> Since CS is (or at least should be) learning how to apply known algorithms to problems and the development of new algorithms to solve problems, CS should be very similar to math, and computer scientists ought to seem fairly similar to mathematicians.

For researchers in the ‘theory’ and ‘algorithms’ sub-fields of CS, I’d say they are mathematicians. They work with axioms and theorems and stuff just like other mathematicians do.

Other CS researchers are empiricists instead, e.g. most of those who do data mining or statistical natural language processing. And of course there’s lots of other stuff in between. (E.g., network researchers may start off with an algorithmic concept but then run simulations to demonstrate their algorithm’s effectiveness.)

There’s a family of jokes to the effect that PhDs in computer science don’t know anything about computers or programming or whatever. In actuality the individual’s engagement with computers/programming will vary very much with the sub-field he’s in. These days a theorist will need to be able to use LaTeX to write papers and read e-mail to see the conference announcements, but doesn’t need to program at all. OTOH someone doing experiments with genetic algorithms will probably write their own code for their experiments, and may even turn into a hardware geek by building beowulf clusters to run the massively CPU-intensive experiments on.

> Most early CS people, as I understand it, were math people with an interest in computers.

I think you can still find a lot of older CS professors with degrees in applied mathematics. Computers were around long before CS departments even existed.

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