The Joel on Software Discussion Group (CLOSED)

A place to discuss Joel on Software. Now closed.

This community works best when people use their real names. Please register for a free account.

Other Groups:
Joel on Software
Business of Software
Design of Software (CLOSED)
.NET Questions (CLOSED)
TechInterview.org
CityDesk
FogBugz
Fog Creek Copilot


The Old Forum


Your hosts:
Albert D. Kallal
Li-Fan Chen
Stephen Jones

BA or BS in Computer Science

Is a BS that much better than a BA for CS?

I could complete a BA in CS in maybe a year and a half from a less prestigious school or I could complete a BS in CS from a more prestigious school in 3 years. The prospect of graduating that much earlier is really tempting but the school with the BS is much more reputable than the one with the BA.

Any opinions? Does having a BS really help you that much?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
What is a BA in Computer SCIENCE?
chris
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
Bachelor of arts in CS, yes many schools offer it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
I have a BA in Computer Science, and I think it has helped more than hindered with the emphasis they place on communication, writing and other disciplines.  But in "elite" CS arenas it may be slightly looked down upon, I'm not sure.
Pseudo Masochist Send private email
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
I would go with the reputable school.  Getting a degree isn't about learning stuff.  If it was MIT's open course ware would be a suitable replacement to a degree.  It is about interacting with professors and the other students there.  At a better school both of these tend to be better.  If all you want is a degree by all means go to the quicker one.

  Second what are you interested in?  Are professors doing research into anything you find interesting?  You could build something for one of them as a senior project, and be offered a job. It happened to me.  I didn't take it though because I wasn't interested in what he was working on.
Brian
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
BA in Computer Science?? We live in interesting times.
Victor Noagbodji Send private email
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
My experience (and I'm hardly representative) is that the BA and BS degrees share the same core curriculum in Computer Science. Figure that's about five-tenths of the classes you'll take. In a BA program, three to four-tenths of your remaining coursework will be in liberal arts, including business classes and the remaining tenth will be in classes like chemistry and physics.  In a BS program, that ratio would be reversed, you'll take more chemistry, physics, biology and so on, than english, communications and sociology classes. The important distinction here is that if your schools are properly accredited, you're still going to take roughly the same number of computer science classes and you'll still cover mostly the same material, in either case. It's just that when the university says you're a "well-rounded student," they're indicating whether you will schmooze with art-history critics or theoretical physics nerds at cocktail parties.

I took enough classes on both sides of the fence that I could qualify for either a BA or a BS. I ultimately went with a BS because at the time, I was interested in working for NASA. If I was interested in working on Wall Street or Madison Avenue, I would have probably gone for the BA and emphasized those relevant classes on my resume.

As Brian implied, it's really dependent upon what kind of work you think you'll ultimately find fascinating. If you do want to work for Intel, Nokia, Microsoft, Apple, etc and you want to be involved in the technical projects right away, you MUST get the BS from the more prestigious school. If you're looking to work in a company where technology is not its core business (such as the entertainment field, Wall Street, Madison Avenue, real estate, retail, etc) and you load up on business classes in the process, the BA will do you just fine.
TheDavid
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
> technology is not its core business (...Wall Street)

Many software jobs in finance are part of the core business.  The big exchanges know that they are now technology companies, CME is quite open about that.  Similarly, for any place doing high frequency trading, the software is directly producing the profit. 

As for BA vs BS, I don't think it matters at all.  I have a BA in CS from a top liberal arts college, I've never had the slightest pushback from someone wanting a BS.
Hockey Player Send private email
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
B.A. vs B.S. doesn't matter - my mother has a B.S. (and M.S.) in ENGLISH! It's basically an indication of the classes you take outside your major.

What matters is what you learn, how you apply it, who you work with (professors, etc), and (to a lesser extent) the reputation of the school.

If money is no object, go to the more prestigious (and presumably more expensive) school. Otherwise, stick with the shorter, less expensive program and just work your tail off. Look for opportunities to do interesting projects, whether with professors, other students, or in internships/co-ops.
Anitra Smith Send private email
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
>BA in Computer Science?? We live in interesting times.
It's also sometimes historical, eg Cambridge doesn't give BSc only BA, so you get a BA in physics!
Martin Send private email
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
Yep, my daughter just got a BA in astrophysics, because it was a mostly liberal arts school - so all degrees are BA.

I don't see it as meaning much...
sgf
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
I have a BA in CS. As I recall, the curriculum was not much different than the BS. Maybe 2 or 3 more math classes (which I love, but has so much of I felt I didn't need more of it). A couple more electives and a "writing intensive" course for the BA. I found the classes for the BA more stimulating so I went that route.

FWIW I don't think it's ever hurt me and has probably helped on more than one occasion.
joe schmoe
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
A BACS seems absurd to me. I guess it's a lightweight MIS? Whatever. Just another acronym to add to my "discard" filter.
Tony Chang
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
The difference between a BA and a BS is normally taking extra lab sciences to earn the BS.  Is it really that important to take Biology?  I have a BA in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics.  Hasn't stopped me from getting any jobs.  In fact, no one notices (they might even assume its a typo on my resume!).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
Oh, and to add to the above post, I've only ever worked for software companies (generally software as a service).  Again, no one has ever said, "We would LOVE to hire you, but what is this 'A' following the 'B' in your degree?!?"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
I have a B.A. in Computer Science.  I took every bit as much math as a BSCS and the same number of computer science classes.  More foreign language (German), which has helped me.  I didn't have two semesters of science for majors.  Nobody cares.

It's amazing the amount of ignorance that gets propagated, with the people announcing that they think a BACS is a nondegree and that they'd not hire them, based on their own ignorance which they're wearing like a badge of honor.  If this is how people make their hiring decisions, no wonder nobody can find good help.
anonForThis
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
I'm doing a BS in CS part-time at a good university. They also offer a BA in CS. Both BA and BS take the same core computer science courses.

Difference is in the other courses you take.

With a BS you'll be taking a number of other science courses like physics, chemistry, biology, along with a few token liberal arts courses.

With a BA you'll be taking a number of liberal arts courses (business, etc), along with a few token science courses (like physics, chemistry, etc).

Both BA and BS take the 'required' same computer courses and math courses.

The BA in CS is also a good choice as a second degree for pple that already have a BA.
chaoticsynergy Send private email
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
Errr that's suppposed to say "same required" not "required same".
chaoticsynergy Send private email
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
So far I haven't seen any reason why a BS is better than a BA. The only thing I could think of is if you went into game engines and needed a good physics background.

The only difference I'm seeing between the two programs now is one school is more well known. But is that worth a year and a half?
The OP
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
"So far I haven't seen any reason why a BS is better than a BA."

Makes filtering a lot easier :)
Employer
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
Well the real question is ... why is one program 1.5 years shorter? What are they teaching you in one that they aren't teaching you in the other?

If they're both decent schools, then I'd suggest checking out what kind of courses they teach. And how they teach those courses. Do they use languages in each courses that's appropriate to the subject matter of this course? etc.
chaoticsynergy Send private email
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
Of course not all schools are the same, but my experience has been that getting a BS requires more math, scinece, and lab courses.  A BA requires more liberal arts and maybe foreign language.

I have primarily worked at technology companies and a BA CS would get you a funny look at them.  Yet I think a BA CS might do fine in less technical companies.
Z
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
"But is that worth a year and a half?"

Do you already have a bachelor's degree in some other field?

I would be extremely skeptical of anyone graduating from college in only one and a half year, regardless of how prestigious the school is.

If you're the next coming of Doogie Howser, M.D., I would still encourage you to plan on going to college for at least three years. Get multiple degrees if you want. Heck, get your Ph.D. if you can. The fact of the matter is, being on a college campus is the best opportunity you'll ever have to experiment and try new things. It's a critical period of self development that's true whether you're a super-genius 12 year old or a grizzled Iraq veteran on the GI Bill.

This speed verses prestige question is really more appropriate when you're considering three years at one school verses four years at another.
TheDavid
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
No David actually I have an Associate's degree.

I will graduate from the BA school in a year and a half because they accept credits from my tech school towards their CS program. And I've already put a year into a four college. The BS school doesnt do anything with my associate degree credits really. The BS school has a very set curriculum while the BA school has a very loose one.
The OP
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
Generally speaking a BS CS is nearly always considered a better more prestigious degree than a BA CS when it comes to working in an applied science/engineering/technology field.

I once met a guy with a BA CS.  I asked him why he went the BA route.  He said he did it so he could get out of all the math classes the BS students had to take, and so he could get the highest GPA as possible for the least effort.  At the time he was hoping to use the high GPA to help himself get into a prestigious grad school.

IMHO, I don't think I'd want to hire a BA CS with such a an attitude.  Or someone without a solid math background.  It is easy enough to pick up philosophy, etc. on your own, but not as easy to pick up higher math and the hard sciences on your own.
Boston
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
I'm sorry, but a BA CS sounds like some sort of schlock degree made up to get in on the tech boom (which is now over with).  I would just assume that someone with a BA CS was just too lazy to get a real BS CS.  Period.

I want to hire the best people possible and that means a strong education in math, science, and engineering.  Period.
Albert
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 
 
"a BA CS sounds like some sort of schlock degree made up to get in on the tech boom ... I want to hire the best people possible and that means a strong education in math, science, and engineering.  Period." - Albert

Brilliant theory, Albert ... the curriculum designers at UC Berkeley were predicting a tech boom that would occur ten years later when they granted me my BA CS in 1989. And the Jet Propulsion Lab manager who hired me out of college clearly didn't share your high standards.

I want to hire the best people possible, and that means someone smart enough to gauge candidates on merit rather than by the second initial of their degrees.
Zahid Send private email
Thursday, September 18, 2008
 
 
Some would say that subjects which need "Science" tacked on the end, aren't science!
A
Thursday, September 18, 2008
 
 
"I want to hire the best people possible and that means a strong education in math, science, and engineering.  Period."

When I graduated from college, I was two classes short of picking up a mathematics degree in addition to my computer science degree. As in double major, not CS with a math minor.

Guess how many times in my career since then that I've had to do anything more complicated than statistics and probability analysis?

Zero.

And I worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Let me repeat that. I worked with raw satellite data. I didn't do any math whatsoever that was more complicated than what they teach business majors. I didn't use any of my chemistry or biology. I did use physics, but nothing more complex than what was in my high school textbook, and I used that to calculate orbits. So outside of the classes in my core computer science curriculum, how many did I wind up needing in my job?

Zero.

Now there are fields that do require that kind of higher math, and if you do want a job in one of those fields, yes, you will need the classes.  I don't deny that.

I will argue however, that 95% of all the programming jobs out there in the United States require that you know how to think, how to do research, how to decide what's relevant and what's "true" but none of those jobs require need to you be able to do n-dimensional topography, or determine the spin rate of the Higgs particle according to supersymmetry theory.

Now, I can talk about that stuff because I did take those science classes. All of my past employers would have been just as happy if I had a Bachelor of Arts, as long as I did the work I was assigned.  In fact, I think I probably would have been invited to more parties and did more social networking if they knew I was just as comfortable talking about the latest opera season.

What's really important is your critical thinking skills, not what you know.
TheDavid
Thursday, September 18, 2008
 
 
"The BS school doesnt do anything with my associate degree credits really."

That's a warning sign. You may want to change the basis for making your decision from how long it would take you, to how much material you will have to repeat. If you have to essentially start over as a freshman and take Composition 101, I personally would go back to the college that granted you the associate's degree and demand my money back.

Flippancy aside (and assuming you're referring to classes in your major), print out the catalogs and compare the class descriptions. If the BA program has lots of classes covering subjects like Java programming and Microsoft VBA programming, don't even bother going there. Run, don't walk, to the more prestigious BS school.

You really want to be going to a school where the only classes you explicitly learn programming languages (such as Java) are in your very first quarter or semester. The rest of the way, it's all higher level concepts like algorithms and how operating systems work.

If both schools offer the same curriculum and they both move you quickly away from languages and into concepts, then go with the BA, graduate sooner and start gaining experience, with my blessing. If the school offering the BA program sounds dumbed down, then you'll regret going there.
TheDavid
Thursday, September 18, 2008
 
 
I'm going to stick with the more prestigious school.

Reason being, their program is much stronger. They accepted credits for composition, speech, sociology, psych, etc but I am starting as a freshman. My senior year will be part time semesters. This school also has a very high placement rate...I'll just be a like 10-15k more in debt when graduating =)
The OP
Friday, September 19, 2008
 
 

This topic is archived. No further replies will be accepted.

Other recent topics Other recent topics
 
Powered by FogBugz