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Deciding between computer science and engineering

  1. Feb 11, 2012 #1

    I am going to be attending Dalhousie university next September. I have been accepted there, but am now faced with a difficult decision. I don't know if I want to pursue computer science or engineering (electrical or computer engineering).

    I have loved computer science since a young age. I think I started programming when I was around 10. I have a bookshelf in my room full of programming books, as well as textbooks on operating systems, software engineering, and artificial intelligence. I love all of that stuff.

    That being said, I've also more recently become interested in electronics and electrical engineering. I have built many ardiuno projects, and really love learning about electrical engineering as well. I'm also interested in embedded systems, and how software and hardware interact together. One of the main things that also attracts me to electrical engineering is that I really love physics and math, and I wouldn't get to use much physics in computer science, although I suppose I'd definitely get to do a lot of math in graduate school if I go to graduate school.

    In a way computer engineering would be an ideal discipline for me to study since it combines computer science and electrical engineering, and focuses on embedded systems. But at the same time, I will miss out on all of the fun higher level computer science topics like algorithms and machine learning. I have also always been interested in doing graduate school in computer science and becoming a researcher in the field.

    I realize that no one on here can actually decide for me, but any advice about making this decision would be greatly appreciated! Especially if you have had to make such a decision.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 11, 2012 #2
    It sounds like CompE would be a good fit for you. At least at my college, by their jr. and sr. year CompE majors had the choice of going more in the direction of EE, or more into CS. A popular major at my school was EE or CompE with a CS minor. One thing I will say though-- IMO it is easier to major in EE or CompE and pick up a few CS classes on the side than major in CS and pick up a few EE classes. The reason for this is that the EE curriculum usually starts with several courses that are necessary for EE's, but may not be so interesting or useful for someone who is more interested in computers. I'm talking about classes like Physics I and II, Chemistry, and Circuits I & II, etc. So you might not be able to take the more "interesting" classes such as microprocessors and embedded systems unless you have gone through the EE prerequisites. The CS curriculum usually starts with classes that teach you programming and debugging, data structures, concepts like recursion, object-oriented and procedural languages, etc. so even if you just take a couple of introductory CS classes it will likely be interesting and useful. This is just from my personal experience and the experience of my friends. At different colleges, the situation may well be different.
  4. Feb 11, 2012 #3
    Computer Engineering my friend, completely. I am computer engineer and this is exactly what you're looking for! (At least at my college)

    In terms of software, we learn just as much if not more about algorithms, operating systems and ai. The bright side is Computer Engineers at my college do half of the EE curriculum which includes Circuits (Network Analysis) through Electronics (and more). As far as I know from talking to my professors, you will do just as much if not more programming than CS majors. The good side is that you'll have a lot of experience interacting with the hardware and not just software.

    We take embedded systems, microprocessor development and a lot of low level courses that delve into the software/hardware focus you're looking for.

    I'd say go with Computer Engineering, Computer Science isn't what you're looking for from your description.
  5. Feb 11, 2012 #4


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    Hey clint222 and welcome to the forums.

    One piece of advice I wish to give you is that no matter what you choose, don't do a course that you already know a great deal about.

    You have mentioned that you have done a lot of programming so I would avoid a degree that has lots of programming courses: you will be bored out of your brain and it might drive you nuts.
  6. Feb 11, 2012 #5
    Thanks for your replies!

    While I still need to think about it more, I looked at the computer engineering curriculum and it looks very interesting! It really does have a nice blend of computer architecture, algorithms, and all of the electronics stuff I like! And it seems like the computer engineering people sometimes get to do some really interesting AI stuff with robots too! All I really have to decide at this point is if I want to do engineering or computer science. I don't have to pick an engineering discipline until third year!
  7. May 17, 2012 #6
    Hi, Im a 1st year IB student, I wanted to know if chemistry is really required for Computer Science engineering or not and if yes then whats the use of it?
  8. May 17, 2012 #7
    Hey! Cool, I'm actually also an IB student as well. In fact I just wrote my last exam today! It's great to be done.

    It probably depends on the university. You probably can check on their website if you know what university you are interested it. In general, engineering programs require that you have high school calculus/pre-calculus math, physics, and chemistry. On the other hand computer science programs typically only require calculus level math. Of course this depends on the university.

    I'm not sure exactly what "computer science engineering" is. Is that in between computer engineering and computer science? So mostly software but a little bit of hardware maybe? If that course is offered in the engineering department at the university you are interested in it probably requires chemistry, but you'd have to check.

    I think the idea is that all engineers should have a background in chemistry, physics, and calculus, even if it might not all be helpful to the field you actually will be working in. At Dalhousie, the place I'm going (it's in Canada), each engineering student has to actually take two years of physics, mechanics, chemistry, thermodynamics, programming, etc. so that everyone has a good background in that stuff. Engineers often work with other types of engineers so I suppose it doesn't hurt to have such a background.

    You'd probably only have to take one chemistry course. I guess a little bit of chemistry might come up if the program teaches how semiconductors work, like doping silicon and that sort of stuff, but that would probably be pretty limited. I don't know if the program you are talking about even would have courses in that sort of thing.

    I took chemistry, math, physics, history, English, and Spanish. For computer engineering at Dalhousie I needed to have the math, physics, chemistry, and English. As was discussed in this thread, this program consists of learning all about electronics, hardware design, and low level software design. Maybe the program you're interested in is similar to this?

    In any case I'd take chemistry, unless you are sure you won't need it. Out of curiosity, what university are you thinking of going to?

    Best of luck to you!

    Last edited: May 17, 2012
  9. May 20, 2012 #8
    I was a psychology major so perhaps learning how to write programs that think/learn sounds more interesting to me, so I would choose computer science. To me it seems like more of a mix of art and science, which I think is ideal -- but then again, I was a psychology major so take that for what you will :)
  10. May 23, 2012 #9
    well my subjects are:
    Physics, Computer Science, ITGS and English (HL)
    Mathematics and Hindi (SL)
    and I'l be giving SAT 2 for Mathematics and Physics (most probably)...
    hmmmm...can't even change my subjects now... :(
    and I guess I will apply for Georgia Tech, CAL Tech, Carnegie Mellon, and Illinois Institute of technology...let's see where the future drops me...
    Thanks and good luck guyz.... :)
  11. May 23, 2012 #10
    And sorry for that computer science engineering thing...wanted to write computer science...cut out the engineering bit :p
  12. May 23, 2012 #11
    By the way...can I know on what subject did you do you Extended essay?
  13. May 23, 2012 #12
    Fair enough! I have heard it called that before. I suppose it depends on the university. A lot don't require chemistry, but no doubt some do. It wouldn't hurt to have. If you decide not to take it make sure that most of the universities you are going to don't require it!

    I did physics! My essay was about electrical transformers and how temperature effects their efficiency, because I like that sort of stuff. : D

    It's too bad we didn't have IB computer science at my school. I might have done my extended essay in that if I could have, but I think my physics essay turned out good. Do you know what you'll do for your extended essay yet?

    Goodluck with IB!

  14. Jun 10, 2012 #13
    Im doing my extended essay in ITGS on the topic Cloud computing...still thinking of a good research question..tell me if you know of something good..
  15. Jun 10, 2012 #14


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    Do you want to cover technological issues or non-technological ones?

    A non-technological issue would relate to privacy and issues regarding ownership of content and the potential for misuse for these kinds of issues.

    Technological issues might include how to handle bandwidth considerations when demand becomes very large.

    Legal issues also might deal with where the servers are, whose data it belongs to, and the analysis of intellectual property issues, especially with regard to jurisdiction and the protection of people's privacy, ownership, and other issues.
  16. Jun 10, 2012 #15
    actually both...but more technological ones..
  17. Jun 10, 2012 #16


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    Well lets start with some technological issues.

    The main issue when it comes to content access especially for cloud systems has to do with bandwidth.

    Because of this you want to design your system not only for getting data, but for representing data in a way that allows for the situation to allow everybody to access and also create data to facilitate this.

    Google had to think about this issue when they created their search engine, and you will if you look hard enough, find their own documents that discussed this at length (hint: look up the paper that is hosted on the Stanford website).

    From this you get into architecture design at both the hardware and the software lehvel which includes the hardware, the algorithms, and everything else that goes in to it all.

    Many different issues that you can look into, but I recommend you read the paper that should still be hosted on Stanford, written by Larry Page and Sergei Brin on designing search engines.

    For non-technological issues, the big issues relate to privacy, ownership of data, and all of the legal issues surrounding this which include, but are not limited to, intellectual property and jurisdiction.

    Look at for example facebook, hotmail, google, youtube and read the agreements that people accept when they join the services. You won't be short of information. The agreements are huge so just focus on one or two things and it will keep you very busy.
  18. Jun 10, 2012 #17
    thanks a Ton...but how do I frame my research question? I have to frame a esearch question first and then I have to do research on that topic...can't take down matter from google its plagiarism...what sources can i take for research?
  19. Jun 10, 2012 #18


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    You should probably get more specific advice from your advisor/lecturer/tutor/whatever, but the basic guidelines I think you will absolutely require is that you frame the question as clearly as possible and do so in a compact way that is simple to understand and direct. I'm guessing you will have to do some research before you narrow things down to a specific question though.

    In terms of sources, again speak to whoever you need to. I imagine though, that you will be able to get a lot of documents in digital form to support your research and your claims.

    For the referencing, you will have to talk to who is supervising you or giving you the assignment as they will have different standards in comparison and contrast to others. The most conservative view would be to simply cite everything you refer to explicitly: in other words copy everything you cite and put a reference to it in your reference list.

    Your arguments that correspond to what you are trying to answer will be your own work even if they draw conclusions or make inferences based on stuff you cite.

    To be honest referencing is an absolute pain in the neck and I'm glad I don't have to do it. I understand it's use and all but personally I'm more in favor of listening to arguments that have a sound logical premise and argument rather than some poor excuse to cite 1000 people, but then again I'm not getting marked and you are. The reason I say this is because all inference of any sort by default is under uncertainty and because of this, it is better to take a default position to consider as many things as equally likely as possible rather than say "it must be x because y said so": george carlin referred to this phenomenon as 'thinking'.
  20. Jun 10, 2012 #19
    yo man... thanks again.. :) it was of great help to me..
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