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Ask Slashdot: Online, Free Equivalent To a CompSci BS? 197

Posted by timothy
from the yes-but-how dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I am a middle school math teacher and I also run a programming club. I recent completed my M.Ed in math education and was inspired to try to do the new GT online MS in Computer Science in a couple of years. I have some background in programming: two intro to comp sci courses, Java, C++, Python, the main scripting languages, and a bunch of math background. I also read through this great article on getting these pre-requisites completed through Coursera but unfortunately you need to wait for courses to enroll. I would like to just learn these on my own time, no credit necessary. Suggestions?"
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Ask Slashdot: Online, Free Equivalent To a CompSci BS?

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  • Donald Knuth (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CodeArtisan (795142)
    The Art of Computer Programming Volumes 1 - 4A.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jmcbain (1233044)
      "Computer Science" is a very broad field covering both theory and programming. Here are some great books:

      -- Introduction to Algorithms, 3rd ed., by Cormen, et al. ABSOLUTELY MUST-READ.
      -- Computer networking: a top-down approach, by Kurose and Ross. Great book; skips the physical layer.
      -- The C Programming Language, by Kernighan and Ritchie. This is the one book you need on programming language pragmatics.
      -- Modern Operating Systems, by Tanenbaum.
      -- An Introduction to Statistical Learning: with Ap

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        What about all the other courses that are required for the degree, like algebra, calculus, discrete math, technical writing, and other electives like psychology, history, business management, or biology. All of these, while not directly applicable, are definitely useful, and should not be ignored.
        • What about all the other courses that are required for the degree, like algebra, calculus, discrete math, technical writing, and other electives like psychology, history, business management, or biology. All of these, while not directly applicable, are definitely useful, and should not be ignored.

          Those are all fine subjects, but none of them are CS.

          • by AuMatar (183847)

            You don't think discrete math is CS? I don't think you know what those two things are.

            • Agreed. Discrete math is essential in CS. Among other aspects, set theory is fundamental to understanding relational databases and how to effectively & efficiently query data (of course it's useful for a number of other things, as well).
        • Discrete Math: Yes. I do not think I actually took a course labeled 'discrete math', but I know many of my CS classes used it.

          Algebra & Calculus: It depends on what you plan on doing. Some careers related to CS may require it. However, most software development positions for businesses only require basic algebra when writing code.

          Technical writing: No. In my experience, you just use common sense. You write for your intended audience and include information that is relevant. Upper management does not wan

    • by Jamu (852752)
      Not sure that counts as free. It's $175 ($100 to rent) on Amazon. Although still a lot cheaper than a BS.
  • MIT (Score:5, Informative)

    by ACS Solver (1068112) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @03:13PM (#46440807)
    You can learn basically the entire CS curriculum of MIT. This guy [scotthyoung.com] did it in 12 months, which is quite extreme, but it shows that the material is all there, and you can of course go through it (or parts of it) at your own pace.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Parts of it are painful to do on your own. The emphasis on Scheme and recursive layers of abstraction, and the last 20 years of objected oriented nonsense wasted space that is is the descendant of early LISP research and makes Java programmers so *bad* at performance programming can take a decade to *unlearn* to do anything reliably or in real time. "Object Oriented" is the enemy of understanding why things break.

      I'd still recommend the online courses from MIT, in general, and spending time with toys from

      • by NapalmV (1934294)
        Amen.
      • by bidule (173941)

        Well of course Real Time programming is a special beast, but I don't think it is representative of whatever programming the OP is trying to learn. Basing your whole critique on optimization needs is off-base.

        OOP is a good tool to encapsulate UI, it has brought Angular, DOM and javascript prototype-based system.

        For heavy work, functional programming simplifies parallel processes. Scheme can handle this and offers a very different syntax to learn. If you can wrap your head around both the ((parenthesis)) and

        • OOP is a good tool for more than just UIs. It's also not particularly intuitive (when done right), and I'll happily agree that Scheme is a better learning tool. It also has the advantage of being different from most commonly-used languages, so learning it in school and learning something that's likely to lead to a job is exposure to two different programming paradigms.

  • Thank YOU Interwebz (Score:4, Informative)

    by Niris (1443675) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @03:16PM (#46440823)
    As a recent CSci graduate from a state university in California, I can tell you that there's far better content online than you'll pick up in a class, so good job checking out that area. MIT has a lot of great courses on YouTube, such as their algorithms lectures from Cormen, and edX has a fair amount of content as well. There's also a lot of books out there if you can pick an area that interests you the most, such as mobile or web, that you can just read through and type up the examples yourself. The thing about programming is that you tend to learn more from doing than from listening to lectures, so if you can just sit down with a book, online tutorials, etc., and just make programs and figure out why they don't work on the first go (and when you pass the forloop/if statement section of your education, they probably won't), then you'll be golden.
    • by Zmobie (2478450)

      I don't know what your university was doing then, the courses at mine were quite valuable and informative. The bullshit I have seen posted online is exactly that. Granted, not ALL of it is bullshit, but a lot of it. I now have a niece that is interested in learning about programming and computer science and I shudder to think what ridiculous buzzword crap people are going to try and direct her towards. Luckily I actually have the necessary background to weed out some of that bullshit and she is knows th

      • Granted, not ALL of it is bullshit, but a lot of it.

        The same is true of colleges, universities, and even classes in the 'better' universities.

        • by Zmobie (2478450)

          Granted, not ALL of it is bullshit, but a lot of it.

          The same is true of colleges, universities, and even classes in the 'better' universities.

          I'll give you that, but I would at least argue the rates are noticeably lower for tier 1 universities. I do remember a couple of Comp Sci professors in my college days that I am fairly certain had no business near a classroom, but that was definitely the exception (thank god I suppose) not the norm there.

          • Whether they're noticeably lower or not is irrelevant. You have to pay for colleges and universities (or taxpayers do), whereas it is trivial to find information on the Internet and trivial to verify it. Once you're giving away your own money, it's already too late.

    • Surprised nobody seems to have mentioned the Berkley Webcast yet. http://webcast.berkeley.edu/ It is an online collection of class videos, lectures, and course materials for a variety of subjects including computer science.
      Their into to CS is much easier to get into for a beginner than the MIT OpenCourseWare. http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

  • by plopez (54068) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @03:22PM (#46440849) Journal

    You know some decent languages and have a background in Mathematics. Dont' waste your time, CS is no more than an Applied Math degree "in drag". All you need is some experience which can be obtained by volunteer work, e.g. maintaining the web site of a no kill animal shelter.

    BTW, since you background is in Math Ed., I assume you have good people and communication skills. That is a great way to differentiate yourself from the pack. You could end up running a tech firm if you do it right.

    • While, CS is definitely applying math, it lies somewhere between Math and Software Engineering. It is certainly not what you minimize it as.
      • by dkf (304284)

        While, CS is definitely applying math, it lies somewhere between Math and Software Engineering.

        Anything to do with user interfaces will have a fair chunk of applied psychology as well (and some appreciation of parts of physiology too). What's more, people doing theoretical CS tend to go much deeper into discrete math than the normal math student does.

        • It seems to me that both Math and CS students could use some more "set theory" training. We live in a world full of information. Sorting, arranging, and reporting on that data is becoming a bigger task. Even a small business has more data than you can manually validate. You need some good database setup and understanding to make sure what you get out of it is correct.

      • by alvinrod (889928)
        It really depends on what is meant by computer science. A lot of CS degrees today contain a lot more software engineering and general programming than they do theory. A person can take a lot of more traditional CS classes (e.g. compiler theory, cryptography, automata, algorithm analysis, etc.) which are are fairly heavily math based, and probably learn a lot, but they won't necessarily help with programming ability or the kinds of things that are more generally useful today.

        If someone just wants to buil
        • A lot of CS degrees today contain a lot more software engineering and general programming than they do theory

          Yes and this is a major improvement that took decades. Alot of talent was wasted b/c some CS majors didn't write code until the 3rd year.

          It grows out of a misunderstanding of what 'computing' is as an academic discipline & non-tech academia's inherent inability to understand something new & adapt.

          To me there are really three different areas: computer science, which is mostly math and theory;

    • by Zmobie (2478450)

      I've seen plenty of people that were excellent at math (some working on an MS in it...) that couldn't write a worth a damn program if their life depended on it. Not saying the OP is necessarily that though. It does give you a very firm background for CS (just getting my BS I ended up one class short of a math minor anyway, and even then I had to learn basic multi-variable calculus and applied differential equations when I took physics), but there are still quite a number of high level CS concepts one shou

    • by ledow (319597)

      As someone with a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, I can tell you that if your CS degree is applied-maths, then you really should find another course.

      Pretty much, when I was at uni, the CS guys couldn't do the maths side of the courses and the maths guys couldn't do the CS side of the courses. There's an overlap of, at most, a few "theoretical" courses (so much closer to pure math, to be honest) - graph theory, coding theory, logic, etc.

      But ultimately, they are separate for a reason. Otherwise,

      • by pjt33 (739471)

        But ultimately, they are separate for a reason. Otherwise, CS would just be another area of mathematics rather than a subject in its own right.

        That's how it started. The first CS degree was Cambridge's Dip.Comp.Sci., taught out of the Mathematical Laboratory. I think that the best way to see CS is as an interdisciplinary subject which sits between pure maths, engineering, and psychology.

    • Mechanical engineering is applied math.
      Therefore, if you have a math background, you're all set to be an engineer - no engineering classes required, right?

      A good math background will make CS much easier. It is, however, a distinct discipline. For example, to study algorithmic complexity, some math is needed, so someone who already understands the pure math will have a head start. However, they still need to learn the patterns to quickly estimate complexity and be able to "see" which type of algorithm migh

    • CS is no more than an Applied Math degree "in drag"

      This. It may seem to conflict with other credible posts that indicate alot of programming skills were gained in a CS program. It's important to note that CS is kind of a mash-up of disciplines that was as much of a creation of the marketing department as academia. It seems like a logical major to have, but the discipline suffered b/c it became popular at a time when many academics couldn't even check email!!!

      The key is what is your **a priori** knowledge. I

  • Saylor.org (Score:4, Informative)

    by Taxman415a (863020) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @03:39PM (#46440913) Homepage Journal
    Saylor has one of the most complete, free, college degree equivalents that I have seen. The best part is many degree programs have links to video lectures, full problem sets and exams.

    http://www.saylor.org/majors/c... [saylor.org]

    Their math stuff is decent, and that's what I'm competent to evaluate, so based on that I'd think the compsci would be good too. Some degree areas are not complete yet, but compsci is.
    • Interesting. From your experience, were the number of hours listed under "time advisory" pretty accurate?

      • The time advisory is actually new since I last looked at the materials. Previously I mostly evaluated the quality of the materials and completeness. In general though actual time requirements to complete the work are going to vary quite a bit by the amount of prior preparation a student has. The time guidelines given for individual assignments I spot checked just now appear to be in the ball park. The overall totals are likely to be off more, though possibly a reasonable starting point.
  • As long a you don't intend to get work from it, there are tons of alternatives for learning the information that would be contained in the course.

    Typically speaking, just doing the necessary coursework, as Scott Young did, isn't enough to make you employable, even if you do it in a context in which you end up with a degree. It's a good part of it, though, since it certifies that you would be able to use the same words to communicate about algorithms, etc., when talking to peers, which is something you prob

    • by dkf (304284)

      As long a you don't intend to get work from it, there are tons of alternatives for learning the information that would be contained in the course.

      One of the key differences is that taking a formal course on it forces you to study the boring and hard parts as well as the fun bits; often they're important for gaining a real level of understanding. (I suppose that's true for pretty much any subject.)

      If you do intend to use it for the purposes of obtaining employment, you'll need to actually take the exams at an accredited institution. Otherwise the employers won't know you from some random jerk walking in off the street claiming something which isn't tr

      • One of the key differences is that taking a formal course on it forces you to study the boring and hard parts as well as the fun bits

        If you don't have enough willpower or intelligence to study such things, chances are you don't have the aptitude for it anyway. Just give up, if that's the case. Too many losers going to colleges.

        Otherwise the employers won't know you from some random jerk walking in off the street claiming something which isn't true.

        Then maybe employers should get off their lazy asses and actually evaluate people. That's what my employer did, and I actually have a good job and work in a good environment. You don't want to work for any employer who hires HR drones.

  • by johnjaydk (584895) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @04:21PM (#46441133)

    This is all Python centric but that's where the jazz is these days:

    1. Codecademy. My 12 year old son just passed it.
    2. An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python (coursera.org). Games and great fun. Also in python.
    3. Udacity.com. Do all of their software subjects. Just ditch the Java stuff. The 90's are long gone.

    I've got a 15 year old masters in CS but I went through the coursera and udacity stuff and learned quite a lot along the way. Good stuff.

  • inB4 Joe "tard school is bettor" dragon.

  • by prefec2 (875483) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @05:03PM (#46441353)

    You should have a look at the average course structure of a BS program. Normally it contains the following elements:
    - Math. hopefully graph theory, lin. algebra, not so important for most things, but still often found in curricula analysis
    - CS theory: first-order logic/predicate logic, Turing machines, grammars (the Chomsky stuff) LR, LL, LRAR, regular languages, mu-recursion, the language Z or objective-Z (however this item is optional)
    - Different programming paradigms. Best learned with special languages: functional -> Scheme/Lisp/Haskell; OOP, but you already know that.
    - OOP programming and design pattern
    - Software engineering: UML a bit, use case forms etc., different types of project management: agile, RUP and V-model (only basic principles)
    - Hardware: basic analog electric components, transistor etc.; FPGA etc. VHDL or something similar; basic CPU designs, 3-address code, gate architecture (pipeline is often too complicated)
    - Some other basic field. Robotic, e-learning etc.
    - Some extra stuff from a different field (hopefully not a science and not economics)

    There are plenty of books on most of these topics. If you would live in Germany you just could enroll at the next University for free and checkout their courses. Or go there without enrolling. In most cases no one would check if you are a student ;-)

  • by quietwalker (969769) <pdughi@gmail.com> on Sunday March 09, 2014 @05:13PM (#46441429)

    The simple fact of the matter is that a 4-year university's computer science program is not meant to provide job training, and as far as career skills go, you could pick up a CS degree equivalent of job skills in under a year.

    I wrote about this the other day, on the Ask Slashdot: Modern Web Development Applied Associates Degree [slashdot.org] topic, and I'm sticking to my guns on it. You don't need any math more complex than simple algebra. You don't need any theory classes.

    Some of these theory classes may provide better insight, and lacking them may limit you if you're attempting to enter a highly specialized, complex field with no demonstrable experience in it (which, by the by, doesn't really happen), but for 98% of your day job, it's going to be more important for you to know how to parse and sanitize input than it will be for you to know how to write a compiler, raytracer, decompose a function into mathematical terms, perform a Big-O analysis, design a memory manager for an OS, and you'll probably never use matrices or differential equations.

    Hell, the grads I see now a days haven't got a concept of efficient design, most lack basic database skills, awareness of common libraries, common development tools, never used any team-based tracking systems or source control, and so on. Unless they've struck out on their own, they're almost completely unsuitable as candidates. Many of the self-taught devs seem to have a better grasp of things, if only because they end up attempting to write usable software from design to implementation, instead of homework assignments demonstrating polymorphism and recursion.

    On the other hand, for many HR departments, a degree is go/no-go. You'll never get to an interview without one, and there's no free, online equivalent for that. You'll just have to make do with having superior technical skills, and try to apply at a company that values that more than a sheet of paper.

    • Some of these theory classes may provide better insight, and lacking them may limit you if you're attempting to enter a highly specialized, complex field with no demonstrable experience in it (which, by the by, doesn't really happen), but for 98% of your day job, it's going to be more important for you to know how to parse and sanitize input than it will be for you to know how to write a compiler, raytracer, decompose a function into mathematical terms, perform a Big-O analysis, design a memory manager for an OS, and you'll probably never use matrices or differential equations.

      You don't learn any of those things to actually remember them. They are supposed to teach you many different ways of thinking about problems. And most importantly, all of them are supposed to teach you how to prove correctness of your own algorithms. You can't learn those things on your own or in a job and without those abilities, you're driving blind on a cliffside road.

    • How much theory you need depends on what you're doing. The field is still young enough so that the job market changes, and just learning the latest stuff is going to work for only a limited time.

      Without what you list as unnecessary knowledge, you will be ineligible for a lot of jobs that pay well and have interesting work. You will have problems with relational databases because you don't have the mathematical foundations, and you will not parse input well because you don't know about compilers (the fr

  • by Simonetta (207550) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @07:20PM (#46441941)

    With all respect...
      All the comments that you'll be getting from Slashdot readers will be worthless to the point of your question. As you may have noticed by now, every responder assumes that you want to learn to how to do what they consider a dream job in CS to be. And they give replies like 'read Knuth' or 'do MIT on-line courses'.

    Since you already have an excellent job with a good future, and you have already studied elementary program texts in CS languages like Java, allow me to suggest that you ask the middle school students in your programming club what they would consider to be cool and useful programs to have. After you get through the fantasy aps like ' a really cool game that the player doesn't end up always losing' and ' a smokin' 3-D interactive girlfriend' or ' a bio-implant that will allow me to get perfect SAT scores without studying', then you might get some interesting suggestions.

    Personally I suggest that you and your programming students develop Arduino and Raspberry Pi applications. The elementary 'blinking LED' stuff, simple robotics applications, and digital television art projects made from inexpensive TFT displays will be fascinating to middle school and high school students. (hopefully).

  • Why not get a masters degree in mathematics (non-Ed)? While taking classes in higher mathematics you will encounter problems where you can apply your programming skills. And since you're a math teacher, taking more mathematics classes will make you a better mathematics teacher (yes, I know this is generally considered false). Also, it will improve your career opportunities in mathematics. Even if your current job is great, people in the real world get jealous of smart people and try hard to derail their
  • ... that you know your shit as well as or better than any graduate, then more power to you.

    I have found, however, when one does not yet have an abundance of expierence, that having a formal education makes a significant difference to just getting by the initial filtering process.that many companies use.

    • ... in the subject field, your post looks like this to me. Splitting the first sentence like that between two fields is confusing. The subject line is supposed to contain a summary of your entire post so that people can decide whether or not to open the full text when it's shown abbreviated, not a meaningless half-sentence. Thank you.
  • Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of valuable, raw knowledge out there, and a lot of the textbooks I had for my CS degree are available, and are not textbook-y material, and I've see a few suggested in this thread.

    But I don't think an "online" equivalent to a CS degree exists.

    A good CS degree is fundamentally incompatible with working online, on your own time. I really respected the program I was in, and whether it was working on open source or any other sort of project, one of the most valuable aspects of

  • I have a Java site: http://sites.google.com/site/f... [google.com] They're pretty self explanatory. Three semesters worth.
  • I have a site that is free and has three semesters of Java lectures called: http://sites.google.com/site/f... [google.com]
  • We were taught Miranda (very similar to Haskell) in my bachelor's program. It was the primary language for most of our exercises across many courses. It is an effective lnguage for teaching many fundamental aspects of programming like recursion, and algorithms - expressing quicksort in a functional language is not only more elegant and considerably shorter when compared with c or Java. That was over twenty years ago, but to this day these functional programming abstractions have been invaluable in shaping m

  • by astar (203020)

    Acm student membership with the digital library option is $42 a year. This is golden for you as a student and you might do some profesional networking. If you can eventually grab the professional membership some people are impressible.

The degree of technical confidence is inversely proportional to the level of management.

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