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How Hard is a CS degree?


Hey man, I’m going to give you my perspective, experience, and insight on this. I’ve read through this thread, and I’ve read through responses to this question on other forums, and they typically go the same. I find that concerning, because sometimes, I get the feeling that people are kind of just saying things or being negative in general. So, here you go.

“I’m not very good at math.”

“If you’re not good at math, you’re going to have a bad time!”

“…So much math…”

That attitude right there is why so many people get weeded out of Computer Science and Computer Engineering programs. Is math really hard, or are you just not familiar with it and out of practice? What do you do when you try something and you discover you are not any good?

  • Quit
  • Try again
  • This happens with a lot of things, playing a musical instrument, drawing, painting, mathematics, running, bench pressing, programming, video games, etc.

    No one is naturally good at math. Some people might be familiar with logic, because they grew up playing with puzzles or reading a lot. But a lot of us have to work at it.

    Randy Couture, a champion mixed martial artist, once said, “Fighting is 90% mental, 10% physical. The workouts are the easy part. Getting into that ring, telling yourself you’re a champion, telling yourself you’re a winner, that’s the hard part. That’s the impossible part.”

    Obvious bro-science aside, that quote can relate to anything. When I started playing guitar the noise was dull, out of tune, and burned my fingers. Pressing the tip of my thumb against the tip of my middle finger or index finger the next day hurt so bad, like I had touched an oven burner or something. But, guess what, because I wanted to sound like Zakk Wylde and Randy Rhodes, I picked up that stupid thing and carried on.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that pushing through the pain is what makes one a champion. Take physical pain out of the equation and put something else in there: Embarrassment, anguish, anger, impostor syndrome, or anything else that you may have experienced. My first College Algebra test I got a 61. In my country (United States), you need a 70 to pass, and that is not considered very good.

    My first semester in college, my first math class (which wasn’t even the right math, I didn’t test into Calculus) and I’m already failing on the first test. What did I do wrong? I studied, just like everyone else! I got the right answers on the homework, isn’t the test just like the homework? This is bullshit!

    I went home, pissed off, and hit the heavy bag for a while. If I can’t even pass fucking college algebra, how can I pass Trigonometry, or Pre-Calculus, or Calculus, or Calculus II, or Mechanics and Waves, or Electricity and Magnetism, or LIFE?

    All weekend I was salty about it. Didn’t once think to go to the professor or TA. The next week I did, though. There had been an error on a couple of questions, which brought my grade up to a 74 or something like that. There were another couple of questions where I had made stupid, stupid mistakes. Probably because I was rushing or telling myself the past six weeks “You’re not good at math you’re not good at math you’re not good at math you’re not good at math you fucking suck at math you’re pathetic you shouldn’t be here everyone else is ahead of you you’re not good at math you’re not good at math…”

    You get the idea, I was pretty messed up in the head (still am :wink: ). So, the next test, I took my time, thought about the question and applied my knowledge appropriately. Got a 100. Same for the Chemistry midterm that semester, I nailed it.

    I got through College Algebra, tested out of Trig, got into PreCalc and went into Calc I and Calc II. Did I get 100s on all of my tests? Lol, no. I even failed an assignment or two. But that’s how it goes. THAT’S LIFE, SON. That’s how you learn. Some professors are assholes, and douchebags, and entitled pricks, but most are willing to help you out if you have questions.

    I would be willing to bet that there is a Math Lab at your school. Those people are PAID to help you, man! If you try, at least try, have a way to explain what you don’t understand or where you are stuck, so many people are willing to help you.

    PatrickJMT is a great resource as well. That website is GOLD for people in undergrad mathematics.

    So, now you’re good with the math, awesome. What’s this I’m reading that you need a 4 year degree in CS to be a software engineer? Bro, let me tell you, if you stressed about this CompEng degree like I did, you are going to be outraged, BEYOND PISSED to discover at your first or second dev job that there are people there with no degrees, or an English degree, two History majors, and a Philosophy major. Strong wtf mother f’er I was told I have to have this degree and you don’t have one? I HATE YOU.

    Not really, he was a cool guy.

    Don’t sweat it man, I work with people that went the self taught route and they are doing well. They even freelance when they’re not working at our company (strong drive and motivation, I like video games and slothing with the cats).

    The Calculus isn’t for the computer science stuff, it’s to train your brain to think a different way. Unless you go encryption or something, most programming is basic algebra, if that.

    I hope this rambling made sense. Do what you love. I didn’t “love” computer science as a subject, but I loved what it gave me exposure to: Operating System design, embedded systems, firmware development, etc. School doesn’t teach you everything. The little terminal programs, compiler, and file manager you make are to teach you abstract concepts in a concrete manner.

    NEVER give up on your dream though. Grab this shit by the balls and go for it. Nothing in life that is worth doing is easy, not success, finding your soulmate, weight loss, powerlifting, NOTHING. Let’s get our head down and do this shit. The best advice I was given was: Hey, shit head, quit crying: It’s only temporary.

    It’s only temporary.



    Could you elaborate, Bane? Are you having problems with specific areas, say abstract/modern algebra, or calculus, or set theory, or modal logic etc.? In my experience, these are usually fixable with a good teacher and some hard work.

    If math is not your thing, then that’s a different issue. Although this is rarely the case. I have seen more people turned off by bad teaching, and being told they are no good, than people who are actually stupid. Very few people (barring pathology) are really stupid.

    Also, what are you trying to do? If you are looking into computational theories (Minsky, Kripke, Fodor, Chomsky, (David) Marr, Pylyshyn, Schutzenberger etc.), then you are basically looking at highly abstract mathematics as a career. This is my area of research, and it really is all math. If you are into more applied (lower level, in a bottom-up approach) stuff, like s/w development, security etc., then you may be able to get away with ad hoc solutions.

    But in general, any degree in Science is dependent on knowing a reasonable amount of math. If you can elaborate a little more, I can try and explain my experience/view of things.


    Excellent response. It was encouraging to see such thoughtful response!

    Yup! Nail. Head. Hammer. Hit. Well said!

    Timeless advice, that first bit. I never much cared for computers (my parents were scientists at NASA… had computers lying around since I was a kid in the mid-80s). But computation, as a concept/phenomena, opened new vistas to understanding the architecture of the universe and the human mind. David Marr was who I fell in love with, and Minsky, Chomsky, Fodor, Pylyshyn and Dennett. Kripke made me fall for modal logic and semantics, though I largely disagree with him on the details.


    Wrong reason to be in any discipline, unfortunately. You’re getting at this from the wrong end. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll get a good job, No matter what degree you have. One of the highest paid people I know, who literally gets paid by MIT in 8 figures (and has been for over half a century now), has a degree in… nothing specifically.


    I respectfully disagree.

    My Aunt got a Master’s is Psych and had to be a house maid for two years before she could get a job as a school teacher for disabled children. She’s fantastic at what she does. It just took forever to get the chance. Then she got cancer; so she had to suffer through that.

    You can be great at what you do, but if the market is shit and its difficult to relocate then you have to do something so you can eat. Also, life will shit on you without warning.

    Good for that lucky unicorn. I wish everyone would be as fortunate. Truly I do.


    There is nothing lucky about the person! They’ve overcome tremendous odds to be where they are at.

    I’m sorry to hear this! Unfortunately the screwed up ‘market’, and the forces that screw it up, have ruined countless lives. I’m really sorry to hear about a good person suffering like this.

    But my original point was about loving what you do. If you don’t, you’ll suffer in whole other ways!


    Hey @Dynamic_Gravity,

    Very sorry to hear about your Aunt. I think what biolinguist was saying in his post above is that eventually you’ll get your due.

    Two years is a very small time to sacrifice to get into a job you love. Even after I graduated, I was still in System Administration/Support for a while before I could land a dev gig. There is a huge disconnect between hiring managers and HR, I think. I see jobs posted all the time that are titled “entry level”, but want 5 years experience, expert Unix knowledge, 7 years MS Exchange experience, etc. How is any of that “entry level”, I wonder?

    My wife had a similar experience. She got a B.S. in Psychology. Decided to change career paths (her field of study had a high relapse rate, she didn’t want to help people that didn’t want the help, etc.), and got her Masters in Operations Management. She works with a software company optimizing their implementation process. Life is weird.

    Off topic...

    How do you guys quote in blocks?


    Ohhh state machine… moore… meely… automata… Ahhh the good days LOL

    I have really nothing to contribute to the OP … you just gave me some nostalgia from the lower level classes xD


    @AdminDev @biolinguist sorry for being salty. Its just I haven’t seen a case where someone who has gotten to do what they love as their career actually work out.

    Yup. That’s what it’s like around here (200 miles of where I am). All jobs posted where I live have these ridiculous requirements. There actually isn’t a single entry level job around here actually; all people are looking for are senors with master/phd and 10/15 years experience. It’s depressing as fuck.


    Don’t let this discourage you though. In most cases these are “nice to haves”. Apply anyway, if they can get what they are asking for at the price they are willing to pay, good on them. If not then you have a better change of getting an interview and distinguishing yourself. Also remember that cover letters are important.

    I have the same issue where I live. Biggest thing is that I do not want to work in the Seattle area so evrything near me is looking for “entry-level” jobs that speak to senior people trying to leave the Seattle area with a severe reduction in pay.

    It is time to start being digital mercenaries!


    I was never great at math, however I decided to go for it because I love computers so much <3
    I’m already 30% done. it’s doable if you dedicate all the necessary time to your studies (and pray to Wendell every now and then)


    Universities have pumped out way too many graduates for the market to absorb. I live in a city of just under four million people, so it’s not huge by any means but I tend to see between five hundred and a thousand applicants per job that I advertise.

    The number of applicants has risen dramatically, over the last seven years. I do remember seeing between ten to thirty applicants per job. Anectdotally, when I was a lowly CS grad over fifteen years ago I would be one of a handful of job seekers applying for the same role.

    Expect your fellow grads to be applying for similar roles, and make sure you do enough while you’re still at Uni to differentiate yourselves from your peers, and start preparing for graduate programs.


    I would love a computer related job over any other job. Im not very good at math though…


    Oh lord, how lucky am I if I landed a job making 70 without a degree and just 4-5 years experience slaving at a startup? Granted I’m not in Seattle so maybe my areas a little different but reading stuff like this makes me think I should enroll in school.


    That degree opens more doors. I would do it in my spare time if I was you.


    Nothing is hard. Only dedication is require.


    Ill go pick up some community classes and maybe after I buy a house Ill ramp up and switch over to a state college.