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Computer Science
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Which Computing Major?

Jeff Maher on Wednesday, 09 May 2007. Posted in Majors & Minors

When I first hit RIT's doorstep, I had no clue if I was in the right major. Sure, I knew that I wanted to do something with computers, but there are a lot of "somethings" with computers. Furthermore, there were lots of majors with computer-like words in their names. It was confusing when I entered the school, and now there are even more computing majors!

So which one should you go into? To answer that question, you first have to break it down into more general categories and then base the decision on what kind of things you want to do in the "real world" after school. Below are the categories as I see them.

Keep in mind that I've floated in the software realm throughout my interests and college career, so better information about non-software majors might be gotten from a current student in that major or from a specific department's website (which I will link to). Talking to any the major's department will give you a much better idea of what's involved than what I have here.

Also, I when I mention whether a major is transferable or not, it means that the involved courses are easily applied to the graduation requirements of another major. For example, a student starting in a major with slightly easier courses may have more difficulty changing their major to one that has more intense course work. Students can transfer in and out of all majors on this page, it's just simpler for some programs and/or you might have to extend the duration of your college career to make the switch.

Hardware

Computer Engineering (CE)

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: Yes

Computer Engineers spend the bulk of their time learning about the ins and outs of computer hardware and how computer systems run software on the low (bit/assembly) level. This program has a similar first-year course sequence as computer science majors which focuses on high-level languages like Java. However, later on, courses focus more on hardware and embedded systems.

Computer Engineering Technology (CET)

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: No

As described by RIT students (those in and out of this program), this is Computer Engineering without the hard math. This might make it sound like it's for slackers or CE dropouts, but that's not the case. CE focuses a lot on theory whereas CET focuses on application. Another way of putting it is that CE majors design new systems and CET majors learn how to best use and troubleshoot those systems.

Software

Computer Science (CS)

Website - Worksheet (see page 42)

Easily Transferable: Yes

Clearly the best computing major on campus (just kidding). CS really boils down to programming software and writing algorithms. However, good software design is also a recurrent theme. When you join the "real world," you will likely be a coder making software for a company - to be used internally or externally. This is probably the best major to choose if you really aren't sure (that's why I went into it).

Information Technology (IT)

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: No

Information technology is an extremely broad computing major that dabbles in everything: programming, web design, networking, and system administration. The major has a very flexible curriculum that really lets you choose your focus, but gives you a taste of everything. Most people that go through this program become web application developers and system administrators.

Software Engineering (SE)

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: Yes

Software engineering, in my opinion, is simultaneously the coolest and hardest computing major. The focus of this one is designing software - both in terms of how to code it and how to manage a team to build it. Computer science looks at the nitty-gritty (algorithms, how to best code individual components) and software engineering analyzes the big picture (overall design, how do components come together to make a complete software product). Sofware engineering classes are difficult because each class requires creating a large software product within a ten week period.

Multimedia

Game Design & Development (GDD)

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: Yes and No (math/science courses are lax)

A very large number of people that go into computing initially have ambitions of programming the next great video game. This major was created for those people. Pulling from both the computer science and information technology departments, this major very specifically hones students to make games. This is a strength of the program, but also a problem. Getting a job as a game programmer is like becoming a rockstar - not impossible, but pretty difficult (note: Microsoft and Electronic Arts are big recruiters for this major). If you're not 100% sure that you want to make games, don't enter this major - especially since computer science, software engineering, and information technology students can enroll in these courses as electives.

New Media Interactive Development (NMID)

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: No

An information technology spin-off. While having much in common with its parent major, NMID has more of a focus on user-interface design and the multimedia side of computing.

Networking

Applied Networking and System Administration (ANSA)

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: No

Another information technology spin-off. With the Internet and networked computing becoming such an integral part to the way we live and work, there's a lot of demand for professionals that can maintain those networks. System and network administration seems to be the clear job for folks coming out with this degree. Check out JD's blog for more info about what it's like.

Telecommunications Engineering Technology (TET)

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: No

Ever hear about that thing called the "Internet"? Want to know how it works and help make companies connect computers? Look no further. The large focus in this major is on the hardware used in computer networks and how information is transmitted between them.

Scientific Application

Bioinformatics

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: Yes

The traditional sciences (chemistry, physics, and biology) are in need of people that understand their intricacies, but can also program computers. You'll take a lot of science courses, but will also be trained on how to apply computers to those fields. If you like science and like computing - this is the spot for you.

Medical Informatics

Website - Worksheet

Easily Transferable: Yes (CS & Pre-Med tracks) and No (IT track)

Right now, the medical field is an area that is desparately trying to catch up to the rest of the world in its use of computers. Having done my first co-op with a medical billing company, I can tell you first hand that hospitals are way behind and need more professionals that understand computers, but also have a basic understanding of the medical field. This majors gives students exposure to both those areas.

Comments (1)

  • Steve

    Steve

    13 March 2009 at 11:36 |
    Jeff,

    I'm already down the path a bit towards a BS in CS but still had some questions about SE and some of the related fields. This article was very helpful -- especially regarding the locations of the RIT worksheets.

    Thanks again,
    Steve

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