Is Computer Science Really All About Math?

Is computer science all about mathematics? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by John Byrd, CEO, Gigantic Software, on Quora:

Is computer science all about mathematics?

Your question is subtle; so any short answer is probably wrong.

Programmers who excelled in math, assert that you must know math to be a good programmer; programmers who were not strong math students, assert equally strongly that you don’t need to know math.

In their way, both sides are equally correct. If you write word processors, or SQL backends, or web site CSS, then you will use only basic algebra at most. However, if you get into ML and AI, then you will likely need to know vector math, statistics, a little calculus, and at least some probability theory.

I write audio technology for a living. My audio engine, Varantic, is unique, in that it represents sounds as probabilities. Video games, toys, and theme parks use it, so that sound effects never sound exactly the same twice. I can’t imagine building this technology, without a strong grounding in vector math and probability theory, and a bit of multivariable calculus.

I believe that people who declare themselves to be “pathetically weak” at math, had bad teachers or bad learning experiences when they were young. I believe, axiomatically, that all people can be very good at math, because I believe that math is an extension of the common sense that people use every day.

Technology trends come and go. At the moment, a lot of people have heard the phrase “deep learning” and want to go play in that ocean. Like all technology trends, the deep learning craze will pass, as people begin to understand the delicate and undependable nature of convolutional neural networks and the like.

Math is not nearly so trendy. Once you construct a mathematical proof of something, you can depend on it to always be right and relevant, never to be outdone by a younger and sexier new proof.

To that end, you need never forget anything you learn in mathematics; it won’t be incorrect in ten years or a hundred. But everything you can read about deep learning today, however, will be old hat in ten years.

In a broad sense, all computer science IS math, done very quickly by a machine.

If you have mathematical anxiety, it might be a good idea to attend extension school, or one of the online courses, to review some of the concepts that offended you when you were younger.

Best of luck to you.




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Is Computer Science Really All About Math?


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  • Sue

    Probability theory: Probability theory, a branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of random phenomena. The outcome of a random event cannot be determined …

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