Why I’m Glad I Got a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

IMG_0468Monday, May 11, I’m joining 15 other students who are graduating from Northeastern State University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. Academia has occupied much of my time, energy and attention the past few years1, but I have no regrets. Today there are undercurrents that seek to undermine attending a brick-and-mortar university for a four-year computer science degree, which compels me to write upon the matter.

No one disagrees that education is incredibly important. The question is where and how it should occur for people who want to make their living with computers. If you want to become a nurse, a psychologist, or an accountant, you need a degree. There’s not a lot of grey area. In most white-collar professions you legally need a degree, or at a bare minimum you need it to get past the first interview.

Computer science is different. I’m connected on LinkedIn to half a dozen recruiters in Tulsa, Oklahoma who every few months reached out to me during college and tried to see if I was available for a full-time position. The fact that I didn’t have a degree had no bearing. They weren’t doing sloppy HR work either; I’ve interviewed in-person with tech companies and gotten the same vibe. Many of the employers I’ve talked to don’t care if their computer scientists are formally trained or not, so long as they know their skill. On more than one occasion, the person interviewing me had dropped out of college! One of my good software developer friends from OSUIT got a full-time job while still in college. He already knew how to write software, so why not?

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Cracking Dollar Shave Club’s March Rompecabeza

Photo Mar 10, 11 38 34 AMAs a subscriber of DollarShaveClub.com, I always like to look at the little problems they put at the back of their monthly publication.1 March’s was quite spectacular, and it went as follows:

Brian received a cash gift from his parents on his birthday. He spent half of what he got, plus another $5 at the local Big and Tall store, half of what was left plus $5 on in-app Candy Crush purchases and three-fourths of what was left plus a $5 tip on all-you-can-eat wings. When he left the wings joint, he was out of cash and experiencing some wicked meat-sweats. How much did he start out with?

For your own benefit, I recommend you copy that problem, paste it into a Word document, work it out, then read the rest of this article.

There are two ways to solve this, and I’ll be interested in seeing on DSC’s blog how they choose to solve it. I’m guessing they’ll use the second method, but let’s go over them in order.

Method 1: Mathematical Approach

First, we start out by creating some variables:

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How Much Time Does It Take to Make Four 4.0s in a Computer Science Semester?

Photo Oct 30, 5 44 18 PMLast semester was a good one. I took four upper-division classes as a computer science senior and made four As. Tracking time is important so I wanted to know how long it took me to pull this off.

Steve Jobs once said, “It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” Time is invaluable. Each of us has been given a precise, finite amount of time. Some of us are given more than others. But all of us must recognize its preciousness and make good use of it.

Knowing how to spend time wisely is incredibly important. You can learn how to spend time better by analyzing what worked and didn’t work with time spent in the past. Tracking your time gives you a rich context upon which to make tomorrow’s decisions.

As a freelance web developer, I bill hourly. I’ve been tracking my time professionally for almost four years. It’s given me a context to gauge how long new projects are going to take, and I’m usually able to give fairly accurate estimates as a result. The practice of always having a clock running with an assigned task when I’m at my desk has made me very time-conscious and increased my productivity. It’s a discipline I recommend even if you are a salaried W2 employee. Knowing how you’re spending your most precious resource should matter to you.

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“Get out of this building as much as you can.”

IMG_0018It was a foggy drive across the flat Oklahoma countryside to Talequah. I rarely visit the parent Northeastern State University campus but the 65-mile drive to the state’s oldest institution of higher learning was worth it this morning. We arrived with plenty of time and took seating close to the front of the room.

Dr. Datta, an appropriately named computer science professor, normally teaches an 11:00 A.M. class in this room but today there was a special speaker. Mr. Rich Bell, a 34-year-old foreign service officer from the U.S. Department of State, flew from Washington, D.C. to pay the campus a visit.

Mr. Bell wore a vest and tie but held no notes and gave no PowerPoint presentation. Instead he brought the energy, wits, and personality that only come through deliberate life experience accrued in foreign travel. “I work for the U.S. Department of State,” he began. “When I’m feeling important I call myself a diplomat.” Mr. Bell explained that like most of the students in the room, he had been a computer science major. He used this undergraduate degree as a stepping stone to law school. After graduating the University of Pittsburg with a Bachelor in Computer Science, he eventually attended Texas A&M for a short while before working at the U.S. Department of State in 2010. A good writer with interpersonal skills uncharacteristic of a tech-oriented individual, he quickly climbed the department and now serves as a recruiter and interviewer when he’s not living overseas assisting ambassadors in their technical needs.

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