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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 9 | Oct. 7, 2004

New Computer Science Degree Program

Students from diverse working world backgrounds can gain computer expertise

By Gayle Mavor

As classmates go, they couldn’t be more different.

Laura Aslan is a 34-year-old single mom with a Master of Psychology who has spent most of the past four years since she arrived from Romania working in group homes with teenagers at risk and their parents.

Saylor Bale holds a Master of Neuroscience from Washington State University. Prior to coming to UBC, she was doing research related to cellular and molecular biology at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

But these two new UBC students are among the first to be accepted into an unusual new bachelor of computer science degree designed for individuals who already hold at least a bachelor’s degree and would like to add computer expertise to their education and work experience.

Offered through the department of computer science, the Bachelor of Computer Science (Integrated Computer Science) is 20-month second degree program that is the first of its kind in Western Canada.

Aslan says she gathered the courage to apply to the program in spite of “not being particularly great at math, and with only average computer skills”, because it was one of the few programs she could find in her online search that was not designed for “computer geeks.”

Her motivation was also ignited by the lack of computer experience she witnessed while working in group homes. She was often the person who ended up troubleshooting and, as a result, began to recognize a genuine interest in learning more. Since applying to BCS (ICS), she has also inspired her 15-year-old daughter Ioana to enroll in a technology immersion program offered through King George Secondary school in Vancouver’s West End.

“I can envision,” she says, “the future possibility that Ioana and I might actually be capable of creating our own consulting firm focused specifically on addressing the computing needs of the social services sector in Vancouver.”

Smaller class sizes, a greater emphasis on communication and technical writing skills, and an optional Co-op component are some of the program’s features. Twenty-nine students with backgrounds ranging from linguistics to medicine are currently enrolled, and the diversity of their educational backgrounds helps to enrich the learning environment.

BCS (ICS) director Paul Carter, an instructor in computer science, emphasizes that this two-year degree provides students with all the core courses that are expected of students taking the four year Bachelor of Science degree. In addition to Computer Science courses, the program offers 15 credits of upper level electives that allow students to expand on their previous education or branch out in a completely new direction and explore the interdisciplinary nature of computer science in the world.

“Increasingly, computers are the driving force in research as witnessed in the Human Genome Project and other large research projects. Computing professionals are key partners in collaboration with other experts to propel advances in so many areas of society,” says Carter.

Having a well-rounded background and up-to-date computer knowledge is definitely a plus by industry standards.

Jon Stevens, a program / product manager with Absolute Software, a downtown Vancouver firm that provides a guaranteed computer theft recovery and secure asset tracking service, says that when he’s recruiting for a software developer, he’s more likely to choose someone with real world experience, in addition to their degree.

“The ideal candidate is someone who can understand the business needs and financial constraints of the project and can work in teams or on their own. Strong written and verbal communication is vitally important as is the ability to adjust the communication dependent on the audience -- from sales to technical staff,” Stevens says.

“A breadth of technical skills is also a bonus -- most software involves a user interface and a database so I look for a developer with both these skill sets. Finally I look for experience in the complete software development lifecycle -- from analysis / design through coding, testing and implementation. A candidate with all these skills will be very marketable.”

BCS(ICS) evolved from a previous diploma program known as Alternate Routes to Computing (ARC) designed in 1998 by computer science instructors Ian Cavers and George Tsiknis.
The next intake to the BCS (ICS) program is in September 2005 with an application deadline of February 28, 2005. For more information, visit www.arc.cs.ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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