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Why Calculus?

Sam Smoot
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Joined: Apr 18, 2002
Posts: 238
I'm in college, and I want to ask... Why take calculus for a Computer Science (or related) degree? Most of us don't use it... (I have been programming {14 years of mainframe assembler, cobol, now Java and DB2} and still have no real application for it... Is this just somthing to make more money for the universities, etc?
If you actually use some form of true calculus in your programming experience, please let me know...
ps. the reason I put this here is that the meaningless drival area was getting really hot with political issues and this is a career question of sorts..

CNSS/NSA Infosec Professional,<br />Software Engineer
Matt Kidd
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Joined: Jul 17, 2002
Posts: 259
As a recent graduate I can only lowered my GPA ya bastards LOL!!
But on a side note I think its to show you have an abstract logical way of thinking. IMHO, basica calculus is only an advanced algebra (others may disagree) since, in my courses at least, derivatives were covered which after you learn the formula is just a plug in chug situation.
So basically its just to prove you can think abstractly which occurs a lot in industry. Since you are coming from industry you can already do that I assume (14 years you said) but realize that most students are only 18-24 in college and don't have that experience.
Jason Menard

Joined: Nov 09, 2000
Posts: 6450
I believe calculus is necessary since the language we use to explain many ideas in computer science is mathematics. In order to understand some of these concepts in CS, particularly in an academic environment, we need to be able to speak the language. It just so happens that calc is part of that language, even though we are probably more apt to use math skills picked up in courses like algebra, linear algebra, and discrete.
Just my $.02
Anthony Villanueva
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Joined: Mar 22, 2002
Posts: 1055
Besides, being able to do triple integration is cool.
David Weitzman
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Joined: Jul 27, 2001
Posts: 1365
Computer science involves a bunch of number stuff. For example, with Big O notation, you can use limits to determine whether O(f(n)) is a member of O(g(n)). The limit is in the form f(n)/g(n), so you can use Lopital's rule (I'm sure I spelled that wrong) if necessary. That requires taking derivitives.
Approximation also benifits from some calculus. ln(n) has an even chance of being an irrational number for any given n. How can you write an ln() function for your programming language then? You can use Taylor series.
Game programming usually uses some physics, which is best done with calculus.
You don't need it for J2EE apps, but for the theoretical and mathmatical aspects of CS it really is important. Of course 9 out of 10 programmers aren't dealing with the theoretical and mathmatical aspects of CS...
Sam Smoot
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 18, 2002
Posts: 238
My point exactly.... If you are going to do such things, then expand your math in that direction. If not, then get the algebra/trig in and some business / accounting math and go with it. Most applications currently being developed are business (or similar) types of projects that don't require such High math... (unless you're writing an accounting package for someone like, say Worldcomm or so {If lim(profits) is reachiing 0, bail!} or if(not Enough Money) then PFA {Pull Figure from Air)...
It's just frustrating (as well as confusing) when you can program, but can't "do the math".... not easily anyway...
[ August 29, 2002: Message edited by: Sam Smoot ]
Mark Herschberg

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Prof Charles Leiserson (Assit Dir of MIT's Lab for COmputer Science) points out that those who have taken calculus are better at abstract symbol manipulation. That's very relevant for CS.
More generally, the purpose of a college education is not to give you knowledge; rather it is to teach you understanding. Each class you take will have a meta-lesson. If you can get that, you're ahead of 50-90% of your class.
John Coxey
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Joined: Oct 24, 2000
Posts: 503
There are two reasons why calcus is taught in universities:
1. If you notice - it's almost always billed as a 4 credit course (versus 3 credits for most classes).
Why? Because Calculus is the most profit making course that a University offers.
Why? Because about 40% of the students taking it - will need to repeat it.
2. Calculus serves as a weed-out course.
Personally - I think it prepares you to take more strenuous courses. In my opinion - it helps to define your study habits.
Going back to useless courses - a more appropriate question would be - why the hell should I have to take Psychology, History, or Anthropology??
Granted - these are important topics. But at the University of Pittsburgh - the professors and students alike just blew off these courses.
Would be nice (and I've said it before on this board) - if USA colleges (in the IT field) would try to keep somewhat current on Information Technology.
Would love to have taken courses on JSP, EJB, Servlets, XML, or UML. Wish I could take a 10-15 week course on just EJBs at this particular point in my life.
A 5 day $4000 EJB class just doesn't cut it in my book. I would rather spend the $4000 and have the class spread out over 15 weeks in a university environment - where I could ponder over some more difficult projects that I would get at a 5 day seminar.
Just my two cents.
John Coxey
[ August 29, 2002: Message edited by: John Coxey ]

John Coxey
Evansville, Indiana, USA
David Weitzman
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Joined: Jul 27, 2001
Posts: 1365
They aren't trying to teach you J2EE development in school -- they're teaching algorithm design and analysis.
John Coxey
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Joined: Oct 24, 2000
Posts: 503
- But go to an interview - and the questions deal strictly with J2EE topics.
- Especially when you are comming out of college. At this level - you aren't going to be sked to do system design work.
David Weitzman
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Joined: Jul 27, 2001
Posts: 1365
I'm not debating that . Why should a CS degree be any more useful than an English degree?
Jon McDonald
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Joined: Sep 02, 2001
Posts: 167
The difference between schools that require a large number of courses in several areas (e.g. hard sciences, social sciences, math, humanities) most of which do not convey information that is directly applicable to the workplace, and schools that focus on skills which will be used on the job (e.g. EJBs, .NET, Cisco, auto repair, accounting) lay in how that school views higher education. Some are adament about the value of a liberal arts education, others are adament about providing "real world" skills.
I tend to prefer the liberal arts education model, although I'm glad that both types of programs are availible to students. I loved the fact that I had to take classes in so many different subjects, I discovered passions for fields that I previously had no interest in. The main reason why I got into IT was because I took a CS course to fulfill a math/science requirement and found that I was pretty decent at programming, and (more importantly) I loved doing it.
Now really, how useful would a CS course have been to an International Relations Major (like I was). But if it hadn't been for that Math/Science requirement I would probably not have gotten into IT.
Maybe some of the people who take that calculus requirement discover that they enjoy math more than CS, maybe they discover that they want to do more scientific/academic computing than standard programming. Having that exposure is important for some.
Also, College is supposed to improve one's ability to think critically, and develop analytical skills. One of the best ways to do that is to use those skills in multiple displines, as opposed to one subject matter. I was in nirvana when I saw concepts from my philosophy class that related directly to my CS class, which related directly to my psychology class, which related directly to my foriegn language study.
I really am becoming a big fan of the idea of a 4 year liberal arts degreee where one is required to take classes in a variety of subjects, followed by a specialists degree of some sort (similar to a MD, MBA, or JD) where one focuses on studying in the career they want. Although this is probably impractical for most people.

"I study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy in order to give their children a right to study painting poetry and music."<br />--John Adams
Pradip Bhat
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Joined: Jul 04, 2002
Posts: 149
I think wether Mathematics is used is CS area depends on the type of application.If I am not wrong making of compiler involves abstract algebra,graph theory.Same is true for Engg Softwares such as CAD/GIS which involve numerical math,calculus.But I have noticed one thing.People who are genius in Math are more interested in Theoretical Research rather than industry.

With a little knowledge, a cast iron skillet is non-stick and lasts a lifetime.
subject: Why Calculus?
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