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Ask HN: What is a minor in computer science worth?
6 points by gusgordon on Nov 8, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments
I'm thinking about going for a minor in computer science, but already have good experience with PHP, HTML, and some Python.

If I were to apply for a non-engineer job at a startup, or begin my own startup, what would the minor do for me? I am leaning towards not going for the minor, and instead continue to program on my own, and tout that if I ever apply for a (again, probably non-engineer) startup job. BTW, I'm double majoring in Physics and Economics and not sure if I'm staying all 4 years, if that means anything.


Check out the actual curriculum and determine if you would be learning stuff that you wouldn't easily be able to learn on your own. You can get by in software development without ever writing a compiler, converting automata, or hunting for K5 in a jumble of lines but I would argue those things can contribute positively to analytic thinking and in those situations where there is a parallel, you can have an intuitive edge.

Cross-disciplinary knowledge can be a great advantage as well, physics and economics mesh quite well with computation.

In my experience, a CS minor is generally a plus on a resume if you are a recent grad, less so if you graduated 10 years ago and haven't worked on related projects or in development roles.

Okay, thanks. It seems to me, though, that having done good work on side projects would be much more of an advantage than a CS minor, especially if I have something I built to show people. If I minored in CS, people might see, for example, side projects as a result of my minor. If I did CS on my own it would show I was more curious and entrepreneurial. I'm probably over analyzing it, but I don't want to do a lot of extra work for something that is going to do relatively little for me. I mean, I feel like if I just said, "I took a few computer science classes", that that would be equivalent in most people's minds to a minor. I'm probably over analyzing, but do you see where I'm coming from? Still not quite sure.

Having a minor in CS means I understand conversations about algorithmic complexity, have experience with parsers, can discuss data structure analysis, and all those other things that you don't learn when you learn a language. Computer Science isn't about building websites, it's about understanding theory and reasoning about logic. It won't help you get your RoR site up any faster, but it will definitely help you understand good engineering and create a stellar product. You should stay all four years, or five if you can afford it, and you should pursue the minor.

I agree entirely and I would just add that if the OP is worried about the time/gain ratio inherent to learning what is essentially an applied field of mathematics he should check if having a minor in software engineering is possible. My bet is that if he is taking a double major in economics and physics, he will be proficient enough in computational thinking after graduation to teach himself theoretical CS once he has a job secured.

My main reason for getting a minor in CS would be not being blind to software engineering, I think. Chances are if I want to design a product (or more likely a prototype for a product) I can do that with what I know, and even better after I eventually learn Python or some other more non-web language.

Where it seems a minor would definitely help me is in understanding and designing for the low level systems of a computer. But I don't I would get a minor for this reason alone - if I really needed/wanted to, I could probably learn this stuff on my own.

The thing I'm not sure of how much it will mean on my resume. It would be meaningful if I didn't do this stuff on my own, but I do, so I'm really unsure.

Well ideally there is nothing you could not learn on your own, given sufficient time and resources. It depends a lot on your university I would guess, so the best thing to do would be to ask older students who took CS classes and left. Not only the successful ones, but also the others, if only so you know what not to do. A good way to know what to do is to ask the people who are where you want to be how they arrived here. You should also ask professors for their opinion - they might not know about producing good software, but they almost always know a lot of stuff, including other students that might be able to help you.

Keep in mind though that CS is to Software Engineering what Physics is to Engineering. Getting a CS minor (or even major for that matter) won't make you a better developer, unless you are already a good enough developer that you can absorb some abstract concepts and reapply them in creative ways.

Thanks, point taken.

I'm a mechanical engineer, and I do a lot of stuff involving electronics and programming (PLCs, so a little different than you would probably learn).

Anyway, in my job at least it would probably be quite helpful, especially understanding some of the networking side of things. I'm not sure I even considered it if it was even offered as a minor at my school.

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