5 More Things to Learn About Computer Science Degrees

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Thanks to offshoring and other trends, there’s precious little job security in IT—or that’s the perception that many people have of the industry, at least. The reality is, (nearly) every tech company wants to produce a quality product, and they’re willing to pay generously in order to make that happen.

“Rumors about offshoring continue to be fiction,” said Dr. H. E. Dunsmore, associate professor of computer science, and chair of the College of Science Undergraduate Education Policy and Curriculum Committee, at Purdue University. “We’re seeing positions come back to the U.S. as labor costs rise overseas and companies recognize the importance of communication and timely updates in developing and maintaining a quality product.”

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Even if the IT industry in the U.S. remains strong, however, budding IT professionals have a lot to consider before investing in a four-year degree. With that in mind, we’ve updated our 2012 report. Here are five things you need to know about computer science degrees in 2014:

Expect ROI

Despite rising costs, computer science offers one of the best ROIs of any college major. You should make a double-digit annual return, as long as you choose the right program.

Purdue undergraduates are receiving multiple offers and starting salaries of $100,000, according to Dunsmore. And more than 122 companies pursued 800 graduates during a recent job fair at the University of Maryland, said Dr. Samir Khuller, chair of the computer science department.

“Five to seven years ago, CS majors were primarily recruited by tech firms like Google and Microsoft,” Khuller added. “Now they’re being pursued by oil and gas companies and Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs. Today’s CS graduates have a lot more options.”

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It’s important to note that Purdue and Maryland’s programs are highly regarded. So be sure to review the placement rate for CS grads, and speak with several working professionals about their experiences, when selecting a program.

Insist on Hands-On Experience

CS curricula used to be heavy on theory and light on practical experience. But savvy departments have taken steps to ensure that students graduate with marketable skills and actual hands-on technical experience.

Purdue undergrads, for instance, work on real development projects utilizing the Agile methodology; there are also guaranteed internships. Plus, prospective employers can view students’ code, which is stored in repositories. In other words, their education isn’t rooted in textbooks, but mirrors the workplace.

Pursue Your Strengths and Interests

Naturally, you’ll learn about algorithms, and you’ll probably take some core courses in math and computer science. But that doesn’t mean you have to become an isolated code-cruncher.

Most colleges give CS majors the chance to choose a track or specialty. For instance, you may be able to specialize in software engineering, security, databases, or even gaming and graphics depending on your talents and interests.

About 300 of Maryland’s CS majors opt for a double major. They often pair CS with electrical engineering or business, particularly if they want to fast-track into management. In fact, most of Maryland and Purdue’s CS graduates eventually transition into project or IT management.

CS Provides a Foundation

Another misconception: You’ll pay top dollar for skills that will be obsolete tomorrow. It’s true that a career in technology requires a commitment to lifelong learning, but the fundamentals won’t change.

“You’ll be able to use your math skills throughout your career,” Khuller said. “Plus, college teaches you how to learn. In essence, it prepares you for a 40-year career in technology even though the programs and languages continue to evolve.” 

The Best Programmers Aren’t Self-Taught

Of course, there are exceptions. But most people need instruction and coaching to write clean, tight code. Unless you’re a savant, that means you’ll need to take community college courses, training programs, or earn a CS degree if you want to become an expert programmer.

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5 Responses to “5 More Things to Learn About Computer Science Degrees”

  1. Fred Bosick

    “Rumors about offshoring continue to be fiction,” said Dr. H. E. Dunsmore, associate professor of computer science, and chair of the College of Science Undergraduate Education Policy and Curriculum Committee, at Purdue University.

    Really? I wonder who paid him to say that. Go ask Norm Matloff.

    Outsourcing was still happening at my last job, one reason I left it. And there’s a lot more to IT than being a programmer. The market *is* getting better. I started my new job 3 weeks ago with 50% greater pay. But that doesn’t let H1-B shills, nor DICE off the hook.

  2. I agree with Fred on this that this is clearly not fiction, although it does seem true that some of the jobs are coming back.

    Also, “The reality is, (nearly) every tech company wants to produce a quality product, and they’re willing to pay generously in order to make that happen.”
    Hardly! I’ve found over and over that companies are looking for cheap labor and keep hoping that they get that cheap rising star, which usually never comes because there are so few of them. They continue to struggle and pay less for mediocre talent that makes things worse and worse rather than paying better pay for better talent. (Of course, better pay does not guarantee good talent, but it helps to draw the better talent to you and you will then have to figure out how to spot it.)

  3. James Price

    From Personal experience I wouldn’t recommend working in the IT industry.
    I have advised both of my children not to pick computer science as a degree.
    I put in long hours for little reward and have worked for one major company for 14 years with only 3 pay increases. I have had my IT job outsourced to India 3 times and on one occasion had to train them to do my job. The most amusing thing is that on one call out at 2:00 am in the morning there was 20 people in India doing the job I used to do on my own.
    Most of my colleagues who were let go at the same time are now working in low paid jobs such as security guard, checkout clerk at a store, working in a call center(only because he is bilingual).

  4. Charlton

    The writer of this article seems to have missed an important point: employers don’t bother verifying degrees any more! So you can just lie and say you have a degree. Only about 1% of recruiters/HR people do a degree check…

  5. Know thru exp, verified thru research

    I must comment. As a person with doctorate level training in the social sciences, i made a career change to cs bc of the nepotism/cronyism in business. In other words bc programming is as much of a meritocracy as you can get (academia is based entirely on tenured peoples’ preferences, hierarchical rule without question is real.)

    Yet you have people misrepresenting the truth right here.

    Also, temp agencies have conflicting interests with those they are trying to help. One example is sending in your resume. If the agency has one candidate they like, they’ll solicit resumes from others to serve as padding. There was never a chance you would get the job.

    The recruiter has gained a great deal of unchecked power and is becoming a dishonorable corrupted profession.