14 May 2015

Getting sidelined: Computing Science vs Engineering degrees

There are those down in Silicon Valley who are telling teens and youngsters to go into “Real” Engineering™ instead of Computing Science in university, claiming that or else they will get sidelined or “passed over” when they start developing their careers.  They are surely well meaning in advising that, but...

Engineers: please stop telling people what to do with their own lives.

This is speaking to the Computer, Electrical, or so-called Software Engineers out there, but really, this applies to those in any engineering field, e.g. including Petroleum Engineers.

Was there a course in Engineering School that taught you to propagate the Cult of the Engineer?  Did you Silicon Valley types ever stop to think that maybe telling people what to do by appealing to your having a job in “Silicon Valley” is just an appeal to authority (by association to a geographic region)?  It’s no more convincing than appealing to having a job on Wall Street, or being an American (in a more international context).

Who do these engineers think they work for anyway?  Well, why don’t we have a look at who many of these Engineers™ work for and what their educational background is (according to Wikipedia anyway, for what that’s worth...):


Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook co-founder.
“He studied psychology and computer science

Sergey Brin: Google co-founder.
“He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland, following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps by studying mathematics, as well as computer science.”

Elon Musk: Tesla, PayPal, and SpaceX founder or co-founder.
“after spending two years at Queen's University, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania where he eventually received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the Wharton School. Musk stayed on a year to finish his second bachelor's degree[27] In 1995, age 24, Musk moved to California to begin a PhD in Applied physics at Stanford, but left the program after two days to pursue his entrepreneurial aspirations”

Peter Norvig: Director of Research (formerly Director of Search Quality) at Google.

Pierre Omidyar: eBay founder.

Matt Cutts: Google software engineer, the head of Google’s Webspam team.
“Cutts received a Bachelor's degree in computer science and mathematics from the University of Kentucky in 1995.[4][5] He went on to receive a Master of Science degree [looks like from the Department of Computer Science] from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1998.[6]

Steve Ballmer: Microsoft’s 30th employee, first business manager, and Owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.  Oh, and ex-CEO of Microsoft.
“In 1977, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with an A.B. in applied mathematics and economics.[16]

Christopher Bishop: Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, leading the Machine Learning and Perception group.
“Bishop was educated at Earlham School in Norwich then went to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics at St Catherine's College, Oxford, graduating in 1980. He then went on to the University of Edinburgh for a PhD in Theoretical Physics”

Andrew Ng: Chief Scientist at Baidu Research.
“received his undergraduate degree in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the class of 1997. Then, he attained his master's degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts as the class of 1998 and received his PhD from University of California, Berkeley in 2002 [in Computer Science]. “

Larry Page: Google co-founder.

Finally, someone sensible and has an engineering degree!  I guess only Page will be successful and not be sidelined!

Other than Larry Page, who still went into Computer Science for his Master’s degree, apparently these people didn’t get “Real” Engineering™ degrees.

These are just some famous people I thought of, off the cuff, and of course you could assemble a different list of CEOs and researchers who did get engineering degrees.  But that’s not the point.

After all, if getting sidelined or “passed over” means becoming the Director of Research at Google like Peter Norvig, if it means becoming a founder of SpaceX like Elon Musk, or if it means becoming the CEO of Microsoft like Steve Ballmer, then please, please, please sideline me.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with getting degrees in Computing Science instead of in Engineering.

Or maybe it means that there’s nothing wrong with getting degrees in Math either.  There were more on the above list of people with math degrees than engineering degrees.  huh…

So maybe what all this really means is: stop spreading FUD about getting “sidelined” or “passed over” if you don’t get an engineering degree.  And stop putting other people down just because they didn’t go into a field as technical or challenging as you did (I’m talking to you mathematicians out there).

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