools. Some of those are pretty good programs, others are not. I think some of the top schools get that reputation because their programs are more demanding and you will learn more. This will, however, show in an interview by the knowledge and skills you posses, and less on a resume because of the name of your school. Try and get some information on other school's programs and see how rigorous your school's program is in comparison.

hmm (3, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | about 10 years ago | (#10965784)

If your dad's willing to pay the application fee,why not apply to a few top-tier schools? If you don't get in, you get to stay and continue enjoying yourself. If you do get in, you've already got everything you've learned already, plus you get to put the shiny new school on your resume.

The question of whether you should transfer or not is one you make AFTER you get accepted.

I would recommend you don't transfer to a slightly better school. If it's not top 5, I'd stay where you are.

After the first job... (1)

EvilCowzGoMoo (781227) | about 10 years ago | (#10965786)

I expierenced a similar problem. I was at a good school (RIT) and didn't like it. My chem class was larger than my whole highschool! I transfered to a smaller college (university of pittsburg branch campus) and did much better.

When I was trying to decide what to do everyone told me that the "better" college would only help with my first job and after that its all about what you have done, what you know and what you have expierence in. The fact that you have a degree is good enough that they mostly don't care where its from.

Now I have a great job at a leading risk management company working in the malicious code department. Its not at all what I envisioned for myself heading into college but I LOVE it all the same. I only just graduated last year so I can't tell you if the expierence bit is true or not, but I can tell you that where I got my degree didn't even come up in my interview. They mostly just wanted to know what I knew, what courses I had taken, and how well I worked under pressure (viruses make for rather short deadlines sometimes)

Are you Best of the Best (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 10 years ago | (#10965788)

If you can get into some Super Big name Schools, Harvard, Yale, MIT ... the Snob factor of those schools could make it easier for you to get a job, and those are usually High Profile Jobs in NYC for some bank or something. But for most jobs a BS in CS for any college usually does pretty well. What really helps is if you are involved in your professor's research projects and/or do some independent work on your own and get some good internships doing real work. Many times going to smaller CS Programs allows you to be a Big Fish in a Small Pond allowing yourself more opportunities to get involved in these activates. Buy going to the highly completive Schools could actually hurt you because you will be a small fish in a big pond and unless you are truly best of the best and can prove it to the department you will probably leave with less then if you went to a smaller program. When you get into the real world the school that you went to usually only matters for about 3-4 years then after that your work experience matters most. So unless you are really best of the best (Like helping write to the Linux or BSDs Kernels) and you can truly impress your professors. Then I would suggest that you stay the Big Fish in a Small Pond where you can learn more and have more opportunities then if you are at a big school.

Computer Programming != Computer Science (4, Insightful)

cperciva (102828) | about 10 years ago | (#10965789)

I've been interested in computer science since my mother taught me how to program in QBASIC when I was eleven

No you haven't. You may have been interested in computer programming since age 11, but you didn't even know what computer science was, let alone have any interest in it.

Not that there's anything wrong with this; the world needs plumbers and electricians (and computer programmers) as much as it needs writers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. But this is one way the well-recognized undergraduate computer science distinguish themselves from the programs at the College of Upper Podunk. A good university will teach computer science, and expect you to work out how to write code on your own; a bad university will teach you how to program, and not even admit that there is anything more to learn.

Decide what you want from your years at university, and pick your university accordingly.

Money (1)

excalibrax (646805) | about 10 years ago | (#10965790)

Another thing that I have not seen discussed is the money part of the better college/university. Sure it would be nice to have the little better degree but there is money involved. You said your father is saying that another university has a better program. Make sure your father understands that most likely you will be set back a year because not all transfer credits go through, it will be a little more expensive, and that HE has the finances to get you through it. Because you dont want to end up with enough credits at the new university to make you a junior and find out that you will have to swtich back because of a money problem. Also along the same lines, tell your father that your applying to MIT and see if he can fund the difference in cost.

School prestige doesn't matter. (1)

Ectospheno (724239) | about 10 years ago | (#10965793)

Companies don't care where recent graduates earned their degree. They care about the following:
  • Do you know the basics?
  • Are you capable and willing to learn new things?
  • Do you work well with others?
  • Are you going to be here for several years?

They really don't care what university name is across the top of your diploma. My CS degree is from a southern state school and I had no trouble getting a job at Lockheed Martin right after graduation. How you perform on your interview is far more important than where you went to school.

I you can, you should (1)

Coryoth (254751) | about 10 years ago | (#10965796)

Realistically, if you can get into a better school, and can afford the tuition etc. to do so you really should. The question is not "Should you transfer?", the question is "why are you going to a mediocre school?". Is it money? Is it a matter of admissions? Is it friends? If it's the last if those, I highly suggest you buck up and head somewhere better. You can stay in touch with friends easily these days, and you could well make more at any new location. If its money of admissions... all the desire in the world isn't going to get you there, so what's you father worried about?


Right of passage. (1)

iamwoodyjones (562550) | about 10 years ago | (#10965798)

Yes, I think it's important. Not that it teaches you talent, but that it is a right of passage that companies take into consideration to a large extent.

You could be the most talented person on the planet and one of the best code hackers but how do I know that when the great projects dry up for a bit and I have some aweful ones you'll stick through it and get it done just as fast as an unintresting one?

Most of what I use on the job is what I learned outside of the classroom. But my schooling shows that I can stick with something that does suck and my good grades show the amount of effort and/or intelligence I have.

The knee jerk responses with my own thoughts... (5, Insightful)

The_Rippa (181699) | about 10 years ago | (#10965800)

Asking a questions like this on slashdot is pointless.

People who have a CS degree from a well known school will say "most definitely!" so they can justify their own.

People who have a CS degree from Arkansas Community College will say "not really" because they got a job just fine with theirs.

People who have a computer-related degree from DeVry will say "nope" because they have a bottom-rung tech job.

People without a degree will say "most definitely not" because they have a job based on experience.

I'm trying to hire three developers, a project manager, and a business analyst where I work. We ignore the degrees they put down, unless it's for the pm spot where a MBA from anywhere will work. Some of the applicants have a BS in CS from places like Berkeley, but it doesn't really matter because they got it ten years ago...with an emphasis in cobol.

Having a degree on your resume will just help it get through the automated resume grabbing filters big companies use when fielding hundreds of applicants.

Oh, and I don't have a degree.

In Korea... (-1, Offtopic)

SnprBoB86 (576143) | about 10 years ago | (#10965806)

...degrees are only for old people!

Experience is key (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965807)

I agree to an extent, but I do have a CS degree from a small, unknown liberal arts college. I was lucky enough to have incredible instructors with a lot of experience (my main CS professor worked at Bell Labs when UNIX was developed).

I found a good job as a Software Engineer after a short contracting/freelance period. Where my degree was from seemed hardly important, what's important is that you have a solid CS conceptual base (which it sounds like you do). Then smart employers will see your abilities. I don't think the institution matters as much unless you are trying to teach, do research, etc.

Little importance (1)

caffiend666 (598633) | about 10 years ago | (#10965814)

Which school you go to is of little importance. What matters is how you find your first job. It took CS graduates from UT six months to find their first job when times where good. Now most are skipping the market and going for their graduate degree. If anything, go to a school near a job center where you would like to be. Going to school in the middle of nowhere is practical suicide.

Best things you can do: intern, network, run your own business, or get your foot in the door. A degree isn't a guarantee of a good job. You also need to accept when you get your first job that you won't make enough to live off of, many can't accept that.

What's important (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965816)

Ok, so you're at a decent-not-great school and learning a lot. That's good--learning is important. But what's also key here is experience. We get a lot of resumes looking for someone with "1-2 years experience" getting people wanting to count classwork in college as "experience." In general, not impressed.

What you might want to look for is practical experience. Are you able to get some real commercial experience, like with a part-time job? Do you have access to internships or other real-world work in the summer? Do any of the professors (or, for that matter, people in the career cneter)have industry contacts they might be able to use to help you get a job? If so, stay. If not, well, something to think about.

People are right by saying "where you went to college matters most for your first job, and is less important after that." But make sure you get that first job. And, more to the point, make sure you can get a first job that's actually doing what you want to do. Your first job doesn't have to be Microsoft, but you should make sure you feel confident in your chance to latch on doing real development with a quality company.

Experience *much* more important (1)

(trb001) (224998) | about 10 years ago | (#10965820)

Experience is way, way more important. If you're truly concerned, take a year and co-op or intern over the summer at some CS related corporations (SAIC, Northrup, Lockheed, Mitre, etc, in the D.C. area). Not only will this get you professional (sorta) experience, but it's also the first place you should be submitting your resume. Any school with a CS program worth a darn should have a co-op program as well, maybe even a co-op fair.

Working while you're in school helps as well, and if you don't go to school in a city, work for the department. I worked for the Engineering Computing department at Virginia Tech while I was there, and I got a few job possibilities from people the teachers/staff knew. You'd be amazed how impressed employers are when they hear you've actually DONE things as opposed to just LEARNED how to do things.


What else are you studying? (1)

OPAlex (600011) | about 10 years ago | (#10965825)

IMHO, take as many classes OUTSIDE of CS as you can. A well rounded education means that you will have a better appreciation of someone else's viewpoint. For instance, if you know something about manufacturing or retail then that should translate to actually solving a problem. Employeers like a CS grad who 'speaks their language'.

Don't worry about the college ... (1)

jhutch2000 (801707) | about 10 years ago | (#10965829)

I wouldn't worry a whole lot about the college. Heck, even the degree doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot.

My example: I went to school for secondary english education. Got all the way to student teaching and realized that while the kids were great and I enjoyed that part, I hated the idea of documenting every little thing that I said to an unruly student because the school system was paranoid about parent's coming in and raising a ruckus that so-and-so teacher is "picking on" little Johnny. I'm sorry, but little Johnny is a butthead!

Anyway, I graduated with my pretty little diploma and immediately went to work in the IT field. I've played with computers since a little kid and the Commodore Vic-20 days but I never enjoyed programming too much, so I mostly did tech support type things for people (and played DOOM, which did more for preparing me for computer support than anything else!).

I had odd jobs at college, such as the computer lab, networking group, newspaper webmaster, etc. THAT experience is what got me my job. The diploma just proved to my new boss that I could learn new things.

No one ever asked about mine (1)

bm17 (834529) | about 10 years ago | (#10965830)

I was programming computers when I was 10. It was a PDP of some sort. I wound up with a degree from CMU (which I think is fairly well-known) and I've done well since then. I've never had a resume and no one has ever asked about my degree, other than in a social way.

It seems to me that companies want to know what you are capable of and will look to see what you've done in the past. In my case I was courted by companies for having worked on a public domain project for several years (CMU/Tek-IP). Having an academic education really takes a backseat to prior experience. And I don't think anyone cares about what school your degree comes from, aside from the fact that a good CS school will have more opportunities for you to get involved in interesting projects.

I recommend getting seriously involved in an OSS and putting that on your resume. project

As a well paid programmer, let me tell you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965834)

It does not matter. Maybe if you want to get into grad school at MIT it matters, but companies will take a CS degree from most schools, no problem.

Its really what you know, who you know, and how well you work with other people.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with Ivy :)

First things first (1)

Himring (646324) | about 10 years ago | (#10965835)

I'm in my mid 30s and have a masters degree. What I studied in both my undergrad and graduate work I am not currently doing. Currently, I work in the IT field and am successful in it.

The most important thing is to get your degree. Even if it's in cornflakes, get the degree. After that, I have found that people skills are the most important aspect. Learning how to survive, and then thrive, in the corporate world takes a lot more than they ever teach you in school.

Some of the best stuff I ever learned about success in a corporate career came from people who actually worked in it and had years of experience. Not a single professor relayed any such information.

Now, focusing in an area and then actually carrying that into the work force is keen, and I commend anyone for that, but simply getting an education, period, and then learning how to "survive on the street" in the work place are the first two priorities IMHO....

It's not the school, it's the student (1)

mr_gerbik (122036) | about 10 years ago | (#10965839)

Maybe I'll get flamed, but here is my take: take a look at the program your school offers and compare it to that of a "top shelf" school. If your school offers a solid CS cirriculum then you should find that your cirriculum nearly matches that of any other school offering CS.

I went to a state school as well, but if I take a look at MITs undergrad classes, they cover the same topics and use the exact same texts. Certainly the faculty at MIT may be much better than the faculty at my school, but when it comes down to it, it is the student who needs to make the most of the education they are getting.

Recruiters, Recruiters, Recruiters! (1)

RealAlaskan (576404) | about 10 years ago | (#10965841)

How many recruiters come to the job fairs on your campus? How many of them are looking for CS graduates? How many of them would you be willing to work for?

Your college placement office should be able to answer the first question, your department should be able to answer the second, and you'll have to do some serious, personal research to figure out the answer to the second.

If your college doesn't draw recruiters who want you, you're probably better off going to a college that does.

Nah... (1)

natron 2.0 (615149) | about 10 years ago | (#10965843)

I is not going to matter too much...

unless your degree is from the University of Pheonix.

In the real world..... (1)

otis wildflower (4889) | about 10 years ago | (#10965845)

.... as long as you're learning and doing well, and enjoying the experience, and the school is appropriately accredited and adequately equipped and staffed, I would stay.

Your undergrad 'name' doesn't mean _shit_ after your first or second real-world job, except if you network with alumni.

The biggest problem with public universities IMHO relate to the massive, impersonal undergrad study halls taught by distracted English-as-third-language grad students while the person whose name is on the course listing is off doing research or conference junkets and avoiding the paying rabble. Public research universities are the _worst_, unless you are actually researching. Great for grad school, but worthless for the first three years of undergrad.

And of course, if Daddy wants to shoulder the loan payments for the 'name', by all means, keep it in mind.. Who knows, you may end up writing for the Simpsons..

Some Tips I wish someone had told me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10965853)

This is honestly the best advice I can give you:

First of all. Every day when you get up, look through the paper, or online, for jobs. Keep an eye on what kind of stuff people want. Read job markets. Know who's doing what, who needs people, who's laying off people, or (much much more likely) who's outsourcing. Know the market, don't learn about it after the fact.

Secondly, when in school try to develop skills that you can use even if you don't get a job. Learn stuff that you can potentially use as a self employed freelancer, becuase if you're graduating with a CS degree, that might be all you really have. Now don't get me wrong, working for yourself can be a huge payoff, but if you graduate and all your skills focus on stuff like writing compilers or working with mainframes, you might end up kind of disapointed.

Thirdly, focus your path on a few, related things. Don't try to know everything about all the different aspects of CS. The "jack of all trades" is out, and the specialist is in. When you have to chose projects, chose something in whatever area you want to focus. Study that subject heavily outside of your normal coursework (whatever you do don't ever rely on coursework to teach you anything, use it as a supplement to your own independent study). Find a project for yourself that's not school related, but related to your focus area, and work on it.

Fourthly, build up your portfolio - don't forget it, don't neglect it. Make it sharp and easy to understand. Put everything you do in there that has any significance. I would try to make sure and focus on stuff from your specialty area instead of trying to show diversity, but that's just me. A diversified portfolio is also very appealing.

Finally I would suggest reading tech news every day. It's not just a hobby, it's not just part of your job, it's part of your life as a "computer person". You have to be on top of things all the time, because they move so fast.

As for having a degree from a more popular place, I don't think it matters that much at the end of the day. Don't use namedropping as a crutch to get a job. It always comes down more to your own personality and how you can handle yourself in an interview in addition to which of the CEO's is currently sleeping with your mom/sister.

Short Answer.. (1)

dustinbarbour (721795) | about 10 years ago | (#10965854)

No. If you know your shit, you'll get hired. There are plenty of guys getting good jobs in computing fields without any formal education. Don't sweat it. Just know what you need to know.

Prestige isn't the issue. Placement is. (1)

mmurphy000 (556983) | about 10 years ago | (#10965858)

I had programming job offers after undergrad work in 1990 in physics at a state university not known for its CS or physics programs.

The bigger question you need to ask is: how good is the placement program at the university you're attending? If businesses come by the truckload to recruit, it doesn't matter that the place is a tad short of ivy.

If your grades and such are top-notch, then another criteria becomes important: how the businesses and placement office chooses who gets to interview. At my undergrad school, anyone could apply to interview with for any given job, and the businesses doing the interviews chose the interviewees. This helps top students at the expense of the so-so students. Where I went for my MBA, anyone could apply, and the university doled out interview slots, with no apparent input from the firms, benefitting everyone equally and thereby reducing the value of your grades.

After you get your first job, tech jobs tend to be far closer to a meritocracy than a sheepskin-ocracy, so the importance of where you went to school tends to decline. What you do in your jobs, or what sorts of projects you undertake outside your jobs (e.g., open source), will count for far much more than where you went to school, or even how well you did.

Of course, IANACRNDIPOOTV (I Am Not A Corporate Recruiter, Nor Do I Play One On TV), YMMV, etc.

It's not - probably. (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | about 10 years ago | (#10965859)

It really depends on what you want to do. I graduated from a state university [smsu.edu] and have had no problems at all getting jobs in my desired field. If you're planning on entering the workforce after graduation, then a solid education at any decent school should be sufficient to get your foot in the door.

If you're planning a career in academia, a "brand name" degree may be slightly more beneficial. However, your school's reputation credentials are likely to be as important as the impressiveness of its name. My little college (within the large university) is jointly accredited by the IEEE and ACM, and therefore quite adequate to get its graduates into grad school if they so chose.

So, unless you're really bent on being a professor at CalTech, a BSCS at a well-accredited state school should get you where you want to go. Frankly, after more than 5-10 years or so after graduation, your diploma will be a check-off item on a potential employer's list of job requirements. I've never had an interviewer ask about the details of my educations, other than to confirm that I actually had one.

Don't get me wrong: it would be cool to have a diploma from a big-name university. However, don't let that be your litmus test. An additional factor to consider when picking your educational path? Sure - why not. The deciding factor? You'd be crazy.

I do look at it..a little (1)

pres (34668) | about 10 years ago | (#10965861)

I must admit, when I see a degree from CMU I do trust the person more. In the long run, of course, work matters more but it does make a difference getting started.
Same thing was true when I was hired. I got talked to because of the CMU degree. After that, no one cared that much.

Be unique (1)

hasanen (745497) | about 10 years ago | (#10965874)

I have the same case as your , and when I graduated from a college known for it's girls which is called RFC (Rich Fools College) , but you have to be special and unique to overide this bad reputation. for me , I started learning Linux/UNIX which later let me learn OOP,PHP,... easily. After graduating , I found job a good job easily ( the magic word was Linux/UNIX).

My experience (1)

skyshock21 (764958) | about 10 years ago | (#10965876)

I beat out 4 CS Grads from Georgia Tech for the job I'm in now. Granted, it could be because they were complete anti-social nerdy losers, but I like to think it's because I'm fairly sharp, AND good in social settings.

FWIW, I have a Bachelor's degree in IT from Georgia Southern University.

So in my limited experience, it is better to have good interpersonal skills along with a solid understanding of computer concepts.

In my exerience... (1)

hwapper (756180) | about 10 years ago | (#10965877)

The only thing a degree from a larger more prestigious school gets you is the connection. "Hey this guys from ./ A&M, and I went there so let's bring him in for an interview."

Probably the biggest thing employers look for when you graduate is your attitude and ability to work within a team. The actual work you did in school is somewhat important so when you interview have a portfolio of your projects.

At least that's been what I've seen...

Two words: grad school (1)

crmartin (98227) | about 10 years ago | (#10965878)

If you want th really good CS jobs, you'll get them best by going to a presigious grad school for (at least) a masters.

It's a little chauvinistic of me, since I went there, but I'd say get two-three years of experience and then get into UNC-Chapel Hill. But there are other good schools -- CMU, MIT.

Almost as good as UNC.

I have hired hundreds of people.... (3, Informative)

ChiGodOfKarma (829932) | about 10 years ago | (#10965883)

I have staffed up quite a few R & D departments in my years and I can honestly say that a degree only means something on the 1st job you get when you have no experience. After the 1st job its all the relevant experience sections on the resume that gets them an interview. I am usually more interested in the actual interview and the answers to the technical questions than I am with the resume itself. In fact the best programmers I have met either didn't graduate, or didn't take software engineering is school at all. I am a Human Machine Interface and Design major I have been programming, designing UI's, and managing programmers of over 10 years now. I taught myself to program on my C64 as a kid in the 80's, and read an Amiga book on C in 1985. I have been programming daily ever since, and will usually hire a motivated self taught guy like myself over a 4 year degree if the interview shows him to be more knowledgeable.

placement office (1)

bigbigbison (104532) | about 10 years ago | (#10965885)

Ask the placement office or the undergrad advisor for the dept about the placement rating.
I've found that the only place where the school really has much impact is if you want to continue to graduate school. I know for a fact that people from my masters program got turned away from phd programs because they get so many apps one of the easiest ways of culling the herd is to simply skip "bad" schools. Of course I'm in the humanities, so something like CS might differ.

Like it or not, the old rule of "It isn't what you know, but who you know" still applies in many cases.

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