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How Important is a Well-Known CS Degree? 1280

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

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  • Experience is key... (Score:5, Informative)

    by danielrm26 ( 567852 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:28PM (#10965683) Homepage
    I honestly don't think it matters much. I imagine there are a few organizations that it does matter to, but I think those are few and far between.

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

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

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

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

    In short, degrees and certifications are "get you in the door"-oriented credentials; the big jobs rarely go this breed of applicant.
    • by solodex2151 ( 700977 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:36PM (#10965822)
      Experience is definitely the key, and many times more important than a piece of paper saying you know what you know + 20%. I know of several highly succesful people (including some CS folks) that are still going through college, yet they get regularly hired by companies to do high end jobs and are picked above people coming from prestigous universities. A degree is one thing, but experience serves as proof that you can do the job and are worth it. If possible, start building up your job portfolio now. Intern with a company or program on the side. That will make you a far more favorable candidate in the future than any piece of paper will.
    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:36PM (#10965827)
      Degrees can also make you more flexible. If you're, say, a Perl programmer without a degree, the only jobs people will hire you for is Perl programming. If you're a Perl programmer with a CS degree, you are far more likely to get hired for jobs using, say, C++ if the Perl market is dry where you are. You are also more likely to be considered as a candidate for management, if that's what you want, if you have a degree behind you.

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

      As for schools, in my experience, the only schools that have been looked at with derision are the known degree-factory schools, particularly online and "nationally accredited" schools like the University of Phoenix. If the school sounds like a traditional university, it probably doesn't make a whole lot of difference which one it is.
      • by bigman2003 ( 671309 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:02PM (#10966240) Homepage
        Your post describes EXACTLY why I am in school right now to get my degree.

        I currently have a pretty decent job- without a degree, but with about 7 years of solid experience.

        But I know if I want to move into management (which I do) or if I need to change out of my 'specialty', my chances without a degree are very slim. But, with a degree, and my experience, I can move around a lot more.

        Since I am only going at night, I still have quite a few more years to go. But I'm hoping that I finally finish my degree the day before my head explodes because I am sick and tired of writing code. Then it will be my chance to be the clueless boss who assigns impossible projects without any clear objective, reasonable timeline, or decent support.
      • It's not the degree that makes you flexible, it is, in truth, your experience and your willingness to learn. There are a lot of programmers out there that don't have any kind of CS degree (me for one), or much formal training in programming, that are doing quite nicely.

        Even though I didn't get the formal CS training in college or university, I have learned my trade from the masters (you should see my book collection) of various disiplines and languages.

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

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

      • by The Snowman ( 116231 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:49PM (#10966035)

        In most cases the degree does have significant weight, and given two people who are more or less equal, the guy with paper will win.

        Not to mention the degree will get you past the HR department.

      • by badmammajamma ( 171260 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:52PM (#10966091)
        I disagree completely. I have yet to be involved with an interview where the degree was a deciding factor for anyone and I've been in this business for 16 years. It ALWAYS comes down to experience and how well you do on the technical interview. People underestimate technical interviews. Here's how the decision is typically made in my experience:

        60% Experience (this is what gets you in the door)
        39% Interview (this is what gets you hired)
        1% Piece of paper

        Nobody puts weight on the paper because everyone knows that schools do not prepare programmers for the real world.

        About the only exception I could see to the 1% rule is if you come from a particularly prestigious institution like MIT, CalTech, etc. That said, people who come from institutions like that usually do very well in the interview because they are ultra-geeks. In any event, since the percentage of the population coming from those places is extremely small, it's not really a factor.
        • The other thing is are you going to stop with a BS? If you have your heart set on Google, IBM, or Intel you may want to consider getting at least a Masters if not a PHD. A BS is okay but like the guy said unless it is from CalTech or MIT who really cares. It is a piece of paper. I do not have a degree myself but one of the last people I interviewed did. I was a little disappointed since he knew less about computer science than I did. He did know to write his own hash or btree! I was very disappointed when I
        • by angst_ridden_hipster ( 23104 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:42PM (#10966846) Homepage Journal
          I disagree.

          I'm not saying your wrong about your experience, obviously, but I have been on both sides of the process and have seen degrees make a big difference. I've seen people with great experience lose out to people from the "right institution."

          Here're a few reasons:
          - Some institutions, particularly service-related companies, are vain about the statistics they can cite. I worked with a Big Consulting Company once who had a VP who would frequently state that over 25% of their employees had PhDs from Berkeley, Stanford, or MIT. I asked him what their GPAs were as a joke, but he took it entirely seriously, and told me he could find out. For companies and people like that, the image is as important as the education. Their product is design audits, system reviews, etc, so they're essentially selling confidence to other companies. They sell to upper management, not the engineers, so easily-recognized indications of quality (i.e., reputation) are important.

          - Insecure hiring/HR people. It's like the old "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" mentality. It's a defensive mechanism.

          - It's cultural, too. Certain cultures put more emphasis on titles and institutions than others. American culture (whatever that is :) ) tends to be much more pragmatic and about ability rather than titles. But I've worked with recent immigrants from various places where that is not the case -- I saw an excellent potential employee turned down because his degree was from a "second-rate" university.

          Also, people's prejudices come out in the hiring environment. University degrees are easily verified, while experience may or may not be.

          And experience can be a slippery thing, too. I hired someone once who gave an outstanding interview and who had amazing knowledge of Unix development. This person turned out to be very talented, but unable to follow directions at all, or even perform the job requirements. It wasn't a lack of ability, it was an unwillingness to work with the requirements that our client had imposed. A university degree here would have been a good thing -- it indicates that someone is capable of, for want of a better phrase, being compliant and going along with the bullshit that jobs unfortunately often require. Being talented and knowledgable is not enough. You have to be able to deal with and compromise with people who are less talented, situations that are not ideal, and, as you call it, the real world.

          Anyway, that's my take on it. Yes, experience is very important, but I wouldn't overlook a good degree as a tool for getting yourself hired.

        • by autophile ( 640621 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:51PM (#10966964)
          Nobody puts weight on the paper because everyone knows that schools do not prepare programmers for the real world.

          Data point: At my Fortune-100 company, I have interviewed many candidates. I have never seen a candidate without a degree of some kind. Dunno if HR is just tossing out resumes without degrees, or people without degrees just don't bother applying.

          Also, I assume some minimal level of compentency from someone with a degree. I never assume that someone with a degree from an Ivy League is better than someone with a degree from East Podunk City University. I have mysterious ways of finding out candidates' skill levels :)


        • Nobody puts weight on the paper because everyone knows that schools do not prepare programmers for the real world.

          Well, they can. I took one class that think got me a job out of college - software engineering. I got my CS degree in '93, so the environment may have been a little different, but not that much. I attended an Illinois university that was better known for its party atmosphere instead of academics, but the CS program was pretty good. I took a class in software engineering my senior year. Th

      • by weez75 ( 34298 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:10PM (#10966363) Homepage
        While making an impression is important, having a "big name" degree is not as cracked up as it is made to be. Others here have suggested getting real experience in a co-op program. That is probably the most important thing to look for in a school. Schools with good partnerships can provide you with real-world experience which will open more doors.

        Almost as important however is the which path within the IT world do you want to pursue. If you're looking to do more than code then finding a school with an IT department within a school of business might be helpful. If you want to specialize in graphics then look for a school with a good program involving fine arts or engineering.

        So don't get downhearted about being at a so-called "second-tier" school if that school offers unique or interesting paths to follow.

        I went to a small state school and my first job was at a Fortune 50 company! I've transformed that into a very good upper management job at a well-known international company in less than 10 years.
      • Nonsense. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jotaeleemeese ( 303437 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @05:30PM (#10967443) Homepage Journal
        I do not have a degree.

        I have been working without interruption for 15 years now.

        And I have interviewed and be part of interview processes in many occassions.

        The reaity is that the context is king. In some places they could not care less about your university degree or the school you come from.

        In other places they did actively filter people from well known universities. In yet other places it was the other way around.

        The only thing in common is that people had to demonstrate they knew their field, and the only case in which many places got really punctillious was in assesing skills (ridiculously complicated tests).

        Very rarely you have two guys that, once properly assesed, score equally (if you are assesing the candidates properly that is, if you are just fooling around, then yes, paper may win, but I have seen in several occasions managers that lived to regret such carelessness).

    • by ViolentGreen ( 704134 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:37PM (#10965837)
      I agree whole-heartedly. IMO, one of the most important things you should look for in a CS program is that they have a co-op program. This is a good way to get your foot in the door with a company before you graduate (and earn money.) Even if you don't stay with that company after graduation, recent graduate with 1 year of co-op experience will be looked on much more favorably that one without.
    • Demonstrate by doing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:39PM (#10965869)
      I have virtually no formal CS training, other than a fortran class in college. I'm pretty much self-taught, working with computers since I was 8 in some capacity or another. My formal background is in Biology Education, though I quickly discovered that teaching high school biology wasn't for me.

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

      The trick in many cases is just getting in the door. For that, being able to say you're certified with a particular skill or have a degree is good enough. Once you're hired, the key is to show that you really know your stuff and can make your customers happy.
    • You're right. Which is why joining the military is a good start to your occupation. It looks great on resumes, and you get lots of training. Not to mention, they pay for college.

      Most people that enter the military make much more than the average person, when they leave and enter the private sector.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:49PM (#10966051)
        Most people that enter the military make much more than the average person, when they leave and enter the private sector.

        And then there are the people who leave the military in a box and enter a hole in the ground.

        Joining the military is a serious commitment. It is not a job training program.

      • by Dioscorea ( 821163 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:06PM (#10966310) Homepage
        Most people that enter the military make much more than the average person, when they leave

        You mis-spelled if. HTH

      • by nightsweat ( 604367 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:08PM (#10966345)
        I call bullshit.

        I see a ton of resumes in my job as IT VP and the militarily experienced always earn less than their otehrwise educated counterparts because they end up in dead-end regimented IT shops and they start their careers at a later age.

        Of course, the IT industry as a whole is going to the drone model, so maybe that disparity will change. Right now, a tour in the military is worth -$10,000 to -$15,000.
    • by estoll ( 443779 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:40PM (#10965897) Homepage
      If I had 2 job candidates with equivalent experience, I would take the one with the CS degree.

      In my experience, developers with a CS degree have a much better handle on the underlying concepts; however, I'm not sure that a degree from a big school makes that much of a difference.
      • by the-build-chicken ( 644253 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:54PM (#10966995)
        I would take the one my experience, the one without usually has more drive, motivation and enthusiasm for programming...and I always hire for attitude, everything else can be taught.
    • I honestly don't think it matters much.

      While it might not matter all that much for standard entry level joe-programmer jobs, it most definitely matters in areas such as research and advanced development work. Take a look at the backgrounds of people who work for Google and any major research lab, for example. You will find a majority went to top-10 institutions.

      If you can transfer to a better program, you should definitely do it. Not only does it improve your job prospects, you will probably learn m

      • I second this post wholeheartedly.

        I pursue CS interests as a hobby, but my degree is in EE and I work in the aerospace industry (satellites), so my situation is a little different. Nonetheless, I think there is some commonality in the work world.

        I went to M.I.T. I wouldn't say I had a lot of fun compared with what I expect ASU would've been like. However, I think it is telling that even now, 20 years into my career, (a) I still get "Wow, that's impressive" whenever someone learns I went to M.I.T., (b) it
    • by wass ( 72082 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:51PM (#10966087)
      If the application money and time is not too much of a problem, then I would suggest applying for transfer, just to see what happens. If you get in, then you can consider your options further. If you don't get in, well at least you won't wonder about it for the rest of your life.

      Once accepted, then consider the choices. The school will play some minor effect, for example having MIT on your resume will get your future employers/grad school's attention slightly more. However no worthwhile company or graduate school would put too much emphasis on the school alone. Employers and admissions groups are well aware that the best schools can easily graduate idiots, and smaller schools can easily graduate geniuses.

      Really it depends on how well you do in your environment. If you work reasonably hard at a smaller school, you will stand out like a big fish in a little pond. And, if you do research work for some professors or groups (which I highly recommend), then at your chances are much higher that you can impress them enough for very personal letters of recommendation. From what I hear the letters of recommendation are typically the most important factor for future applicants to either companies or grad schools.

      If you transfer to a big school, say MIT, then it's a different ballgame. You will certainly have a wider array of course offerings and research projects, and will have peers who will challenge you more. However you will also find it much more difficult to rise above the radar. The general body of student talent will be greater, and it's easier to fall under the noise floor, so to speak.

      Beyond this it's hard to decide what to do without carefully looking at the details. I've seen situations that favor both sides. For example, I knew a guy that had a very good GPA in EE at a small school, and had the opportunity to transfer to a different place. His EE classes weren't very intensive, so his theory knowledge won't be as good. I was hoping he would transfer, because he had a good opportunity to do so. However, if his research went well enough, it might not matter too much.

      On the flip side I've seen a few undergrads from schools with small physics departments do amazingly well. They would do research with a professor, do it really well, and then get into a top-tier school. Usually a professor at a small school will know many colleagues at the top-tier schools, and can easily pass a personal reference directly to them.

      For companies instead of school, I know less of the hiring practice. School will probably play some factor, but they're more interested in knowing that you can get the job done than which school you went to. If you have good letters of recommendation to this end, you'll be fine.

    • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:34PM (#10966729) Journal
      The most important thing in the market today is experience. Go look on Monster or any of the other sites right now, and you'll see one phrase quite a bit - ...or equivalent experience.

      And is where you find the -ahem- monster jobs.

      DISCLAIMER: I'm an independent consultant.

      In my experience, the good jobs, the real jobs, the ones that you really want to get don't come from job sites or the newspaper.

      No, the good jobs are filled out on the golf course, or over fine wine at dinner, when two executives meet for business/pleasure.

      The job interview really goes something like "Hey, one of my networking guys just got married and is leaving the state. Do you know anybody good?".

      The words that follow that question are crucial. You should be ready to sacrifice animals to the higher gods to have your name follow such a question.

      If the responding executive recommends you, you are almost guaranteed the position. You'll walk in with coveted status. You'll be appreciated for doing good work. And, you'll be paid decently without complaint.

      It's OK to ask people you work with if there's anybody else who might need your services. If you're good, they'll actually mention your name prior to you meeting the referral, or meet with the referral with you.

      And that's gold. Pure, and sweet.

      Job? Newspaper? Website? There, you're guilty until proven innocent. You get no respect, as you are just a commodity easily compared to thousands of others. Every dollar you earn is "an expense". Yuck.

      Referrals, baby. That's the ONLY way to fly. (and it's the ONLY way I've EVER promoted my myself!)
    • With the problem with outsourcing, one of the most stable and lucrative markets in the US is contracting to the federal government. Payrates are set by the GSA schedule, which heavily favors college degrees. Sure, you can make up for having a college degree by having 15-20 years of experience, but even then, that same 15-20 years experience plus a college degree is still a good 35% higher.

      If you work for a company that doesn't do much federal contract work, but does some, it still impacts their hiring de
    • Where you CS degree came from won't mean squat in 8 to 10 years. By then, programming will be a McJob, done mainly by H1-b programmers under slave-labor conditions.
  • by Willie_the_Wimp ( 128267 ) * <fred DOT garvin AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:28PM (#10965690)
    Here's my general rule on quality of college:

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

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

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

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

    Good luck!

    • by Keebler71 ( 520908 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:48PM (#10966031) Journal
      Excellent points. Adding to what you said, I would say that a reputable program will help you get into graduate school if your plan is to transition directly from undergrad to graduate. However if you plan on getting an undergrad, entering the workforce for a few years and heading back to graduate school, I would say that the your real-world experience would matter much more than where you earned your undergrad -particularly if you really made a name for yourself in your job. I don't recommend taking too much time off from school however, as it is very difficult to walk away from a certain standard of living and go back to being a student.
    • by jadavis ( 473492 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:49PM (#10966050)
      I think you're right, but you're neglecting an important reason people go to big-name schools.

      If you attend a prestigous university, you will know important people who will offer you a job. There will also be more jobs nearby related to what makes the university prestigous due to successful alumni.
  • by scottm ( 288 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:28PM (#10965692)
    I have a CS degree from a state university that's not especially known for it's CS department.

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

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

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

    • by Mr. McGibby ( 41471 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:43PM (#10965954) Homepage Journal
      I found that working as a programmer for the campus IT department 15 hours/week and volunteering as a lead sysadmin for a student government / organization webserver to be far more relevent to the job then anything I learned in class.

      While experience is probably the most important reason for success, I have found that developers who believe that they "learned nothing of value in class" tend to write poor code. Two people with the same degree from the same university writing the same program: The one who values his degree will write much more maintainable and smaller code.

      Computer Science degrees are "learn by example" degrees. While you're in all those classes learning about Networks, Vision, Robotics, etc., you're supposed to be learning how to write good software by seriously thinking about your professors' comments and critisism. Those who don't value their degrees tend to be those who didn't value their professors, or listen to them.
  • Are you learning? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FTL ( 112112 ) * <slashdot.neil@fraser@name> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:28PM (#10965699) Homepage
    > ... and personally think I'm learning plenty.

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

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

  • CS (Score:5, Funny)

    by carninja ( 792514 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:29PM (#10965702)
    They make Counter-Strike Degrees? sign me up!
  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:29PM (#10965707) Homepage
    If you're happy and comfortable with your program, you should be extremely resistant to the idea of switching situations just for the sake of having a big name school on the top of your degree.

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

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

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

  • Just my opinion... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ikn ( 712788 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:29PM (#10965713) Homepage
    And money is money, but if a company doesn't hire you because your degree says Univ. of Random and not MIT, it's probably not a company you'd be hapy working for anyway. Though admittedly MIT is an exception; it WILl stand out. At least I think it would.
  • by Saint Stephen ( 19450 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:30PM (#10965726) Homepage Journal
    Your first job is all about who you know.
    My college math prof.'s wife had a computer programming company; that's how I got my first job.

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

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

    Major in Business and take a lot of programming courses.
  • by phats garage ( 760661 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:30PM (#10965727) Homepage Journal
    this allowed me to get a job at the best convenience store in the state. Highly recommended!
  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:31PM (#10965731)
    well i mean if you go to podunk community college, then year it may. but any major college, you will be fine.

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

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

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

    but then again i am planning on getting out of the tech field in 2 years so take it for what it is worth.
  • by tekiegreg ( 674773 ) * <> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:31PM (#10965738) Homepage Journal

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

    Bottom line: Find a good (even if cheap) job NOW. Failing that, grab an open source project at and contribute something to get your name on the developers list. Something, anything for your resume besides a degree (whether Ivy League or State U) is paramount to a good job. If you can accomplish this, it won't matter if your degree says "WTF Coding University".
    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:52PM (#10966099)

      Your resume is ugly and difficult to read. Please, choose a different font, and format it better. Also, check the language flow, and ditch the scale of 1-10 stuff.

      Also, you have tense problems. Some things use past tense, others use present. For ease of reading, it's best to use past tense in all job descriptions, including your current job.

      Also, you have typos (empahses in last segment, possibly others). PLEASE proofread your resume. Nothing kills your chances faster than careless mistakes.

      It's also not immediately clear if you have been working as an independent contractor all this time. Without that little tidbit of information, you look like a serial job-hopper.

      Your opening paragraph reads like a recommendation letter from someone else. Show, don't tell. Don't tell me you're a great team leader, give me examples of when and how you were a great team leader. Don't tell me you can make tough decisions, give me an example of when you did so, and why your decision was the best one.

      Hope this helps!
  • Answer: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by acidrain69 ( 632468 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:31PM (#10965741) Journal
    Not as important as having some kind of experience. Have you tried looking at job requirements these days? They expect you to have written every program since the dawn of time.

    Not that my CS degree from UCF is all that prestigious.
  • by cmowire ( 254489 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:31PM (#10965748) Homepage
    It does matter for your first job.

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

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

    Oh yeah, and a good CS degree is not about being taught. It's about being tortured into learning because your professor is really bright but can't teach. So he gives you hard tests and you have to teach stuff to yourself in order to pass. At least, that's the shared experience amongst most of the grads from top-10 CS schools that I've talked to.
  • Learn your craft (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:32PM (#10965758) Homepage Journal
    Listen, I've worked with people who had degrees from prestigious schools, and people with degrees from state universities. I've seen little correlation between where the degree came from and the skill of the person.

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

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

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

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

    I'd be more concerned about trying to find a good internship during your summers off - that counts for a lot more when looking for a job.
  • by mqx ( 792882 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:32PM (#10965762)

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

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:33PM (#10965772)
    Something I wish I had known.

    Youre not in college to get a degree.

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

    Most good employers don't have to hire someone with out experience, people want to work for them. So get some experience soon!
  • hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dlrowcidamon.> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:34PM (#10965784) Homepage
    If your dad's willing to pay the application fee,why not apply to a few top-tier schools? If you don't get in, you get to stay and continue enjoying yourself. If you do get in, you've already got everything you've learned already, plus you get to put the shiny new school on your resume.

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

    I would recommend you don't transfer to a slightly better school. If it's not top 5, I'd stay where you are.
  • by cperciva ( 102828 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:34PM (#10965789) Homepage
    I've been interested in computer science since my mother taught me how to program in QBASIC when I was eleven

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

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

    Decide what you want from your years at university, and pick your university accordingly.
    • by fupeg ( 653970 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:01PM (#10966232)
      Actually I would argue that a good program, regardless of what school is offering it, would teach you software engineering, not computer science. You are right that there is a big difference between programming and computer science, but there is perhaps an even bigger difference between computer science and software engineering.
    • by EMiniShark ( 631279 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:12PM (#10966394)
      Unfortunately, being a distinguished computer science student does not imply that you are a good programmer. I am a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park. I know lots of kids that do very well in their CS classes. Many of these same kids are terrible programmers simply because they have only ever completed projects of the "implement this spec to solve this idealized problem variety". Some of the more software engineering classes (compilers, databases, graphics, OSs,etc.) focus on implementing programs that do useful work (using real APIs). The more theoretical classes like algorithm analysis and crypto focus on the computer science and not how to program. Thankfully, UMD makes it really hard to graduate without at least of few of the engineering classes. However, as you pointed out, these really _aren't_ CS classes. They are engineering classes. And the people who avoid them tend to not be very good programmers.

      Would you hire a theoretical physicist to build a suspension bridge? Well, I wouldn't hire a theoretical computer scientist to implement my relational database server or my C++ compiler or my operating system.

      And just for the record: I learned C when I was 12. And it was the process of decomposing a task into unabiguous components that interested me from the very beginning. I would call that process fundamental to computer science.
    • While I agree that there is a major difference between programming and computer science I diagree with your statement that a good university will not teach you to write code.

      In my opinion a bad university is one that:

      • Does not teach you how to code
      • Only teaches you how to code

      The problem with not teaching people how to code is that people will end up writing code that only they can read, and in my experience would not be able to read after a 2 week break.

      I did a Computer Science degree and found

    • Not that there's anything wrong with this; the world needs plumbers and electricians (and computer programmers)

      Ooooo! Cliff, you have been served!

      A good university will teach computer science, and expect you to work out how to write code on your own; a bad university will teach you how to program, and not even admit that there is anything more to learn.

      Well, in a better constructed reality, a good university would teach *both*. I taught myself to program when I was in my teens (Atari BASIC!), but I c

    • I had a part-time programming job during my BS and MS degrees. I came from a school who taught COMPUTER SCIENCE, not just COMPUTER PROGRAMMING. I found that local employers who wanted PROGRAMMERS preferred graduates from the smaller, less reputable school down the road because they only taught PROGRAMMING. Admittedly, most of them could code circles around me, but they also struggled with other issues.

      Of course, one of my bosses (graduate of the smaller school) was blown out of his mind when I showed hi
    • This is very true. Computer Science is a branch of mathematics that has very little to do with either computers or science :)

      As you've said, the world needs programmers. I would guess that 95% of the software industry's developers could be classed as "just programmers". Most of them wouldn't know a deterministic finite automaton from a turing machine. Most have never needed to.

      The other 5% are not Computer Scientists, however. They are real Software Engineers. They have more in common with Mechanica
  • by The_Rippa ( 181699 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:35PM (#10965800)
    Asking a questions like this on slashdot is pointless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Oh, and I don't have a degree.
  • by ChiGodOfKarma ( 829932 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:39PM (#10965883)
    I have staffed up quite a few R & D departments in my years and I can honestly say that a degree only means something on the 1st job you get when you have no experience. After the 1st job its all the relevant experience sections on the resume that gets them an interview. I am usually more interested in the actual interview and the answers to the technical questions than I am with the resume itself. In fact the best programmers I have met either didn't graduate, or didn't take software engineering is school at all. I am a Human Machine Interface and Design major I have been programming, designing UI's, and managing programmers of over 10 years now. I taught myself to program on my C64 as a kid in the 80's, and read an Amiga book on C in 1985. I have been programming daily ever since, and will usually hire a motivated self taught guy like myself over a 4 year degree if the interview shows him to be more knowledgeable.
  • by Richthofen80 ( 412488 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:42PM (#10965931) Homepage
    I spent less than 4k per year going to U-Mass Lowell instead of a 30k/ year Northeastern or such.

    I bought a brand new subaru impreza WRX when I got out of school with the money I saved. I have no debt from college.

    It took me a year to get a job, but I blame that on my poor planning (I didn't have an internship) and crappy market (got out of school 2002). Now I've been working in the Boston area as a software engineer writing web-based apps for about a year.

    Keys to a good job are usually location (Boston, great; Boise, eh), interview / personal skills, and prior experience. No one ever really asks about college so much, as long as they know I did my time.

    As far as what you get from the quality of professors, I find that varies. There were great professors and horrible ones. What I did learn is that if you put in the extra effort, you'll get way more out of it.
  • by Tim ( 686 ) <`ude.notgnihsaw.inmula' `ta' `rmit'> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:43PM (#10965945) Homepage
    If you have a rich relative offering to pay, and you can go to MIT without going into debt, then yeah, of course you should transfer. But if, like most of us, you're going to pay for college, you should choose the best accredited undergraduate education that will leave you financially stable (read: debt-free) afterward.

    You'll hear lots of people telling you about the value of name schools, the need for "networking" and other such hoo-hah. And often, they'll try to convince you that it's worth $30,000 in debt to get a top-tier undergraduate education. Don't buy it.

    Remember -- at the undergraduate level, most schools will teach you the same things (oftentimes, from the same books). So why pay out the nose for an education that can be obtained for a fraction of the cost of a top-tier university?

    Save your money, keep yourself out of debt, and you'll have more options later on. That's doubly important today, where Punjab's willingness to work for 30 cents an hour will almost invariably trump an expensive diploma....
  • Depends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by josecanuc ( 91 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:43PM (#10965950) Homepage Journal
    I suppose that depends on how much of an ass you want to be. You could either say "I have a degree in Computer Science/Engineering, so I know x, y, and z. I worked hard because I was interested in the material. Computer Science is a passion for me -- I would enjoy any job related to [programming|software engineering|etc]" or you could say "Don't even ask what I know, it should be obvious that I am an excellent employee because I chose to get a degree from [Cornell|Berkelely|etc]. I am interested in the highest-paying job you have -- I deserve it because I went to a school with a good reputation."

    Note that the above is a blatant stereotype to make a point -- obviously the sentiments expressed are not exemplified by the majority of CS students anywhere.

    Are you going to school in order to create a career for yourself that you enjoy and are passionate about? Are you going to school to impress friends, relatives, or potential employers? It cannot be said enough that the school's reputation has little bearing on the competency and attitude of the students. Employers are looking more for a positive attitude, appropriate skills, and a good investment for their company.

    I know some folks who are currently in their undergraduate CS study and say things like "I could teach these classes! The only reason I am doing this at all is because the 'stupid' rules say I have to get a bachelor's degree before I get that Ph.D." Meanwhile, they are getting C's in those "easy" classes because their goal is the piece of paper and prestige (ego) rather than pursuing an activity or career they can be passionate about.

    My best professors (in CS and otherwise) were those that began their careers in 'industry' and had a passion for engineering or CS and had excellent communication skills before moving into teaching/academia. Real-world experience is so much more useful than 'book-smarts' most of the time. (That's not to say that these professors weren't book-smart, too!)
  • Death by Anecdote (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:45PM (#10965973) Homepage Journal
    Since you're going to receive more than your fair share of personal anecdotes, I'll throw my own story into the mix.

    Short version: I've got an A.S. in Computer-Aided Drafting from the local community college, but due to luck for sure, skill I hope, and good management, I'm a senior systems analyst for a company that writes tax software -- the most steady programming gig possible. Go figure.

    I was planning for an Electrical Engineering degree, but I had near-zero study skills. I spent a semester at Okla State and quite utterly failed to distinguish myself.

    After a summer delivering pizza, I got a job through Manpower -- proofreading phone books. But instead of just marking errors, I figured out the patterns, and got hired.

    Next was the big lucky break: Texas Instruments, flush with Cold War defense contracts, had a program where they put folks through school to become CAD draftsmen. I applied and got in. Got paid to go to school for a semester, then worked full time with a full-time school schedule. By the time I got my A.S. in Computer-Aided Drafting, I was the software support person for the drafting group, writing Lisp extensions for AutoCAD.

    Cold war ends. Layoffs begin. I bail out for American Airlines... start out as 2nd level support, taking calls from Australia and Japan in the evenings, the Middle East at midnight, and Europe in the wee hours. Transferred around, picked up VB, ended up leading a small project. Bailed out in the mid-90s and just missed the downturns.

    Got the current job when it was a family-owned company with a tradition of "get it done" over "show me your diploma". The owner also didn't like to lose talent, so they kept up with the dot-com boom wages. Owner sold to a conglomerate, but clueful management remained in place.

    So here I am, a high-level programmer, with an A.S. in Drafting from a community college. Put that in yer pipe and smoke it.
  • STAY! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:47PM (#10966005)
    I vote with staying where you are, if you're happy there.

    I was in a similar situation; my school wasn't terribly noted for engineering, so after 2 years my mom convinced me to transfer to Virginia Tech. The biggest reason is that I was looking for a co-op job and no one would hire me from the previous university.

    VT was very different from my old school. It did seem like the program was a little better academically, and the school definitely had a much better intern/co-op department which made it much easier to find internships. Also, I think the big name on the resume does help a lot in your first job or two; this may be more important now with the terrible job market than it was when I first got out of school in '98.

    However, I paid a terrible price for the change. First, it was much more expensive. My family wasn't exactly rich, so while I was doing ok at my first school, where I paid in-state tuition, costs went up greatly at VT, leading me to build up a large debt in student loans. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, I never managed to build a network of friends at VT like I had, and lost, at my first school. Being a not-terribly-outgoing person, I had a very hard time finding any new friends at the new school; I found that I believe that most relationships are made in one's freshman year, when you're living on campus and everyone is new. After everyone's been there a few years and has a circle of friends, it's not so easy to break in. And maybe it's just me, but the engineering students at Virginia Tech seemed to be a bunch of snobs compared to the students at my old school. Not having many friends in college isn't bad just because of the social aspect, but those relationships can also be rewarding to your career: look how many companies were started by people who were friends in college.

    So, in summary, if you're happy where you are, don't screw it up. Personally, I don't believe in making changes to anything unless there's something wrong, or there's something else that's obviously better in sight. I don't see any posts here so far in favor of big-name schools (unless maybe you have your sights set on politics).
  • by Zathras26 ( 763537 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @03:49PM (#10966047)

    Very few people, employers or otherwise, care about where you got your degree. All they care about is that you have it. There are times when an MIT or Harvard degree will carry more weight, but they're the exception, not the rule.

    Doubt it? Try this little experiment. Your post implies that you're somewhere in your teens, which probably means that you've had at least a few different doctors (pediatrician, dentist, and GP, at the least). Do you know where any of them got their degrees? Do you care? Probably not... all you care about is that they did get an education. And these are the people whom you entrust with your health, your well-being, and potentially even your life. For most of the rest of society, it's the same way.

  • Wherever you choose to study, don't forget to learn java (yes, it's necessary where i live - even the basics), the MVC framework (multitier programming), UML notation, RUP, programming "good practices", etc.

    If you can find a college where they have this material, well done! 50% of programming is having a good design. That's what makes the difference between a senior software developer and a... (despective)programmer.

    A "programmer" can plug bits and pieces of code, drag some icons and have a visual basic program. A developer knows how to abstract data, ENGINEER applications, frameworks, and make a very good job, saving time and money.

    This will give you a huge advantage over your competitors, when you start looking for jobs.

    Also, do NOT be conformed with what you learn on school! If there are additional courses at college, say, a new programming language, or a new framework from X or Y company, do NOT - repeat, do _NOT_ ignore them just because they're not required for your grades!

    This mistake costed me 2 long years of unemployment (and the subsequent stress and stomach aches) after graduating.
  • by xtheunknown ( 174416 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:09PM (#10966353)
    I went to a school that was not known for its CS program and it didn't seem to matter to anyone I interviewed with. What did matter was my grades. With a 3.0 average I was getting offers 30-40% below what the 4.0 students were.

    Otherwise it depends on what you plan to do with the degree. If you want to work in the MIT AI Lab, then you better go to a name program and get perfect grades. If you will be happy being a developer somewhere writing financial software, then I don't think it matters.

    I also think that showing people the practical things you did while you were in college, not just class work, matters. I wrote a FORTH compiler (while, interpreter, really) from scratch and I think that impressed people that I could apply all the theory I had learned.
  • Limited impact (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:15PM (#10966439)
    Having a degree from a big-name school will help you in two cases: getting your first job, and if an employer ever has to choose between you and an equally-qualified and equally-likeable applicant with a degree from a less-prestigious school. The first hurdle is one you only have to go over once and which you will get over one way or another, and the second is not terribly likely to happen.

    I don't have a degree, and I'm the most senior and highly paid developer at my company. I won't tell you that not having a degree hasn't hurt me -- it has, mostly by making it much harder for me to get that first "real" job, and obviously, there are some companies that won't consider me. But I also do a lot of the hiring around here, and I can tell you that I don't pay too much attention to where new hires got their degree; I pay a lot of attention to prior work experience, code samples, references, and demeanor during interviews. I've worked with some people with degrees from prestigious schools who were terrible programmers and horrible coworkers, and I've worked with great programmers who were fabulous to get along with who had two-year degrees from local community colleges.

    If I were you, I'd stay put. Of course, if your dad is going to foot the bill for a fancy school, you might consider it. Otherwise, the massive burden of student loans for that sort of thing might be a lot more trouble than it's worth.
  • by e_lehman ( 143896 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:16PM (#10966451)
    I think there are a couple advantages to a top-flight program.

    First, you'd be in the company of much brighter, more driven, higher-achieving students. If you're really into computer stuff, then this could be fun, motivating, and extremely educational-- classes and professors aside.

    Second, stronger programs are more likely to focus on ideas beyond mere software development: the theory of computation, algorithm design, and mathematics. Now, if you just want to build mundane user interfaces, this would all pretty much be a waste of your time. However, if you're interested in doing work that involves some level of challenge beyond just structuring the software itself and getting algorithms out of a book, then this stuff can be really useful.

    You could graduate from your current school, work for a while, and-- if you decide you need deeper knowledge-- go get a master's or PhD somewhere else.
  • It depends (Score:3, Informative)

    by AaronW ( 33736 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:34PM (#10966719) Homepage
    I got my degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz before it was well known for engineering. They had a very good program and I had no problem getting a job after graduating. My ex roommate, on the other hand, went to a local California state college. As I helped him and saw the curriculum, I was surprised at how backwards it was compared to what I had to do. In many ways, even though I got my degree ten years ago, UCSC was far more advanced than Cal State Hayward. While many courses were the same, I thought CSH's courses were a joke compared to what I had to do. In many classes, my roommate had to hand in printouts of code or turn it in on floppy disks. Back in 1989 at UCSC, all of our code was submitted on the network and automated scripts performed the initial validation, i.e. compiling and running test data on it. We never handed in code printouts either, after all, that's what the network was for.

    Helping my roommate with his homework further reinforced this view. Much of his homework for equivalent courses was much easier. Of course, when I took it we didn't have google or the other Internet resources available either.

    Not all colleges are created equal.

  • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:35PM (#10966744)
    I went to a smaller university, not state-college level, but not huge either; 10K students. I've talked to the people who interview here where I work, and they put hardly any stock into WHERE you went to college. Experience and GPA get you past the HR department, and being able to act like you know what you're talking about gets you in with the people who'll make the final recommendations.

    Every once in a while you'll hit some nutjob who went to a big university and was in a frat or something, and he'll try to give preference to an alumni, but most people are buying a person, not a cookie cut with some specific cutter.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:46PM (#10966893) Homepage Journal
    Unless your degree is from a very well-known University (Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge), the chances are that nobody in Human Resources in any company is likely to have ever heard of it. If you plan on working within academia, then it'll matter a little bit more, because academics can be snobs at times. I'd also include research institutes and centers that do a lot of R&D work, because again they'll have a higher level of knowledge.

    In practice, most jobs'll look for certifications and maybe a degree as an afterthought. They're not interested in your actual knowledge, they're only interested in not being held accountable if you don't work out.

    Lastly, you're going to get rotten jobs, whatever education and certifications you have. Most jobs are rotten. Especially in IT, where most companies are plain stupid. Many IT specialists and generalists stick with getting a well-paid job, rather than a useful and/or productive one. There are exceptions (eg: my current employer, where a number of key people read Slashdot) but for the most part, if you want an intelligent job, you need to work for yourself.

    Oh, and stay out of the military, if you possibly can, even if you sacrifice Government jobs, loans, etc. IT professionals are snobby in their own way and have far stronger ties with intellectual pursuits than grunt work (with the exception of hauling servers and running cables, though you'll notice most IT staff "let" other people do such stuff, especially in public). Also, whenever there's a call-up of reserves (as at present), businesses lose out big-time. You can't get useful work from a person fighting in another continent. Nobody is going to hire you, if they think you'll cost them more than you'll make for them.

    Also, many intellectuals and many higher-end IT professionals tend to be left-of-center, non-conformist and don't follow rules (without a major internal struggle). Exactly the opposite of what most militaristic and Government-oriented organizations want. In IT, you're there to get the job done, and if the rule book gets in the way, too bad. In something like the military or the civil service, you're there to follow the rules to the letter, even if that means nothing gets done.

    My advice: Get the degree (and if you can get sponsored for a Masters, even better) but don't go for a PhD. Even if (and it's a big if) you get paid more for it, the cost of the degree and the cost of not earning for those extra years will often make it pointless.

    After you've got your degree, get a certification. The program itself is likely to be pretty useless, but the scrap of paper at the end of it is worth a lot of money and improved job opportunities.

    Don't get a student loan, unless you absolutely have to. Sponsorship is generally a better bet, doesn't charge interest, and the demands aren't quite so obnoxious. Businesses looking for new graduates and looking to expand in the medium-term will very likely be willing to consider some sort of deal. (eg: internship over the summers, plus a guarantee that they get first-pick on whether to hire you, after you graduate, in exchange for contributing towards the costs.)

    A more dangerous path - but it's worked for some - is to ignore the whole degree/certification approach. Become famous or infamous for something so spectacular that even the most dim-witted of Human Resource people will know you're in the news, even if they don't know why. Few can pull this kind of an approach off, and several of those have spent years or decades in prison (eg: Kevin Mitnick) but those who succeed often get the Really Big Money. Those who fail will never move beyond minimum-wage jobs and will eventually die in obscurity and poverty. It's about the same kind of risk as staking not only your entire life's earnings but all potential future earnings as well on the lottery.

  • by geniusj ( 140174 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:48PM (#10966914) Homepage
    I have no college degree, and no high school diploma. Someone in my situation at this point in time with no work experience would have a hard time finding someone to give them a chance. There are a couple of things that either I did or that were circumstantial at the time that made it easier for me.

    1. "Work Experience" - This is in quotes, because most people would not consider what I put down on my resume as work experience as work experience. I put down various side jobs that I had done in high school such as adminning various small web hosting provider boxes and shell hosts for free, or creating programming projects for myself such as ODS []. Why admin someone else's boxes for free? I did it because I enjoyed it. Little did I know that it would help me a couple of years down the line to land my first job (at IBM of all places - full time job at age 16.)

    2. It was a very good time to find jobs in the technology fields. This was 1999. That alone should be enough to give you an idea.

    Once I had IBM on my resume (in addition to my other less accepted "Work Experience"), getting the second job (which paid twice as much) was a lot easier. It still took a little bit of searching, but it worked out. And now, I have 4 "real" jobs that I can put down on my resume. In fact, finding this last one took less than 1 week from the day I put my resume out, to the day I received an offer that I liked. That was in March of this year.

    To sum up. In my experience, work experience is king. I think all a degree helps people in our field with (unless they are doing research or teaching) is to get their first, and maybe second jobs. If you can manage to snag that first job by yourself, and you have the knowledge and drive to do the job they give you, then everything else will fall into place. After the second or third job is when it really starts getting easier.

  • Here we go again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Java Ape ( 528857 ) <(mike.briggs) (at) (> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:53PM (#10966983) Homepage
    It seems like this topic comes up every few months in one form or another. The self-taught guys claim a degree is a useless relic signifying nothing. The paper-toting crowd proclaims (unsurprisingly) that they by-gosh didn't waste four years of their lives for nothing, and a degree is an essential commodity for real computer work. Then we flame each other for 300 posts and move on.

    In my opinion it depends entirely upon the type of job you're looking for. The computer field is rather messily divided between techies and intellectuals. It's a bit of an open system, with people migrating in both directions, and considerable overlap, which disguises the fact there there are, in fact, two camps.

    Degree or no, fine school or barely adequate, you're going to start life as a techie. Welcome to the help desk, cubeville, or low-end development. Your geek-badge and a love of white-collar slavery is your passport to this world. And thus begins the journey. . .

    You will gain experience, confidence and skill, and begin to be promoted. You will (hopefully) gain a reputation in your chosen fields, and garner the laurals of a job well done. You begin to plan a career path. Somewhere around Sr. programmer (substitute DBA, Network Admin. or Sys Admin as appropriate) something unexpected happens.

    You see, at the upper end of "applied technical knowlege" there is a fork in the upward path. The broad road leads to middle management, and God help the poor souls who venture there. The narrow path leads to "think tank" positions.

    It's true, most large companies have one or more senior geeks doing funded research, planning strategy, or generally dispensing wisdom on demand. They really do exist, but you don't see them because they live in the nice office building in corporate headquarters not in the programming shack.

    Here's the important bit. These guys are hired for their brains, and to join the club you need to have the sort of broad-based understanding the almost inevitably comes from a top-notch college education. A B.S. gets a distainful sniff, but the doors gape wide for the ivy-league Ph.D's, and may open for an M.S from a solid school with a bit of persistance.

    The self-taught crowd will howl and cry that it's not fair. They can program as well or better than their pedigreed peers, they have probably built an open-source terminal emulator, and they've labored in the same trenches, side by side for years. However, in reality, very few people teach themselves calculus, computer theory, materials science, economics (and don't forget ettiquite) with the level of rigor demanded by these positions. This is where the four, six or eight years of studying that "useless theory" becomes useful, even necessary.

    I'm a self-taught techie with several certifications, facing this division. I'm 40 years old, and a Sr. DBA for a large firm, making a good salary -- end of the techie line. I've been courted for managment positions, which I don't want. I've got three B.S. and one M.S. degrees in various sciences, all from good schools, but no C.S. degree.

    Over the past two years I've taken several C.S. classes from a good school - algorithm analysis, advanced data structures, automata, etc. I'll probably get an M.S in a few years, and maybe a Ph.D. after that, but more importantly, I'm learning all the little details that differentiate a computer scientist from a competent techie. There IS a differance, after all.

  • INTERNSHIP ANYONE?? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tenaciousdRules ( 518041 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @04:57PM (#10967038)
    I got my degree in CS from a state university. The most important thing I did for my career during my !4 years in school was sign up for the internship program. I interviewed at 4 large code-mill-type insurance companies and 1 state agency. I ended up getting a job at the state agency and thinking that I wasn't a good enough programmer to get a "cool" web programming job at Aetna or ING. For the most part that was true as is the case with many recent CS grads. CS doesn't make you an out of the box coder. Once I learned the technology I needed to solve business problems, I was on my way to my current job as a statistical analyst/programmer. I solve problems and CS was important for me because I did't have an innate ability to do this otherwise. Some would argue, and quite validly, that experience is key and I have to agree with them. So, stay where you are, land an internship or co-op or volunteer to write some apps for a non-profit, and you will be on your way. The average cs/programmer/code monkey changes jobs so many times that it is important to note that it is the last one that you have that will matter, not the first. Put yourself in a position to choose that last one and make it something you love to do and are compensated well for. I think you are well on your way right now.
    • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @05:00PM (#10967085)
      I FULLY agree.

      I interned at my current workplace (summers and winter breaks, with a 9 month full-time stint) starting in 1999, and when I graduated in 2002 I was immediately hired full time at a very respectable salary.

      If I hadn't had my foot in the door, I really have no idea where I'd be at right now.

  • M.I.T. (Score:4, Informative)

    by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @05:05PM (#10967137)
    It seems like most of my classmates I've kept in touch with are software engineers, yet none of us majored in computer science. We have a philosopher, linguist, biologist and geologist among us. The boom, bust, and outsourcing fad seemed to pass us by.

    I took some "trendy" courses in the business school (Course XV) and core theory courses (Course VI-1). The former long became obsolete, while the latter are still useful.
  • by mrklin ( 608689 ) <> on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @05:08PM (#10967191)
    I can confirm that having a degree from a prestigious school can definitely open doors for you. This comes from the brand recognition and the networking system i.e. graduate from one Ivy League school and you will be lumped in with alumni the other six Ivy League schools and their equivalents like Stanford, MIT, CalTech, etc.

    However, once that door is opened, the rest is up to you. That is, 1) your work experience, 2) the rate you adapt and learn, and 3) your attitude and personality.

    I am in a Fortune 500 internet company (market cap = US$50B) and everything I learned about technology (SQL, OLAP, datawarehousing) I learned on the job.

    Caveat: I am not a programmer and my degree is a BS in chemisty and Asian Studies.

  • by MaineCoon ( 12585 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @05:26PM (#10967398) Homepage
    While the source of the degree (and sometimes the degree itself) likely matters little, a college with an excellent CS program is more likely to prepare you and teach you useful things you didn't know you needed/wanted to know.
  • It depends... (Score:5, Informative)

    by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @05:32PM (#10967461) Homepage Journal
    On what you want to do.
    • If you're content to make a career out maintaining legacy code (COBOL, etc...), then just about any university will do, but:
    • If you'd like to do anything interesting - applications, operating systems, etc - you definitely need to pay attention to the school, because:
    • Your first job is determined largely by where you went to school. Some firms only recruit from one school, and if you aren't an alumni, you can forget being hired by them straight out of school.
    • Your first job also determines, to a large degree, your career path.
    • Regardless of how smart you actually are, you will acquire the reputation of your parent school - for instance, if it has a reputation for producing good COBOL programmers, you'll have companies that use COBOL beating a path to your door while the ones doing software development won't even bother looking at your resume.

    Just a little side note: I went to a university known for having a good business and data processing curriculum. I took my first job writing in an obscure language for outdated mainframes. After about 2 years, I thought I'd look for a job doing what I really wanted to do, and the conversations with recruiters usually went like this:

    Me: I'd like to start working as a game developer/engineer/etc...

    Recruiter: Well, I see you've got many skills listed on your resume. But, what experience do you have as a developer/engineer/etc...?

    Me: (sheepishly) Well, none - but it's something I'd really like to do. I've done some work on my own and read up on the subject quite a bit.

    Recruiter: Well, that's nice and all, but my clients are going to want someone with solid experience... Would you be willing to take a job writing in COBOL instead?

    You see, my mistake was twofold:

    1. I didn't go to the right school, which meant that I had to:
    2. Take a job doing something I really wasn't crazy about doing. Which led to people thinking of me as a "COBOL programmer" instead of a "Games Developer".

    The perception problem is very real. If you stay at a lackluster school, you will neither get a good education, nor have a good career - at least not without a great deal of effort. Having a few years in an given technology tends to pigeon-hole your career prospects, and you might find yourself unable to find a position doing what you want to do if you don't get in with a good company right after graduation.

  • by sh!va ( 312105 ) on Wednesday December 01, 2004 @05:33PM (#10967472)
    Computer Science is a very young discipline compared to other engineering disciplines. This explains why there are so many computer scientists / software engineers who do not have a degree, did not go to college and yet have highly successful careers. This is characteristic(sp?) of young disciplines. Ignore it.

    CS itself is getting older, more mature. People are starting to understand that just knowing how to hack doesn't quite cut it (always). In short, going to a college and getting a degree in CS never hurts (as opposed to not getting one, not opposed to getting one in some other engineering field).

    If we agree to the above - ie we must get a degree in CS or EE or math or something related, we question where we must get it from. College degrees are not pieces of paper that open the door to getting a fat job. This is one of the perks for sure, but there are others. They open the door to contributing something for the betterment of humanity (by doing original research), they open up your mind by forcing you to interact with peers who are often better than you. No matter what your job, you will fall into a mental rut as compared to school. A school is only as good as the students that study there. The students are what makes the MITs and Stanfords of today - not the professors. If the professors were getting sub-par graduate students to work with or sub-par peers they'd leave.

    This is why it is absolutely essential to try to go to the best possible school you can go to. You will get exposed to things that you never were exposed to. You will learn new things from both professors and students alike. You will take part in activities that will challenge your mind in multiple dimensions - something quite unparalleled in the "real" world.

    And you never know - you may want to do research for life. You may want to go on for a higher degree. In all these cases, the better school always wins. You can get by with going to a lower school - in fact you can "get by" with not going to school at all. But our purpose in life is not to just "get by". The whole point is to do something great - something that you can point your finger to 50 yrs down the line and say "I did that and changed they way people think / do something". Always strive for the best.

When you make your mark in the world, watch out for guys with erasers. -- The Wall Street Journal