Thread: How important is math for software engineering, and does it help in problem solving?

  1. #1
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    Mar 2020

    How important is math for software engineering, and does it help in problem solving?

    I'm well aware that you can learn programming, data science, etc... without being good at math, but one thing I always keep hearing is that; the better you are with math concepts, the better your problem-solving skills become. Seeing how many things in programming derives from concepts in math (functions, vectors, matrices, etc...), do you believe having a strong foundation in math would help someone in this type of field?

    I'm asking this because I'm in a bit of a tough situation right now. I'm looking to enter college this year and I have only 3.5 months left to prepare for the entrance exam.

    The entrance exam is 10 math questions, and let me tell you that my knowledge in math is really, really bad (something like 7th or 8th grade perhaps)

    While I think that I have enough time to prepare myself for the exam, I think that the only way for me to pass it would be through rote learning. So I'm in a bit of a pickle where I can choose to either pause this year and study math properly to establish good foundation, or I can go with the plan right now, enter college sooner and not 'waste' a year.

    I've heard a lot that having a good foundation in math is beneficial in software engineering, so I would like to know based on the replies I get what course of action I should take.

    As I matured, I began to find math actually very interesting, and it's a science which I would love to study properly, to help me in "abstract thinking" and improve my problem-solving skills, because if I'm looking to be a software engineer, I may as well give it my best, so I hope it would help. However, if I take the entrance exam this year, it'll be as I said, through rote learning. I won't be able to quite understand all the concepts clearly, but at least I won't need to wait another year just to enter college.

    I really want to hear your opinions on this, how much beneficial is math for software engineers? Does having a strong foundation lead to better problem solving? If two programmers were assigned a task and both of them have spent an equal amount of time (let's say 10k hours) practicing programmers, but one has better math knowledge than the other, would that person be able to produce a better/faster solution than the other guy?

    A slightly off-topic question I'd like to ask is: As someone who is 25 years old, am I old to enter college? I never knew what I wanted to do in life, so after graduating high school, I never planned which college I would go to, but now that I know, I'm think I'll feel awkward being the oldest guy in the class :\

  2. #2
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    May 2010
    Also posted here.

  3. #3
    Registered User
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    May 2009
    Discrete math is the main math needed for programming.
    But, a programmer needs to understand the problem domain. Often, algebra is needed to understand the problem domain.
    Unless you are writing engineering or Math educational software I think you are unlikely to need Calculus.
    I did need to learn matrix operations in college because the Computer Science used them. The reason is because some programming problems need them in order to solve them. I never used matrix operations in real life; but, I have mainly done embedded programming.

    Tim S.
    "...a computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things. They are,in short, a perfect match.." Bill Bryson

  4. #4
    and the hat of int overfl Salem's Avatar
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    Aug 2001
    The edge of the known universe
    If you dance barefoot on the broken glass of undefined behaviour, you've got to expect the occasional cut.
    If at first you don't succeed, try writing your phone number on the exam paper.

  5. #5
    misoturbutc Hodor's Avatar
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    Nov 2013
    I wouldn't worry about your age. 25 is pretty young. I don't know what uni/college is like where you are but here in Australia there are lots of people older than 25 attending even at undergraduate level. Once you start counting people doing post-grad stuff (honours years, PhD etc) 25 is young. Add into that mix people who change their mind and switch degrees and then go on for post-grad stuff then... well, 25 is at the low end of the scale. Sure there are people who start at 17 or 18 and do a 3 or 4 year undergrad degree and finish about 21 but there are lots of people over 25 as well. I know people who are 30 and still at uni getting their first qualification. I know a person twice that age and doing a new undergrad degree (I'm sure there are others I just happen to know one person in that situation). I still visit my old campus occasionally although I graduated years and years ago and meet people > 25 yo all the time. Don't start thinking that 25 is "old". It's not and if you start thinking like that you're doing yourself a disservice. You want the degree? Go out and get it -- age doesn't matter. So, no, you're not too old to start and I find it very unlikely that you'll be the oldest person there.

  6. #6
    Registered User Sir Galahad's Avatar
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    Nov 2016
    The Round Table
    I say learn whatever is interesting and of course applicable to whatever you're working toward at the moment. If you plan to make 3-D games for example then things like matrices and physics equations might be good things to study. And pretty much everywhere you turn in programming lurks some form of mathematical problem to be solved, refined, and/or optimized. So you'll learn a lot along the way too.

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