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monsoon's avatar

How much does knowledge of calculus play into being a software developer?

Asked by monsoon (2510points) June 29th, 2008

I’m taking calculus with the hopes of majoring in computer science, and it’s really hard; I am barely managing, without really understanding the concepts behind what I’m doing. Will I really need to know this stuff well for a career in computer science?

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10 Answers

arnbev959's avatar

I took a physics class last year, and I didn’t understand any of the concepts. I could use the formulas well enough to pass the tests, but at the end I hadn’t learned anything. Whether you need calculus for a computer science career I don’t know, but if you do it’s the concepts that count.

paulc's avatar

I’ve only done high school level calculus but I did it a good 10 years after having left high school. I found it tough but I eventually got through it and actually enjoyed it a bit. I think the upshot from something like calculus is partially the reasoning behind it and partially its application.

The reasoning end is just solid problem solving which you’ll likely be doing a fair bit of.

The application part of it I’ve heard is found in practically all branches of engineering and, depending on what you end up working on, may one day require you to use it to solve a task.

It should be noted that I have not had formal training in computing science so much of this might just be what sounds logical to me.

phoenyx's avatar

It depends on what area of computer science you go into. I honestly haven’t used calculus much since I took it in high school. I’ve used discrete math and linear algebra much, much more. They are fundamental.

jaredg's avatar

Unless you’re going to work in scientific software or write physics engines for video games, you won’t need to directly apply physics and math at that level.

phoenyx is right about which diciplines in math are important. Linear algebra gives you the mathematical foundations for a lot of important topics like numerical transformations and solving systems of equations. Discrete math is how theoretical computer science is defined, however. Unfortunately, you don’t usually get to take that class until after 3 terms of calculus and the physics classes that use it. Also, you might not even use this math if you work on typical IT systems.

The main thing to keep in mind that in formal education, computer science is the study of how we process data with machines, not an allegory for developing software. The academic part only gets harder and seemingly further removed from anything useful until you’re almost finished.

monsoon's avatar

My problem is that, in want of finishing quickly, I am taking calculus several years after my last algebra class, and without out ever having taken precal or trig. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally the type of person who gets math, and can retain it’s concepts well, but I’m finding myself in foreign territory because I don’t understand the basic concepts of the problems I’m trying to do. I have no doubt that I can pass, but do doubt that I will actually gain any knowledge of the fundamentals of calculus from this class.

So what I want to know is: Does that matter? Should I backtrack a semester and take precal to get a more full understanding of what I’m doing in a practical sense?

phoenyx's avatar

What do you want to do with your degree when you graduate?

monsoon's avatar

idk. :) I really have always wanted to take computer science classes and always thought it was too late, so now I finally am, and my point is… I really don’t know all that much about the field. I think that I’m interested in design, or software engineering. I haven’t entirely got my feet wet enough to know exactly. I’m making it difficult, I know.

jaredg's avatar

Being able to learn about the mat is what’s important, not the math itself. If you can trudge through this term and don’t have to take any other calculus-based stuff (you might, at the outside, revisit a little bit of calculus in statistics, but I wouldn’t worry about it), you’ll probably be okay without it unless you’re going to work on image/signal processing or simulation software.

Mind you, some of the mind-bendingly good stuff falls in those fields.

Look at your remaining coursework. If any of that mentions a calculus prerequisite, you’re going to be feeling the same kind of pain that you’re feeling now from not having a strong understanding of trigonometry.

If you really want to work in software (not in IT), and especially if you want to stay around here (in the Bay Area), people are going to expect you to have come CS chops if you have a CS degree.

If you’re taking the classes mostly because you think the piece of paper will be helpful, don’t worry about it. However, I cut several corners in my education and by the time I finished, I really wished I’d actually taken the time to learn the theory better because it was interesting. Enjoy interesting problems whenever you can find them.

andrew's avatar

Just PM ben for math help. He was a math/CS major.

Response moderated (Spam)

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