probability is really important for computer science

The average software engineer graduating Stanford University cannot solve a simple probability problem. That seems like there is an issue in education. Understanding probabilistic models is increasingly important. Algorithms for search results, matching, and more rely on probability.

When we interview engineers at Rapleaf, I have found that many top schools, such as Stanford, produce graduates that have little knowledge about statistics and probability. And while not knowing probability isn’t a disqualifier from getting an engineering job, it does show that the person has a lot to learn.

Does anyone out there know what percentage of computer science students take a course on probability??

16 thoughts on “probability is really important for computer science

  1. Derrick Cheng

    Well, taking a probability course is required in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in all undergraduate engineering programs.

  2. Bill

    when I was a computer science undergraduate at UC Berkeley a decade ago, the only required class that including probabilities as part of its curriculum was an undergraduate class called “discrete math”. And probability was a very small part of that class.
    I did end up taking an upper-division elective course in statistics.
    I too was surprised by how little math/stat was required for computer science major. In fact, most CS major I knew were not that good at math at all.

  3. Scott Isaacs

    I do not know about CS or Engineering students, but I have a degree in Applied Math. I never took Statistics and took only one quarter of Probability at UC Davis. If I remember correctly, I don’t think it was even specifically required, although it was an option that meet a requirement.
    That said, no matter what I learned in college, I would have had a lot to learn to be relevant in my career.

  4. john

    Part of the problem is that statistics pedagogy is weak, particularly at the introductory level — perhaps especially as perceived by engineering students. In the introductory stats courses, much is taught by rule of thumb. For example, for certain tests, one is told that the sample must have at least 10 failures and 10 successes. But why 10? Rarely is this explained. That lack of explanation of magical numbers is repugnant to the engineering mind.

  5. cily

    in china,strdents are good at probability.however,there are not good at use it.

  6. Eric Conner

    Probability is now compulsory at Stanford for computer science — CS109 — I am in the class right now.. so hopefully that will change..

  7. Auren Hoffman

    awesome Eric. glad probability is increasing in importance at stanford. it will likely become on the most important classes in the future.

  8. Jasonsze

    I’m a UIUC CS undergraduate student… I have to take a probability theory course in order to graduate.. i was randomly googleing around and found this blog post.
    Absolutely agree… we did a lot of probability stuff throughout the program.. we did (of course) discrete structures with probabilities as one of the key components of the course.. we did skip list when we were doing a data structure class.. .. and now I’m gonna take a formal Math course (really offered by Math Department) on probability theory.. hopefully in the Algorithm class that im gonna take a few semesters away would also mention probability~ (i’m guessing approximation algorithms)
    So definitely probability has caught our attention 🙂

  9. Gareth

    A bunch of CSers I know, myself included, planned to be math majors before seeing the light.

  10. Gareth

    It’s time for a “Bring Donald Knuth and his many volume epic back to Stanford!” campaign.

  11. Donovan

    I don’t know but I’m taking a 300 level probability math course that is required by my university’s CS program

  12. Mashhood Ahmad

    Probability is really very interesting subject to study and have vast applications in Computer Science. In University of Lahore, Lahore, Pakistan, undergraduate students are required to take this course as it is not issued as an elective one. Besides this its applications are also taught to us and a part of this in Discrete Math course. I’m doing my graduation in CS from there and found it so much interesting.

  13. Baracuda

    Probabilities as one of the key components of the courseb we did skip list when we were doing a data structure classvand now I’m gonna take a formal Math course really offered by Math Department on probability theory

  14. Tutakhail

    We have Probability and Statistics as a compulsory course in the Computer Science faculty, University of Perugia, Italy. Found the article googling to see what do others think regarding the subject 🙂


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