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BS in Mathematics MS in Software Engineering?

  1. Feb 23, 2014 #1
    I graduated in December 2013 with a BS in Mathematics (minor in Applied Statistics). I have taken this semester off to job search and think over things before pursuing a Master's degree.
    Originally, I was planning on going for a Master's in Mathematics and try to get a job as an instructor at a college/university teaching lower level math courses (calculus, etc).
    I talked to one of my professors a few weeks ago and he advised me to not go towards the academia route, because it's hard to get a job (I'm guessing this especially applies to me because I am not looking into a PhD at the moment). He told me to look into a related, applied field like statistics.
    I'm not interested much in statistics, and considering I enjoy problem solving, I've decided to look into the engineering field, particularly software engineering.
    I've looked into the program at the same school I completed my undergrad, they have a MS in Software Engineering program and I would be able to complete it in about 3 years.
    The thing is, I feel like I'm at a major disadvantage because I don't know much programming.
    I did take one course in C++ because it was required for my math degree, but we learned the basics, and although I have written like 3 programs, I have not had any exposure since then. I want to learn more about computers and how they work, and I want to get better at programming. I know I'll have to teach myself, of course, but I don't mind. I just want to know where to start as a beginner.

    Mostly, I want to know if pursuing this degree is too farfetched? I am behind as is, and I'm worried I won't be able to handle the workload. I'm willing to work hard, but there remain insecurities in the back of my mind.
    For the time being, I have purchased Code by Charles Petzold to understand coding and computers, to get more insight and see if this is something I'm interested in.

    Any advice is appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2014 #2

    D H

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    It typically takes two years to get a master's for people who have the requisite undergraduate studies. So yes, you're at a disadvantage. About a year of your three year program is catch-up work on the stuff you don't know. However, once you're in, you're in. If they accept you, that you have a year or so of catch-up work doesn't matter.

    Software engineering ≠ programming. You do need to know programming to some extent, but the major thrust of software engineering is engineering. How do you know how much to bid on a software project? How much effort will it take? How long will it take to complete it? If it's a software product that can kill people if done wrong (e.g., medical equipment software, or a control system for a nuclear power plant, a chemical plant, or a car), how do you know if it's safe?
     
  4. Feb 23, 2014 #3
    Thank you. Do you know how the general work environment for a software engineer compares with that of an electrical engineer?
     
  5. Feb 23, 2014 #4

    analogdesign

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    The work environment of a software engineer is usually indistinguishable from an electrical engineer. The vast majority of both professions sit on their butts all day in front of a computer. There are electrical engineers who work in the field or in a lab (just as there are field software engineers) but they are the minority. Most engineers spend most of their time in front of a computer.

    I spend most of my days in front of my computer (besides meetings and walking to lunch, of course) and thankfully am able to stay out of the lab most weeks.
     
  6. Feb 23, 2014 #5

    D H

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    I think you are confusing software engineering with computer engineering. They are not the same.

    There are five distinct disciplines in fields related to computers, plus two emerging ones. The first three:
    • Computer science. This is the granddaddy.
    • Computer engineering. "How do we build computers?"
    • Software engineering. "How do we build large, complex software systems?"

    I'm most likely understating the next two.
    • Information systems. "How do we build databases?"
    • Information technology. "How do I make that circle around an a?" (e.g., the @ in john.doe@acme.com)

    The two emerging fields:
    • Cybersecurity. "How can I hack *your* computer? How can I make my computer unhackable?"
    • Computational science. "How can I model a physical or mathematical system in software?"
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2014
  7. Feb 23, 2014 #6

    analogdesign

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    D H:

    Everything you said is true, but SMA_01 asked about the general work environment, not the scope of the work he or she would be doing. I'm quite aware of the differences between software, computer, or electrical engineering. One thing they certainly have in common is the work environment.

    For every one of those subfields you listed the "general work environment" is the same: sitting on your butt in front of a computer. The one possible exception is the IT person who carries monitors around the building on a cart.

    Think of it this way. Think of all the things that go into a cell phone. You have the overlying system architecture, you have mountains of software, you have the analog and digital integrated circuits, you have the board level system design, the antenna design and all the EM compatibility work, you have the case and tooling design. What is one thing all of these people that designed your cell phone have in common? They did the vast majority of their work sitting in cubicles in front of computers.
     
  8. Feb 23, 2014 #7

    D H

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    "Sitting on your butt in front of a computer" is far too generic. That's the work environment for every career from A to Z nowadays, from astronomer to zeugmatographic technician.
     
  9. Feb 23, 2014 #8

    analogdesign

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    I do not disagree... that was in fact the point of my reply to SMA_01. The fact is for most technical professionals the work environment is the same so that isn't a big differentiator between jobs.

    Perhaps you are right and in fact SMA_01 was really asking about what do the different careers do (as in mental output). If that is the case I agree with your post wholeheartedly.
     
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