View this PageEdit this PageUploads to this PageHistory of this PageHomeRecent ChangesSearchHelp Guide

Is Calculus Needed?

Most engineering disciplines require direct use of calculus in solving problems. Software engineering and computer prgoramming is different. Both these only require calculus in certain unusual techniques, and one can certainly be a good software engineer or computer programmer without using calculus at all frequently. The Math Really Required in Computer Science attempts to spell this out.

On the other hand, some knowledge of math is almost certainly desirable. Probably most computer software involves some simple but non-trivial formulas, and programmers who understand things like commutativity and functions will be much more efficient than programmers who have to figure such things out from scratch.

But should SE's know calculus? Alternatively, what subset of software engineers should know calculus?

The question is made more difficult because most software engineers do know calculus, and don't think about the fact that they are using it. On the whole, though, it seems that calculus is not directly needed by most software engineers.

Even so, there are two possible further reasons for an SE to take calculus in college. First, many SE's will be specifically interested in programming for domains which require calculus to work with and understand. For instance, graphics and networking software. Second, perhaps calculus is like literature and history, and is a part of math that any Renaissance person should have some familiarity with.

===============================================================
Q: Calculus is normally 3 semesters of work. At one point I thought the question was whether the third semester of Calculus is required. Are we asking to drop Calculus totally? I personally believe that Calculus 1 & 2 are required subjects for any university students. After all, the destination is not as important as the journey.

Non-technical majors at most universities have a choice of taking something other than calculus; statistics, for instance. In these majors, although you do have to take some math, you don't have to take calculus specifically. One good justification is that an extra statistics would be more useful than calculus to almost anyone– including software engineers. (or would it? That's a big question). Should someone really fail because they don't know calculus, even though they have the makings of a great SE? Even if they are exceptionally expert in something more useful (there's that word again) like set theory?