## Math Skills For Programmers — Necessary Or Not? 609

Posted
by
samzenpus

from the who-needs-theory-when-you-have-practice dept.

from the who-needs-theory-when-you-have-practice dept.

An anonymous reader writes

*"Currently, the nature of most programming work is such that you don't really need math skills to get by or even to do well; after all, linear algebra is no help when building database-driven websites. However, Skorks contends that if you want to do truly interesting work in the software development field, math skills are essential, and furthermore will become increasingly important as we are forced to work with ever larger data sets (making math-intensive algorithm analysis skills a priority)."*
## Given two programmers (Score:5, Insightful)

The one with more math is the one you want.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Insightful)

Can I google and find the formulas? Sure, yeah, but do I have the level of understanding with all of Kelper's Laws and bits to change them to what I want for my game? Nope.

Anyone who says that maths isn't needed for a programmer is utterly kidding themselves - or working at the low end of the food chain.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Funny)

do I have the level of understanding with all of

Kelper's Laws and bits to change them to what I want for my game? Nope.You needed to change that bit for your game?

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Informative)

I'd go further than that - most chunks of maths are things that are absolutely essential for some area of programming. You may not need to know everything all of the time, but for any particular task you will need to know some of this (non-exhaustive) list :

Statistics- useful just about everywhere, but in particular if you have to do any kind of data analysis in your work. Knowing particular distributions and how to compute the properties of them is essential.Probability- if you use any kind of randomness in your work this is essential and in quite a few places where you don't deliberately use randomness but you are using non-determinism to model lack of knowledge i.e packing and filling of sparse data-structures.Algebra- the daddy. Knowing a simple formal language that lets you rearrange expressions is an essential first step towards understanding a programming language. The more you learn the more it will help. If you head down to the Category Theory end of the pool then Monads and Arrows come in useful if you swim away from imperative languages and find something more interesting.Logic- the other foundation. Learning to apply logic is relevant in any area of programming as it is an elementary part of programming. A deeper understanding of propositional and predicate logics is essential to do any work in compilers and will aid your understanding of control and data-flow in any language that you work in.Linear Algebra- anything that touches the "real world" requires a bit of LA, as the parent mentioned physics, 3D graphics and I would add Vision to that list.Set Theory- these are your basic building blocks, use them well. Whether it is building the right data-structure or using a database this is the foundation that you need to understand.Graph Theory- some people never need anything more complex than a relational database, but some people only care about the relations. If you want to model any large network (the internet, or social interactions, economics), or perhaps programs within a compiler, or just the relationships between discrete objects then you will either learn some Graph Theory first, or rediscover it yourself the hard way.Combinatorics- counting is fun! Counting (and enumerating in the programmer's sense) complex objects is basic problem that crops up in almost every area. For people without some grounding in combinatorics it is the kind of question that will get kicked up to the "office guru".Now, if only maths graduates could program their way out of a wet cardboard box, then we could truly start designing giant flame breathing killer robots.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Insightful)

Programming as a skill in itself is totally separate from most of those .

But to be a good programmer you don't just have to be able to write good code- you have to be able to write good code which does useful things and unless you have a decent understanding of a few of the above you're going to be missing a number of very useful and powerful tools.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Informative)

I dare to disagree. Programming is basically putting algorithms into a form a computer can understand. Nothing more. And where do these algos come from?

It baffles me to no end every time I see "programmers" apply who consider math as some sort of secondary skill. It's not. It is the primary skill for a good programmer. I do not need someone who can "translate" my algorithm into code. I need someone who can take my problem and develop an algo for it. Coding it is the most trivial part of the solution.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Interesting)

I dare to disagree. Programming is basically putting algorithms into a form a computer can understand. Nothing more. And where do these algos come from?

It baffles me to no end every time I see "programmers" apply who consider math as some sort of secondary skill. It's not. It is the primary skill for a good programmer.

.

Absolutely. And an old dog like me can even provide a classic example: older OS's like DOS and CPM had to cram a lot of functionality into a relatively small amount of memory. They also had to perform decently on small, slow (by today's standards) processors. The approach that they used was the

vector table.Simply put, the functions were numbered in order: get OS version was typically the first (function 0), and successive numbers were for all of the other important functions: open file, write file, get system time, and so on.

Now: can you imagine how inefficient that would be if the original programmer had used a "switch" statement (or the assembly equivalent, with a bunch of "compare and jumps")? Instead, the function number was left shifted (equivalent to multiplying by a factor of two), then used to find an index in a vector table that contained the addresses of all the functions. Neat, compact and lightning-fast.

This technique is still used today in small embedded processors that suffer from similar low speed and limited memory problems. I used it myself on a small controller in a contract job back in the 1990's. It allowed me to cram everything (read keyboard, activate relays, check temperatures, and more ... ... in a PIC micro with 2048 bytes of memory. :)

even including a quick and dirty "config" optionI have never met a really good, really world-changing programmer who wasn't also good at math. Not necessarily with high-end math, but just good at the fundamentals of algebra, and with the ability to "think" in numerical calculations and offsets.

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

## Re: (Score:3, Funny)

if you can't prove that the code you have written is going to do what you want 100% of the time or its not 100% accurateBah! If it works on my machine, my work is done.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:4, Insightful)

“Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it." -- Donald Knuth

You're right about the maths being important though.

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

I think people are looking at the problem wrong.

Programming is programming; it's a discipline independent of anything else. It involves logic, but not math. (Unless you include logic in math, in which case the answer to this question is "duh" and there's no point in having this discussion.)

If you're writing a program in a domain where math is important, for example calculating spaceship orbits or rendering 3D graphics, then math is important. This is also kind of a duh.

But here's the fun part: if you're wri

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Insightful)

Totally disagree. It has been found that the universe reflects math, and much discovery in the field of physics is driven by a previous understanding of mathematical principles.

Furthermore, there are extremely numerous cases where math skills come in handy for totally unexpected applications. For example, I learned about statistical concepts (standard deviation, interquartile ranges, median, mode, mean, etc) long before I had any application that actually meant anything in my life. In the 11 years since high school, I've lost count of the number of times that that has been useful. From analyzing web statistics to finding patterns in sales in my shop, I've used these skills to great effect. This is even more the case with trigonometry.

Math does not have to be limited by immediate application of the principles being taught, and doing so results in an unnecessarily constrained syllabus that denies students skills that they may find useful later in life. Mathematics' usefulness just appears in front of you as you go through life encountering problems, assuming you have the skills.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:4, Insightful)

Math does not have to be limited by immediate application of the principles being taught, and doing so results in an unnecessarily constrained syllabus that denies students skills that they may find useful later in life.

I agree. I wish it was easier or perhaps more common to teach the ability to apply more advanced mathematics to a situation when possible. I remember going through school you always heard the line, "We're never going to use this anyway," when referring to math anywhere above algebra, and I have to say that I generally agreed with it. There have been some advanced mathematical skills that I've used since leaving school, but they've all been applied inside of IT or programming, so perhaps I'm a bad example.

My personal largest problem, though, has to do with literacy. Though I'm quite skilled with language, excessive comma usage notwithstanding, I find that when trying to read about advanced math or physics principles on Wikipedia for example, I'll see a theorem written using symbols and functions that I know were covered in the math classes I had in high school but I can't look at those same symbols and functions and turn them into words that accurately explain or describe the principle I'm reading. Perhaps I'm alone in that situation, but attempting to read advanced theorems and math does give me insight into what text must look like to illiterate people who still know their ABC's.

## YOU ARE EXACTLY CORRECT, SIR (Score:5, Interesting)

>My personal largest problem, though, has to do with literacy. Though I'm quite skilled with language, excessive comma usage

>notwithstanding, I find that when trying to read about advanced math or physics principles on Wikipedia for example, I'll see

>a theorem written using symbols and functions that I know were covered in the math classes I had in high school but I can't

>look at those same symbols and functions and turn them into words that accurately explain or describe the principle I'm reading.

>Perhaps I'm alone in that situation, but attempting to read advanced theorems and math does give me insight into what text must

>look like to illiterate people who still know their ABC's.

I share your exact sentiment.

I have been a definite non-traditional student. I started school in 1988 at Georgia Tech, and failed out after 2 years. Some 17 years later, I finished my BS in Computer Science.

I have taken and retaken math classes many times. When I was at Georgia Tech I got a C in Calc I, and then in Calc II I got W, F, D, F, and finally passed with a B. Then I moved to another state and had to take Calc II yet again. A few years ago I started working on my Mechanical Engineering degree, which requires Calculus III, so I took Calc I and II again to brush up. I got a B in Calc I and a B in Calc II and got a D taking Calc III. I am currently re-taking Calc III.

My problem is, I believe, that I have strung out my mathematical education over so long a period of time that I am not FLUENT IN THE LANGUAGE OF MATHEMATICS. It is, exactly as you state, a LITERACY PROBLEM. I firmly believe, as you seem to, that MATHEMATICS IS A LANGUAGE. Moreover, I believe, as you seem to also, that people who are fluent in mathematics actually "SEE" mathematical equations.

For example. I believe many people when they look at x^2 + y^2 = r^2 instantly recognize the equation of a circle. Now I have finally gained that understanding, BY ROTE, of that fact also. But I believe that people who are mathematically literate see more than just the pattern recognition that that equation means circle. I think they see equations and actually see WHAT IS GOING ON. I never do. I have to sit down and plug in values of X and Y and see what comes out. It's very tedious.

I think your last sentence was exactly dead-on. I liken the problem to handing an encyclopedia to a 5-year-old and asking them to read a passage. They will be focusing so hard on each word that they will not know what they have read at the end of a sentence. That is exactly how I feel trying to do Calculus. I am focusing so hard on the basic mathematics that I find it very difficult to put it all together to see the big picture.

It is very much a literacy problem, and I find it confounding. The only thing for it, I'm afraid, is to do more and more and more maths until one gains the familiarity one has just as one does with reading. The problem is time. I just don't have the time, with a full-time job and a family, to do it.

I haven't been able to help but think, over the years of taking higher-level math classes, that there must be a better way to learn this stuff. The science of Calculus is some 400 years old, some parts much older. Yet the way it is taught has not changed hardly at all. Now maybe there is no better way to learn it than doing it over and over until knowledge turns to understanding, but what keeps coming to me is that there must be a better way to VISUALIZE the abstract into something more concrete.

Example. The other day in Calc III we were talking about minimums and maximums, and how they might occur on the surface or along the surfaces boundary. So I said out loud, "So, the surface can either be a volcano or a potato chip but either way there is a high or low spot somewhere on it." And half the class said aloud, "Aaaaaahhh!" - they got it because they were able to VISUALIZE the abstract concept as something concrete.

There has got to be a better way to con

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

Einstein did not find out what he found out by calculatign[sic], first he understood the physics behind it after eh calculated for us the formula E=MC^2

Man, you have

no ideawhat you're talking about. Einstein was having severe problems with General Relativity until his mathematician friend, Mercel Grossman, looked at what he was doing and pointed out, "hey, you need to describe this using these things called tensors.": look here [suite101.com]Before that, Hermann Minkowski, a mathematician, had looked at Einstein's Special Relativity and thought, "hey...if we describe these things in four dimensions, these equations become really elegant." Yes, Minkowski space was d

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Insightful)

No, absolutely not... Physics uses Math: Physics without Math is unthinkable. Math without Physics is absolutely possible. There was pretty much maths

beforephysics. The old Greeks were more Mathematicians than Physicists.I present to you Complex Numbers [wikipedia.org]. For all intents and purposes we don't know what we're calculating *but* they are used in all kinds of engineering to find actual useful results. (Scroll down to the Applications part). Understand that Complex Numbers were

first, then came the applications.I am by no means a Mathematician and I wasn't a big fan of it in school, but loved physics and excelled in it. In a way, I was like you, but I understand that Maths is used in Physics but not limited to Physics.

Finally: Obligatory XKCD Link. [xkcd.com] (Of course, if you feel bitter about this comment, read the mouse-over text)

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

I'm guessing he meant that you understand the physics conceptually first, and then learn the math that represents it, that way you have a motivation for learning the math and it is more interesting.

I'd tend to agree with that. Most physics can be understood conceptually without the math, but when you understand the math you can move from qualitative descriptions/predictions to quantitative.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Funny)

Now that's funny.

I had a professor who said it like this:

Math is the only pure science

Physics is chunky math

Chemistry is wet physics

Biology is gooey chemistry

(or something like that)

## Re: (Score:3, Informative)

Physics *IS* math. However Math also includes algorithms and concepts that have no physical basis, or at least none discovered yet.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Insightful)

Actually the one with better people skills is the one you want.

Maths is great for some coding problems, I'm not saying it isn't, but you rarely bump into a commercial coding problem that requires any degree of serious maths. I've been commercial coding for nearly 20 years, and I've hit a maths problem 3 times (and the last two were solved by a half-day of Googling).

But you will bump into a people problem in commercial coding. Every. Single. Day. Knowing how to cope with those is massively more important (and Google can't help you with them).

But the article wasn't really talking about this. The article was talking about becoming a Great Programmer.

To become a Great Programmer, don't spend your days coding CRUD websites. You're never going to build/discover something amazing while doing commercial coding.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Funny)

There's more to commercial coding than CRUD work, young Skywalker. This kernel API documentation was your father's, but now I pass it on to you.

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:4, Funny)

## Re:Given two programmers (Score:5, Funny)

My people skills would give your math skills a wedgie.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

As in, "My opinion is absolutely right, and yours is absolutely wrong"

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

As selection criteria, Professional Experience/Proven Skill pretty much trump everything else.

(Think about it, who would you rather have, the guy with 10 years Software Engineering experience in the field or the one just fresh out of university with a Maths Doctorate)

After that you'll go for people which can work well in a team.

Maths is a nice to have, but except for very specific domains (such as Quants and other positions where you're creating Algorithm engines), it will never outweight Experience and Tea

## Re: (Score:3, Funny)

The three best programmers I know, who came up with incredibly clever algorithms and got large projects done in amazing ways were all high school dropouts.So anecdotally then, should we assume that the best programmers would be those who didn't even make it to high school?

Susie: "Yeah, that's it. You're too

smartfor the class."Calvin: "Believe it, lady! You know how Einstein got bad grades when he was a kid? Well, mine are even worse!"

## Absolutely (Score:5, Insightful)

Math KNOWLEDGE may be debatable, but Math skills are essential.

If you don't have the ability to break up and solve mathmatical formulas, how do you expect to be able to solve complex programming tasks?

Plus linear algrebra is awesome. And everytime I do anything even remotely 2d or 3d related, I always wish I had paid more attention in Geometry.

But more than anything, its good to know that there's an equation for that. Even if you don't remember what it is, or how it works, having the simple knowledge that it exists to look up is more than worth the time of taking the class.

## Re: (Score:2)

YES! Math skills are essential. It's not what you know, but your ability to solve problems. Problem solving is the key. However, as you said, having knowledge is important too.

There can be two types of people. The math nerd (high math skills), and the programming geek. A combination of these would be great, but, who do you think would make it in the LONG RUN?

## Re:Absolutely (Score:5, Insightful)

There can be two types of people. The math nerd (high math skills), and the programming geek. A combination of these would be great, but, who do you think would make it in the LONG RUN?

The first who marries the CEO's daughter.

## Re:Absolutely (Score:5, Funny)

That would be the math nerd... the one who knows how to multiply.

## Re: (Score:2)

Yes, but a programmer has extensive experience with children and parenting.

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

## Reminds me of a quote (Score:3, Interesting)

Reminds me of a quote by Gene Fowler, "

Keep the company of bums and you will become a bum. But hang around .with rich people and you will end up by picking up the tab and dying broke".Especially given this kind of survival of the assholiest when it comes to who gets to be a CEO in the first place: Is Your Boss a Psychopath? [fastcompany.com]

Don't assume that these guys care about you just because you married their daughter. Not about that daughter in the first place. Or about anyone else than themselves, really. If they did,

## Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

That's nothing to do with programming itself. That's to do with the subject you're programming about - the problem domain.

You could program perfectly well just knowing how to add, subtract, multiply and divide if you worked on (yawn) accounting systems.

## Ah there it goes again (Score:5, Insightful)

Another person who is ill defining mathematical thinking. I consider mathematical thinking not only Linear Algebra, Infi et al, but everything that requires exact abstract thinking and has the properties of consistency and a formal and defined "language" to represent ideas.

For that matter, I think that mathematical thinking should be defined more broadly, such as conceiving design ideas and representing them with, say, UML or DFDs as mathematical thinking as well.

So yes, mathematical approach is a must in programming.

Just my 0.02c of course.

## Re: (Score:2)

I consider mathematical thinking not only Linear Algebra, Infi et al, but everything that requires exact abstract thinkingExactly. You need to understand maths to, for example, predict what a particular SQL query will do, or to perform any more than the most basic reasoning about how two parts of a program will interact. Maths is a lot broader than dealing with numbers and vectors.

## Re:Ah there it goes again (Score:5, Funny)

In a world where people contribute an ostentatious $0.02 to a discussion, you are contributing 0.02c. Your humility amazes me sir!

That, or you're just incredibly stingy. ;-)

## Re: (Score:3, Funny)

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

So you have redefined "maths" as computer science : the study of formal languages and their computational properties....

## They Help (Score:4, Insightful)

It really does help to have math. There have been times when a software solution became ten times easier because I recognized it from a college math class.

Contrawise, when I work on software that uses math beyond my ability, I have trouble debugging it, and constantly have to rely on the math person I'm working with for help.

## Being a patent lawyer helps on Slashdot, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

People are saying two things here, and thinking that they're mutually-exclusive. Some point to areas of commercial programming beyond basic CRUD operations, saying that math would be a big help there. Others point out that for standard CRUD and gluing together pre-written software libraries, math skill doesn't much matter either way.

Hey, they're BOTH right. However, the trend is moving toward the latter type of programming job. Forget high-level math... I seldom use my COMPUTER SCIENCE skills on the job

## more than just 2+2 (Score:4, Insightful)

I would hope that if you are in the computer programing world you understand that cranking out solutions to formulas is way more suited to computers than it is to humans.

If you want to solve a bunch of math problems then boot up maple, matlab, or any number of programs.

Doing a bunch of calculus or whatever is _not_ the reason that you want mathy people to be computer programmers. Analyzing and quantifying problems, applying appropriate algorithms, optimization, etc are all areas where someone who understands the math behind a problem can far outshine those who don't.

To be honest though I think most software devs are into math anyway.

## Re:more than just 2+2 (Score:5, Informative)

## Math skills are becoming more important (Score:5, Informative)

## Re: (Score:2)

## Re: (Score:3, Informative)

Not many people do work with data sets that size. However, some people only consider their work "interesting" when they are on the cutting edge of their field. It's one of those words for something subjective that people regularly take for objective. It also happens to be central to the orignal question. If the poster of the question has a different set of interests than the author of the cited article, then he could easily find that there is work interesting to him which doesn't require math more advanced

## Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

That's interesting, because I always considered combinatorics to be fundamental in my college program. I do find it very relevant when talking about software, because even having the ability to compare control-flow paths makes a difference. Code littered with poorly-organized conditionals makes my eyes melt, and it all boils down to

counting.## Create value in your brain (Score:3, Insightful)

## Math skills essential? Of course, but... (Score:2)

## I aint taken to cypherin like my cousin Elly-Mae (Score:2)

I aint never taken much to cypherin but it t'aint stopped me hankerin to be a brain surgeon and that's whats I'll be, soon as I finish the fifth grade!

Signed

Jethro Bodine.

## Not really (Score:2)

## If you're asking... (Score:3, Informative)

If you have to even ask that question, then you won't get a programming job that requires math skills. You'll be the bottom of the barrel in your programming group, and then a few of years later promoted as their manager because you can't do any of the technical stuff but are great friends with the boss, or you'll end up doing system support swapping out tape backups and fixing printer jams.

## Logic is important (Score:2)

## Yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

"Programming" is a massive category. Some programmers need incredible math skills to do their jobs. Some programmers convert thousands to hundreds with broken substring operations [experts-exchange.com], then keep their jobs, and make good money doing it. So there's a spectrum.

But if I had to hazard a guess, I'd guess that the majority of programming jobs out there don't require very much mathematical heavy lifting. And often times if you do run into something that could be tricky, it's already been solved by someone else, complete with copy and paste source code.

Yet many programming jobs do require serious math skills, and probably (hopefully) always will.

TBH I don't know if some of the best software engineers I've met are any good at math. They're good at interpreting API documentation, good at structuring code to meet the strengths of the language they're using. Good at project planning, time estimation, and risk analysis. Good at understanding how computer and network systems work and -- often more importantly -- how they fail. They understand how users interact with software, and what users expect and want.

The truth is, software development has become as broad as life & human interest itself, and generalizations about the practice are becoming more and more meaningless.

## lamport on math and distributed systems (Score:2, Interesting)

## Re:lamport on math and distributed systems (Score:5, Insightful)

Leslie Lamport's contributions should be more widely appreciated. He has the knack for reasoning very hard about apparently simple problems that aren't as simple as they first appear. This is a distinct mathematical talent from being able to solve tricky integrals. It's surprisingly hard to reason about computational processes in a completely convincing way. The effort does wonders for the correctness of my embedded code. Note that with the modular behaviour of integers, the normal rules of algebra don't always apply (this shows up most often dealing with pygmy integers).

Long ago when I was a beginning C programmer I managed to implement a simple binary tree in a wonky way. My comparison operator was deterministic, but didn't form a full order. The tree seemed to work fine. I could add elements and test for membership, it was all golden. Then I tried deleting an element. This worked. But I noticed something funny about the tree afterwards. Since my comparison operator was not a full order, the tree rebalance operation following a deletion could orphan some elements so that they wouldn't be found.

I showed this to a coworker who told me "What are you worried about? It mostly works doesn't it? Your tree insert and membership test passes doesn't it? We need to move onto another task." But I was stubborn and a voice inside me went "this can't be right". Element inserts and searches in that system were common (like #define in C) but deletions were fairly rare (like #undefine in C). That broken code could have been out in the field causing nightmares for a long time before we tracked the problem down. Half an hour of consternation later, I had figured out how I butchered the order operation in violation of the full order requirement. I had cases where A B && B C && C A. This is not good for a binary tree with deletion. The nasty part is that it limps along further than you expect.

In that same job I had an improperly initialized pointer that scanned through a memory data structure comparing on a string field on some odd field size such as 23 bytes. (Sue me for my youthful indiscretion if you've ever had to label diskettes by compiler phase). Strangely, the pointer scanned several hundred k of memory not part of the table, then properly aligned with the table it was supposed to find, and returned the correct field. It seemed to work under testing, but I noticed the performance was a bit odd in some cases. This lead me to investigate and I found the unitialized pointer. Once again, if this code had been released, it was a ticking time bomb the first time some random values in low memory simulated a match with the search key.

I learned a lot in that job about defensive programming. A couple of years later I came across one of Dijkstra's books and the spark jumped from his finger to mine. Bugs have been a rare event in my code ever since. Dijkstra taught me to think properly about all possible orders of statement execution where the program remains correct. The order you first write isn't necessarily the only one that works. The mental discipline is a lot like classifying all the components in your BBQ kit into formal symmetry groups before you begin assembly. It pisses me off immensely when I miss some obscure drill hole and conclude that two panels are entirely identical, only to discover much later they weren't (usually after I've pounded in those flimsy plastic wheels that resemble a hip joint with rickets).

Try next time *before* assembling the BBQ to formally write down the symmetry group for every little flim flam and see if you can still F up the first assembly. I bet you can't.

What it comes down to is that math is an attitude as much as a skill. I tell my GF from time to time that math is fundamentally the attitude that 100% of what you don't understand is smaller than a grain of rice. How many programs have I screwed up because of a big mathematical mistake? Can't think of any. Going way back, how many times have I screwed up

## You'll need mathematical concepts for everything (Score:2)

From sorting data efficiently, to calculating statistics, to drawing geometric shapes.

Programmers should cherish the mathematics and abstract thinking - it's the only part of our expertise that is guaranteed to remain useful until retirement, when all our favorite languages have become either obsolete or unrecognizable. (And visual interface design has been rendered obsolete by brain implants. :P )

## strange FA (Score:2)

The thesis in TFA is that developers are mostly busy building CRUD code and 'websites' and that if you don't want to get completely tired of it 5 years down the road, you need to do other things, possibly just for yourself (because at work you only are building CRUD/websites) and then come up with problems where math is King, and this is so that you will get more 'respect' like those great software guys like Dijkstra, Knuth etc.

Well, I'd say if you are only doing CRUD/websites now and that's it, you should

## Set theory (Score:2)

Set theory (what you need to understand to make effective databases, for your "database driven website") is still mathematics. There's more to mathematics than linear algebra or differential calculus.

## Math vs logic (Score:2)

People who are good at math tend to be good at logical thinking.

Similarly, people who are good at logical thinking tend to be good at math.

Relevance? To be a good programmer you need to be really really good at logical thinking - without it, you'd take way too long to "crack" a problem or devise a new algorithm or plan an inheritance hierarchy, etc. A strong background in math is therefore advantageous, but is not an absolute necessity.

It boils down to what exactly you are coding. If you are writing a

## Depends on what you mean by "programming" (Score:3)

You don't need math skills for programming work.

You do need them for theoretical computer science, and in turn, you need theoretical computer science to invent something new that you could program. Most programmers don't do theoretical work themselves, and most theoretical computer scientists don't finish their software ;-) It's a completely different type of job.

## Strong Math Skills often get dumbed down (Score:3, Insightful)

## Re: (Score:3, Funny)

Thog no grok means code no work when you gone.

## an estimate needs little math (Score:2)

Count the loop nesting, look up any well-studied algorithms, and don't be a dummy about computation/storage hidden behind layers of object-oriented obfuscation. It's easy.

Seldom does anybody need to determine things down to the last byte or CPU cycle. You can't do that anyway unless you use something like assembly. In the time you might spend improving your estimate, computers will get faster and your software project will get later.

Just doing rough estimates puts you way ahead of everybody else, allowing

## No, but Logic is mandatory. (Score:4, Interesting)

most of programming inevitably consists of creating logic constructs in algorithms. if this happens it has to be that, but also if that happens with that and it also has to be this and that and so on. they constitute the backbone of programming. anyone lacking understanding of logic would have a hard time. the rest, can easily remedied - we have innumerable libraries, classes, frameworks performing many complex mathematical operations. its better to have very strong logic, and make up for the rest with this approach, and efficient. furthermore, you can receive interdisciplinary help, hell, even help from internet in that regard, if you come up with some problem that has to be solved with a math equation. a mathematician can also help you with that. but the rest, the logic part, you gotta be sharp at that.

## How should I learn math? (Score:2)

What I would like to know is what are the best resources to learn math? I find wikipedia's math pages are written in such a way that they are pretty near impossible to read, they are all technical accuracy and no explanation.

Are there better resources that don't involve taking 3 years off work to go back to university?

## Re: (Score:2)

Wikipedia's entire mathematics section is pretty much useless for learning new concepts--its only value is as a reference for specifics about things one already understands well. Hell, even when I look up stuff I already know their explanations of it often make no sense to me.

MIT OpenCourseWare, maybe?

## My degree is in history and classical studies (Score:2)

Next month marks my having worked professionally as a programmer for twenty years.

That is all.

## Programming is a very broad category.. (Score:2)

Yes, you will have to have *some* understanding of math, but how much and what kind is really dependent on what you are developing. If it is a database fed, scripted web page, the required calculus won't be that much compared with a missile guidance system or a 3D rendering engine / driver (because it is a completely different problem domain).

In most development cases you have to break down complex problems to many simpler ones to make it maintainable. This breaking down strongly reduces the math complexity

## Only maths makes for truly interesting work? (Score:2)

It partially depends on the definition of "Truly interesting work".

The point of math skills is mostly that they are problem solving skills. You want programmers to have those skills.

I think the point of 'ever larger dat

## Two distinct disciplines (Score:3, Interesting)

...which often benefit from a fruitful relationship. That said, I would point out that in my experience programming and mathematics are two distinct disciplines, and neither requires the other. You really can be a professional programmer without knowing anything beyond the most basic arithmetics.

Programming is application of pure logic, the latter isolated from the all but basic mathematical concepts. Mathematics is application of logic in a specific manner which springs from simple arithmetics and has evolved into own world, not in the one of the most important "worlds" we have.

One important remark would be that programming is often APPLICATION of mathematics, which is one case where the two disciplines cannot, for a time being, be separated. In that case, one obviously needs a programmer who is also a good mathematician.

Also, obviously, given two programmers with equal programming skills, pick one with the better math skills over the other, if no other qualities affect the choice. It is like picking any other job candidate - you pick one with more qualifications, even if these apply only remotely to the field of work the company does. And since mathematics is a close cousin here, the choice should be obvious.

## yes, you need math (Score:3, Insightful)

without profound knowledge of math, you are a tinkerer. you program off the top of your head. To really, deeply understand what you are doing, you need math!

## Re:yes, you need math (Score:5, Insightful)

Pizza analogy: You can't work in a pizzeria without profound knowledge of chemistry

Car analogy: Automotive engineers are the best drivers, the rest are tinkerers

General: Tool makers vs. tool users

Just because most (all?) programming is based on mathematics it doesn't necessary follow that math is essential or even particularly important to the practice of programing. It could be argued that problem domain knowledge plays a similar role. For example, one could equally plausibly contend that without a profound knowledge of banking you shouldn't write banking software. In my experience hiring managers prefer domain knowledge over generalist skills such as math. Personality is another biggie.

I suspect that the tone of this thread is reflecting the prevalent commodization of programming. We wish that smarts, maths skills etc. are important factors, so we can feel good about ourselves, feel smart, important whatever. In reality very few of us will ever again have jobs where math skills are truly important. Dumbing down? Maybe. Some might see it as a natural consequence of the fall of the "priesthood" that ruled computing decades ago.

## math is no help? (Score:5, Insightful)

linear algebra is no help when building database driven websitesOh for [whatever]'s sake, who on this earth started spreading the "wisdom" that all apps are database-driven web applications that do nothing more than displaying user-input two-line texts with images and videos?

I could list dozens of algorithms - even from my day-to-day use - that nobody on this earth would be able to correctly and efficiently implement without proper math skills. And even the term math is too broad, natural language-related stuff, image/video/vision content processing stuff, simulation stuff, overall machine learning stuff plus ai-related fields, control systems - and I could just go on forever - don't come without their associated - sometimes fairly deep - math topics.

The social web will come and go, but apps and algorithms that do something even remotely useful, won't ever be accomplished by math-knowledge-lacking code monkeys.

## bottom line (Score:3, Insightful)

## Orthogonal concepts (Score:4, Insightful)

There's no reason that "most programming work" and "truly interesting work" would have anything in common.

## What part of Maths ? (Score:5, Interesting)

Mathematics is a huge field with lots and lots of small ramifications.

You may want someone who understand statistics for your SEO stuff.

You may need someone who knows calculus for a physics simulation.

You need someone who knows a lot of linear algebra if you want to write a search engine.

You probably need someone who knows about concrete mathematics [wikipedia.org] for almost all the rest.

For everyone who thinks that they do not use maths when programming: what do you think regular expressions are?

## Re:Not necessary (Score:5, Insightful)

OTOH if you can't understand stuff like big-O notation you'll never be a good programmer.

## Re:Not necessary (Score:5, Insightful)

You need to understand it, but how often do you actually analyze non-trivial algorithms (one that require more than counting the number of loops and multiplying by known algorithm times)? In a 10 year career I don't think I've ever done more than that. Not saying more math hurts, and its interesting in and of itself. Unless you're doing 3D graphics (which require trig and linear algebra), you rarely use more than basic algebra and some discrete math concepts. I honestly say I've never used calculus or differential equations professionally.

## Maybe it's cart horse... (Score:5, Interesting)

Looking at whether math is necessary to be a good programmer could be like putting the cart before the horse. I think it's more likely that good programmers are usually good at math because that's they way their brain works.

## Re: (Score:2)

That's a good way of putting it. I'd also point out that programming and math are very similar- they're both formal languages for discussing abstract concepts. I'd think if you're one of those people who see a line of math and have to puzzle out each symbol individually, you'll have problems with programming. If you can actually think in terms of those symbols, you'll be able to do the same in $LANGUAGE_OF_CHOICE.

## Re:Maybe it's cart horse... (Score:5, Insightful)

Heck, perhaps my favorite college course was the one where we proved the equivalence of various math and programming problems. The more ways you learn to think about problems, the less details like the "language of choice" matters, and the more you can think in terms of "what's the right tool for this job".

Plus, as Feynman noted, if you merely have a different toolbox than those around you, people wil think you're a genius, as you can often see immediate solutions to problems they've been struggling with for a long time (and the fact that the converse is true only comes up if you let it). Having a large toolbox has worked quite well in my career.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

You need to understand it, but how often do you actually analyze non-trivial algorithms (one that require more than counting the number of loops and multiplying by known algorithm times)? In a 10 year career I don't think I've ever done more than that.Yes, but you at least know of big-O notation and what it means. You know that the "cost" of an algo can be measured and calculated. And that it's important.

There are far too many "programmers" out there who don't even know that.

## Re: (Score:2)

And to really understand big-O notation, you need to know quite a lot about real analysis.

Programming is 99% math, but if you've never had a rigorous mathematical education you'd never know it. Discrete math/combinatorics has been mentioned. You also have coding theory, set theory, ring theory (we do all math over a quotient ring), many ideas from linear algebra, graph theory. If you have a job that doesn't suck, you probably deal with numerical methods and number theory a bit (e.g. why Karatsuba's algorith

## Re: (Score:2)

I would hope that people do not strive to be "typical programmers".

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

Why not? The pay is good. The hours are reasonable. The work is easy.

There is a lot more to life than your job.

## Re: (Score:2)

That's true, and if someone is doing more with their life then I applaud them. But if you are spending 1/4 or more of your life doing something it seems to make sense that you would want to focus on improving that, and making it fun if possible.

## Re: (Score:2)

That is the reason we should not discourage math/egghead programmers at all :)

## Re: (Score:2)

Because I could be doing something where the pay is great, the hours are 0 because I actually enjoy it, and the work is challenging?

There's a lot more to life than lounging about not exercising your brain.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

If you are a typical programmer, you'll be using libraries that already have the difficult math-y stuff worked out.If you don't have any clue about what these libraries actually do, then they're basically as useful as a typewriter to a monkey. You don't need to reinvent the wheel every time, but at least you need to have a clue about how and why a wheel works.

## Re:Not necessary (Score:4, Insightful)

The documentation says what the libraries do.

I assure you, reading skills are critical to programming. To just about any job, actually.

## Re: (Score:3, Funny)

## Re: (Score:2)

Day to day programming work now hits problems with lots more mathematical angles than in the old days.

I have the opposite opinion and experience, if you go back 15-20 years and look at the state of software development back then it involved a lot more math for "day to day" programming, platforms where drawing a line across the monitor required writing your own function/subroutine which did the drawing and antialiasing where still quite common, these days you just do "import System.Graphics.Routines; Surface srf = new Surface(width,height); srf.DrawLine(x1,y1,x2,y2,color, width);" or something along those li

## Re:depends, becoming more important I think (Score:5, Insightful)

This was of course just an example but it's true for a lot of stuff, back then you had to spend a lot more time optimizing your code as well, these days premature optimization is generally considered a bad thing (since in most cases it ends up being a waste of $500 worth of programmer time to squeeze out a performance gain that $50 in hardware would've have gotten you.If you're planning to sell a million units containing both hardware and software, then "wasting" $500 of programmer time to save even $0.01 in hardware per unit is a really sweet deal.

## Re: (Score:2)

## Re: (Score:2)

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

I think you need some statistics training :-)

## Re: (Score:2)

To develop algorithms, Yes, you will need math skills but that will not be sufficient. you will need also the knowledge of the dataset you want to process. You do not analyse Facebook data the same way as Afganistan images from UAVs or LHC events.

So you will have specialists that will tell you how the data need to be analysed. You as IT specialist will need the basic math skills to apply what they told you to.

Math is not sufficient in most cases. The best mathematician in the world will not be able to tell you how to simulate a galaxy or how to go from a diffraction pattern to the structure of a protein.

If it is these stuff that you want to code. CS is not the major you should have chosen.

The question was not whether maths was sufficient, but whether it was necessary. If you had any math skills, you'd know the difference 8-P

## Re: (Score:2)

Agreed, but this also applies to learning Latin or car mechanics or flower arranging - it's nothing to do with maths as such.