computer science or game design?

I'm just finishing up my Fine Arts degree (like in 1 week![xx(]) and next year I wanna study the most appropriate thing 2 get me into the game industry. Instead of going into the arts side of things tho i kinda want 2 get into programming... go figure. It wont hurt 2 b skilled in both right? lol.
Anyway, it seems the best options are:
1. post-grad computer science (diploma, then masters)
2. more specific "Game Programming" courses (undergrad/certificate)

I'm just unsure which qualification would b percieved as a 'stronger' attribute in a CV? Does there seem 2 b any preference within the industry? Any advice would b great.

Blitz's picture

I personally see greater benefit in a bachelors degree (or whatever) in computer science or similar, than a 1-2 year specific games programming course. You'll gain much broader knowledge in the uni degree than you will in a games specific course, however the uni degree may lack the significant teamwork aspect. This is easily remedied by working on a group game project/mod in your spare time.

In the end, which ever way you go, as long as you work hard and put in the effort to learn outside of your normal class curriculum, employers won't really care where you got your education from, as your ability will be evident in the code/programs that you send with your resume.

However, that said, you might still find it difficult to get taken seriously at first glance if you don't have ANY programming related qualification. An unfortunate thing, sometimes employers don't bother to look at your work if they already have it set in their mind that you are unskilled because of a lack of formal education :(
CYer, Blitz

Kuldaen's picture

I agree with Blitz that you're probably better with a degree in computer science or software engineering. I think this would give you a better grounding in programming in general and at the end, at least you'll have the necessary skills to work in any software engineering industry and not be restricted to games.

As for the lack of teamwork in Uni degrees, I'd have to disagree. During my course I worked on about 20 different projects ranging from in 3-10 people teams. Most unis realise that in today's world, team work is essential to any software engineer. There's too much for anyone to do themselves.

just my 2c.
-kul

Maitrek's picture

I hear this alot, a degree won't get you anywhere in the games biz. Get some programming knowledge and code a demo, alot of companies value this much higher than a piece of paper saying you know a bit of software engineering stuff. Basically they are after people whose enthusiasm and energy they can suck dry for cheap wages making lifeless games.

Kuldaen's picture

Sorry but I've got to disagree with you there Maitrek. Its not really about the piece of paper but what you learn. There's very few programmers at the company I work for as well as the previous one without an engineering, science or math degree. A degree is only a piece of paper if you go through the course trying to get just a piece of paper out of it. These days companies are looking more and more for people who can work in teams, set and follow schedules, communicate ideas and designs as well as being good coders. Its big businesses these days and strict deadlines, one programmer can't do it all on time. I would like to think that in the games industry, on the technical side anyway, we're headed towards software engineers rather than just programmers.

-kul

Maitrek's picture

What I'm saying is that it's more valuable (in regards to your application for a job) if you have a demo that is in some way related to games, rather than a piece of paper saying you know a bunch of stuff. A degree doesn't necessarily teach you all of the skills you refer to. Also it's not often interpreted, by employers, as stating that you have good teamwork skills etc. A demo on the other hand says you've got alot of commitment, energy and passion and a willingness to learn, experiment etc.

I'm currently deferring my studies at uni (2/3rds through maths degree) simply because I'm a bit tired of studying and need to do some full time work...I'm very familiar with what is taught in a comp sci, or maths degree. Let's talk hypothetically here, but if I WAS in charge of hiring at a games company, and a raw comp sci graduate came up asking for a job (with piece of paper in hand) and a high school graduate with a full game demo on his application applied for the same job...I'd be hiring the guy with the demo.

Having said that, a university degree is not useless and I wouldn't advocate that they are - it's just there are few degrees out there that are totally pertinent to games development.

In regards to the software engineering trend...I both agree and disagree. IF (and this is an IF) you want to get into the big industry, the nature and size of products these days and the complexity of the technology requires a high level of the application software engineering processes (however I hate it when people assume that software engineering means using an object oriented language). But there are other facets of the industry which are emerging as viable businesses that require less software engineering and more all-round game development skills (the growth of the independently distibruted industry is worth noting).

Jacana's picture

quote:Originally posted by Maitrek

In regards to the software engineering trend...I both agree and disagree. IF (and this is an IF) you want to get into the big industry, the nature and size of products these days and the complexity of the technology requires a high level of the application software engineering processes (however I hate it when people assume that software engineering means using an object oriented language). But there are other facets of the industry which are emerging as viable businesses that require less software engineering and more all-round game development skills (the growth of the independently distibruted industry is worth noting).

Just to kind of add to this - in general a bachlor's degree is needed for immigration for most counties if you ever plan to work outside of Australia. I am unsure if the degree needs to be in direct relation to the field you are working in.

claracon's picture

Thanks guys, I think I'm going to go with a piece of paper AND making mods/demos. From what i can see, I really do need to have the technical knowledge, but i also need 2 build a portfolio that clearly demonstates my work and potential. I've already got a degree, so I think I'm going 2 do post-grad Software Development @ RMIT next year - 18months and i get a Masters of Technology (and hopefully some decent experience, apparently it's pretty full-on). I'm gona b a busy gal :) Cheers.

Maitrek's picture

Yep, a degree does help if you want to work outside Australia, do some research regarding working visas if you don't think you'll have good options or oppurtunities here in Aus.

Major Clod's picture

"Get some programming knowledge and code a demo, alot of companies value this much higher than a piece of paper saying you know a bit of software engineering stuff."

IMO the best way to get this programming knowledge is through a software engineering degree. Forget the short game courses too. If your purpose of being at uni is to simply get that piece of paper, then I think you really need to rethink your attitude. You will only get out of the degree what you put into it. Sure you may want to teach yourself, but you'll more than likely dive straight in to the fun stuff rather than focus on the "boring" aspects of coding, and you'll likely never even touch on documentation and testing. Its all well and good to mix and match some tutorials and put together a demo, but you will have no hope in hell if you do not understand fundamentals.

It would be silly to think that an IT graduate would not have plenty of different demos to show prospective employers. Over the past few years I've developed plenty of code, simply because I need to experiement so that I can learn. I don't think any uni graduate is going to simply walk into an interview with a photocopy of their degree and nothing to back it up.

You'll find that teamwork is a main focus in software engineering degrees. I've worked on plenty of group projects, and quite a few focus on using time effiently, task distribution, communication and documentation. Being able to talk to lecturers, tutors and fellow students about the work is invaluable.

All in all you only get results if you put in the hard work, no matter what path you take. Having said that, studying at uni will provide you with a few more opportunities than simply sitting at home with a coding book.

Just my 2c

Maitrek's picture

Hah - you wouldn't be defending computer science degrees if you did the one at Adelaide Uni. I'm not going to go into why I dislike the degree or the department in particular, some of the courses offered are very valuable and well presented. But Computer Science degrees and Sofware Engineering degrees do not teach you everything about programming. Not even close. Real experience on REAL projects is invaluable.

I do agree though that you can learn a bit here and there about software engineering and working in a team, and the Uni environment is good for that (as there is no shortage of people to team up with, unlike in the 'real' world) but completing a Comp Sci degree does not require the programming skills that it used to.

Lastly, however, you are making a few assumptions about my statement. One is that my definition of 'coding skills' does not include software engineering practises (such as modularisation) and team skills. Another is that coding a demo is something that you do on your own, coding a demo can be anything, from working with a team on a mod project to doing some middleware development of a fluid mechanics system with some mathematicians and engineers around. Another assumption you are making about that statement is that I view a University degree as a piece of paper, I do not, but the minimum standard of programmer that comes out of a uni degree is SO low that I wouldn't be able to accurately judge whether they are right for a job based on the degree ALONE (ie some work in their own time in the relevant field tells me ALOT more about you than your degree, unless you got HDs in everything in which case I can will be able to surmise that you are a nut that is very good with academia).

I have more to say about software engineering, but really it's not on topic.

lorien's picture

Post-grad diplomas and coursework masters are very intense and accelerated. You cover most of the subjects in an undergrad degree in 1-2 years, and have extra questions in every assignment and exams.

If games is what you want, i'd advise against doing programming after fine arts: it will only confuse people.

"Hey, is this guy/girl a programmer or an artist? What do we get them to do? What do we pay them? etc, etc"

Programming *is* likely to completely change the way you create your artworks, perhaps for the better, and IMHO being an artist/programmer *should* make you very employable, but it may actually make you less employable because you won't fit into a nice, neat pigeon hole.

Just my two cents [:)]

Magna's picture

Hmm which unis are good for computer science???

lorien's picture

Probably depends on if you mean for post-grad research or undergrad/post-grad coursework.

I think a uni is good for post-grad research if the staff are very active in getting their research published in journals and present their work at academic conferences all over the world.

Coursework stuff is more dependent on teaching skills, which has very little to do with research ability.

NB I'm doing a Masters by Research (MSc) in computer science.

Shplorb's picture

Definately go the CS rather than the games course. Like all uni degrees, the CS course will give you a firm theoretical grounding in the field. A broad knowledge of all aspects of CS will take you further in the long run. For example, I highly doubt a games course would cover anything on language theory or computer organisation. Whilst you may sit there in the lectures or tutorials and think 'what the hell has this got to do with anything?', you'll at some time later come across something, think and back have an epiphany as it all clicks into place.

If after doing a CS degree (and lots of practice and experimenting in your own time) you can't get a job in games, then go for the games course to learn the specifics.

Kuldaen's picture

quote:Originally posted by lorien
Programming *is* likely to completely change the way you create your artworks, perhaps for the better, and IMHO being an artist/programmer *should* make you very employable, but it may actually make you less employable because you won't fit into a nice, neat pigeon hole.

Technical Artists are much sort after I think. Maybe not so much in the games industry but in post production. Its always good to have a few artist who can do MaxScript or MEL and write their own tools/plugins that will help all artists on the team and take the load of programmers. These artist also tend to know the limitations and also how to get the most out of engines.

-kul

lorien's picture

I agree with Max Script and MEL, they allow people to automate many tasks simply. Same with scripting in general (python, ruby, lua, etc) I'm meaning that an artist with a degree/post grad qualification in CS is a bit of a strange beast [:)]

Just to be completely clear about this I'm not saying there is anything wrong with artists programming at all, my undergrad studies were mostly music, and I taught myself to code because I wanted to make interactive music systems.

IMHO artist-programmers (or vice/versa) are very usefull in communicating ideas between the two groups of people- programmers and artists have very different ways of thinking about things.

Also I think that artist-programmers are the people who are able to make the really spectacular special effects, simply because these effects require the two sets of skills.

I'm not saying "don't tread on my toes" as a programmer at all, just that unless an artist is really dedicated to programming a CS course may not be the best place to be.

This is something that was really good about ACAT (The Australian Centre for the Arts and Technology), they taught composers and animators programming as a means of artistic expression. ACAT doesn't exist anymore- it's Centre for New Media Arts, and while programming is still taught, there is nothing like the emphasis on "art-math" and procedural artwork creation (developing algorithms to help in making artworks) that used to happen there when David Worral was head. Not criticising btw, just this is how I see it.

I don't know of anywhere in Australia that resembles what ACAT was. Please tell me if anyone knows of anywhere (not wanting to change course, just interested)