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On the Differences Between MIS/CIS/CS Degrees? 526

Posted by Cliff
from the distinguishing-the-diplomas dept.
Dark Ninja asks: "I find that after having a professional IT job (C++ programmer/DBA) for four+ years, not having a degree is a hindrance to finding a job. So with this in mind, I'm planning on attending college soon, but I want to know the difference between an Management Information System, Computer Information System, and Computer Science degrees? Better yet, which ones do you suggest (ie. to allow advancement, which allows for what jobs, etc)?"
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On the Differences Between MIS/CIS/CS Degrees?

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  • Perception... (Score:5, Informative)

    by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @06:54PM (#2794950)
    From where I went to college (Oklahoma State University), the difference between MIS and CS was that CS was more geared for programming, and MIS was more geared for business with computers. I started out towards a CS degree, but after facing 'impossible' teachers, I switched to the easier MIS stuff to graduate.

    However, it had absolutely no impact (that I am aware of) on my marketability after college. They were looking for a degree. But your mileage may vary.

    Actually, I'm thankful that I got the business courses that I would have missed under CS.
    • Re:Perception... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Snuffub (173401)
      I think what exactly a CS degree entails changes alot based on where you are. From what i can tell a cs degree from my school is not geered for programing at all infact it has little to do with programing and is heavy on theory.

      So my advice to you is ask at the university youre applying to rather than a general audience.
    • Re:Perception... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Like most things in life, it depends on the particular programs, as well as what you want out of the degree at the end.

      I received a CompSci degree from a small technical college. The CompSci program, as a part of the engineering school, had a lot of math and statistics courses as well as the programming and systems design. The computer degree from the business school had loads more business classes (no surprise) and had more applied courses in the languages used in business systems of the time.

      In my career I've been fortunate enough to stay in interesting technical work- lots of programming with artificial intelligence, computer vision, and 3D graphics. The math and statistics that I had in my degree, and that I wouldn't have had in a business MIS degree, have let me pursue this work.

      Similarly, for the applications I'm working on currently that are more in the researchy areas, potential employees are more attractive when they have an engineering degree.

      You can pick up (at least a reasonable starting skill in) a programming language from books and self study. I have yet to run across a 'Image Processing For Dummies' book....

      ObOnTheOtherHand: the last contractor we used who had Oracle experience was non-degreed, had an impressive hourly rate, and whizzed through some Oracle application issues that I had struggled with, so I'm under no illusions that a strong technical degree is required for everything.

      So, what work do you want to do in the long term, and what skills will you get out of each degree? And if the CS program is 'harder', is it worth it to you?

    • Re:Perception... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:21PM (#2795076)
      I agree and would just like to amplify that really, it is have a degree, ANY degree that matters. If you find your interest is in something totally different, music, physics, whatever, then go for that. The important thing is to show employers you have what it takes to get a college education. I think you're much better off getting a degree in a feild that interests you (and you are therefore more likely to complete) than getting one that you feel is marketable.

      Now of course there are fields where the type of degree matters much, but programming and IT aren't two of them. For example, I work as a Network Admin. The people I work in my room (there are 8 of us) have degrees in MIS, music education, CS, MCB (biology), electrical engineering, and one person has no degree.

      You are right to get a degree, but get one that interests you and don't worry too much about what it's in. Having it is enough.
    • Humorously enough, at my college, CS was the major that everyone was allowed into and MIS was the one that required special letter writing, and recommendations from professors, etc to be admitted into that program.
    • Down the turnpike in Norman (University of Oklahoma, for the uninitiated), it works like this, unofficially:
      • If you're a sofware person, you do Computer Science (CS). CS is a department in the College of Engineering.
      • If you're a hardware person, you do Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). ECE is a department in the College of Engineering.
      • If you're not cut out for either CS or ECE, you do Management Information Systems (MIS). MIS is a department in the College of Business.
      As an unrelated but true anecdote: One of the more well-known CS professors at OU was working at his office on a Saturday, during which time the football team was playing at an away game. Upon leaving his office, the professor was accosted by a local television reporter. Camera thrust in his face, the professor was asked, "So, what do you think about the game?" He replied, "Well, I knew something was up because all the parking lots were empty."
  • Differences (Score:5, Informative)

    by cp4 (250029) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @06:57PM (#2794965)
    MIS is business courses with some basic programming added (mostly high level stuff, + web pages and the like.) It's not a CS degree. Most CS people laugh at these people. Sorry but it's true.

    CIS is computer science with general business courses added. The core CS courses will be there but not much specialization in CS.

    Computer Science itself comprises the core courses plus many posible specializations (IS above being one of them). Depending on your preferences you can specialize in different courses; adding some basic engineering courses, or higher level CS courses for example.

    Personally I graduated with a CS degree, speicializing in Software Systems which basically meant all my "specialization" credits were used up with higher level CS courses and math courses.
    • Re:Differences (Score:2, Informative)

      by hank (294)
      I'm currently a sophomore at RPI in Troy, NY. RPI isn't as known for their Computer Science department, as they are for their engineering department. (Although, we produced and currently have the man who created STL, or so I've heard.)

      I'm currently a CSCS (Computer & Systems Engineering and Computer Science) dual major with a minor in Information Technology. Granted, by the time I graduate, I'll have taken over 160 credits when only needing 128, that's what college is about. Many people try to take the easiest way through college, which robs you of one of the greatest places to learn. (Granted, you'll fun factor will increase as your class load decreases - but that's for another post.) The trick is being EXCELLENT at managing your time and having a strong work ethic. Knowing when to work and when to party is key, but to some this is often the hardest part of adjusting to college.

      Anyways, back to the question at hand. Most of the classes I take for my IT minor are more business related (such as Managing IT Resources, etc.). There are ways to get the best of both worlds. Having a strong CS background that can only be acquired as a CS major will definitely help you down the line. To some employers, I've heard it's more respected. I'll know in 2 years I guess. But, you can major in Computer Science if you're interested in programming and maybe use some of your free electives to get that minor in IT. Or even consider a dual major.

      But I agree with the parent to my post. Many schools offer "specializations" within a major. You can use free electives to get that specialization in MIS, and even tack on a minor in Information Technology, or math.
    • by stevenprentice (202455) <<stevep> <at> <gocougs.wsu.edu>> on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:21PM (#2795080)
      It's not a CS degree. Most CS people laugh at these people. Sorry but it's true.

      And most MIS grads laugh at the CS people who shit their pants when giving public presentations, negotiating, or simply communicating with peers.

      • As some one with a technical background who also does a lot of presentations, I've found it easier to teach someone to be an effective communicator than it is is to teach them technical skills.

        Utimately, which degree is better comes down to what you want to do and your skills. If you hate math, pursuing a CS degree is not going to be fun nor are you likely to enjoy the the type of work most employeers will be offering.

        Have you spoken to your current boss, or some other more senior person whom you trust and who is respected in your organization, on there view of the various IT degrees available? If not, you're missing out on some potentially valuable insights and real world experience. Another person to talk to is someone in HR, such as a recruiter. They will be able to give you some insights on the marketplace.

        Just don't make it look like you're planning to jump ship - rather your trying to learn whta will help you advance - including night school.
      • And most MIS grads laugh at the CS people who shit their pants when giving public presentations, negotiating, or simply communicating with peers.

        'CS people' generally do not exist to give public presentations, to negotiate, or to communicate with peers (under your definition of peers). Those are the ways of subspecies. 'CS people', among other activites, build the tools that make possible the meaningless labor of the 'MIS grad'.
    • and we laugh... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bdavenport (78697) <spam@sellthekids.com> on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:26PM (#2795102) Homepage
      when CS people can't figure out amortization schedules and have a hard time mixing financal theory with cost-based accounting systems. sorry, but it's true.

      don't buy into the CS / MIS us vs them crap, but rather look for a more generalized answer:

      lots of MIS programs will vary. mine allowed us 8 hours (2 semesters of 4 hour classes) of C++ and VC++ MFC programming. I added in some OO programming which taught language agnostic principles. plus there was another 8 hours worth of DB stuff - SPs, tables, schemas, etc. on top of all that, we had several "capstone" classes which matched full semester group projects with business area focus. we had several companies bring in real world business issues which we then solved using our class knowledge (and the companies got a free consulting solution if they decided to use our work!)

      i took Cal I and B-Cal - no more, no less. the CIS people i know from my university took Cal I-III and often some other elective mathematical classes.

      the real questions is what will you envision yourself working on in 5 years? if you plan on doing business level programming, then the MIS degree is going to give you the requiste background in accounting, finance, and economics to survive. i found employeers were chomping at the bit b/c i had these skills - of course, i interviewed with (and work for) Fortune 300 companies.

      we have some CS people at my company - these guys are wicked smart and several of them have military or NASA backgrounds. they do the low level, to the metal programming that our apps need. these guys are not building our accounting modules. that's not their strength. they might be able to - it's just not what they are working on.

      with either degree you are not just purchasing a job - you are showing your employeer an ability to learn. my father graduated one of the top engineering schools in 1969. he did chemical engineering for about 3 years and then did all business management stuff for the next 27. his company hired him b/c his degree showed he could think and learn. both a CS and MIS degree from a well respected university will get you this.

      good luck and have fun! i miss my college profs about once a month!

      • Re:and we laugh... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Lawrence_Bird (67278)
        Many years ago I was an Accounting and Physics double major and Comp Sci Minor. I got out with something on order of 150 credits. Looking at what the MIS types are saying, it seems to me to make much more sense to get the CS degree and take the business/management and other MIS like classes as your electives. Theres nothing to say you can't take 18 credits a semester with an occasional summer class. And yes, you can still party if you figure out how to manage your time.
        • that would be a great idea. unfortunately, many schools segregate the programs, so that those business school electives would not even count as electives in your CS program. essentially, you would be taking them for "fun" or personal achievment. nothing wrong with that!

          IMHO - take all the math you can get, if you are a math oriented person. upper level math teaches skills that cannot be learned in most other areas of education. for me, i am wired as a non-math person. i can and did take some Cal, but i really didn't enjoy it and it showed: it was one of the few Cs i ever received.

          so besides picking what you think you will enjoy in the future, also pick what you think you will enjoy overall. afterall - your career will span your lifetime!

      • Each side can laugh all they want at the other, but which you get should be determined by what you want out of it. Want to do business/db apps? Get a MIS. It is usually part of the college of business. CS is either an engineering or math oriented program. Where I went I had to take 33 hours worth of math. A math elective gave me a math minor. Go this route if you want to do more engineering type things. In my experience companies looking for engineers will toss resumes from MIS types. They don't have the background for these types of programs. On the other hand I once had a job writing and fixing sql. I was bored out of my mind (and I do know the difference between an amortization schedule and my ass). This job would have been a better fit for someone more interested in business.

        In either case, the degree shows that you can commit to a significant undertaking and finish it. That's worth a lot for either degree.

    • MIS is not a CS degree. Most CS people laugh at these people. Sorry but it's true.

      True, but that just makes us bigger dicks than we already are, not to mention pissing off our future MIS bosses.
  • CS != MIS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    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.
  • MIS is... (Score:2, Informative)

    Management Information Systems. It is a focus on the business and management portion of computing. People with degrees in MIS can go into a variety of positions, but they are usually either business related computing (i.e., drafting IT plans for companies, helping bridge gaps in IT in companies), or consulting for companies with important business software, such as PeopleSoft.

    Computer science people are the ones who write the software MIS people implement and use.
  • by MoceanWorker (232487) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:01PM (#2794988) Homepage
    it really doesn't matter, honestly, what you major in college...

    the fact is, once you get that paper... you could say you majored in History, Art, Literature, etc... but if you have certs and so forth... expect to get hired...

    i have a few friends who work for big companies (IBM, Lotus, Computer Associates) and they all never majored in CS/CIS/MIS... but they still landed the job, just because they went to college and they had certs...

    another option you might want to consider, is consulting... i consult... and i don't have a college degree... and get this... all the clients who i have worked/am working for... have never asked me for my college degree nor resume (even though i do have a resume)...

    the other good thing about consulting is, that once you build up your client base... you'll be working off referrals too... so that's another good thing... only bad thing about consulting is that you'll get no benefits... and no insurance

    but if you're married and your wife has medical insurance for the family.. and so forth.. that shouldn't be a problem :-)
  • by shoppa (464619) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:02PM (#2794991)
    I'm a little bit concerned that the only reason you want to go to school is to make money. I'm hoping you change your mind after you get there and decide to follow your interests instead.

    If you're a professional C++ programmer/DBA, then you'd probably be bored to tears by the "computer" classes that a MIS or CIS degree involves. That's not strictly true - there may be some good design/architecture courses which you may very well enjoy. Take a very close look at the course catalogs and graduation requirements for the schools you are looking at.

    Depending on the school, the same may be true for the courses you need for a CS degree.

    Don't overlook the possibility of getting a degree in something other than (or in addition to) CS/MIS/CIS. In four years it is very likely that a degree in economics or actuarial science or applied physics or EE will be the key to doing interesting and/or high-paying stuff. Or, for that matter, Eastern European literature or sociology or basketball coaching may be your true love! or

  • by Goonie (8651) <robert.merkel@benamb r a . org> on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:03PM (#2795002) Homepage
    At my alma mater, there is Computer Science, Software Engineering (another degree you might consider), and Information Systems.

    CS is a math-heavy, theory-heavy degree that teaches you how to program *and* gives you a background in the mathematical foundations in computing. Whilst you might not use all of directly as a programmer, it's a) a lot of fun for some people, and b) gives you a much greater understanding of what computers can and can't do.

    Software Engineering contained a pretty high overlap with CS, but they skipped some of the theoretical stuff to do more on building large software projects in teams using engineering methodologies. I remain skeptical of some of the value of this stuff, but, however, the *practical* experience, whilst rather stressful (trying to play a real software engineer when you've still got other subjects to complete imposes nasty workloads), is useful. It may be less useful for you, as you sound like you've already got a substantial amount of practical experience.

    Information Systems was very light on programming. Talking to instructors in the department, it seems like most of the people who come out of it with a degree in IS can barely write a shell script. However, what they do learn is a lot of stuff about business processes and the like. In fact, from both the syllabus and the students, I got the impression that much of the course was basically a commerce degree for people interested (but not necessarily particularly gifted in) IT.

    Look, I'm not knocking knowing business processes and the like, but if you like to code, it's a lot easier to learn about business later on (perhaps in an MBA) than it is to learn heavy-duty maths later in life. But then again, you might take the view that you can already code and learning about the business side of IT might be more useful to you.

    • Sorry to reply to my own post, but I should also add that you don't necessarily *have* to do an IT degree. Interested in, say, philosophy, or a language, psychology perhaps? Studying these at university would teach you as many skills, many of which will help you in your future career, as an IT degree. Don't cut off other options.
    • by Zachary Kessin (1372) <zkessin@gmail.com> on Sunday January 06, 2002 @08:24PM (#2795304) Homepage Journal
      The worst degree is the one you don't finish. Repeat that a few times. I would recomend going and talking to all the various departments at your school and trying to figure out you want to go. No matter what you major in learn to write English in addition to code. Being able to write a spec document or a set of procedures may well get you a job that simply being able to code will not.

      I'm majoring in Physics at Brandeis, but then again I'm not your standard undergrad, I'm 28, I took 7 years off from school to work, but when I lost my job last fall I decided to go back and fisish.
      • by Safety Cap (253500) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @10:01PM (#2795542) Homepage Journal
        The worst degree is the one you don't finish.
        I agree... but for reasons that seem to be antithetical to the general consensus here.

        Having run through the university mill for several years (and survived), and being on the hiring end of the fence, I can say that a Bachelors in anything is pretty much useless in terms of proving ability to do anything useful. Compared to graduate school, undergrad is really a joke. Sitting in a lecture hall "absorbing" information is not the best way to learn. My advisor told me that in grad school you have to teach yourself. This unfortunately was true more often than not. What they don't tell you, though, is that the undergraduate funds pay for the graduate programs, which the professors use as slave (unpaid) labor by which they work their grants. Make no mistake: College is a business.

        ...but I digress...

        When I sift through resumes, I don't even look at the person's education or even certifications. The only thing that I care about is whether the person can do the job to the quality level I want. This is proved in the interview. Experience level -- what gets me to look at you at all -- is determined by previous jobs, but I don't give a lot of weight, because most people inflate anyway.

        In my interviews, people are expected to be articulate, solve real problems and demonstrate their coding ability. If they can't do that, then I could care less where they went to school. One last tidbit: the company I currently work for cares a great deal about degrees. It is a very old company, so they don't understand computers but they know they need them; their attitude is that they won't hire someone who doesn't have a degree, even though they're perfectly happy having degree-less contractors do all the work. Go figure.

      • I could not agree more. Working with high school students, I make sure to try to get one point across to them - you need to choose not only a major, but also a college that you are going to be somewhat happy with for four (or more) years.

        This means that if you choose a programming-related degree, you had better be content sitting in front of a computer three years from now, at 3am on a cold February night, working on a program that is due the next morning.

        If you would rather be doing something else at that time (working on a business presentation, for example) - DO THAT INSTEAD.

        I started CS Engineering at an Ivy League school before dropping out and finishing a degree in mathematics. Math was something I wanted to be doing, and did not mind doing semester after semester.
    • Good thoughts. Just some additional comments:

      Your comment on software engineering, "I remain skeptical of some of the value of this stuff", is IMHO at the root of most problems with software today.

      If I had it all to do over again, I would try to at least sample some of all three programs that you describe. Eventually you will use little pieces of all of them at different points in your career. For instance, I was more technically focused in school (engineering), and now I'm having a hard time catching up on the business aspect of things. I wish I had spent more time on at least some basic business minor. Oh well, hindsight is 20-20...

  • by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:04PM (#2795003)
    Very few employeers will go into great scrutiny over what degree you got. They might put some spotlight onto which college you got it from, if it is exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. Because you're in college, you've got to be careful not to focus too much on the degree type. In the real world, for the most part (rogue managers aside), it doesn't matter. It just matters that you got a "computer degree".

    Of course, I work with people at a "large company" that have photography degrees, technical college degrees, no degrees, and so forth. Basically, here's what the degree does for you:

    In some cases, it gets you hired. There will be some employeers that won't consider candidates without degrees.

    In almost all circumstances, it affects your ability to get a promotion. You can't reach _X_ level unless you have a degree. It is a golden rule. The college degree increases your cap. And it doesn't matter which degree you have, from what I have seen.

    Since it really doesn't matter much in real life, I would advocate two different goals:

    1] Go for the degree that will get you out of college easily and quickly.

    2] Go for the degree that will stretch you and help you to learn the most things that will help you along your career as your currently understand it.

    Of course, as mentioned earlier, for me, the business courses (which weren't really my main interest) has helped an incredible amount to understand the business world. And that is, after all, where I work!
  • The Correct Answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by kitplane01 (245414) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:04PM (#2795004)
    I'm a Professsor of CS. So I feel qualified to answer.

    CIS: A Business degree with computers in it. You will also learn marketing and accounting. You need to like business for this degree. Many people think this is the easiest of the degrees.

    Computer Engineering: This is a degree for hardware people. This is a degree for serious geeks who like math and logic, but don't want to become programmers.

    CS: This is a degree for people who want to program. We teach algorithms and writing code. We write programs.

    Just so we're clear, CS is the coolest of the choices!

    -Kitplane01
    • most CE's of course, learn a moderate amount of programming (after all, they need to know how to program the chips they'll create)

      It's not as in depth nor does it tackle some of the finer points of algorithmic analysis as CS.

    • As an addendum to the above, I'll state that at most universities, a computer engineering degree is essentially an electrical engineering degree with a focus on computers. Physics II (electromagnetism) was enough of a PITA for me that I knew I never wanted to be a computer engineer.
    • by Trepidity (597)
      CS: This is a degree for people who want to program. We teach algorithms and writing code. We write programs.


      This is highly dependent on the school. At many schools, CE is actually the degree for people who want to program, while CS is more for people who want to do research into computers - very heavy on math. After all, programming is simply implementing something, and specific implementations of concepts is almost the definition of engineering. Science, on the other hand, is typically concerned with research and coming up with new concepts (or refining old concepts), so computer science would then be more along the lines of coming up with a new sorting algorithm rather than implementing an existing one.

    • by JohnsonWax (195390) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @08:35PM (#2795332)
      Well, I help build these programs, so I too am qualified to answer. There's a lot of variability of these programs.

      CS can range from being a coder-mill to a real theory-based science program.
      CE can range from being almost exclusively EE applied to computers to being coding + some hardware.
      CSE (computer science engineering) and EE/CS tend to with some reliability balance hardware and software.
      SE (software engineering) focuses on the application of computer science to building software.

      Most day-to-day programmers that I've worked with aren't spending a lot of time designing algorithms or thinking out big-O problems. Instead, they spend most of their time working with a team of programmers trying not to step on one another.

      I'd say most programmers would actually benefit from a Software Engineering background, then a CS background, then a CSE, then a CE background. As for MIS, CIS, I'd advise getting one of the above degrees and having your employer send you for an MBA with a computing focus.

      When shopping for schools, ask about all the programs they offer and have them compare them. CS at one school may be nearly identical to CE at another.

      Personally, I think all the programs are cool...
    • Computer Engineering: This is a degree for hardware people. This is a degree for serious geeks who like math and logic, but don't want to become programmers

      My undergradute degree is Computer Engineering -- programming is what I do -- in fact, many Cpr Eng grads end up in software either by choice or because there are roughly 10 software jobs for every hardware jobs.

      In fact, the most common degree in our dept is some flavor of Engineering, but we've got a couple of Physics people, a couple CS, and some odder ones too.

      At this school, anyway CS, is for people who like theory, not programming.

    • by LordNimon (85072)
      I disagree that Computer Engineering is for hardware people that don't want to be a programmer. Yes, it's good for that, but it's also the perfect degree for programmers who want to get into device drivers or embedded systems development. In other words, any programming jobs that require you to understand hardware. That's what I use my Computer Engineering degree for.
  • Don't count on getting an actual useful education, esspecialy since you already have experience. Memorize what they tell you to memorize and then write it on the little peice of paper in different words and hand it to the professor. But do not neccisarily believe anything they tell you that you don't already know.

    I've met people with CS degrees that didn't have a clue. They could write C or C++ programs, but they needed strict guidelines, their "skills" essentialy made them word processors. And don't get me started on the CS graduates that don't understand that Windows isn't the ONLY OS out there. (Trust me, they exist, even now)
  • CS degree (Score:2, Informative)

    by Champaign (307086)
    I also graduated with a CS degree, so that's the only one I can really comment on. Most jobs I looked into (especially in the SF Bay area) wanted a CS degree, even for SysAdmin work (which to me, means they value something from the degree beyond technical competence, as I didn't take any courses that would have helped me with admin work).

    Basically, IMHO, a CS degree will qualify you for just about any TECHNICAL direction you decide to move in. Its definitely what I would suggest.
    • Basically, IMHO, a CS degree will qualify you for just about any TECHNICAL direction you decide to move in. Its definitely what I would suggest.

      You'd think so, but I have a CS degree and I've had a bitch of a time making the move to embedded systems. Eventually I just gave up on it; the main barrier to entry is experience, which in my case means either going back to school or getting a bunch of equipement and playing with it. Neither is an option right now. (C'est la vie.)

      Down the road it might be, but I'd still suggest computer engineering for maxiumum flexibility. Get to know your hardware!

  • Arg (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FigBugDeux (257259)
    Why is this question, or one very similar, an ask slashdot about once every week?

    My answer:
    Get whatever you want you want. All you need a degree for is to get your first job, after that, its experience and references that matter. So, get whatever degree you'll have the most fun getting. Comp Engineers, Comp Sci, College drops outs, we all work together, and we all do the same job. University is just there to seperate the rich from the poor and to enforce the class system.
  • MIS: Management Information Systems (other variations exist)
    CIS: Computer Information systems
    CS: Computer Science
    CE: Computer Engineering

    MIS is more business oriented. In theory, the major is supposed to provide a stong business flow education, while teaching some basic computer skills... enough to have a sense of what is going on.

    CIS is very similar to MIS at most schools. Some don't make a distinction. It's supposed to have a slightly more technical side than MIS. This is ideal for people working in IT deparments that want to go the management route, but with the technical side of things. Think of it as a techie with a bit of business understanding.

    CS is a science. It has a strong focus on programming, but you also learn about the lower level systems. This is for people who want to really understand not just what a computer is doing on the outside, but the theory behind its internal designs. You will often learn things such as processor architecture, compiler design, etc. This will MORE than prepare you for an IT position, and is what most people in the industry have (that have a degree that is).

    CE is very similar to CS. In fact, many schools don't make much of a distinction. However, CE is supposed to be more practically oriented. You still learn much of the theory, just not as advanced of it. What you do learn in exchange is engineering principles. You learn how to apply the theory and existing technology in real world situations... thus engineering. This is what I have. It tends to be a similar difficulty level as CS, but depends on the school. Many schools make this major harder since it carries an engineering title with it. It will very readily prepare you for the real world of computers, in theory.

    In light of all of this, each school may vary on their definitions of each major. Keep in mind that the piece of paper may help, but in current times, it's difficult to find a job even WITH a computer engineering degree and 5 years experience. I wish you best of luck, since I myself, am having difficulty.

    Cheers,
    -Alex
  • I'm a CS major who has taken various IS courses and I have to say there are many differences that I have taken notice of: (1) Class size in an IS course is larger than any CS course (of course I go to a small school so I guess I should say "your mileage may vary" here). (2) The quality of students (I'm just being honest here) is much higher in a CS class. I've seen many IS seniors that have no real interest in computers, just want to find work when they graduate. (3) As far as professors go, every CS teacher I've had is a Ph.D. and IS teachers tend to be adjuncts or assistant professors, at least, for the intro classes. Subsequently, I think that more is expected of you as a CS major.

    Basically, I would highly recommend going with CS. It has a more difficult curriculum but it opens your mind to some really interesting topics. So if you *like* to program and learn about interesting computer related topics then go with CS. If you want to be a great office user and "know" the ins and outs of how business works I would go with IS. Again, of course, your mileage may vary.

    Good luck,
    Dominick
  • They're all degrees (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kaellenn (540133)
    The most important thing to remember about getting any of these degrees is that they are just that: degrees. Oftentimes, you'll find that the most important part of having a degree is not what the degree is in, it's that you have one.

    As far as the different degrees go, to say that any one of them is better than the others is really only a matter of preference. It mostly depends on what you intend to do. Think about your true goals. If your desire is to be a great programmer, then a CS degree is probably the right choice for you. If, however, you are more the "project management" type who prefers to organize the team and the work on the project rather than doing most of the "down and dirty coding" themselves, then you should look into CIS/MIS.

    Take a look through some course outline manuals provided at your college of choice. Check out the curriculum for each of the programs, and read the descriptions of the classes you'll be taking along each of those paths. This can be a great help in deciding what field you're really looking into.

    One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to go for a CS degree when you really don't want to work in a "CS" environment. Make sure you fully understand the term "Computer Science" before seeking a degree in it; otherwise, you're likely to be very unhappy with your college experience.

    Just remember, the most important thing is having a degree. Your chosen major often has only minor influence in your chosen profession.
  • 10 second answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by cdrudge (68377) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:11PM (#2795039) Homepage
    When people ask me what the differences are, I tell them it kind of like a sliding scale. At one end, it is business only. At the other end, it is computer only.

    MIS - This is more towards the business end then the computer end. Basically, a business degree that taught visual basic also.
    CIS - Kind of in the middle. More computers then business, but doesn't have the harder math/science requirements if at all. At my university, this is what most people who couldn't hack the math requirements switched to.
    CS - More on the computer end then the business end. Programming, theory, and math. I think that this is the most desireable degree of the three, but it all depends on what you want to do I guess.
    • by SuperRob (31516) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:54PM (#2795191) Homepage
      MIS: Take this if you want to manage geeks, and actually understand what they're talking about. Take this if you ever want to get promoted. Take this if you like dealing with bureaucratic bullshit for 8 hours a day.

      CIS: Take this if you don't want anyone to understand what the fuck you're talking about. Take this if you can't figure out if you want to be a manager or a programmer, and are a wishy-washy pansy. Take this if you like computers, hate programming, and don't care about advancement.

      CS: Take this if you like making fun of people in code. Take this if you like sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen for 12 hours a day. Take this if you like being a prick with a superiority complex, and don't need a girlfriend.
    • Mind if i ask what school you went to? Basically I dropped out of UMass because I couldn't do the math and physics reqs (5 math, 2 physics courses for a cmpsci degree). I'm pretty much done with the actual CS track though. They don't offer a CIS degree.
      • Indiana University-Purdue Univesity Fort Wayne (IPFW [ipfw.edu])

        Here are the requirements for the different degrees: BS in CS [ipfw.edu] BA in CS [ipfw.edu] (all though I think I have only heard of 3 people ever getting the Bachelor of Arts degree) BS in IS [ipfw.edu] (They don't have a CIS degree...but I guess the IS degree is the same thing.) I don't think that they offer a MIS degree on this campus. You would need to go to the main IU campus in Bloomington for that. For what it's worth, all CS classes are apart of Purdue and my actual degree says Purdue, even though it is a joint campus between the two universities.
  • Big difference (Score:3, Informative)

    by archen (447353) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:11PM (#2795041)
    As everyone says here, MIS is more about buisness. The college I went to had a few courses that crossed over between CS and MIS. So about half way into the semester we get a fairly trivial programming assignment. The night before it was due I happened to be in the computer cluster, and nearby there were about 7 MIS people huddled around a computer trying to figure out how to open a file in C++ (third year students mind you!). From what I've seen, MIS people (in college anyway) can't code their way out of a paper bag. Generally I think you could do a lot more with a CS degree, and a few shiny certifacations.
  • flexibility (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rtphokie (518490)
    with a CIS degree you can work on the helpline, with a MIS degree you can run the helpline,
    with a CS degree you can create all the software the helpline people have to deal with for years after you;ve moved on to a new,more interesting project.
  • Actually here it's called BIS for Business Information Systems. I go to a school that most everybody wouldn't consider a shining beacon of technology, although we are pretty strong in engineering.

    I chose not to go with CS because I don't want to be a programmer. I think I'd be decent at the job, it's just not what I want to do for the rest of my life. So I chose BIS.

    Let me tell you a little about my classmates. I've yet to meet another one who runs Linux (some have tried it). Some of them type slowly (I consider that to be 25 wpm or less). Some of them struggle with what I consider basic computing concepts, such as FTP and command-line input. There are some just plain idiots, but most of my classmates are fairly intelligent, both in "book sense" and in "common sense."

    I haven't been too impressed with the faculty so far. My VB teacher probably only knew enough VB to teach the (entry-level) course, and he didn't seem to know much about computers other than that. As an example, someone told me a couple of years ago that in class he mentioned that he couldn't check his school email from home because he used AOL (nevermind that it was entirely possible to telnet in and check it). I had a COBOL professor that I liked, he knew the material and was kind of fun to talk to. I'm taking an advanced COBOL class this semester with a professor who has a masters from Harvard, so I'm looking forward to that.

    You'll probably notice that some people talk about what a joke an MIS degree is. In a way, that's true. CS majors have to learn all kinds of technical material (and don't forget you'll probably have to take at least through Calculus 3 or 4 for a CS degree), but they do miss out on some of the business material (hey, not *all* of it is common sense). A lot of BIS/MIS majors will never venture outside the required assignments in an attempt to learn a little more. But it's necessary if you really want to learn and be valuable outside of the classroom.
  • cs was a traditional programing and math sort of cs (actually, this is not strictly true...we did a lot more application than your average program)

    cis was pretty much cs, but sans the math. They replaced it with business courses

    mis was a business degree with some cs thrown in. Probably more like a technical manager sort of program.
  • I went to Purdue and opted for the Electrical Engineering Technology program. I saw a variety of people in that program and in the Electrical Engineering program. Each were run by their respective schools. Most people want to assume that they are similar programs run by similar people. They are entirely indepedant,however.

    As I started looking for a job, I ran into some opposition because most employers in the design field only want EE's. However, if you can prove that your a competent in your field, then your degree only serves to show what your general background includes. I, now, work for Agilent (HP's Test Equipment spin-off.) I'm an application engineer fresh out of college. My only other experience was an engineering internship at Dell. I find it funny I got the job, because I was talking to one of the salesguys I support and he told me that they interviewed several EET type people. However, he wasn't comfortable hiring someone without a EE. My manager decided to go out on a limb because he said I was the only one that he felt comfortable with in the interview. And, surprisingly, I was the only one who correctly explained setup/hold times and crosstalk. When the I showed the salesguy my wallet diploma, his jaw dropped.

    He was shocked because he realized it was me they hired and not my piece of paper. Granted, I'm not saying degrees aren't important. What I am saying is, there is more importance on what you take out of the program you choose, than the program itself. I am lucky to have gone to Purdue where all of its acedmics fly high. I am also lucky to have correctly choosen my career path. I exceled where (many many) many like me do not.
  • by Nerftoe (74385) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:27PM (#2795104)
    There's a 509 comment Slashdot discussion from almost a year ago here. [slashdot.org]
  • My Experience (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rgraham (199829)
    Student Perspective:

    I majored in CIS and minored in CS. The reason? When I started at college I knew I wanted to do something with computers but I didn't really know what and the CIS department gave a much broader sampling than the CS department did. At my school the *only* thing they taught in the CS program was programming, math, programming and programming while the CIS dept. taught programming, math, DBs, web, system analysis, netowkring plus a slew of business classes (including accounting, finance, law, management). I decided to stick with the CIS major since I really liked professors and enjoyed the various classes but I made the decision to pickup the CS minor to help bolster my programming skills since that was the career path I decided to take, at least for a few years.

    Employer Perspective:

    As someone who has been on both sides of the table during job interviews I can honestly say that it really doesn't make much difference which degree you have. You'll of course run into the occasional CS snob who won't hire a CIS graduate and vice a versa with a CIS snob not hiring a CS graduate (of course, some employers also look down on graduate from certain schools as well). Employers see your diploma as a symbol that you have, for the lack of a better word, the sticktoitness, to work/figth your way through your studies and graduate. What's going to seperate you is the way you sell yourself and your references and past work experience.

    Also, keep in mind do what you enjoy.
  • by cdgod (132891)
    Here in Canada the MIS degree I am finishing had plenty of programming. It is nearly impossible to finish the "Commerce with Honours in Management Information System" degree in 4 years.

    It has the full compliment of Commerce courses, and with, what I would consider, 40% of the CSI courses. Some of the languages we learn are:
    C++
    Scheme
    Lisp
    Prolog
    Pascal
    Java
    VB (yes but this is in a business course on CS)
    Database Courses (PL SQL, etc)

    We have to take all the advance calculus and algebra courses. We do not go into "discrete" math.

    I feel confident that I can go into a any software company and start working on any of their code with some simple intros of the project.

    The highly respect the MIS degree. Hell, during many of the CS labs, I was the one helping out the CS students create collections in java, and use recursion in Scheme, and inherited classes in C++

    BTW: I am not done the degree yet... there is still a micro circuit/logic course and a few more Project Managment courses.

    Again, it is a very well-rounded degree. You get from it what you wish to take from it.

    Frank
  • biz vs. science (Score:2, Interesting)

    by martinflack (107386)

    When you take CS you're saying you want to be a scientist. It will come with all the subjects you'd expect from science, including some tough math, physics, etc.

    When you take [MC]IS you're saying you want to be a businessperson. Similarly, it will come with subjects relevant to business, like marketing, accounting, finance, etc.

    I think generally MIS and CIS are extremely close and schools tend to name them depending on their focus, or perhaps just arbitrarily.

    At most institutions, you'll be in a different school based on your choice between [MC]IS vs CS so it's also worth checking out how well your schools of Business and Sciences are run, how praised the professors are, etc. For example, at my university [fgcu.edu], our College of Business is by far the best run and most popular college of the several colleges we have. Also, the Business colleges tend to be a little bit more tied into the business community at smaller schools, so if you plan to get a local job later and you like networking, you might want to go that route.

  • CIS or CS (Score:2, Informative)

    by atomicityCTO (548756)
    I have a CIS degree and CS minor and really enjoyed all of the business courses and CS courses. Matter of fact now I own my own IT consulting firm and I think that without the business courses I would have never taken the chance of starting my own business.

    I suggest that if you like the business side then go with the CIS degree and a second minor in CS.

    BTW, as far as a degree making you a good programmer I think the only thing that can do that is experience, patience, curiosity, and determination. One of the best C/C++ programmers that I know has a degree in Mass Communications.

    My 2 cents,

    atomicityCTO
  • CS vs. CIS (Score:2, Informative)

    by NovaX (37364)
    I've never seen an MIS curriculum, so wont comment on it, but the CS vs. CIS is pretty simple. So there's gonna be tons of these quick summeries.

    CIS usually is a lot of intro level courses in CS and business. Such as in CS, you would take introductionary CS classes, a basic theory one (perhaps only Discrete Structures or maybe one more too), a few general programming classes (System's programing = GUI, etc). Nothing to hard, most programming classes so you know how to code and basics of a computer, but not how to solve problems (algorithms), software design, or see more complex/in depth material.

    Instead you get a similar intro into business. Its not a CS degree or business degree. Perhaps its sort of like an associate's in both majors. So its usually considered a joke by CS people since its lighter and not very technical.

    A CS degree is not programming, but how to think andn solve problems. Its how to design software, analyze situations, write industrial level code. Its not learning a trade or special skill. The CIS is more like that. But you don't learn business, so an MBA or something would be important.

    The difference is what you want to leap into. If your interested in CS and business, and confused on which.. go for the CIS. You can jump either ship later to go more full fledged, or go into masters for more of what you like (CS, MBA, etc). If you know you like both and want to invest the time, do a CS and MBA to get the strongest of both worlds.
  • by RobPiano (471698)
    Basically the degrees leave you with different options, but as with all things if you really want to go another way when you are finished, its possible.

    A CS track is setup so that when you are done you can go into a research oriented program.

    A CIS track is setup so that when you are done you can go into a MBA program.

    A MIS degree is a terminal degree intended on getting you experience with the software that companies use.

    MIS gets you a job and gets you making money. CIS does too and you can end up making even more if you get the MBA. CS is cool if you want to have a more geeky job, like programming games.

    Good luck!!
    Rob
  • Open University? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chazR (41002) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:46PM (#2795162) Homepage
    It takes three years to get a degree (minimum). Do you honestly want to be poor for three years?

    If you are currently hacking in C++, you are probably paid quite well. Trust me, you don't want to be poor again.

    I had a similar problem. Went to university to do maths, ended up doing astrophysics, ran out of money, had to get a real job.

    A few years later, I discovered you couldn't get a job without a first degree. So, I enrolled with the Open University [open.ac.uk]. I signed on for the MSc in Computing for Commerce and Industry [open.ac.uk] program. I can't speak highly enough about this course.

    If you *really* want, you could get the MSc in three years. That would leave you no spare time whatsoever. Four years is attainable. Five years is the most usual.

    The great thing is, you don't have to stop working. The hard thing is, it takes 1-3 hours a day of deep concentration.

    You don't need a first degree before you start.

    It is a *real* postgradute qualification. It's hard. You'll learn about operating systems, software engineering and programming in ways you hadn't thought about. You can do modules in anything from business and marketing to telecoms switching.

    It's fun and demanding. At the end you get an MSc from a University that is highly respected globally for it's teaching.

    It costs about $9000 over five years.

    The best bit is, you can say to a prospective employer "I'm currently working for my Master's degree. Any chance of you helping with money/time?". This defuses the "Why haven't you got a degree?" question.

    If you do the Objects couse, you get to learn Smalltalk as well. What more could you want?
    • thanks for the link!

      here [open.edu] is the U.S. link for those of us on this side of the pond.

      again - great idea...appreciate the link (as i forward it to my brother who is currently in college!)

  • I guess it boils down to this question: what do you want to become (eventually) after you return to the working life.

    If you want to become a development guru, who manages the technical side of projects, makes technical decisions, discusses implementation details and really knows & understands the technical choices you'll face and make, CS is the way to go.

    If you want to move up the corporate ladder, become a manager who's satisfied with the prespective from 10 miles up, get an MIS degree.

    One thing which is important to keep in mind though: most companies will hire you with either degree for the simple matter that you've got a degree and know about computers. What you do (and which direction you develop in) once you've got the choice is pretty much up to you. It really depends on where your interests lie.

    I did CS and notice on a regular basis that my technical background is much more solid than the MIS guys I run into. On the other hand, they have a better understanding of business matters, understand accounting issues, etc. Since I don't really care for their business perspective and have pretty technical job, this suits me just fine :-)

    A teacher of mine once said "make your job your hobby and your hobby your job". I think this generally is good advice. Study what truly interests you; the rest will fall into place given some time and energy ...
  • SAN/CS vs. MIS (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CodemonKeygen (515811)
    I'm just going to start this off by saying that no matter what your degree is, you'd better be good at it if you want to get a job. A friend of mine is a CIS minor who is a better programmer than half of the students in our SAN/CS department. Though its true that he shouldn't have any problems getting jobs after his first, it is the first that is the hardest. I imagine that if he were competing for a programming job with a CS major the CS major would win handsdown because of the degree.

    Now for my $.02 worth about the MIS majors at my university [muohio.edu]....
    I decided to take one of our lower level CS courses on COBOL to try and kill a few hours. As it just so happened the prof. teaching is the MIS 'liason' in the CS dept. Long story short, I've never ever been in a class were the prof. suggested to the students that the class they were in was too hard and they should take something easier. This was directed specifically at the MIS students. This was a 200 level course, with the prof. suggesting 100 level courses.
    When the profs. admit there is an intellegence gap...well, I'll let you go from there.
  • CS deals with the thoeretical aspects of computation. As is often quoted here on /., Edsgar Dijkstra once pointed out that Computer Science is as much about computers as astronomy is about telescopes. Indeed, in your undergraduate curriculum at an accredited university, you will never take a required Computer Science course wherein the main goal is to learn how to program. Always there will be a theoretical end which is sought. In fact, I would say that Computer Science is simply a branch of mathematics which concerns itself with what is computable given a certain amount of time and a certain amount of space, and the classification of known problems via verification of reducibility of various sorts (look up the Cook-Levin Theorem).

    Basically, Computer Science is way more enjoyable than learning how to deal with the fleeting technology of the moment, and I recommend it strongly if the search for universal truths is your bag.

    P.S. If you just want to learn a language, learn LISP. It's a good one.
  • by Jacco de Leeuw (4646) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:56PM (#2795202) Homepage
    ... and an MBA?

    Well, this cartoon [netland.nl] (the one on the right) says it all...

    (Shamelessly stolen from mit.edu, years and years ago -- mail me if you know who drew it!)

  • by Spezzer (101371)
    This probably will seem very redundant but the fact that 'having a degree goes much farther than what degree you get' is very true. In my dad's old startup company (Cacheflow), there was a high-level officer who did work related to computer engineering exclusively, and it was a very lucrative business at the time (tech boom about 1-2 years ago). Yet, his degree wasn't a Masters in CS, CIS, or MIS, but a Ph.D in Physics.

    I guess when you know that much physics, math must come pretty natural to you so learning CS wouldn't be as difficult. Yet it is probably not as important as to what degree you get as it is to pursuing a degree that interests you and works with your natural talents so you can excel while getting the degree. Although I'm not in college yet, I would assume those that find their major fairly easy have more time to explore other research opportunities, but in all likelihood that might not be true. I guess I'll have to find out.

    Either way, from observation it seems that you shouldn't pursue a degree and then feel burned out in it, because usually it's more about the type of work you're forced to do in college than it is the subject being taught. When I have to choose, I'll take the one that I'm interested in and can do well in.

    The question I find more appropriate is, if you wanted to get the highest level job in a company, would having a specific degree help you attain it or does it then matter on your qualifications as a worker in the field?
  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @08:09PM (#2795257)

    A lot of posters here have pointed out the difference between the business skills courses (MIS, etc.) and the development skills courses (CS, SE, etc.). I agree with them, and on that basis, I'll offer a small company's perspective, when it comes to recruiting.

    We're looking for programming skills. The team leaders here all have a strong programming background, and most of the project management is done by the senior leads. We're even blessed with a technical director who's hands-on, and therefore has at least the slightest idea what he's talking about, which seems to be more than most. :-)

    From that point of view, when we're recruiting new grads, we say "any degree", but certainly a higher rating is given to those with a CS or Software Engineering certificate. I know I personally got shortlisted because I'd done a 1 year post-grad diploma in CS after my math degree; other people got listed other ways, of course, but that's what did it for me. With a few years of professional experience behind you, this may be less relevant, but it would still count.

    The last people we look at are often those with MIS type degrees. We don't need more managers in a small company. Once, we even had a guy come up to us at a recruitment event, and tell us he wanted to go straight into project management. A quick quiz demonstrated that he knew zip about programming, and yet thought he was qualified to manage a programming team. Needless to say, we never even bothered reading his CV. That's not to say all MIS guys are like this, but it's certainly a stereotype that's all too close to the truth for many.

    One guy right at the top of the thread made the point beautifully, when he noted how the MIS guys laugh at CS guys who don't know their [buzzword deleted] from their [buzzword deleted]. Strangely, I've never heard any of the management team at our place use these terms, yet they seem to manage to run projects lasting several years without going out of business. Draw your own conclusions.

    Obviously, this may be very different in a large company. Our teams are all small enough that everyone knows what's going on, and communication between team members and different subteams is strong. In a larger company running really big projects, perhaps all those extra management skills are more useful. But for a small outfit, you want the programming background if you're going to get in at all.

  • Degree? (Score:2, Interesting)

    I'm surprised that anyone would still value academic qualifications in a highly technical field. In my experience this is not what a potential employer looks for in computing. In more twenty years of employment in IT, I think I may have been asked about my academic qualifications twice. I don't even list them on my CV. Nor would I hire a candidate for an IT project on the basis of academic qualifications.

    So could it be something else that's holding you back?

  • Purdue University (Score:2, Informative)

    by adamjone (412980)

    This will vary by the college or university that you consider attending. I graduated from the Electrical and Computer Engineering [purdue.edu] department of Purdue University [purdue.edu] in 1999 with a B.S. in Computer Engineering. My brother graduated this past December from the Computer Science [purdue.edu] department. I work with several people who graduated from one of the schools of technology [purdue.edu]. I would summarize the various degrees as follows:

    • Computer Science: Very focused on math and the theory behind algorithms. Basic and advanced programming courses in C++ and Java. Some exposure to databases.
    • Computer Engineering: Very focused on physics and computing logic. Basic and advanced programming courses in C. Some exposure to object oriented techniques.
    • Technology: Focused on practical applications of technology. Courses cover database management, operating systems, network architectures. Some light programming courses.

    A number of people in Computer Engineering later switched to Electrical Engineering or Computer Science, as they wanted to focus either more on hardware or more on software. All three degrees (EE, CE, CS) received approximately the same number of offers at graduation, and at roughly the same pay level. Students from the Technology department received just as many offers, but at a lower pay level.

    I would suggest that if you liked your IT job, go for a Technology degree with a minor in management. You may not get as much utility from a CS or CE degree.

  • I think the most important knowledge you can gain from university is the theoretical foundations behind programming - namely, the principles and design of algorithms and data structures. Your don't necessarily need theoretical computer science (finite state devices, pushdown automata, Turing machines - they're fun, but you could just read Neal Stephenson), but I have many MIS-degreed colleagues who come unstuck when a new technology arrives because they never learned the fundamentals.

    My university (Canterbury, New Zealand) did not have a specific MIS department. Instead, the Accountancy department had some MIS-type courses (business focus, some simple programming in DBase, which was a waste of time), and the Computer Science department had some other MIS-type courses (systems analysis and design). So my degree includes system-oriented CS, business-oriented CS, business-MIS-theory, and theoretical CS. I recommend the subjects in that order.

  • While you are likely to get a variety of answers from posting on /., you might wish to consider asking that same question to the admissions (and department faculty) at the schools you apply to. Be sure that you understand how each school considers each major and what their focus is. I'm sure answers will vary from school to school as well.
  • Get at least a BS in something with at least a minor in CS or CIS as fast as you can. With the 4+ years experience in the field, you can probably CLEP (test) out of quite a few of the courses with applied credit.

    From what I've seen, you could get a BS in bird watching and still meet the specs. heh strange but true.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    [Boy, all the CS professors are coming out today]

    I'm a professor of CS. Here's how I see the following degrees.

    • Computer Science. This is the software degree. You learn how to design computer software.
    • Computer Engineering. This is the hardware degree. You learn how to design computer hardware.
    • Software Engineering. This is a terribly named degree, because of a field which appropriated the term. Oh, well. Here you learn how to design computer software, but your focus is much more in the abstract. Software engineers learn how to be program managers. The trouble with this degree is that people with Philosophy degrees and Psychology degrees and Org Behavior degrees are also often program managers, and competent ones at that. Companies know this. In my opinion, a degree in Software Engineering is not viewed with nearly the respect that Computer Science is viewed. If you want to build software a CS degree. If you want to research Software Engineering, get a PhD in CS with an SE emphasis. Otherwise, get something else.
    • Computer and Information Sciences. There are two kinds of people who take this degree. First, there are the people who want a major in using computer technology, perhaps with a businessy emphasis, without the rigor of a MIS degree. Second, there are people who want a major in computer science without the rigor of a CS degree. Neither of these justifications is well received in the workforce. I think CIS is generally perceived as CS Lite.
    • Management and Information Systems. This is for people who want to plan the database and networking business strategy for corporations and large organizations, but not actually build them. That's a different set of tools than CS provides.
    • Information Technology. This degree, not very common yet, tries to bridge between CS and MIS. I think it is presently (and perhaps unfairly) viewed with the same skepticism as CIS.

    So there you have it. In terms of difficulty, I think the CE is toughest, followed by CS, then MIS and SE, then IT and CIS. In terms of perception, I think CS and CE are perceived with the most respect, then MIS and SE, then IT and CIS. Strange how perception follows from difficulty. :-) If you want to program, get CS. If you want to do the business side, get MIS. If you want to build hardware, get CE. CS has by far the most job options. If you don't know what you want to do, and you can hack it, CS is the right route.

  • There are three kinds of degrees: Computer Engineering (CE), Computer Science (CS), and Information Services (IS). All people start out studying CE, but the ones that the Electrical Engineering is too hard/boring for drop down to CS. The ones that find math/theory/command lines too hard then degrade even further into studying IS. Of course, some people jump right in where they belong, but I know I had to start out in CE and drop to CS before finding my niche. I just pitty the people who drop further to IS...

    Although, I do know one guy who went from CE to CS to IS and back to CS. I guess he had to have a little of each before figuring out what the good one is.
  • Search your soul (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hazem (472289)
    It is a very difficult thing to do, but search your soul and ponder what you REALLY want to do. Don't just think about the next job, or 5 years from now, but try to imagine yourself THIRTY or fourty years from now! What do you think you would like to be doing then?

    I have been working as a systems administrator for 5 years while getting a degree in Middle East Studies. I'm still working as a Sysadmin - pays the bills nicely. But now I'm working on an MBA, though I seriously considered backtracking and getting a Masters degree in Computer Engineering (I have already finished 2 years of engineering). The moral of the story is that I don't really want to be an engineer, and I don't want to be a systems administrator. I do want to work with companies that want to work in the Middle East. My tech skills won't be wasted - if I ever become a PHB, I'll at least understand the poor techies when they sigh at the other PHBs who demand that all internet services be served from Microsoft IIS and Exchange!

    Read the book "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coehlo. It's all about finding your "personal legend" - that thing that you truly want, and then trying to get it. Find what you want to do - in the long term. Nothing you learn is wasted if you find a way to apply it and use it. Learn those things that help you be what you really want to be.

    It's not about the degree... it's about you.
  • Hi. I graduated with a degree of BS in CS a little over a year ago and have yet to get a stable IT position or some other software related job. I have been told several times now by recuiting agencies (those that acknowledge my existance, that is) and those that I have interviewed with that I am not employable because I have that degree. In short, they don't want people who have a degree because they are unwilling to pay for it. It's quite fustrating, really. This is after an approximate six month's (I was laid off from a part time server-sitting job in June) worth of calling, faxing, and emailing of resumes and more.


    The question is amusing becuase of this same mixed message that keeps getting sent out. You want to get a degree so that you can be seen as promotable via vis you can continue to learn, etc. At the same time, those that want to hire know that you, I, and everybody else who have achieved an eduction expects to compesated at some level for bringing that to the bargining table. Yet there are those that are somewhat shy about telling you that an education puts you beyond their "needs" or "requirements" for the position.


    The point being is this: If you are currently employeed in a more or less secure position ask your supervisor/manager/whatever if the company will help out in some way first. First of all, this can help to avoid the situation that I'm in right now. Secondly it can help keep the school bills a bit lower as most employers have some sort of program to help defray the costs (as at the same time they can benefit as you are earning your degree).

  • by cfulmer (3166) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @10:34PM (#2795713) Homepage Journal
    The differences in the degrees is easy enough to find out -- just look at the differences in the cirriculum. As far as what you can do with each once you get out...

    Generally, the MIS people work in (or sometime are) the IS/IT departments of a company -- they're the people who keep the computers running, and develop the software used to keep the business running, often by starting with a known package and tweaking it to meet the company's needs. These folks are responsible for things like the payroll systems, purchasing, employee tracking and so on.

    On the other hand, the CS people are generally on the product development side -- they're the ones writing the control systems for the satellites, writing the DSP code for en/de-coding MP3 files, designing missile control systems, writing compilers or designing operating systems. THere's a big research side to CS.

    There's certainly some cross-over and the two sides are not exclusive -- you'll often find a bunch of old physics guys doing the CS-type work, for example.

    My experience has been that the CS side pays better in industry.
  • by Bystander (227723) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @10:47PM (#2795768)
    What is clear from all the previous comments is that the differences between degrees has a lot to do with how individual schools define their specific missions. In general, the distinctions between science, engineering, and management is supposed to be that science is concerned more with investigating how things work and coming up with new ways to do things better, engineering is more concerned with applying known principles to solving real-world problems, and management is concerned with efficiently controlling how resources (people, equipment, capital, etc...) are applied in work within organizations. Rather than concentrate on the particular name an institution chooses to give a degree, a prospective student should check each program at a school he/she is interested in for where they place the most emphasis.

    Having attended three different academic institutions over the past 24 years, and receiving both graduate and undergraduate degrees in electrical and computer engineering and computer science, I can say some things about what I've observed. One way schools can be divided is by the emphasis they place on research vs. teaching. A computer science degree from a research oriented school will tend to focus more on the science part of CS, such as theory, operating systems, compilers, etc. because they are interested in generating more graduate students to do research. A CS degree from a teaching oriented school will tend to focus more on applied subjects like programming, databases, software design, etc. because they are mostly turning out people who will immediately be looking for outside jobs. Degrees from either kind of school are fine for getting a job afterwards, since many of the same core subjects will be taught virtually everywhere and many employers won't really know the difference. However, if you plan on applying to graduate schools later for a more advanced degree, they will know which category your school fits in.

    One way to divide programs within schools is by which college or major division runs the program. Some schools have CS programs originating from an engineering college or division, while others tie them into an arts and science college or division. At some schools, the CS programs have had their roots in the math department. Programs with engineering roots will generally require the student to spend more time fulfilling engineering-specific requirements such as calculus, circuit theory, physics, etc. This often doesn't leave much time for other electives. Programs with roots in arts and science will have their own sets of required courses, which may allow time for taking more business oriented electives along the way.

    Computer engineering (CompE) degrees are often a hybrid program between a traditional CS program and an electrical engineering (EE) program. Whether you get more or less software vs. hardware in these programs depends a lot on which department has the most influence at a particular school. Sometimes the program is run as a joint one between two different departments, and their quality depends a lot on the amount of cooperation that exists between them. Be careful to check with other people who have gone through a particular CompE program to see if they believe the program was successful or not in bridging the two disciplines and what approach was taken.

    The general rule to take from all of this is that there are no general rules differentiating the kinds of programs at different schools for CS and CompE programs. Each school is different, and you need to investigate each one thoroughly to see if going there will meet your needs.

  • As a CS guy I've snidely referred to MIS programs as "majoring in Word and Excel". My experience has been that CS curricula teach you "how computers work" (which isn't just programming) whereas MIS curricula teach "how to use computers to get TEH MONEYS." Which you choose depends on what you want to do but CS people usually have much deeper knowledge of the technology involved. (There are CS guys with strong business skills also.)
  • The way I see it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gleef (86) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @11:51PM (#2795998) Homepage
    I have no credentials beyond being a professional programmer who is involved in the interview process where I work, and someone keeps my eyes open. The following is the computer degree situation.

    There are two benefits to going to school for a degree:
    1. You meet people who might be able to help you find employment, you get this more in a college with a "name". The private colleges with biggest names are MIT, Stanford and CMU. The public ones are University of Michigan and UC Berkeley.
    2. Completing a Bachelor's degree proves to any employer that you are willing to put up with four years of bullshit to achieve a goal, a Masters means even more. This is very important to prove to the business world, because they expect you to wade through more bullshit, this is why they call it work.
    From my point of view, none of the academic computing programs teach enough job skills to be able to say "ok, anyone with a BS in Computer Science can do this job", so it really doesn't matter what the degree is in. A B.S. holds more weight with me than a B.A., since a B.S. from a College Board accredited school means that you can do math and put together a lab manual, both of which show skills that are useful (but not essential) in a typical IT job (yes, I know lab manuals are not standard in computing, I'm talking about the skill of being able to write down what you are doing, which is important).

    Beyond that, Physics is as good as Computer Science, Philosophy as good as Scuplture. Don't skimp on learning computing skills, and experience on real computer projects, that's essential, just not the name on the degree.

    The bottom line for me, a degree means the person has a small edge over the competition, everyone has to prove to me that they can learn, but college grads don't have to prove as much that they can put up with crap, the degree says so. The edge is a small one, at least in my book.

    Now, I know that there are plenty of jobs that won't even give you an interview unless you have letters after your name. If they are more interested in your degree status than what skills you can offer a company, that's their loss, are you sure it's a company you want to work for anyway? If you really do want to work for such a company, find out what degree they prefer (call them up and ask them), and go for that one. While you are in school, make sure you seek an internship with your desired employer as well, you cannot beat knowing your potential employer when it comes to finding a job.
  • Others have said this before thousands of times. College is/should be about learning critical thinking. This doesn't mean just programming. It means having the skills to analyze anything. Don't limit yourself to just CS/EE/CE. Major in something that will really challenge you and make you grow as a person. This means it should be something that you think would be hard enough that you might fail or fall flat on your face.

    You'll graduate with an appreciation for the education you got, instead of walking out with complaints like the ones posted on /. If you're just doing it for money, skip all that and get certs like everyone else said.

    Look beyond the degree and do it for yourself first. This way no matter what happens after the degree, you won't doubt the value of the time and energy spent.

  • by Snowfox (34467) <<ten.xofwons> <ta> <xofwons>> on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:35AM (#2796508) Homepage
    • Quite simple indeed:
    • You hire a CS guy to improve or develop new technology.
    • Then you hire an MIS to help run the office software, write randomly nifty or dangerous little Visual Basic apps, and to thumb through "Everything For Dummies" a lot.
    • Lastly, you hire a CIS to run the servers and protect the CS from the MIS.
  • by old_n_anal (255947) on Monday January 07, 2002 @02:29AM (#2796752)
    I'll try to keep it short and sweet. Personal background is CS degree doing heavy technical programming. Current gig is running a stable of developers for an accounting firm.

    The gang is primarily MIS grads with a couple of CS folks thrown in. The finding so far is that the MIS folks are satisfactory coders (with a strong preference for 4GL tools.. PowerBuilder, Lotus Notes, VB..) and, depending on training, pretty good at PL/SQL. All get good pay and have decent prospects for the future (as coders, or in the client service side of things).

    I have come to rely on the CS types to establish policies, procedures, and guidelines as well as bearing the responsibility for designing all of the software.

    YMMV with different MIS programs but around here they simply don't have the formal training in software engineering, formal methodologies, algorithm analysis, etc. Basically, left to their own devices, they don't build very good software. (if you think back to the days of 7 levels of correctness, we're talking level 3 here)

    So... in this software shop (remember, accounting firm):
    CS - get the design work, tend to supervise the MIS grads. Good job security, but limited advancement opportunities unless the number of products grows. Better pay.
    MIS - get grunt work, poor job security if they limit themselves to only code work (evil phrases like "dime a dozen" come to mind). Less pay. Generally better opportunities to progress in the "business" side of things.

    ---
    Oh yeah, BSCS (not BACS) means 20+ hours of math.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN

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