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Socoder -> On Topic -> Computer Sciences

Fri, 20 Aug 2010, 16:31
Hi guys,

So here is the deal. A good friend of mine failed to get the results he needed to read economics at Surrey uni, so he went through clearing and got a place at Goldsmiths (Uni of London) to read computer sciences.

I know a couple of people here do/did/plan to do compsci so I was wondering if anyone had any basic tips/hints/thoughts on the subject.

It would be worth mentioning that this chap has no programming experience at all and his only computer related qualifications is a GCSE in ICT. He is, however, quite computer savvy.

His course description mentions OOP, C++ and Java. As I mentioned, he has no experience in these fields, so what is his best bet? I assume the course would expect a understanding of basic programming? What resources could I suggest to him be they book/online/whatever to get him up to scratch?

If you have anything to say on the matter, please do put it forward, as it would be very much appreciated.

Thanks for reading,
Fri, 20 Aug 2010, 18:42
I graduated from Computer Science about 3 months ago. At college I got a C in ICT, at the end of my degree I left with the highest first in the year (and won an award for it). The only thing an ICT course helps with is to give you some confidence just using a PC. Otherwise it has practically nothing to do with Computer Science.

Typically universities presume you have no programming experience for the degree, however most degrees involve plenty of coding. At my uni it was possible to go the whole year only using Java and a little Haskell in the first year. But I was also taught tiny bits of C, bash scripts and php; but no where near enough to be profficient at using them. So I'd advise your friend does lots of extra programming in other languages in his own time.

The modules available to me were a big mix. Lots that were purely theory with no coding (networking, computer-law, business, software-engineering), some that were a mix-mash of theory with coding for assignments (databases, cryptography, graphics) and some heavy programming modules (advanced programming with Java/C/Unix, learning to build programming languages, algorithms and data-structures). Most of these did not teach a language and so just used Java because that's what we learnt in the first year.

My point is that you can go through the degree doing tonnes of programming or very little depending on your interests. I know one guy who did an entirely non-computing job at a bank for his placement and now continues to work there after graduating (even tho he's done a CS degree).

My number one recommendation, above all else, would be to do a Computer Science degree with a year in industry. It gives you a real perspective on how real IT works, teaches you how to write real software (which the degree will not do) and finally for me (and many of my friends) it was the best of our 4 years at uni.

Next I would take a long look over the universities site to try to find out more specifically about what is taught. What are the modules he is likely to learn in the first year, what topics do they cover, what tools do they use? He might have to e-mail some lecturers to get this information, which they will happily give out.

One small point is that typically most modules advise you to read certain books but this is usually just if your interested in finding out more. So your friend doesn't have to go out and buy tonnes of books unless he knows it is definitely required for the module. On the vast majority of my modules I never even looked at the list of advised books.

Then I would start learn to program the languages they use right now. He has about a month before the year starts and he can get a big head start in that time.

According to the BlueJ site Goldsmiths use BlueJ (which is developmed at my uni), so find out if this is true and if they follow the book (you could also check if they use Greenfoot). Either way I'd highly recommend your friend takes a look at BlueJ (and Greenfoot if he has time) and also picks up a copy of Objects First with Java. I used this book in my first year and I personally think it is the best book for teaching beginners to program.

Finally after going through university I'm in the mindset that if you work hard through out the whole year then your all but guaranteed a first. This is regardless of if you have prior experience or not. It's also one of the few degrees that essentially guarantees you a job after you've graduated. In contrast I met a film studies (a perfectly resprectable degree) graduate not too long ago who now works at Blockbusters.
Sat, 21 Aug 2010, 02:05
A very helpful answer. I'll be passing all of this straight onto him.

Thanks for taking the time to write it.
Wed, 25 Aug 2010, 16:09
It's important to note that, computer science is not really about programming. Granted most people get CS degrees and become programmers, but truthfully Computer Science is purely mathematical, and existed much before computers were around. If he is strong in algebra and understands it abstractly, then he should be fine.

I know plenty of people that started here at my university with no previous programming experience and they picked it up on the way without a problem, he should have some intro courses to go along with his degree which will give him some time to catch up.

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Thu, 26 Aug 2010, 14:42
Well he has an A level in maths but isn't particularly strong in it..

Thanks for the insights guys, I've been passing them on to him and he is taking heed!
Thu, 26 Aug 2010, 15:37
I partly disagree with Schererererererer. Partly because although there are parts which are deeply mathematical, most of those modules are usually optional. There is also usually lots of other modules you can take instead.

You will need to perform some maths, some practical programming and some software engineers/business type stuff. But it's really up to you to decide how dominated your degree will be by each of those parts.

I also know several people with only basic maths who went on to receive a first or a 2:1. Good maths helps, and you will need to perform maths, but it's not crucial to getting a good degree.