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Fast Track to a CS Degree? 1143

Posted by Cliff
from the for-those-who-have-no-time-for-college dept.
kyrex asks: "it's been 5 years since I've been working in the tech industry and I've make great progress. My salary has grown by an annual rate of about 50% and I'm currently working as a consultant in a leading consulting firm. But not having received any formal education in Computer Science, and therefore having no degree will be a problem for further progress. I've considered many options but they all take time: at least 3 years. I've been programming since I was 12 (I'm currently 24) and have read hundreds of CS books. I think that I can easily complete a CS degree in 1 year. I want to know if there are universities/institutions out there that offers computer professionals like me a fast track to a CS degree that will be recognised as such by other universities (so that I can continue with a MSc afterwards)"
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Fast Track to a CS Degree?

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  • no dice! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by demian031 (466963) <demian0311 AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:21AM (#2758573)
    well for my cs degree i had to take the calculus sequence calc I, II & III. that's 1.5 yrs there, not to mention the other dependencies between classes; like post-calc stats i had to take after calc...

    your best bet is to maybe CLEP your way out of some of the other classes if you're really bright and study hard. but doing it in 1 yr is un-reasonable.

    it's still worth the effort i think...
    • Re:no dice! (Score:3, Informative)

      by RedOregon (161027)
      Yes... you do want to look at CLEP tests to get started. I CLEP'd my way into an associate's in a couple of months (with some credits for some military courses I'd taken during my career). Quick way to knock out some basic courses. More info on CLEP tests at http://www.collegeboard.org/clep/ along with lots of other sites (google to the rescue).
    • Re:no dice! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dougmc (70836)
      Well, do you have a degree of any sort? Any college at all?

      If yes, then you may be pretty close to a CS degree already. One year probably won't work, but two years is probably doable.

      If no, you've got well more than 30 semester hours of stuff like english, math, history, philosophy, etc. ahead of you, and everybody else had to take these classes to get their degree, why should you be any different?

      The biggest problem in the first case is going to be dependancies -- CS 302 requires CS 301, CS 303 requires CS 302, etc. Even if you can place out of several classes (which may not be as easy as you think), many (most?) later classes won't have such tests.

      Your best bet is probably night school, or perhaps some sort of correspendance school. If you really do have the skills (and already have the non-CS stuff taken care of), then taking the classes won't take much of your time. If you don't have the non-CS stuff, this is going to take a long time ...

      And of course, as you already know, in this field a degree is nice, but it's hardly essential. An impressive resume is much more important than a degree ...

      • Re:no dice! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by John_Booty (149925) <johnbooty.bootyproject@org> on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:47AM (#2758789) Homepage
        And of course, as you already know, in this field a degree is nice, but it's hardly essential. An impressive resume is much more important than a degree...

        If you want to move beyond a programming position, and into some sort of management position, having a degree becomes much more important- largely because of the perception by venture capitalists and other suits that you need a degree to manage.

        Part of this perception is based on stodgy "conventional wisdom", and part of it is based on the reality that people with basic and advanced degrees can sometimes feel a little resentful when having to report to someone with no degree at all. I'm all in favor of a full meritocracy myself, but I'm just saying how it is for better or worse.
        • Re:no dice! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by soloport (312487) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:35PM (#2759091) Homepage
          Not so.

          I've been developing software for 18 years. I've designed a few motherboards (Motorola '340, ColdFire and PPC) and many other, "specialized" embedded cards -- a few are still on the market. I've been managing people (including managing managers) for the last seven years.

          I have a vocational Drafting School certificate (got it 20 years ago), a pseudo-AS "degree" from a vocational Electronics School (they used ALL the Grantham books -- anyone know what I'm referring to? You're smiling right now as the pain returns to your forehead). CLEPed (or "challenged") Pascal, Assembly and C/C++ at a community college (lots of on-the-job experience helped me get a 4.0 on each exam :-).

          But absolutely NO degree. Nor will I ever get one, TVM.

          If college teaches you anything useful, it's how to smash through a book and get *something* out of it. If you can learn this on your own, you're done! You can learn better ways to *design* software, architect hardware, program large-scale PLDs and DSPs, budget for your department and effectively manage employees (disputes and all).

          My current team of developers is the best I've ever had the privilege to work with. Some have degrees; most don't. I have yet to tell the difference, and don't really give it much thought.

          Yes, some companies bar non-degreed candidates. I think they shoot themselves and their hiring managers in the foot. They are also the very-rare exception.

          Not having a degree has *never* kept me from getting the job I want. I seriously doubt it ever will. (I've been told, "Our policy is that we require a degree, but...")

          Perhaps resting on degree-laurels has kept me from hiring some candidates, though. If you know your stuff, it shows; If you don't, you can't hide behind a degree.
          • Re:no dice! (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Pig Hogger (10379)
            I've been developing software for 18 years.
            ...
            But absolutely NO degree. Nor will I ever get one, TVM.
            ...
            And degrees can work against you, too. A friend of mine got his PhD in nuclear physics mostly by programming collider sensors and visualization routines on a SGI workstation.

            A common friend of us told him about an opening at a (insert major avionics manufacturer here) for a graphics programmer on SGI. This being his cup of tea, he applied, only to find his application rejected by the HR drones samped: "overqualified". Fortunately for my friend, a higher-up suit was able to override the HR department and he was hired.

          • by dcavanaugh (248349) on Friday December 28, 2001 @03:42PM (#2760082) Homepage
            I've been in the IT industry for 16 years now, the last 6 in management. I almost finished a degree in 1985, but the fact is I do not have one. My story is similar to yours -- get started, work your way up, do not accept unnecessary limitations. It's always encouraging to see that others occasionally follow this path.

            I have hired people ranging from non-degree up to MSCS. Looking at the performance of the entire group, the degree people fit the "normal curve". Some good, some bad, most were at least adequate. The non-degree people were hired only when they could demonstrate superior skills. As it happens, those skills made them top performers when it was time to actually do the job. Of all the non-degree people I have hired, I have yet to be disappointed.

            In my opinion, the degree is part of the selection criteria ONLY when ALL of the applicants are light on experience.

            Some of the other posts are correct in that certain industries are militant about the degree requirement. Around here the common examples are government, insurance, defense, banking, and pharmaceuticals.

            Case study #1: I once hired a guy whose only work experience was as a VCR repair technician. He was an engineering/computer hobbyist, whom I had known for years. He was an incredibly sharp guy, just a little unfocused. He was part of my staff for a few years, and then left to become a system manager for one of the largest banks in New England.

            Case study #2: Same story, except this guy was an electrician who was doing mostly Cat.5 network wiring. He was on my staff for a few years, and is now the network manager for an state government agency with a very sophisticated WAN and LAN environment that includes numerous remote sites and thousands of PCs.

            Case study #3: I knew another guy who earned an ASEE. He looked for a job and found nothing. He goes back for an AS in Data Processing. New job search, same result. He goes to another college and earns a BSCS. Still no job. Finally, he goes to college #3 and gets an MSCS, and EVENTUALLY, a job installing PCs and LANs in Georgia. We would still be driving a van full of PCs from Georgia to Alabama if I didn't hire him. Since then, he worked his way up through operations and became an Oracle DBA. He now works for a major pharmaceutical company, so things worked well for him too. Then again, if he never graduated from anywhere, I don't see how his life would be any different today, aside from possibly earning an additional 6 years of salary.

            Let's face it, when the IT job market is cold, MOST applicants are going to get excuses instead of job offers. In such a tough market, you have to outwit, outplay, and outlast your competition, degree or not. In a hot IT market, the offers are out there, and exceptions are being made by employers, beyond what most people can possibly imagine.

            Does the lack of a degree reduce my theoretical number of potential employers? YES, it does. However, I don't expect to get an offer from every interview. No one ever does. In my career, I have interviewed about 12 times and received 5 offers, for a hit rate of about 42%. Did I get "screened out" of several opportunities? Sure, but who cares? I only accepted 2 of the 5 offers, and I've been promoted 6 times by two employers during 16 years of uninterrupted employement. I don't let the degree become an obstacle, and every so often I find employers who agree with me. After all, I can only DO one job at a time, right? If I apply for ten jobs and I'm ranked #1 once and dead last for the other nine, that's a hell of a lot better than being ranked #2 all ten times, as described in case study #3 above.

            In my opinion, things that don't make you a #1 choice are not all that useful. To me, the degree is what helps you reduce the number of reasons why an employer might NOT hire you, but it's not as valuble as adding a reason why they WOULD hire you. Think of yourself as a hiring manager. Can you imagine telling your boss something like "I hired Joe Smith because he has a degree." On the other hand, would you rather say "I hired Joe Smith because he has great experience." To me, one of those statements sounds much better than the other.
      • Re:no dice! (Score:5, Funny)

        by -=OmegaMan=- (151970) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:22PM (#2759012)
        "The biggest problem in the first case is going to be dependancies -- CS 302 requires CS 301, CS 303 requires CS 302, etc."

        apt-get install cs_degree

        ;)
        • Re:no dice! (Score:4, Funny)

          by discogravy (455376) on Friday December 28, 2001 @02:43PM (#2759803) Homepage
          when installing cs_degree you have to be sure you've removed the free_time modules or the cs_degree will not finish installing for years.

          alternately, you can remove the sleep module from the kernel and keep some free time, but this has been known to cause unstable operation if sleep is completely and permanently removed (you might get away with using almost_no_sleep instead of the full sleep module.)
    • Re:no dice! (Score:3, Informative)

      by ZPO (465615)
      What you study for a degree (if anything) depends greatly on what your career goals are. I've been in the workplace for 12 years (just turned 31). That time has been evenly split between telecom and networking positions.

      My experience is that director level is where lack of a degree really becomes a hinderance. At this level firms begin looking for someone who is more of a line-of-business manager than an uber-geek. It's important to be able to interact effectively with other segments of the firm.

      At the director level I spent the majority of my time working on non-technical issues. Budget creation and management, personnel development, customer service, sales support, and overall group leadership took the lion's share of my time. My strong technical base was important for all these things. It also gave me a logical and methodical way to approach all of these things rather than the emotional responses of my peers brought up in other areas.

      What are your goals? Do you see yourself as the uber-coder, design consultant, systems architec,etc? If so then a CS degree is the right track for you. If you see yourself as a director, vice president, CxO, other corporate line of business manager, or perhaps owning your own company then another degree track may be a better idea. You might consider a BS in business management. If you watch your electives carefully and take a minor in MIS (CS if you must) then you can be well prepared for a CS masters program.

      The key is to use a degree to fill in what an organization may see as the holes in your resume. Do they see an uber tech with little in the way of business skils? Do they see an excellent coder who needs system design experience? If your resume stresses only a single skill set then you are limiting your competitiveness for many positions.

      Take the time to analyze your long term career goals. Find someone (preferably 2-3 someones) at the VP/SVP level who will critically analyze your resume and give you their opinion of what they see lacking. Take them out to dinner and explain in advance that you are looking for some overall career guidance. I've had it done for me and I've done it for members of my teams.

      Don't look for the 1-year solution because you don't want to spend too much time and/or its what you need to get ahead in your current position. You're 24 years old. Assuming retirement at 65 you've got 40 more years in the workplace. Take the time now to assess where you want to be in 1-5-10 year time intervals and start doing what it takes to get there.
  • clept tests? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Squeezer (132342) <awilliam@mdah.st ... us minus painter> on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:21AM (#2758574) Homepage
    I believe its called clept tests, where you can take a test on the course and if you pass it, you get credit for the course. Ask a university if you can clept tests and how many courses can you clept. Some schools have it where you have to go manditory for so many years or only allow you to clept so many classes, etc. Maybe you can find a school in your area that will let you clept most or maybe even just about every class and then you'd only need to go there for a couple of semesters to get your bachelors.
    • Re:clept tests? (Score:3, Informative)

      by scruffy (29773)
      At the university where I work, there is something similar. You can "challenge" any course by just taking a single test for all the courses where a challenge is allowed. You'll have to look and ask around to find a college where you can do this.
      • Re:clept tests? (Score:4, Informative)

        by MrResistor (120588) <peterahoffNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday December 28, 2001 @01:27PM (#2759345) Homepage
        If you're in the US any public college (2 or 4 year) or university will allow you to challenge classes. There are generally requirements and limitations, though. IIRC, at my school you could only challenge one class per division per semester, so you could challenge, say, one CS class and one math class in the same semester, but not two CS classes. You also had to be taking at least 3 units of regular classes, although that shouldn't be a problem as I'm guessing that you haven't taken the Calculus series and those are generally 4 units each.

        In short, I wouldn't expect to complete it in a year, even if you can devote the time to be a full-time student, however, you should be able to do it in 2 to 3 years taking only 1 or 2 classes a semester and challenging the rest. The main problem is that there's a lot more to a CS degree than CS. The vast majority of accredited schools are liberal arts schools, which means you have to fulfill other requirements in English, Foreign Language, Physical Science, Life Science, History, Social Science, Humanities, etc.

        A guy I used to work with managed to get his school to accept C as his foreign language, though...

    • Re:clept tests? (Score:3, Informative)

      by unformed (225214)
      you're on the right track but the exact term is CLEP [collegeboard.org] tests. You take them in order to skip certain classes if you think you already have the knowledge for it. However, it's an official College Board program (ie: SAT, AP) and I don't think they have CLEP tests for higher-level classes. You'd probably have to talk to the university to see if you could test out of certain courses.

      Furthermore, to receive a Bachelor's in CS from most good universities, you need two years of humanities, and that's what would probably kill you.

      (The clept term came from the saying I CLEP'd a class.)
    • by Alascom (95042) on Friday December 28, 2001 @01:46PM (#2759455)
      I make the following recommendations based on how I achieved my degree after being in a situation such as the one described.

      Select an accredited university. Do NOT get a degree by mail. You will get called on it by any reputable employer.

      Find a university that will provide "work experience" credits. I went through Wayland University (based in Texas). They allowed up to 20 some credits based on real-world work experience. This eliminates the need for some boring electives.

      Select a BS program that is quickest to achieve. I obtained a degree in Business Administration because I knew and could document my technical experience. With the Bus. Admin degree I would prove to employers I can also understand business and management allowing me to progress up the corporate ladder.

      Next, CLEP or DANTES test out of every class you can. At around $50 a pop, they are worth taking even if you are unsure of passing. I took ACCOUNTING I class and CLEP'd out of ACCOUNTING II. I also CLEP'd numerous math, physics, and astronomy classes simply because I knew the material reasonably well. Depending on the university you select, you may only need around a 50% passing score on CLEP or DANTES tests to be given credit. Since they are multiple choice, your almost guaranteed 25% correct by guessing. ;)

      Once you have cleaned out all the elective classes through CLEPs and work experience, you need to focus on core classes. Universities require you to take a minimum number of required courses from them in order to obtain a degree, usually 11 classes or so. You will not be able to get around this. Select the classes you believe will be important to give you a good background in the degree field you've choosen. They will actually be beneficial to you in the long run.

      Final thoughts. I completed my degree in just under 2 years by completly immersing myself into the program (while continuing to work full time and run my own ISP and security consulting business). I had ZERO social life for those 2 years but it was well worth the effort. As a side note, once you have the credits (through CLEP, DANTES, or actually taking classes) and complete you degree you always have the option to leverage those in a second degree at another university. Get the quickest degree (Business admin, forestry, or whatever) then go back later and take a few additional classes to get the CS if you desired.

      Most important, although you might think a CS degree is critical, employers first look to see if you have ANY degree, which provides them documented evidence of ability to learn and desire to grow in knowledge. Get a degree!

      Hope this helps.
    • Re:clept tests? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BWJones (18351)
      The real question that I always ask myself is: Would you want your physician testing out of many of their courses? Sure, going from a Ph.D. in the biological sciences to an M.D. in many schools will allow you to get out of some basic science courses by testing out or actually teaching, (which is actually harder than taking the course, but the first time you get up in front of your class to teach a course on your area of expertise is a hoot. Your classmates, if they don't know about your previous Ph.D. are looking at you like, what the hell?) but the real experience from working with patients and learning case studies comes from the the "practice" of medicine over time being exposed to as many varieties of pathologies as possible as well as learning the normal anatomy, physiology, pharmacology etc...etc...etc... AND the flow of the hospital environment, or how to interact in a classroom setting, how to interact on the floor with other medical personnel and most importantly patients.

      This all also holds true for any "real" degree from a university. To get a real education, you have to spend the TIME and EFFORT to learn AND INTEGRATE the process of learning in a wider variety of disciplines than your discrete area of focus. Otherwise it is simply a certificate, or a degree from the university of phoenix.
  • If you have a proven track record and years of experience, that's what matters. Or at least that's what matter to companies that I'd want to work for.
    • Re:What for? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tenman (247215)
      Ah the words of someone who isn't married a big borther type corperate whore. When you work for small organizations nobody expects you to be better than you are. But when you work for a huge organization (and you have to assume that you want to stay there for this example) nobody knows how good you are. Thus the degree is required to advance past one of those glass celings. It plays into the stereotype that 'there are a bunch of idiots with degrees, and they all get paid better than I do'. I work for the worlds third largest software mfr. (at least that is what it says at the quarterly confrence call) I don't want to leave the company to better my pay. Here, I get a company car, a REALLY nice benefits package, and my fair share of pay. Of course I want more, but I'm not going to quit here, and go to work for someone who will double my pay. The double in pay doesn't offer the security that this place does. That is why, even with experience, you need to have a degree. So that you can make more money, with out haveing to job hop every year or so.
    • Re:What for? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bonker (243350)
      Here is a real good example...

      In the 70's, the DOE's Pantex Nuclear Weapons facility in the Texas Panhandle fired dozens of experienced scientists with proven track records... simply because they did not have degrees.
    • Re:What for? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FortKnox (169099)
      I'm completely behind you.
      Here it is, what school really means:
      • High school gets you into college based on grades/activities
      • College gets you that piece of paper every good job needs
      • The next five years depend on that piece of paper for each job
      • The rest of your life is based on the experience you have since you left college
      And if you get a masters, it'll help you in the first 7 years after school (so going back after 7 years on the job is pretty pointless).

      Sure, there are exceptions to each of these (ie - some jobs require a masters, but I think that's bubkis), and, yeah, school means more than that (like learning how to learn, etc...), but thats the "big picture". At least, in the 'big company' aspect. If you want to go into research or teaching, then its a different story.
  • Paper (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ZaneMcAuley (266747) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:22AM (#2758580) Homepage Journal
    Its unfortunate that so many people value pieces of paper with writing on them.

    There are many great people out there hindered by this belief.

    I dont think all companies and organisations within the industry are that judgemental. Most companies have theyre own rating system internally.

    Stick with them.
    Make yourself valueable to them.
    • by stevew (4845)
      This guy happens to be working for a consulting
      company (as do I) and I can assure you that these
      companies send resumes of their staff to potential
      clients. At some point this will REALLY become
      an issue if the gentleman plans to stay in the
      consulting field.

      Further, a college education is more than just the
      technical classes that you take. Even at
      polytechnic universities like the on I attended there
      are breadth requirements for a reason (even though
      I hated them at the time).

      All that being said - another (tougher) suggestion
      is to try getting the degree part time. Giving up
      the big pay check can be tough - this the one
      solution I know about that doesn't require it. You
      do give up a social life (another thing you would
      have if you were just a student...)
    • Re:Paper (Score:5, Interesting)

      by webword (82711) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:37AM (#2758696) Homepage
      Smart people don't value the paper, the value what the paper represents. To some it represents time and dedication. When focus on a subject for many years, you do learn a few things that experience won't give you. You don't explicitly learn theories, for example. That's a shame, since theories can help guide you in a different way thatn experience. Sometimes theory is better than experience, sometimes not.

      Like it or not, a degree indicates that the person has at least some formal knowledge of material. Formal knowledge is no joke. It helps you recognize good form from bad form. Formal knowledge leads to understanding structures and architectures and other complex things.

      Education itself is always behind corporations. It is behind technology in general and it seems out of date, almost immediately. However, the idea is to learn core principles. Tools and techniques for solving problems. Therefore, some of the best technical people will have degrees in areas like psychology and philosophy. (I've seen this again and again. Many technical degrees are inferior to non-technical degrees even though the person is in a technical field!)

      Don't be foolish: Degrees are not the only thing companies use to judge people. They also look at pure technical skills, previous work experience, and so forth. A degree is only one part of the equation.

      There are also some people out there who simply love to learn. They go to school to learn quickly or learn deeply. This idea is insane to mose people because it doesn't always translate to money. Oh well...!
      • Re:Paper (Score:5, Interesting)

        by SVDave (231875) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:46PM (#2759143)

        Like it or not, a degree indicates that the person has at least some formal knowledge of material. Formal knowledge is no joke. It helps you recognize good form from bad form. Formal knowledge leads to understanding structures and architectures and other complex things.


        When I was a kid, growing up in Silicon Valley (I'm 30 now), I heard a lot about how brilliant engineers at companies like Apple did really wonderful things without having a formal college education (nevertheless, I went to college)


        Towards the end of grad school I bought some books on programming the Macintosh, as I had just gotten myself a Mac laptop. Having studied operating systems at both the undergrad and graduate level, and having programmed my Amiga and the school's Unix systems for years, I was shocked when I read what the internals of the Mac OS (then System 7) were like. They looked like what someone with a lot of Apple II experience would have designed: global system variables in known, fixed, publically-accessible locations (just like my old Commodore 64!), all user-level programs ran in supervisor mode, etc. The original Macintosh was a fine piece of work, with an innovative GUI. However, it would have been really nice if someone who had gone to college and studied operating systems (of which there were plenty in Berkeley, an hour's drive away) had been there to keep the OS team from making some really stupid design decisions.

        • Re:Paper (Score:5, Informative)

          by Dominic_Mazzoni (125164) on Friday December 28, 2001 @02:52PM (#2759852) Homepage
          The LAST thing the designers of the original MacOS wanted to do was write another Unix. They had to run a tremendous GUI using only 128K of RAM, and fit the entire system onto 400K disks (with room left over for applications). Not only did they not intend for the computer to have multiple simultaneous users, but the 68000 processor didn't support "supervisor mode" anyway, nor memory protection - so there was no reason not to use those global variables. By the way, no well-designed application (except for system utilities) ever had to use any of those global variables - they had API functions to access all of them.

          I'm not saying they couldn't have done well with more C.S. people, but I don't think they ever anticipated that the code and the API they were writing would be used by the same type of people who were using modern "workhorse" operating systems...
    • Re:Paper (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Eryq (313869) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:39AM (#2758714) Homepage
      It's not the paper; it's the wealth of information you get on your way to earning the paper.

      I own my own consulting business, and it is true that my day-to-day contracting has a lot to do with the languages I learned after I left academia. BUT:

      The problems I have to solve are many and varied, and often I find myself applying knowledge from my CS classes 15 years ago: "hmm... didn't we study a quadtree-like data structure which would be good for that problem?" "isn't that just a binary matrix multiplication?" And so on.

      Academic CS is to practical CS what physics is to architecture: you need the theory to make a well-built product, and you need the product to make the theory meaningful.

      True, you don't need the piece of paper to get the theory. But the piece of paper usually proves that you've been exposed to it, and even an average student will absorb things by osmosis.
    • Re:Paper (Score:5, Insightful)

      by telbij (465356) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:53AM (#2758841)
      I think that's a little arrogant to think that companies shouldn't consider a college degree when making hiring decisions.

      If you've ever interviewed anyone for a job (or talked to anyone ever for any reason), you should know that people fudge all kinds of things on resumes to make themselves look better. A college degree is something that represents a substantial sustained work effort.

      The attitude that you are too smart for college is not too far off from the attitude that you are too smart to work with non-technical people. It's a kind of superiority complex that I see from time to time in geeks (possibly as a result of a painful high school experience?). I'd just like to point out that if you think you are better than someone because they used to think they were better than you, then what sets you apart from them?
    • Re:Paper (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@NoSPAm.gmail.com> on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:34PM (#2759085) Homepage
      Its unfortunate that so many people value pieces of paper with writing on them.
      It's unfortunate that so many people think that college is just about getting a piece of paper.
  • Is a CCIE and CISSP enough or would a BS make all the difference in the world? Most grads I talked to don't have a good understanding of computers unless it's also their hobby which leads me to believe that a BS is just to get your foot in the door when you have no real talent.
    • "BS is just to get your foot in the door when you have no real talent"

      That's the reason it's called a "BS" degree :)

      • I'm going to argue with nonsense.

        I had a love for the subject and had invested my
        own time through pursuit of a hobby related to
        electronics. This drove me into Electronic engineering.

        I've been there for over 20 years now, and I can
        safely say I learned my profession in the university.
        I've met several "natural" engineers in my time, one
        of which is still one of my closest friends (met him
        in college don't ya know..)

        I'm considered good at what I do, and I learned it
        in university. So go throw the BS some place
        else!
  • Numbers (Score:2, Funny)

    by RedOregon (161027)
    50% a year for five years? So... let's say he started out at 40K... he's making well over 200K now? Jeezus, just how far does this guy wanna advance???
    • Re:Numbers (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rhh (525195)
      If he started at 19 with no experience it is not unlikely that the original pay was closer to $20k. Which would leave him at about 100k now. Nothing to sneeze at. If he played his finances right he could retire early. Since that would be possible I suggest getting the CS degree only if there is a desire to continue in the field for enjoyment.
  • More to the degree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:23AM (#2758587)
    There is definetly more to a CS degree than simply being able to program. Other courses in the arts, sciences and languages are usually required. The point of a CS degree is not to produce programmers; it is produce well rounded students who can apply their knowledge to more fields than just computer programming. If you want a quick and easy degree just go to some kind of trade school.
    • by nerpdawg (6937) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:46AM (#2758778)
      Thank you. Thank you, thank you. I talk to *so* many future engineers (and engineers) who seem to think that all they need to be effective is the specific knowledge in their particular field. Things like communication, a grounding in the humanities, and some basic social skills are actually worth something. When I can actually understand what another engineer means rather than hearing a run-on mental core dump, it's soooo much easier to work with them. Users and managers appreciate people being able to convert geek-thought into something they can actually understand. A programmer does not exist in a vacuum. The problem is convincing many programmers of this. :)
      • by rjkimble (97437) on Friday December 28, 2001 @02:03PM (#2759569) Homepage Journal
        Although I agree with you completely, just check around among all your associates with the humanities/liberal arts degress, and find out just how much science/math/engineering they have taken. What gets me with the current state of the academic world is that it's unconscionable to allow a scientist or engineer to graduate without an appropriate number of humanities courses to "balance" his or her education, but it's perfectly OK to let a humanities major graduate with essentially no math or science or engineering courses whatever. In fact, they're lucky if they have taken a high-school-level algebra or "pre" calculus course for the entire math requirement and/or an astronomy-for-poets course as their science requirement. These same people then complain that their degrees have not prepared them for life in the technology-heavy modern business world. It's a joke.
    • by Fastolfe (1470)
      I completely agree.. I did not complete my engineering degree, but the time I spent working on it was very valuable nonetheless. Any Joe Coder can read CS books and gain the necessary intelligence to do a job, but a good university program also teaches you the wisdom to know how and when to apply what you've learned. Some of this can be learned by practical on-the-job application, but I tend to find that people with an engineering/science degree tend to find their niche in a new position faster than someone self-taught. A self-taught coder tends to learn how to do things well "their way" and has difficulty adapting to the requirements of a client or maintaining focus on a project not directly in their line of focus. Of course, these are enormous generalizations and will vary widely depending on the nature of the person, but this is my experience.

      In addition, the engineering classes I took weren't really valuable for the formulae and math. I found them valuable for the problem-solving skills they taught. I don't believe even science degrees approach this sort of problem solving, and I find that those with some sort of engineering background (or a "hard" science like Physics) generally make for better programmers, administrators and architects of IT shops.
  • ...companies certifications ?
    I guess an SAP-certiufied consultant, or a Java-certified developper or an Oracle DBA or whatever else whose company could afford the short but intensive training costs could show quite a worthy piece a paper to a company willing to hire him for specific purposes...

    There are also company who claim they'd pay the costs of a complete university degree (MBA, for example) to their best employees, that's why until you actually know what you expect I'd advice you to just impress your chiefs.

    BTW, if you are willing to relocate in foreign countries, then I agree you *need* at least a Bachelor to obtain the work VISA.
    • These certificates are essentially "trade school" certs. They're great if you need a tradesman, but mean absolutely squat beyond that point. It seems that the original poster has suddenly realized that a HS degree (if that) and some experience means little once you get past the lowest levels of the industry.
  • Some universities have programs where you can get credit for life experience. Typically you have to submit a proposal, write papers describing how you learned from life experience, and that sort of thing. You can't get a full degree that way, but will take some semesters off of your education.

    I'm in the same boat as you are, right now.. I have 3 semesters to go towards a CS degree, but I'm working right now at a consulting firm. A degree is good to have, and I'm sure I've done some things that will count towards life experience.. my current job, past internships, etc.

    I can't stress enough how much the core CS classes have helped me. I have a much better understanding of data structures, algorithms, software engineering, etc. than I would have if I'd taught myself those subjects reading books. You may be a different type of learner - I'm just going from personal experience, but I wouldn't skip too much of the core CS. Intro to programming courses don't matter, but don't cheat yourself out of a solid CS theory foundation.

    Also, depending what school you go to and what you are planning to do after you graduate, you should think about physics/math requirements. My feeling is that they are outdated and shouldn't be required - some CS programs are still taught as if every grad is going straight into academic research, where these things are of course necessary. In many other careers CS could lead to, you won't ever touch that calc book again.
    • I can't stress enough how much the core CS classes have helped me. I have a much better understanding of data structures, algorithms, software engineering, etc. than I would have if I'd taught myself those subjects reading books. You may be a different type of learner - I'm just going from personal experience, but I wouldn't skip too much of the core CS. Intro to programming courses don't matter, but don't cheat yourself out of a solid CS theory foundation.

      I agree - Programming is no different than learning a new language. You go about it two ways:

      You can move to the country in question, learn by ear, and though you will get a great vocabulary and a feel for the language, you will have absolutely no grasp of the mechanics of the language which will damage your ability to adapt to future changes in the language or the culture. Or you could go to school and learn the language from the ground up. Then, you can head on over to the country with a solid basis in hand. Imagine how much farther you would go and how much more you would be able to do.

      Either way, however I can't stress the importance of actually getting out and experiencing the culture (ie, get a job).
  • You might SOL on getting done in 12 months. At best >3 years is what it will take for a bachelors of CS. Just about any accredidated (sp?) school will require non-CS stuff like 2 semesters Physics, Chemistry, history, and the like.

    But there are some distance learning stuff that some schools are developing, which might be good and easy to get done quickly, depending on who's giving it.

    Beware those distance leraning programs where there's no human interaction (ie, an entire computer based course). I once took a short Java course through one of those - lousy and full of errors. If you were asked to enter some missing text, liek the "String [] args" in the main() sig, using "String[]" as opposed to "String []" (note the space) gets you marked incorrect, not to mention they were full of syntax errors. (Coincidentally, the course was given through a Java-applet)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:30AM (#2758620)
    The problem probably won't be the CS classes, if you are a solid programmer already. However, the problem will be the assorted other classes you have to take.

    A CS degree (or any degree, for that matter) is not like a certification: it doesn't simply show mastery of one thing, but it demonstrates formal education in several areas, including critical thinking, math, communications (written and verbal), etc., with a specialization in one area (in your case, Comp Sci). You may be a stud programmer, but you will still have to take English, Math, some other basic requirements and some electives. 1.5 years is unreasonable, unless you are going for an Associate's degree, which I wouldn't recommend - it will probably be worthless given your experience.

    Having said that, go ahead and spend the time getting your degree. Ignore the people that are sure to be posting ignorant crap about how "I wouldn't want to work at a place that values degrees!! Its just a piece of paper!" Those are, in all likelihood, people that couldn't hack it in college due to a serious lack of social skills, motivation, work ethic, whatever. The basic fact is that in order to advance in the majority of the organizations out there, you have to have some sort of degree.

    In all likelihood, you can get your firm to pay for you to get your degree at some local university. Why not take advantage of it and do it right instead of trying to find some way to rush through it?
    • Ignore the people that are sure to be posting ignorant crap about how "I wouldn't want to work at a place that values degrees!! Its just a piece of paper!" Those are, in all likelihood, people that couldn't hack it in college due to a serious lack of social skills, motivation, work ethic, whatever. The basic fact is that in order to advance in the majority of the organizations out there, you have to have some sort of degree.

      For me, it was never a problem with motivation or social skills. It was a problem that the university I attended (LaSalle University) offered NO challenge to me on any level, in any course. English, Math, CS, Philosophy. I was bored out of my mind, but pulled A's without a problem. So, instead of blowing my savings to learn NOTHING, I quit and started working. And you know what? It was the best decision I ever made.

      In the place that I work, several people who used to work here had college degrees in CS from respectable colleges. And you know what? They couldn't cut it AT ALL on the job. Sure, they knew the fundamentals, but they didn't know how to apply those to their work. Which makes them pretty much worthless on the job.

      A degree will only help to:
      1) Get your foot in the door.
      2) Back up the skills you actually have.

      A degree without real knowledge is much more worthless than real knowledge without a degree. And in my opinion, a nice long interview can easily seperate the people without degrees who can cut it on the job from people without degrees who can't.
      • by hawk (1151) <hawk@eyry.org> on Friday December 28, 2001 @01:39PM (#2759418) Journal
        >For me, it was never a problem with motivation or
        >social skills. It was a problem that the
        >university I attended (LaSalle University)
        >offered NO challenge to me on any level, in any
        >course.


        Quite bluntly, if you couldn't find a challenge at a Christian Brothers' school, you either weren't looking very hard, or got *very* bad advice.


        What faculty did you talk to about finding more challenging material? What did you do to go deeper into the material? What projects did you involve yourself in outside of class? Who did you talk to about taking upper division courses early.


        The Christian Brothers are second only to the Jesuits as educators. It's *tough* to not get challenged around them . . .


        hawk

      • In the place that I work, several people who used to work here had college degrees in CS from respectable colleges. And you know what? They couldn't cut it AT ALL on the job. Sure, they knew the fundamentals, but they didn't know how to apply those to their work.

        That is what things like internships and "the first job" are for. As hundreds of others have pointed out in this thread, college is not about getting, for example, the programming skills for the rest of your life. The idea is completely different. Colleges realize they are not trade schools, and nor can they replace on-the-job experience. But they provide something completely different.

        Which makes them pretty much worthless on the job.

        No, they have potential. They need to be trained for the specific job, just like an employee who never went to college. You do train your new employees, do you not?

        A degree will only help to:
        1) Get your foot in the door.
        2) Back up the skills you actually have.


        You forgot one:
        3) Know how to learn.

        I would argue that #3 is the most important, and what you are not allowing your new employees to do.
    • by mblase (200735) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:51AM (#2758817)
      Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts, has to be achieved by the age of 18. To get there, you need to accomplish every other rank before it, some twenty-one merit badges in various subjects, and a self-designed project to benefit the community and demonstrate leadership. Only 2% of American Scouts achieve it, and colleges and jobs actually recognize it -- not because they like Scouting (note: this isn't nearly as impressive after age 25) but because it shows you possess initiative, leadership, and determination, and that you can finish a difficult task set before you.

      College degrees have a similar effect. Besides showing that a major university considers you qualified and educated in your field, it proves that you're willing and able to achieve a difficult and long-term goal set before you by yourself. The goal isn't to prove you know your stuff, but to prove you can prove it, and hang in there long enough to impress someone much bigger than your corporate boss.
    • Absolutely right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jobe_br (27348) <bdruth&gmail,com> on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:03PM (#2758903)

      This is absolutely correct. Your BS or Bachelor of Science indicates that you have completed a certain set of requirements relatively common across all types of degrees that indicate they are of this type. For me, this included a few Chemistry classes, a few Physics classes, a good many Mathematics classes, various humanities and social science classes (various psychology classes, a literature class on Sci-Fi, and quite a few foreign language courses in my case) as well as classes in other disciplines such as Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering (logic gates, anyone?) to name but a few.

      As was mentioned above, you may be a crack programmer, but that's not all that's required for a degree, which is why you need a degree to continue to progress on your career ladder. The tasks that most probably await you will require certain degrees of critical thinking that are enhanced with the variety of non-CS classes that are required for the BS degree.

      Another thought: do you have any degree? I assume you do not, but if you *did* many CS Masters programs (for example that at Chicago's DePaul University) will allow you to either take or test through a variety of core classes that essentially determine if you have what it takes for the Masters courses, if so - you're home free and on your way to your Masters. If not, you simply take the classes you need (shouldn't take more than a couple semesters) and then you're on your way. Again, I believe this only works if you have an undergraduate degree of some sort already.

  • ArsDigita University [aduni.org] is the only one I know of. Its closed down at the moment because it lost its funding. They offered a comprehensive CS degree in one year.


    There's no traditional university that does this. In fact, its not possible to do it in a year. You need 130+ credits to get a CS degree. Maybe in 3 years if you are dedicated, and can work
    I really wish there was a place where you could take university quality CS classes in a program geared for working adults that didn't require you to take english, history, or whatever. I don't know of one, however.

  • I just got an email offering Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs WITHOUT spending time in a classroom, because it's based on professional experience!!!

    Seriously, 1 year is an awefully short period of time, and I would think you would really loose out on a lot of good classes.

    Being in the same situation you're in, but having the benefit of following my friends throughout thier CS studies, I would have to say that I'm a lot less optimistic than you.

    While you probably already know Universities don't subject you to much to the technology, you can really emerse yourself deeply in the theory.

    My advice: If you really want to get the most out of a degree, put some good time in it and specialize in 2-3 related areas, while going for your Masters. Become THE authority in those 2-3 areas, and have the papers to back up your assertions.
  • Don't bother (Score:2, Informative)

    by swordgeek (112599)
    First some background. I have a degree in organic chemistry, and made the jump to computers because the opportunity was there. My salary has since doubled (in three years), I'm heading towards a senior consulting role, my company is paying for 4-5 courses/year (actually eight this year, but it was an exceptional year), and the sky is the limit from my point of view.

    Computing is still a field where a degree isn't mandatory. It's possible to get by (and even thrive) on determination and ability, if you're willing to work hard at it. Having a degree is better than not, and having a computing degree is better than another one, but nothing will preclude you from going as far as you want with one caveat--grad school. (more in a minute on that)

    As far as the "fast track degrees," if it's the sort that I'm thinking of ("Start A New And Rewarding Career In Computers In Your Spare Time!!!!!") then don't bother! Nobody in their right mind takes them seriously. If you want some paper, take vendor courses and exams and become a "certified" Sun/HP/Linux/Whatever admin. If you can put that on your resume', it'll show more prominently than a degree from Bob's Computer College and Used Car Sales.

    The one case where a degree is almost critical is if you want to go on to get a Master's or Doctorate. The problem there is again that a degree from one of these colleges isn't going to help much.

    If you feel the need for a degree (and there are very good reasons for it), then take a deep breath, pull out your chequebook, and spend four years at it.
  • by coyote-san (38515) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:32AM (#2758643)
    Damn it, a university is not a trade school! Only a small amount of the time in classes (maybe 1/3?) is spent in the nominal field of study - the rest of the time is spent getting a broad general education.

    For CS in particular, any university worth the effort of attending will probably require you to complete the first-year courses in all other sciences - physics, chemistry, biology. Plus first year courses in mathematics. Plus the humanities - literature, humanities, etc. You aren't expected to become an expert in any of these fields, but you should learn enough to be able to recognize when someone is trying to sell you a pack of lies in an election, in a courtroom (as a juror), or as the next-of-kin when a loved one is seriously ill. That's the stuff that ultimately matters, not just knowing how to write LALR(a) grammars.

  • Hmmm....5 years @ 50% increase per year...that is a total of a 759% increase. If he started at 20K/year he is now making 151K, starting at 30K he is making 227K. At 24 yrs old, I don't think so.

    In any case, I don't see how you can complete a CS degree in a year. At 120 credits for a degree (mine was actually like 139), that comes out to 40 classes at 3 credits per class. 20 per semester? Even if you include a full winter and summer schedule (which is probably hard to find), 10 classes in a semester is an impossibility. 2.5 hrs per class per week = 25 hours per week = 5 hrs per day if they are all in a row. Not to mention that there is such a thing as prerequisites for classes, so many of the classes cannot be taken concurrently.

    I'm sorry, but this whole "Ask Slashdot" seems just too outrageous to be true.
  • Do you have any kind of undergraduate degree yet?


    If you don't, then knowing all there is to know about your major shouldn't be worth more than, say, half of a degree, from any respectable school. That's because a college degree (undergrad BA/BS level) implies more than passing your major, it implies some degree of general education. It means you've taken the "distribution requirements" in humanities, sciences, etc. That's what distinguishes college from trade school. A college grad should have been exposed to at least a good selection from literature, art, history, economics, and other subjects utterly unrelated to the major. And should be able to write a decent essay, if not a thesis -- literacy is a two way street.


    At the grad school level, your work experience and trade ability are more focused. But don't confuse training with education.


    I work at a major consulting firm, in a technical group. We're largely a bunch of liberal arts majors who have technical skills. Moving up in consulting requires educational breadth, not depth. At least not the kind of depth you get in college.

  • by tswinzig (210999) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:33AM (#2758656) Journal
    ... did you know that getting a CS degree has very little to do with PROGRAMMING?

    I am in the same boat as you, and when I attended [a state school in Florida well known for computer science], I was surprised that the focus is entirely on the Science of Computing. Sure, some classes require you to know how to program in a certain language, but that is not the focus. The focus is on MATH. At least in the first years (that's as far as I got ;-). Lots of calculus, and the hideous "discrete structures" courses. ::shudder::

    In short, I don't see how a human could possibly get a CS degree in one year.
  • by color of static (16129) <smasters.ieee@org> on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:33AM (#2758657) Homepage Journal
    of a CS degree, congratulations. As anyone will tell you though, a veneer needs a solid backing to stand on it own. What the backing consists of is the liberal arts (well roundedness), fundamental mathematics (Calculs, Matrix, Discrete, and stat), and exposure to the science and engineering side of the business (logic circuit design, followed by computer architecture).

    Even if you have read through many of the senior level texts, you probably didn't fully absorb the subject material without the fundamentals. It is amazing to re address a subject when you have a better grasp of the fundamentals. The subject looks so much clearer.

    Now that doesn't mean you can't have a rewarding career as a programmer. Many of your co workers will not have fully grasped the subject material on their degrees, thus putting you on a equal footing. When it comes time for promotions, or finding a new job though you will be much better off with the degree.
  • ...given the position that you're already in, I really don't think a degree will give you any advantage. You've already got plenty of practical real-world experience (THE most important factor), and additional merits to help back that up. A degree really isn't worth anything unless you're just trying to get in the door. In most cases, a degree is a somewhat-acceptable "substitute" for experience - which you are not lacking.

    It seems to me that you're already "over the hump" in terms of getting into the industry, and that ANY degree, be it a BS or MS, isn't going to be worth the effort.
  • My company requires a Bachelors degree to move into the higher levels of our IT organization. This is not because it makes you a better system or network admin but it show two things, you are willing to stick with something (your education) to better yourself and that you know a little more than just how to use a PC.

    My CS degree did not come close to preparing me to become a network admin but those years of math taught me good problem solving skills and occasionally I actually do use the Calculus. When getting a degree though you learn about more than just computers, you learn a little literature and history. Although this will not help you program, it does give perspective and rounds out the tech skills. You also may learn a little accounting and business law, skills that you will need as you move up the ladder and need to worry about budgets and personnel issues. These are just a few examples.

    A college education is not for everyone but it is a good way to round out your knowledge base and the parties are cool.
  • 1 year MSc? (Score:3, Informative)

    by larien (5608) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:35AM (#2758676) Homepage Journal
    Personally, I started with an Accountancy degree, but I did a 1 year MSc in Information Systems which basically gave me a grounding in programming, databases, networks etc. I've now been working for over 4 years and I don't see me having any disadvantage over someone who did a 4 year BSc in Computing, so that may be an option (of course, you need a degree first unless you can blag your way past the admissions office).

    As others have said, there comes a point where experience counts more than bits of paper; I don't really see how relevant my degree is now, as my experience has more than surpassed it. Over 90% of what I do is stuff I've learned in the last 4 years, not stuff I did in class.

  • Online Unis (Score:2, Informative)

    by farsighed (136671)
    Strayer University [strayer.edu][strayer.edu] is pretty generous with their "life" credit, if you're in the MD/DC/VA area (midatlantic US). I'm doing that route now- I'm a senior level consultant without even an associate's. They accept transfers easily enough, and simply req. that you complete a certain (1 yr, I think, but don't quote me on that) amount of time (which = ca$h to them) in their classes. They started out as a business college, so they have some odd prerequisites (Accounting? Intro to Business???), in addition to whatever your state makes you have for a degree (virginia, frinstance, apparently has decided that all THEIR students must have taken Logic or precalc, Communications 2 & 3, intro to art/music/lit, and other social science courses.)

    The *really* cool thing is that they're a Cisco Academy (and have something similar worked out with MS, apparently), so the courses you would take in, say, Computer Networking, are also good for your CCNA.

    And no, I don't work for them. :)

    In any event, check some of the border colleges- those that are midway between a "full" university and a community college. You may be suprised.

    -- F.S.
  • by psicE (126646) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:37AM (#2758684) Homepage
    I don't know about other universities (though I expect they'd do the same), but Oxford in Britain allows you to get into a MSc compsci program solely on the basis of work experience instead of previous degrees. British schools also has the advantage that a MSc degree only takes 1 year to complete, tuition is far lower than at a US school (because all schools there are public), and there's no requirements for physics, math, or anything except compsci.
  • Why a CS Degree? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Genady (27988) <gary.rogers@ma[ ]om ['c.c' in gap]> on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:37AM (#2758697)
    I can understand the desire to have a degree, there are institutions that really want you to have that piece of paper that says you're in debt to a student loan processing center. I personally am in a similar situation with only a two year degree (electronics) and 7 years of IT experience. Here's my question though? Why do you want a CS Degree? Really, most employers are looking for *A* degree, it doesn't usually have to be a CS degree perse, especially with your experience.

    If you're looking to advance your current career I'd say an MIS Degree (Management of Information Systems) would look better on your resume than a CS Degree.

    It's been my experience that CS programs teach people to be programmers. How many CIO's and IT Directors are there that have come from the programming pool? Less than 1/2? Yes, programming is one road into an IT Career, but it certainly isn't the only one, or even the road that is the quickest.

    All that said... a Degree isn't like an MCSE, you have to put in some time to get that piece of paper, but it'll be worth the time. Take the three years and learn something that will stick with you, rather than the current flavor of the day programming language.
  • Will you ever _need_ a degree? Once you get some experience under your belt it's not hard to find more jobs (assuming a certain level of talent since you got this job without a degree).

    It's already clear that if you are on the bleeding edge then there's not much in school for you, but a college degree is a status symbol. When you're hobnobbing with the bigwigs at a cocktail party, hoping to get some high-dollar consulting work or whatnot, and they ask you where you went to school it comes in handy. Shallow though it may seem, many people will dismiss you if you don't have a college degree.

    Your social connections can take you far in IT because so many geeks have no interest or skill in business communication.
  • Explain again what makes you so special that you should be able to skip 3/4 of a college career to get a degree.

    Is it because you're making a lot of money? Because you've been programming since you were twelve? Here's a tip: there are plenty of people in college who have plenty of money or have been programming since they were twelve, and they weren't able to skip 3 years of college, why should you?

  • by fishbowl (7759) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:39AM (#2758705)
    Why is this different from someone asking if there's a fast way to a medical degree for instance?
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      Well that's just shows how much you know! I've been working at the local hospital for five years now (started practising when I was 12) and I've saved so many lives that I'm an invaluable member of staff. Next year I hope to complete my med degree in 9 months and then open my own surgery.
  • Don't rush it. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:41AM (#2758733) Journal
    Well, in my ever so humble opinion...

    You've probably already got a good enough track record that to continue doing what you're doing and continuing advancing won't really be a problem. BUT...

    Don't just go for a fast-track degree - i.e. don't go for a degree 'cos you need a bit of paper. Do the three or four years. Don't just take classes on the narrow subject that your career is - use university as an opportunity to take a sabattical from the world of work and get a broader knowledge of more things.

    Although I went to university after only working for one year, I decided not to take a course that narrowly focused on only technical subjects. I'm a software developer - yet I took a BA degree, not a BSc.

    I really enjoyed university, and I'm glad I didn't just race through on a fast track.
  • You might try American Institute of Computer Science [aics.edu]. I don't know much about it but I'm in the same boat you are and have thought off and on about going here. It's correspondence and to get your degree (from what I remember) you have to be enrolled a minimum of 9 months or so. So you can theoretically get your degree in a short time.
  • by RNG (35225) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:43AM (#2758748) Homepage
    Well, how do I say this while remaining polite? Let me try: I don't buy it.

    You're a consultant at a major consulting organization. Fine. However, I deal with people from major consulting organizations just about every day, and while they might have some very practical skills, most of them are pretty mediocre (speaking from a CS point of view) and come from a business background. There's nothing wrong with this in itself, but it's a very different thing than having a CS background. CS teaches you a ton of things which you'll never need in your daily job (especially not in the position you've described yourself as having) but which form the foundations of the Computer Science discipline.

    Also, I'm a bit sceptical about your claim that you've read hundreds of CS books. I'm a bit older than you and do have a CS degree and I can not claim that I've read 100s of CS books (maybe 100, but that would probably be stretching it; I may have browsed 100s, but that's not quite the same as reading & understanding them). Things like advanced algorithms, design patterns, compiler design and other related stuff are not light reading and can't be read in a weekend (at least not if you really want to *understand* the stuff they cover). And once you start reading Knuth's books, well, then you should have some serious free time if you want to understand them (despite several tries, I've never actually managed to dig through the entire 1st volume of his AoCP).

    I found that duing my CS studies, much of the grueling time spent in my compiler design classes (to name a paricularly 'fun' one), was time well spent. I doubt you could really get the most out of these types of classes without actually doing all the work & projects; this unfortunately takes time. In summary, real CS and the stuff you do at work are probably quite different. Having done Business Process Design (yuck!) or some high level project work is not the same.

    Lastly (unrelated to you, since I don't know you), my favorite anecdote from a big-5 consulting organization was a Business Process Design person (native English speaker) who, when I commented on one of his questions "Yes, we have an API for that" replied (with a straight face): "What's an API?". To me this is equivalent of working for Ford, Crysler or BMW and not knowing what a steering wheel is. I'm sorry, but every since that episonde, I have a certain measure of contempt for these people and the major consulting organizations who employ people like that.

    Bottom line: I think doing a (serious) CS degree in 1 year is impossible. On the other hand, you may be some sort of genius who can do it in a year, but if you're normal like the rest of us (whatever you consider to be 'normal') you'll need more time to do real CS. It seems like you like the technical field you're in in which case you'll probably find the time spent to get a CS degree well spent.
  • by Karpe (1147) on Friday December 28, 2001 @11:45AM (#2758765) Homepage
    There is this great misconception that just because one is a great programmer he does not need real training as a computer scientist. This is due to the fact that most people think of a BS in CS as a formal education as a IT worker, so one who thinks he is a great programmer thinks that a BSCS wont really add anything usefull to him, except for the diploma.

    The fact is that Computer Science is not only about becoming a IT worker. Its about using computers to solve problems, and about designing these computers to solve this problems. And about understanding and modeling the problems to begin with. There are actually great programmers who are mediocre computer scientists, great computer scientists who are mediocre programmers (usually of the thoretic cs kind), and great it workers who are great computer scientists (and really shitty programmers and Computer Scientists). And since these are different things, that is why it takes about 5 years to graduate a computer scientist.

    Sometimes, a programmer who "learned CS" by his own, has acquired many bad habits that he would not have acquired if he had any formal training ("goto statement considered harmfull" comes to mind), and design rules, software engineering, etc. By the other side, self-learned IT professionals have a much more "getting the work done" attitude, and finding things out by himself, which is *extremely* usefull in industry.

    So the idea is that one thing complements the other, and yes, it would be nice for anyone who works with technology without a formal training to really spend the time *learning* CS.

    Just my 2c.
  • unfortunatly, just knowing what you know (though it is more then enough to get the job done)
    does not offer you an advantage in University. Infact, it may even be a disadvantage to you.

    you know a lot of the course material which will help you in many classes, but you will get board.

    you have your ways of doing things and profs have their insain ways...profs always win and you will have conflicts with them on how to do a project.

    in university, course work is based much more on theory than on reality. what may be the best way to actualy do somthing may not be the way you do it in university becuase you are there to learn thoery of computer science, and theory of programming (why do you think many institutions teach programming in usless laguages..though many are changing and there is debate on if that is wise)

    you definatly have the smarts and the knowlege to complete a degree, but there are a lot of profs that do not like people that know what to do because they want the students to do what they are told with little decent or discussion on implementation.

    granted there are some nice profs who like to discuss and even allow alternate ways of doing things, but you still get stail cource work that does nothing of any value.

    you need a degree, but relise that you will be very board and at times you will get frustrated at the work assignments and the attitues of the profs.
  • Many people have cited the ability to test out of classes.

    Smaller universities are more inclined to bargain with you as well. If you can demonstrate the experience and ability, you can forgo many classes without testing or other red tape.

    I've been considering such action myself as there are a few classes that I simply do not need (already knowing my career).
  • Open University (Score:2, Informative)

    by dunstan (97493)
    Not a fast track, but for those who are serious about getting a degree the Open University is geared towards those who need to study at their own pace. Dunno how it works in the US, but in GB the Open University gives opportunity to lots of people who other wise wouldn't have it - by providing them with a sound study framework, but enabling them to work to their own circumstances.

    Check out http://www.open.edu or http://www.open.ac.uk

    Dunstan
  • Excelsior University (Score:2, Informative)

    by ajhenley (150248)
    I know everyone says it can't be possible, but it is, sort of.

    Excelsior University (accredited by Middle States, like almost every other school on the Eastern Seaboard) offers a BS in CIS ( i know not the same but most HR depts don't know the diff and it will get you into grad school).

    Now you can complete with a combination of Transfereed credits, credit by examination, life experience, and certifications.

    Depending on what you already have (like an associates or bachelors in ... english) you can complete in like a year.

    www.itdegree.com
    www.excelsior.edu
  • by CoreDump (1715) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:02PM (#2758893) Homepage Journal
    I'm in a similar situation, though perhaps a bit easier for me, than for you. I was recruited out of college after my Junior year to work for the company I'm with now. ( They made an offer I couldn't refuse, what can I say? ). I'm glad I took it, as even though I'm still lacking my degree, the industry experience I've gained is not something I could have *ever* learned in school.

    It's been about 6 years now, and I'm starting to get the itch to finish my last year of school, but due to still needing/wanting to work, it's not possible for me to go back to the original school. ( I went to RPI [rpi.edu] in New York, and currently work in Chicago area, so the commute would be hell ).

    I started looking into local schools that I could attend to finish up. Most wanted me to attend them for at least 4 semesters before they'd grant a degree, and then there's the problem of transferring credits from one school to another, etc. I finally found a school that would let me finish the way I wanted. DePaul University [depaul.edu] ( a respected institution ) has a School for New Learning [depaul.edu]. That allows adults who previously skipped or ( like me ) never completed college to apply whatever previous college credit they have, along with taking into account your work experience, towards a BA degree. You can also continue on in the same manner towards an MA as well.

    DePaul is located in the Chicago area, but it is quite possible that similar programs exist near you. If you haven't finished a degree yet, but have several years of experience in your industry, this type of program definitely seems the way to go.

  • I have no degree (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rocketboy (32971) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:10PM (#2758944)
    and it has definitely had an impact on my career. Let me explain:

    I'm 44 and am currently where I've been for the past 5 years, IT manager for a small manufacturing company. I took some of the first computer classes US high schools offered, way back in 1974-76 when programming projects got sent out to the local bank's mainframe for compilation and execution. My first IT job was as programmer trainee for a small service bureau too cheap to pay a living wage (thus no one with any training or experience would touch them) where I stayed for a year and a half, working on IBM S/34 minicomputers. Did my first microcomputer work on CP/M systems (Exidy Sorcerer! Woo-hoo!) and IBM Datamasters in '77 or '78. From there to another S/34 shop, then to a larger one that was both bleeding edge in PCs and networking as well as moving to the (then new) IBM S/38. Worked on S/34, S/38, Apple II & III, CP/M, and IBM PC systems there for 8 years, then moved to a larger company using IBM AS/400 and more PCs with networking, in a mixed mainframe/mini/PC environment over an international WAN. Consulted for a while, now here. I have extensive mainframe, minicomputer and PC experience, program in a bundle of languages (including C, Java, a variety of aassemblers, etc.), and my networking goes back to Banyan Vines and Lantastic days, not to mention early X.25, etc. I'm no computer god by any means, but I've been around and always got excellent or outstanding reviews.

    I never noticed lacking a degree until I turned 35 or so -- and why should I have? Most companies discourage the sharing of salaries. I was happy to be making a good wage and didn't know until later that my peers were getting 20% more than I was, even with half my experience. For a variety of reasons I'm not terribly thrilled where I am but I believe I'm pretty well stuck here: in two years of searching I've found very few companies interested in my skills and experience. When I go for a job in competition with someone a few years out of college, just married or no family, I lose every time, long before anyone gets to talking about salaries. At my age, lack of a degree is almost a poison pill in my career -- so much so that I'm currently attending college to get one, something I should have done long ago (if I could have afforded to.) When I was just out of high school, college aid was a lot harder to get than it is today and I couldn't afford college on my own (and stepfather was blunt: don't even ask me to cosign a tuition loan, kid. Oh, and when are you moving out? Saturday good for you?) Now, take advantage of what's out there and get a degree. Any degree: CS is obviously best if that's the career you want but any degree is better than none.
  • by Frums (112820) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:12PM (#2758959) Homepage Journal

    I faced an almost identical problem recently but managed to work around going back for (another) BS. Assuming you have a bachelors (which you imply through ommission, making a point of having "no formal CS education"), getting into and finishing a Master's program is probably your ideal path.

    This is, in fact, not terribly difficult. Most programs don't exactly leep for joy over people with primarily work experioence, but if you are willing to take 4-6 undergrad level classes, or demonstrate competence in them by test) and can do reasonably well on the GRE Computer Science Subject Test (brush up on your theory!), you can get into mid-range schools without a lot of difficulty.

    There are quite a few benefits of going straight to a master's degree as well: an MSCS is *very* respected on a resume, managers generally give more credit to a Master's than it warrants (unless they have one, and MBA's don't count), it is generally a much shorter program (9-12 classes compared to 24-32 for a BS) and doesn't force you to take the assorted crap you are not interested in (disclaimer: I hold an undergrad degree in English, and believe in a LA education, if done right it is the best thing for you - most people use the flexibility to avoid challenge though, and they discredit it), and finally, the MS classes tend to be a whole lot more interesting than undergrad classes, and the students and profs are a lot more interested in learning/teaching than the typical undergrad.

    I wish you luck.

    -Frums

  • by tmark (230091) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:19PM (#2758991)
    You presume that because you have are good at computer programming, you can easily finish a CS degree in one year - in essence, you propose that you know pretty much all that a CS major knows. But what is taught in a CS degree is FAR DIFFERENT than what you know having programmed for however many years. This also is precisely the reason why your advancement potential MAY be limited because you DON'T have a CS degree - the business world recognizes the difference.
    • I second that...

      It's funny to see the comments written by people with a "self-taught" CS degree. Just because you know how to write code, doesn't mean you are a software engineer, a programmer perhaps, but not a software engineer, regardless of what your title is. And you are right, the business world is starting to understand this.

      And another thing, MIS != CS, no matter how much some of you like to delude yourselves!
  • ACCIS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by enjo13 (444114) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:24PM (#2759018) Homepage
    The American Institute for the Computer and Information Sciences is a correspondence based school. The curriculm in my experience is well thought out and the quality of the education is top notch. It is a completely rounded degree (meaning it is more than a simple programming school) and I have found that businesses tend to treat it like any other degree. I highly reccomend it in your case. It will grant credit based on "life experience" to recognize the value of the experience you have already gained.

    http://www.accis.edu
  • by Paladin814 (518257) on Friday December 28, 2001 @12:25PM (#2759026)
    I do not know how it is at other Universities, but at mine, the U of Windsor in Canada, 1 or 1.5 years would be impossible for a CS degree. I say this because it seems that every university's CompSCI program in Ontario is unique.

    At Windsor, it is not focused on programming. I have ONLY had 3 REAL programming classes. And even though you may be able to easily get credit / pass these classes, it is the others that will set you back a few years.

    These classes include topics that I am sure you are knowledgeable: data types; induction and recursion and some that you may not: algebraic characterization; syntax; semantics; formal logic; soundness, completeness, and decidability; specification, implementation, and determinism; complexity

    And that is the first class. A quick list of other non-programming topics:

    Computer Languages, Grammars, and Translators
    Including: both pragmatic and theoretical aspects of grammars, recognizers, and translators for computer languages. Regular languages: regular expressions, regular grammars, finite-state machines (automata), regular language recognizers, automatic regular-language-recognizer generator: lex. Context-free languages: context-free grammars and pushdown automata (stack machine), LL grammars and top-down recognition and parsing: LL(1) and recursive-descent parsers, LR grammars and bottom-up recognition and parsing: LR(0), SLR(1), LR(1), and LALR(1) parsers. Automatic context-free-language parser generator: YACC. Attribute grammars, syntaz-directed translation, computer-language processors: interpreters and compilers.

    Theoretical Foundations of Computer Science
    Including: propositional logic, first order logic, proof techniques, mathematical induction, sets, operations on sets, relations, operations on relations, functions, countable and uncountable sets, basic definitions in graph theory, connectivity, isomorphism of graphs, trees, Euler graphs, Hamilton graphs, planar graphs, graph colouring

    File Structures
    Including: performance differences between primary and secondary storage; secondary storage devices; fundamental file structures; sequential files; indexing; B trees; B+ trees; index sequential files; hashing; sorting and searching techniques on secondary storage devices.

    Computer System Organisation
    Including: Examination of the fundamentals of modern computer organization and architecture. Historical development. The computer system in terms of interconnection structures, memory, I/O and operating system software. CPU structure and function, including numeric representations, instruction sets, addressing modes and formats. Control unit. Alternate architectures and performance enhancement.

    Those are just the basic classes that you need to know before you can take the challenging stuff. This is on Top of the "other" classes you must take, The Maths (Calc, Alg, Stats, Fundamentals of Math) your Social Sciences, etc.

    But don't worry about all of that, you will have those 3 programming classes out of the way!

  • Not at a good school (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NerdSlayer (300907) on Friday December 28, 2001 @01:23PM (#2759311) Homepage
    I've recently graduated from CMU with a CS degree. My senior year we wrote a kernel, a filesystem and a shell (or about 90% of an operatiing system).

    That class alone killed about 40 hours a week, so while you might be able to learn Pascal at your local community college in a year, don't expect to get a world class education like you would at MIT or CMU in 1 year, no matter how many books you've read.

    Most of my classes involved minimal programming, and a lot of theory (OS being the exception). Have you read a lot of books on probability, set theory and matrix algebra? Have you read any books on modern math? Algorithms (which involved no programming, all proofs)? NFA's and DFA's? Context Free Grammers?

    I had a Java reference book and a C reference book while I was at CMU, every other book was theoretical.
  • I don't think so (Score:3, Interesting)

    by truesaer (135079) on Friday December 28, 2001 @01:25PM (#2759327) Homepage
    I'm a CS major at the University of Michigan, and I've only taken 1 programming course, and I don't think I'll be taking another. In my particular degree there is a lot of math. Three calc courses, probability (based on calc, so you have to have taken all calcs first), two discrete math courses (one based on the other plus a bunch of basic CS courses). If you want CE instead of CS there is even more math, plus required physics and maybe chemestry. Other classes are on algorithm analysis, and deep background stuff like circuit design, processor design, and the basic level mechanics of databases, networks, etc. Many of these are electives, but the point is you're not likely to have the level of knowledge required from experience alone even if you have read books on the subject.


    Then there are distribution courses. For CS you need about 80 credits of other stuff, compared to around 40 for your concentration. It breaks down like this: 7 credits each of social science, humanities, natural science, plus 3 more credits in three of these categories: natural science, humanities, social science, math, creative expressing. You must have 4th semester proficiency in a foreign language. You have to take two writing classes, one involving several substantial papers. And there are several other requirements.


    Point is, I think it is tough. You don't seem to have much respect for degrees since you're doing well without one, so this kind of program probably isn't a good option. I would just look for a really shitty school that will do anything to get students. It may be worthless, but a degree from a crappy school doesn't matter once you've proved yourself with experience.


    Not having a degree will become a big problem though, so maybe you should just take a few years off and enjoy yourself in college. At my internship this summer the company had a guy who didn't have a degree who had been working as a contract employee for 14 years. He was making substantially less in salary and had much much worse benefits. It is nearly impossible to hire non-degree tech people at many companies, and you may want to apply to one of those companies someday. So just think this: Drinking and girls. Take 4 years off and do it right (can do three years if you go for 2 summer sessions, maybe less 2.5 if you take heavy courseloads).

  • by Lictor (535015) on Friday December 28, 2001 @02:08PM (#2759584)
    >I've been programming since I was 12 (I'm
    >currently 24) and have read hundreds of CS
    >books. I think that I can easily complete a CS
    >degree in 1 year.

    "I've been using microwave ovens since I was 12 and have read hundreds of books on using microwave ovens. I think I can easily complete a degree in high-energy physics in one year."

    Okay, thats pushing the analogy a little far, but you get the point. Programming is a trade skill, period. Computer science is NOT about programming. I'm sorry I'm reacting so violently to this, but you've hit a *very* sore spot for me.

    I do computer science for a living and I am a mathematician by trade and training. Yes, I can program and enjoy doing so, but this is not what makes me a "Computer Scientist". I also enjoy tinkering with old sports cars and have a decent grasp of mechanics. I certainly don't consider myself a qualified automotive engineer though.

    You claim to have read "hundreds of CS" books; but have you really? Is there a chance they were programming and technology books? If you want a taste of what real "computer science" looks like, I happily recommend reading the following:

    - Computational Complexity by Papidimitriou
    - Automata Theory and Languages by Hopcroft and Ullman
    - Compilers... I can't remember the whole name but its got a big picture of a dragon on the front. If you ask anyone in the business about 'the dragon book' they'll know what you mean... by Aho, Sethi and Ullman (I think).
    - The Russell and Norvig AI book
    - Any book on lambda-calculus and recursive function theory (I can't think of a good introductory-level text at the moment). Even better if it introduces semantics too.

    Those will give you a feel for some of the areas that are considered "Computer Science". The ability to program will get you through first year; after that, its more about math and.. gasp... thinking, than it is about whipping up code.

    Again, sorry for the rant, but I think Edsgar Dykstra (a famous Computer Scientist) summed it up best when he said:

    "Computer Science is as much about computers as Astronomy is about telescopes".

    Truer words were never spoken.
  • Self educated (Score:5, Interesting)

    by unovox (546638) <chasedev@ix.netcom.com> on Friday December 28, 2001 @02:28PM (#2759696) Homepage
    I have a problem with the presumption that someone who has acheived the CS skills required to compete successfully in the market has not or cannot have also educated themselves in math, business, the arts , other sciences etc...
    Anyone who has educated themselves in these areas has far more focus, persistence, passion and discipline than most who do so with the aid of an educational institution. While tremendous resources are available at these facilities, anyone with the personal quialities to go it alone will continue educating themseleves at a much higher rate then most for whom education was something that you got in school.
    Education is not something that other people do to you.
    Calculus, chemistry, music....all can be learned to any degree on your own. I, and many others, are examples of those who do so out of pure curiosity about the world in which we live and passion for things that we love. I don't have a degree, never went to college, and have never been asked if I did. I, and many others, am a successful SW Engineering consultatnt who has been judged on my track record and ability to perform. To move into management...no problem. The MBA curriculum is available in books and is easy to master.....for the self educating individual.
  • 24? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rjamestaylor (117847) <rjamestaylor@gmail.com> on Friday December 28, 2001 @02:34PM (#2759738) Homepage Journal
    You're 24 and worried about slowing down your career for a 3-year stint in CS? Do you realize how very young you are? If you enrolled RIGHT NOW you'd be 27 with experience, maturity and a degree. Probably you'd have to wait a semester to start, so you'd be 28.

    I went to work at 24 without finishing my IT degree. When I was 26 I was a lead developer with a lot of responsibility and one day my boss was rambling about the state of the industry and said, "...for example, if you had a degree, I'd have to pay you twice what you're making now." I resigned within the week and enrolled that semester. I graduated at 27 and have not looked back since. Now at 34 my degree is hardly an issue, but it's there. If it weren't opportunities I've had may not have been available. Whatever...

  • by PacketKing (106950) on Friday December 28, 2001 @03:17PM (#2759977)
    Ok, here's some of the experience I've had, and the conclusions I've drawn from them:

    The degree isn't always required to get a good job. And you can live a good life without ever getting one. However, for good and bad, there are people who are unwilling/unable to hire non-degreed people. It's just a fact. Most ./'ers are not taking into account that you don't just need a degree to move into management. You might also need it for the leg up on your competition. Take this economic heap of steaming s___ that we're in. If you're laid off, then you are most likely competing with several other people who have the same qualifications and who were also laid off. Given the pick, who would most managers choose? You got it, the guy with the degree. Why? Chances are, he'll catch less hell from his management.

    I personally have fought this battle my entire career. I've spent time on the degree on the side because I will eventually need it some day. For all of you out there who are still having a problem with the idea of getting a degree just to satisfy some suits, look at it using this analogy: neighborhood hockey. Lemme explain:

    You might just be the best damn player in the neighborhood. All the other kids know it, and you're THE first to be picked. The only problem is, on Saturday, you can't play with them because you didn't pay the municipal fee to play in a city league. Therefore, when you go to the rink, the Ref is going to have to keep you from playing. Does it mean you are any less qualified? Absolutly not. It just means to some suits in your city government, you haven't paid the fee, and can't play in the official league for whatever reason they've come up with. Possibly an issue of liability for the city, or maybe something else unseen to you. It doesn't matter what reason they use though. You still can't play, because they say so.

    You see, you will always be able to get a job without the degree, but it's going to be harder. You will end up fighting more for those positions.The degree is a key to open several doors that you can't open on merit alone.

    Now, in respect to the experience you get with a degree, here are a few comments:

    a degree does not an engineer make.
    experience does not an engineer make.

    It's the combo of the degree (theory) with the experience (practical knowledge) that makes the best engineers. The theory tells us how something
    is supposed to work, and the practice tells us where the theory is wrong so that the theory can be refined. You can operate exclusively in either domain, but you will get the best results in the area where they overlap.

    As for the BullS*** arts classes that they make you take? Well, believe it or not, they're very useful too. History enables you to see patterns
    of behavior in human culture. So does poly-sci and psycology. English ensures that you will be able to communicate your ideas clearer. Foriegn language expands your view of "those" other people in other areas of the world, as well as helps you communicate with them in an ever increasingly global market. Business and economics gives you the ability to identify trends your future employers will be following, and will give you a set of tools to judge how well they are doing in whatever market they're in.

    Besides, let's remember who our customer's are: the non-techies. Yep, you'll be dealing with them some day. And you'll do much better if you have a way to talk with them. That's where the Liberal Arts classes come in.

    Just some thoughts and conclusions.
    PacketKing

The number of arguments is unimportant unless some of them are correct. -- Ralph Hartley

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