If you like to solve problems and enjoy computers, technology, math, and engineering, a career in computer science could be for you. This field has changed over the years from one that was once focused more on math and math ability to one that makes use of computing to support modern day organizational needs. It is very systems oriented in its fundamentals, but has applications that can extend outward and to any number of fields ranging from science to robotics and even health care. At its heart, computer science can be very abstract in nature and require analytical skills.
Computer Science Specializations
Computer science is not a one size fits all field. Like many careers in today's modern world, there are many areas of specialization. Some of these fields are more focused on analysis, architecture or operating systems while others are aimed more at hardware, software and different types of computing devices. Some of these specializations include:
- Computer systems analyst: Makes sure that computer systems architecture is stable and secure and helps to solve complex computer problems.
- Database administrator: Ensures that databases are secure and safe and backs up systems in case of outages, security threats or other issues.
- Network systems administrator: Makes sure that network systems are operating smoothly and up to date and installs and/or oversees local area and wide networks as well as intranets.
- Software systems developer:Designs, creates and assesses software and makes modifications to improve performance and functionality.
Computer Science Certifications
A bachelor's degree is necessary to enter many computer science fields, such as network and computer systems administration or computer networking architecture. However, in some cases a postsecondary certificate or associate degree through a computer science school could provide an alternative way to make a start. Vendor-specific certifications also can be important when schooling has been completed since they provide a way to show you are skilled in specific knowledge areas and practices.
Typically, certification requires passing an online exam and paying a fee for testing, and in some cases there can be more than one component of test-taking. Some of the vendor-specific certifications that are available through organizations are listed below.
- Cisco: Offers numerous certifications including Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Network Professional Routing and Switching (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).
- CompTIA: Certifications through CompTIA range from A+ certification to Linux+ and Security+.
- Microsoft: Some of Microsoft's certifications include Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer for Web Applications (MCSD) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate Windows Server 2012 (MCSA).
There also are many other certifications available, which are not vendor specific and applicable across a broader spectrum. Examples of these include Certified Scrummaster (CSM), offered through the Scrum Alliance, Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC), offered through ISACA, and Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), also available through ISACA.
How to Become a Computer Scientist
While a career in computer science often requires a bachelor's degree (BLS.gov), computer science schools and vocational programs provide a way to test the waters and find out if you are up the challenge of the math and computing coursework. Steps for entering the field can include:
- Finishing high school or completing your GED. High school completion is often necessary for many degree-based programs or acceptance into a vocational school. A high school diploma or GED also shows you have acquired many of the basic skills fundamental to continuing on in an education.
- Finding a vocational school, college or university program. You don't need to shoot for a four-year degree right out the door. Certificates and associate degrees at computing science schools can provide education in local area and wide area networking, web development, computer programming and more. You might also be introduced to areas such as telecommunications and object-oriented programming and need to take math, such as discrete mathematics and applied calculus. If the school you select offers a bachelor's of science degree, you may be able to continue right into that program when you are ready.
- Sitting for exam certification. Some classes or programs will help you to prepare to seek specific certification. Because certification provides a way for you to show proof of specific skills certification may benefit you as you begin your job search. Some employers may even require that employees in certain positions have specific certifications.
- Complete a four-year degree or continue on to the master's level. There are many different bachelor's degree options available, including bachelor's degrees in computer science and engineering, as well as some programs offered completely online. If you want to continue on in your education after that, there also are a wide range of options at the graduate level, including master's degrees, post-master's certificates and even PhDs in computer science.
Expert Q&A on Computer Science Schools
There are varying levels of education for those who are interested in computer science jobs. To get more information on the importance of higher education or vocational education in this field, we spoke with Hernan Londono, associate vice president for technology and CTO at Barry University, in Miami Shores, Florida.
Hernan Londono is associate vice president for technology and CTO at Barry University.
RWM: What is the typical educational path needed to enter this career?
Londono: Educational path certainly influences career opportunity. This is because the so called "Computer Science field" is one that can be accessed via various areas of study or specialization, where the depth and scope from area to area varies. There are a number majors one can chose, such are Computer Science (CS), Computer Information Systems (CIS), Information Technology (IT), and even some legacy programs such as Management Information Systems (MIS). While there might be some overlapping in the substance of study across these programs, it is more common to encounter divergence, particularly in the case of CS, because of its heavy emphasis in core architecture of technology components, design and development of both hardware and software systems, which is not so much the case for other alternatives more centered on management and/or operations of the systems, as it is more customary for CIS, IT, and MIS. Another element that influences the educational path of these degrees, and that also brings another element of distinction to CS, is that CS degrees traditionally require a student to study advanced mathematics in a way that someone who is granted a CS degree will also graduate with a minor in Mathematics, or a double major in CS and Mathematics. This element alone is seen as one that makes the CS degree a lot more rigorous than other alternatives already listed.
RWM: How long does it typically take to complete education in the computer science field?
Londono: Like with most post-secondary areas of study, there are several variations according to rigor, and depth of study, for associate and bachelor degrees, two and four years respectively, for more advanced degrees such as masters, two-three years after having completed a bachelors. For terminal degrees such as doctorate degrees, the time varies extensively depending of course requirements and area of research -- traditionally, four to six additional years after having completed a masters.
RWM: Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career?
Londono: Today more than ever, because of the penetration of technology in every aspect of life, the most basic element of a career, having the ability to be employed, presents extremely good prospects for those in this field. Additionally, the nature of the substance of study and subsequent employment require those in this field to learn and apply methodology, problem solving and advance analytical skills in a consistent basis. These, whether in, or out of field are invaluable. Looking at this same question through a different lens, one can find opportunities to apply knowledge both at a tactical level, or at a strategic level, this because those in the field can choose to remain closer to the core architecture, development and design for example (very tactical side of the field) in jobs such as Software Engineer, Solutions Architect, and others.
On the other hand, those that want to explore the more strategic nature, traditionally more seasoned professionals, will do so through jobs such as Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and others. As it relates to disadvantages, it is really hard to find something concise, one can be perhaps that those in the field may end up ignoring subtleness in favor of binary thinking where all things have to be true or false, or black or white, etc.
RWM: Do you have any advice for people who are just starting in this career?
Londono: Start as early as possible, explore available resources, and depending on the substance of study, don't get discouraged, many times things will take days to be solved, thought out, discovered, debugged, and in today's day when most young people are accustomed to instant gratification, thinking things over may take additional skill and patience.
Computer Science Salary and Career Info
Computer scientists can earn competitive salaries, many which fall well above the median earning for many occupations in the U.S. That's because the skills of computer scientists can be in high demand, particularly as the field of computing and computer science continues to change and transform. See more below for salary information.
|Career||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Number of New Jobs||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||141,000||53,700||15.4|
|Computer Systems Analysts||90,180||118,600||20.9|
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Engineering, University of Nevada, Reno. http://www.unr.edu/degrees/computer-science-and-engineering/bs
- Computer Network Architects, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec. 17, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-network-architects.htm
- Computer Science and Computer Information Technology, Austin Community College, http://www.austincc.edu/info/cs
- Database Administrators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec. 17, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151141.htm
- Network and Computer Systems Administrators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec. 17, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/mobile/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm
- Online Computer Science Degree Program, Franklin University, http://www.franklin.edu/computer-science-associates-degree-curriculum
- What can you do with a computer science degree? Rasmussen College, https://www.cs.mtu.edu/~john/whatiscs.html
- What do computer engineers and scientists do? University of Victoria. https://www.uvic.ca/engineering/prospective/home/whatis/index.php
- What does a network administrator do? A Behind-The-Scenes Look, Rasmussen College, http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/technology/blog/what-does-a-network-administrator-do/