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Old 18th October 2008
DrJ DrJ is offline
ISO Quartermaster
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Gold Country, CA
Posts: 507

I'd generally agree with Ocicat. You have to understand what part of "computers" you want to get into, and then choose a good four-year school.

It used to be that it did not matter that much what you studied, but maybe that has changed. A friend who lead the Acrobat project at Adobe holds a degree in ME. Another programmer has an MS in math; a third who runs a large lease-fulfillment shop (entirely software-based) has a degree in Philosophy. The rocket scientists on Wall Street (those despised computer modelers) usually have Physics backgrounds. A friend who set up the derivatives portion of a major Wall Street firm (and who is now a managing director there) got his Ph.D. in ChE with me at Berkeley. And yet another friend who does hardware design, embedded systems, interfacing and device drivers has no degree at all.

But do get a degree. The BS (or BA) is today's high school degree. Even for outside sales you need one.

In Chicago, I'd think Northwestern, Chicago and perhaps IIT would all be fine choices. Or UIUC if you want to stay in state and attend the best public school there. A lot of this choice depends on finances (and financial aid). If you have the bucks and desire, you might also consider smaller liberal arts schools like Harvey Mudd (near LA) or Carleton (MN) or one of the MIAA schools (like Kalamazoo College) in addition to the better-known Ivies and Stanford, MIT and CalTech. There are lots of outstanding smaller schools that offer good financial aid packages. Look at the size of the endowment -- that is related directly to their ability to offer financial aid.

FWIW, I'd not recommend Berkeley for any undergrad unless that student is a bit older. Great place to be a grad student, but it is pretty brutal for undergrads. Plus you would have to pay out-of-state tuition, and that would make it cost about the same as Northwestern or Chicago. Not worth it in my eyes. Stanford would be a better choice, and they help more with finances.

The two-year terminal-degree schools (the "technical schools") seem more oriented to teaching specific bits of software, which is not that useful. Spending a couple of years at a Junior College before attending a University is fine if that works in IL. It does here in CA, where Sierra College and Santa Rosa JC (for example) both are very good.

You also will not be able to avoid Microsoft for the reasons Ocicat mentioned. For most things the range of desktop software is just so much better for a range of non-IT tasks than the BSDs or Linux. Even in my own company I use Windows on the desktop and in the lab, and use BSD only for my main personal box and for the servers.

Choice of a college is very personal. My usual advice is to attend the best school you can, take a range of things, and find out what you love and do that. It may be EECS or something else, and that's fine if you change. You will be doing whatever it is for a long time, so you may as well like it!
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