What is Computer Science?
Computer science is the study of computers and computational systems, focusing on the theory, design, development and application of the software and software systems that power our world. Many people equate computer science with being a programmer. While programming is essential, it’s only part of the discipline. A computer scientist’s role can range from writing code and solving abstract problems to negotiating the complexities of how humans and computers interact. Every day, computer scientists keep vital networks operating, gather and analyze vast quantities of data, protect sensitive information and information systems, and visualize information in new ways.
As the world grows more interconnected, and the systems we design to handle new challenges evolve, computer science and engineering are increasingly vital and valuable skills for the 21st century and beyond. Either as a career path or as supplemental expertise for your current job, skills in computer science can improve your long-term prospects in terms of salary and job satisfaction and deliver competitive advantages in a crowded job market.
Computer Science Fields and Career Outlook
Computer science is an umbrella term that covers many different fields of study. Computer science can be applied to a variety of industries and disciplines, including business operations, banking and finance, architecture and construction, logistics, manufacturing, health care, research and academia, entertainment and more. In addition to programming and coding, some of the computer science specializations that you can study include:
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – Teaching computers and “smart” machines to carry out tasks and learn to solve problems by themselves.
- Cybersecurity – Protecting systems, data and networks from cyber attacks and data theft.
- Software Engineering – Developing and building software and information systems using engineering principles to meet the needs of different users and platforms.
These disciplines require dedicated computer scientists and engineers who can develop, maintain and improve the software and systems that help make our lives easier and safer.
For students considering a career in computer science, one question takes precedence: "what types of careers are available with a computer science degree?” and “What are the employment prospects?” The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment in the computer science field will grow by 15% in the next 10 years, more than three times the growth in all other occupations.
Students who graduate from Drexel’s MS in Computer Science program go on to pursue a diverse and rewarding range of careers, including:
- Computational scientist - This career path deals with the development of advanced computational models and simulations to predict, troubleshoot and solve problems during the design and engineering phase of a project.
- Computer specialist - A computer specialist helps companies or organizations, employees, users, and customers with technical issues for a wide range of computer software and peripherals. A computer specialist with a Master’s degree can expect to earn approximately $79,700 per year, although salaries can range depending on geographic location.
- Cybersecurity consultant - A cybersecurity consultant, also called an IT security consultant, analyzes computer software for potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities that could leave the technology open to hacking. According to Glassdoor, the salary for a cybersecurity consultant ranges from $52,000 to $120,000 per year.
- Database administrator - Database administrators, or DBAs, are responsible for organizing a company’s data. This may involve duties ranging from database migration and performance monitoring to troubleshooting and capacity planning. Depending on his or her certifications, the median pay for a database administrator is approximately $82,000 per year.
- Information systems manager - An information systems manager, or IS manager, leads a team of IT specialists in tasks such as planning, setting up, and maintaining various information systems. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for an IS manager is approximately $139,000.
- IT consultant - Also referred to as technology consultants, IT consultants are responsible for providing comprehensive, expert technological guidance and support for various businesses and industries. This role generally involves duties like data analysis, software installation, and computer virus removal. The average salary for an IT consultant ranges from $60,000 to $90,000 per year.
- Software engineer - Software engineering, or computer programming, deals with designing and developing computer software by writing original code. Software engineers are also called programmers, developers, or simply “devs.” The average salary of a software engineer is approximately $99,000 per year.
- Systems analyst - Systems analysis utilizes information technology to design new systems that can help businesses operate more effectively and efficiently. A systems analyst, or system architect, can generally expect to earn anywhere from $53,000 to $137,000.
- Technical writer - Also called information developers, technical writers produce clear and original instructional content, such as technical documents for web applications. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median yearly salary of approximately $68,000 for technical authors.
Computer Science Industry Trends
Computer science affects so many aspects of our lives, from the app we use to buy a cup of coffee to the data modeling used to predict the weather. That’s why there is an ever-growing demand for computer science professionals, especially those with a master’s degree and other types of advanced training.
The scarcity of qualified computer scientists and the built-in adaptability of the field results in much greater job security. As an added bonus, in an economy where remote work is becoming more commonplace, computer science allows for greater work-life balance and makes it easier to live where you choose.
A master’s degree in computer science can also provide a significant income boost. Data shows that computer science degree holders are typically higher paid than those with master’s degrees in business, engineering and science.
Also, as the importance of diversity in computer science becomes necessary and desirable, more companies are making efforts to cultivate a diverse workforce. This makes computer science an especially valuable degree for women and people of color. Maybe that’s why computer science is one of the top five degrees sought by international students, and according to the American Association of University Women, computer science has one of the smallest pay gaps between male and female professionals.
What do you learn in Computer Science?
Computer science starts with computational thinking—understanding how to define large problems and break them down into smaller pieces. Then you learn how to understand the inputs, assets, interactions and variables that are part of solving the problem. You learn how to write code using different computer languages to create algorithms, steps and rules for the software to follow, that help solve the problem.
But what you learn in computer science is about more than writing code. Computer science also deals with issues like the ethics of managing information and understanding the growing role that data and innovation play in our society. Studying computer science also teaches soft skills like creative problem solving, visual thinking, collaboration, project management and the perseverance necessary to solve seemingly unsolvable problems.