Do I Use My Degrees?

A reflection on whether or not my fields of study were "useful" and if I regret them.

This article was tagged with: College

There are 1398 words in this article, and it will probably take you less than 7 minutes to read it.

This article was published 2023-10-16 00:00:00 -0400, which makes this post and me old when I published it.


Background

When I was in high school for the longest time I did not want to go to college because I quite honestly thought it would be a waste of time and money. I knew I wanted to be a Software Engineer, and I had previous internship experience, so I just wanted to go straight into industry. I thought that I would be able to get an entry-level job, learn on the job, and work my way up from there. However, at the convincing of my family and also looking at the degree requirements for many SWE jobs at larger companies, I decided to go to college.

Now that I had decided I wanted to go to college I knew that I wanted to double major in Computer Science and something else. At first I was going to double major in Psychology because I was really interested in human behavior. For that reason I was really torn between Psychology and Sociology, and not to mention my interest in Linguistics as well because I thought that languages were really cool. However, in the summer before my senior year of high school I discovered philosophy videos on YouTube. I immediately fell in love with the subject and I think that it captures Psychology, Sociology, Linguistics, and many other fields in it so I don’t feel like I missed out on picking Philosophy over other majors.

When I got to UMBC I quickly learned that a double major didn’t really mean much, you still only got one degree. I didn’t want to have to pick one major over the other, so I instead went for the double degree program. In taking 150 credits, I was able to be awarded a B.A. in Philosophy and B.S. in Computer Science when I graduated in May 2022.

Do I regret going to college?

Having gone to college, I do not regret it. I was able to meet new people and make friends, get internship opportunities that led to a post-graduate job, as well as had access to amazing lecturers who were experts in their fields. However I do not think that a four-year university is for everyone, especially right after high school. I think that you should really think about the career you want to pursue and how a college degree will help make that happen.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention the fact that I was able to graduate debt-free because I had financial help from both the college and my parents. My tuition was covered in combination by the university and other external scholarships that I applied for, and then room & board was mostly covered by my parents. My father got tuition reimbursement through work as an employee benefit, and they had also been saving via a 529 Plan for my siblings and I. I was the only one of my siblings who went to an in-state university, so I did not have to take out any loans while both my siblings had to. I am immensely privileged and thankful that I was able to focus on college and not worry about the financing of it all. I only had to cover my last year of college because it was an agreement I made with my parents.

Do I use my Philosophy degree?

TL;DR: Yes, every day

It cannot be understated the impact that studying this field has shaped the way I think. It has changed the way I reason and communicate and think about the world. However, it is important to note that you really can’t get a job from Philosophy. Essentially the only way you can directly apply it would be through teaching/academia, otherwise you are just going to have to pivot into fields that rely on high-level logic and reasoning like law.

The kinds of conversations I have and can facilitate has widened so much after studying philosophy. People are very interested in the topics that are examined in philosophy, they just don’t have the terminology to describe them often. Most people are very receptive to philosophy as long as you’re not pretentious about it.

In my mind, philosophy at its best is taking ideas that people naturally think of over the course of their lives and more closely examining in its own right and in context with other ideas. With this in mind, I took a lot of Philosophy of X classes: Philosophy of Humor, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Human Rights, Philosophy of Law, Philosophy of Medicine, and more. I like ethics, but I think that a lot of it is codifying human intuition into a system and doesn’t really change minds.

I don’t think that Philosophy necessarily has to be applicable to daily life to be useful, but I think that something like the Philosophy of Love can definitely help a lot in the day-to-day in informing how to structure your relationships. Philosophy of Science and Medicine are good to in order to build healthy skepticism in modern scientific research. However, I think the “useless” philosophical questions are the most fun like “What is a hole” or “Where is pain located?”. I think that pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a very noble cause, so we should always fund the humanities!

Read more about my Philosophy degree

Do I use my Computer Science degree?

TL;DR: Yes, at work

I was largely self-taught in high school, so as a result I can’t say that I learned the basics of programming from college, but for a person who didn’t have that, a degree program would have greatly benefited them. I think the most important things that Computer Science degree can expose you to is project-based learning so that you can build up debugging and programming experience. I think that a Computer Science degree programs aim at this indirectly so I think a lot of students don’t always come out with this fully developed. I think that the reason for this is that they can get around it by not having to do a lot of problem-solving on their own and instead use forums (StackOverflow/Chegg), classmates, or other things like ChatGPT so they don’t have to figure out things for themselves. You shouldn’t have to know all the quirks of JavaScript type conversions or operator precedence, but if given a snippet and the fact that it is giving incorrect output, you should be able to diagnose the problem and then look up solutions.

It also allows you to get the algorithmic decomposition/problem-solving methodology down. I was someone who already had this problem solving mindset, I think it’s just innate to the way I think so I think that I didn’t get to reap that benefit of the CS degree program. I think that some people are naturally inclined to this way of thinking; sometimes it clicks for people a lot earlier, but for some it takes a large rewiring of the brain.

I learned a lot of small concepts in my classes that I think have generally informed my understanding of computation:

  • Operator Precedence
  • Short Circuiting
  • Cache misses
    • I wasn’t very attuned to low level computer architecture so it was good that my degree program forced me
  • Big-O Notation
    • I learned the importance of the cost of iteration, among other things
  • I know the theory of Regex and FSM which is helpful to know, but I wouldn’t say that I directly apply that knowledge
  • CPU Architecture
  • Pointers/Memory Management in C++
    • I use automatic garbage collection languages, so this doesn’t really apply to me anymore

Most of the things I do at work I learned on the job, but I did learn some things in school that I use for work:

  • Algorithms and truth tables and data structures for interviews
  • Pandas data frames don’t use a list comprehension or loop or you doing it wrong
  • ER diagrams I made one time for a project

I was definitely exposed to a lot of things that I would otherwise not have learned about:

  • Prolog
  • Racket
  • Parsers
  • Lexers
  • Graph Traversal Algorithms

I’ve never used directly:

  • Calculus
  • Discrete Math
  • Algorithms
  • Advanced Data Structures

I should’ve paid more attention in these classes:

  • Databases
  • Programming Languages
  • Operating Systems

Read more about my Computer Science degree


Other College Articles

Pick Two and A Side

A framework for planning extracurricular involvement in order to achieve balance in your college life.

College Goal Setting

A holistic framework for setting goals for the various aspects of your life during college.

My Philosophy Degree in a Nutshell

A retrospective at all the courses I took at UMBC for my Philosophy B.A.

My CS Degree in a Nutshell

A retrospective at all the courses I took at UMBC for my Computer Science B.S.

My Advice for Incoming College Students

A collection of my advice for incoming college students that I wrote and compiled right before I graduated.


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