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Engineering Physics major wanting to get into software engineering

  1. Aug 14, 2010 #1
    I am in my 3rd year of a physics b.s. program. I have been taking a few courses (not many) to get a computer science concentration. I have become increasingly interested in software engineering (not just programming), so I'm looking into how hard that is going to be with a physics degree rather than a comp sci deg.

    If I were to switch majors to comp sci now, I would need to clear about 30 more credits than to finish the physics degree, so that's not really attractive to me...I might as well spend those 30 credits towards a masters program.

    Should it be difficult to get into a masters program for comp sci or software eng with the physics b.s.? Will I need to take a year or more of undergrad comp sci courses before I can even start the masters?

    And will I be able to compete in the job market against others that did comp sci for the undergrad?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2010 #2
    Check the requirements of the programs you want to go to online, and make sure to start studying for the comp sci GRE test. If you have the prereqs and do well on the test, it should be no problem.

    Also, if you can, try to get in on some physics research where you actually have to program. It shouldn't be hard to find someone who wants a programmer. This will give you real experience. Another good foot in the door might be to get involved in some research in the comp sci department of your school---that will give you a recommendation by someone in the field.

    Finally, there have been several other places in this forum (and specifically, this sub forum) where people have mentioned that a graduate degree in comp sci doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be a good programmer.

    So here's a suggestion: join linkedin, and start looking at people who work for companies that you think you'd like to work for. You can search by job title and by company, so you shouldn't have a problem finding a lot of information. Then look at the ways that those people got to where they are, what their backgrounds are, what jobs they've had in the past, etc. This will give you an idea about how to procede. Also, I wouldn't be shy to email someone with a job you want, who had a similar background to yours (i.e. BS in physics) and ask them their advice. Mostly, people aren't dicks, even if they're very busy.
  4. Aug 14, 2010 #3
    Ya, I have tailored my physics program to include 5 CS classes (2 lower level, 3 upper level)...I realize that I'll still have to take some undergrad courses when I enter the masters program to catch up, but at least my school isn't even requiring a GRE for admission to the CS masters.

    I guess since I only have 50 more credits to complete the physics b.s., versus 86 more credits for a CS degree, I might as well just finish the dam thing, heh, and then worry about playing catch-up in grad school.

    I"m just scared about this impending Professional Engineer licensure requirement for software engineers that people are talking about...if I don't graduate from an ABET accredited 4 year, regardless of whether I have a masters or beyond in engineering, I won't be able to obtain the PE license.

    Do you see this as something that will be enforced? Or you think most software engineers won't have to worry about the PE?
  5. Aug 14, 2010 #4
    Well, I'm not a software engineer, but I would say that if you have a master's degree from a reputable program, it should be something that you could pass. Said differently, if you don't pass the qualifying exam, and a lot of other people from your program don't pass, it's probably not a very good program.

    Also, you should prepare yourself to apply to as many graduate programs as you can. Let me tell you that there seems to be a real bias against people who aren't from top 10 type programs, especially if you're looking for a first job. Given that, I would prepare myself to take the Comp Sci GRE, and apply to places like Stanford, Harvard, and whoever else has top 10 programs. This will make you more marketable when you look for a job. Places which don't require GREs to be admitted to usually aren't the best programs.

    Again, your goal should be to get involved with research as much as possible. This will be good for whatever you do in the future, and strengthen your application to get into a good grad program.
  6. Aug 14, 2010 #5

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    Plenty of people get an advanced degree in a program distinct from their undergrad degree. Expect to take some catch-up classes if accepted. If you are interested in software engineering as opposed to computer science (and they are rather different beasts), a way to make yourself stand out from the comp sci majors who should never do engineering is to take a systems engineering course or two. Systems engineering programs are even harder to find than software engineering programs, so this might be difficult to do. Another thing to do to make yourself stand out is to get an undergraduate internship at some organization, with the internship focused on either software or systems engineering.

    BTW, Stanford and Harvard do not have top rated software engineering programs. They aren't even close AFIAK. (Harvard is not a good engineering school, period. There's just too much competition right next door from MIT.) I couldn't find a rating of software engineering programs, so this is just a guess:

    #1 Carnegie Mellon, pretty much stands by itself.

    The rest of the best, listed alphabetically: Berkeley, Cornell, Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), Purdue, University of Maryland (College Park), University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), University of Texas (Austin)
  7. Aug 14, 2010 #6


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    Easily, most of the best programmers are physicists or mathematicians.

    Ain't going to happen, software is too portable.
    If to write the code in the US you suddenly have to pay twice as much for a professional engineer what is your company's view of outsourcing to India likely to be?
  8. Aug 16, 2010 #7
    Not hard. Also what parts of software engineering are you interested in specifically?

    There are so many people in the computer industry that don't have computer science undergraduate degrees that it won't hurt you as long as you can do well answering the basic questions on the interview.

    Also, one thing that will help you a lot is if you take one or two basic finance classes or project management courses. One thing about "real world" software engineering is that a lot of it involves dealing with human relations and project scheduling.

    Not going to happen. There are too many people in the industry that don't have licensure and don't have any intentional of getting it, and it's just too easy to move jobs overseas, that there is no chance that you'll see PE requirements. Also, there is no real evidence that licensure actually produces better software.
  9. Aug 16, 2010 #8
    Can somebody tell me what software engineers actually do? It seems to me like they just program stuff like a code monkey (i think that's what you call them). I honestly don't know much about software engineer but it seems like a degree where it's geared towards programmers and it's only a paper saying "programming degree" Obviously that's not true but my friend loves programming and he programs so that's how i got the impression.
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