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Physics Programming vs. Physics - Career options;

  1. Sep 26, 2006 #1
    Programming vs. Physics -- Career options;

    Well, I'm 17 and am going to graduate college soon. ever since the age of 15 (when our family finally got a computer), I got very involved in programming and living in the "internet scene". For those of you who don't know what the "scene" is, it's probally left un-said. As a result, I had to learn math (namely algebra and calc) and actaully became very interested in it. I soon got interested in Physics. Although I, of course, don't have a degree in the field -- I am very intriged by it, always wanting to learn, and more importantly, "understand" it.

    My best field is ultimately software engineering. I'm fairly advanced in C++, Delphi, VB, and some common assembly sets. And the various internet protocols, how they work and things of the sort :rolleyes:

    Approaching graduation within a few months, I'll be going to college soon. I'm very intersted in these three fields . . My question is, which one should I get into? Of course I can only answer this question, and I know that software engineering is my best field (Althought I wouldnt like the idea of a 'boss' dictating how to write my code :P hehehe).

    What if I were to do both? Perhaps an assoc. in Physics (if that's posible :uhh:) and a Masters (four-year) in softare engineering? And some mathematical prerequisites would probally help out in both of them. Or do I pretty much have to choose one or the other? :uhh:

    Another thing is that, at my community college (private ones are too expensive :\), after talking to a counselor, it turns out that the "software engineering" program is only two years. I asked, "surly you can continue on to a Masters or greater"? What was implied was that I only needed two years.

    As I don't know much about the professional world of programming and physics, some help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2006 #2
    Well, I'd say go into physics, but then I'm a programmer desperately trying to claw his way into physics, so I'm biased. :-)

    As for becoming a programmer... I hate to be a degree snob, but you really aren't going to be allowed to do much interesting programming with only an associate's degree. I think that at least a B.S. is needed for the most part.

    Also, I should mention that even if you get a Ph.D., you should look forward to having your code reviewed by others. There is no way for a large group to successfully collaborate on a large project without some degree of standardization, and code reviews help enforce these standards, as well as serve as a check for things you might have overlooked.

    I think I'll refrain from extensive comments on the trend to outsource low-level programming work, at most keeping the high-level design decisions in this country. While we will certainly need programmers in the future, I suspect the types and qualifications of programmers needed will be changing. I'm sort of bearish on the field in general... but as I said above, I'm biased. :-)
  4. Sep 26, 2006 #3


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    Okay, so you're graduating high school (not college), and looking at 2-year and 4-year options, correct?

    If you enjoy both physics and programming, I'd say do your major in Physics, and take as many programming elective classes as you can. Being a talented programmer working in the Physics field, you should do well and have fun. You can do your first two years at your local community college and then transfer for the last two years, but they had better have a very strong math and physics department.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2006
  5. Sep 26, 2006 #4
    I was for myself hardcore programmer for five years since 10, where last three years were spent with C++ and all various libraries: MFC, plain COM (with Win32Api), OGL, DirectX, ATL, Qt, Win32Api itself, not to mention knowledge or various pattern strategies from Alexandresku; good algorithmical knowledge also was present (alright, I knew how to do Bubble sort in 12).

    With all that stuff I was destined to go to Computer Science, so imagine my parents' dissappointment when I said that I want to major in Physics. Basically, this change came when I went ill for week and read Azimov's foundations (along with Introduction to QM later :P). Along with it, I started listening LISP lectures from MIT OCW and realized that all this is not for me.
    Physics rocks :)

    I'd say, go for whatever you love -- life on Earth is too damn short to be doing something you don't like when you have opportunity to do what you like.
    Partially, that was my problem too: I don't appreciate commercial development, business and such is not my type of things.

    On your place, I would major in Physics just for the heck of not feeling bad when you'll realize that programming is not yours.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2006
  6. Sep 27, 2006 #5
    Do a combined Major...some schools offer Computational Physics.
    If you do not have this option then if you don't have an extensive background programming in C/C++/F/OpenGL/DirectX major in Computer Science or Software with a minor in Physics. In canada usually you can change the minor into a 2nd major within a year(4+1).

    The reason I say focus on the CS part first, is because of all the senior courses that might be available(Rendering, Parallel/Distributed/Shared Memory, Scientific Computing,Spatial Partitioning) to you that require alot of prerequisites. Granted the same thing can be said about physics.
    But I did the math/physics/psych first and I regretted not focusing on CS.
    BTW how much do you know about Data structures & Algorithms and Template Coding vs #define Coding?

    The other reason is You should attempt to code everything you learn from th physics side. If your very confident of your coding in rendering/math.
    Then go straight into physics.

    Either Way, attempt to do Rendering/3D & Numerical Math/Physics and if you can parallel
  7. Sep 27, 2006 #6
    I'm currently a Computer Engineering major, I was a Software Engineering major my first 2 years. I've found at Penn State, the first 2 years of physics and any other engineering major is very similar. So if your still undecided before you start college you still have a grace period before you really start branching off into special areas.

    But I also agree about going into the physics major, because anyone can learn to program over time and the market is flooded with CS/SE's and also alot of outsourcing is going on in the programming field.
  8. Sep 27, 2006 #7
    Look for schools with programs in computational physics.
  9. Sep 27, 2006 #8
    It is very common in industry for embedded programmers to have studied physics or electrical engineering. I would go that route. Pick up a class or two in programming as electives (operating systems and C++ are good choices), but concentrate on the hardware. Embedded work is far more interesting than straight computer programming.
  10. Sep 28, 2006 #9
    Thank you all for you're replies :P I guess physics and computer engineering would go good together. I'll talk to a counsoler and see how that would work out at my community college (transfering to a $50,000 college afterwards scares me, heh, but I guess it must be done).

    Four more questions, if yous' dont mind:
    A) As Chipset said, in programming everything is dictated -- unlike currently, where I just do an entire project by myself, using my own methods. Is most of this "standardization" done through using crap languages (exuse my language, hehe), such as Visual Basic? I am pretty sure that this is an industry-standard, and I would have to program in it often (although I know VB, I don't like using it).
    B) What do physicists do? I know physicists can come in handy if you are engineering things (for instance, im sure the laws of thermodynamics came in handy when developing the microchip), but what are some commong jobs for physisists?
    C) In the world of physics, isnt there alot of ridaculing? Knowing how I am, I'll probally try to develop some new theory, work out the math, publish it and get ridaculed lol.
    D) The idea of majoring in computer engineering, but having a minor in physics is so that it would help me out more (and look better on a resume) to be a programmer with knowledge of physics? Not that I would have a job concerning physics, but it would merly 'go good' with computer engineering?
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2006
  11. Sep 28, 2006 #10


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    You indicated your "location" to be "near chicago, IL". Maybe you should come to the Argonne Open House and see physicists at work and what we do.

  12. Sep 28, 2006 #11
    heh, yea October 7th is by birthday :P that would be a good combo. I googled and found http://www.anl.gov/Media_Center/News/2006/news060905.html

    Sounds like you's have alot going on over here. I actaully live in Waukegan, which is about 56.8 miles (according to google, heheh). It's probally only an hour drive or so.

    It sounds like a great open house, having alot of showcases, etc. I'll try to arrange getting there :)
  13. Sep 28, 2006 #12
    I don't see why a Computer Engineer would minor in Physics to look better on a resume. Business people know we are already good problem solvers and good at the technial field such as hardware/software. Unless the job you are aiming for deals with physics.

    I think it would be better from what i've heard at several career fairs and from my uncle who is currently a CS, is to major in a technical field, such as Engineering and minor in business. Thats what i'm currently doing anyways, so maybe i'm bias but it makes sense to me.

    Once you work awhile as an Engineering they usually want you to become a Manager so having business knowledge would be a plus in that area.
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