Multiple prototypes being built on breadboards What Is Computer Science?

What Is Computer Science? Definition, FAQs, and How to Get Started

There are plenty of jobs in multiple computer science disciplines emerging every day. Though you may know broadly about the ways computing impacts your daily life, you may still be unclear on what computer science is.

So in this article, we’ll explain the basics of computer science, the ways you can learn computer science principles, and how you can start a career in tech after you’ve completed your education.

What Is Computer Science? 

Computer science is the study of every aspect of computing and its various subcategories. These subcategories include algorithms, systems design, circuit design, cloud computing, and more. The field of computing ranges from the study of abstract concepts, architectures, and programming languages to the process of developing hardware and software solutions.

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There are several interrelated disciplines at the core of computer science, including math, science, and design.

Some people start their computer science journeys by earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, or a closely related field. Others attend coding bootcamps to become software developers. The right path depends on your preference, but there’s a wide range of fields to consider, and almost as many different ways to enter them.

What Are the Main Fields of Computer Science?

The principal areas of computer science include data structures, algorithms, artificial intelligence, networking, computational thinking, and programming language theory. In general, the study of computers can be divided into theoretical computer science disciplines and applied computer science disciplines.

Theoretical computer science disciplines are heavily mathematics-based and focus on the ways that computers think, learn, and solve problems. The applied computer science disciplines are the ways that people bring the knowledge gained on the theoretical side to tangible products that we can use in our daily lives.

  • Data Structures. Data structures are the ways that computers organize data for ease of use and access. 
  • Algorithms. Algorithms are sequences of instructions that can be used to solve problems. Much like a math problem, standard algorithms give computers a step-by-step process to run functions.
  • Artificial Intelligence. Artificial intelligence involves teaching machines, as opposed to humans or animals, to make decisions. 
  • Networking. Networking is the exchange of information. In this case, it is specifically data exchanged between interconnected machines.
  • Computational Thinking. Computational thinking involves applying logical reasoning to solve problems in ways that computers can replicate.
  • Programming Language Theory. Programming language theory is the process of designing, classifying, and implementing new programming languages, along with important features that they might need.

Top 5 Reasons to Learn Computer Science

  1. There’s a robust job market.
  2. There are many great educational options.
  3. You can create valuable intellectual property.
  4. You can positively impact people’s lives. 
  5. You can solve complex computing problems. 

There’s a robust job market.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all computer science jobs, from research scientists to software engineers, are projected to increase by 11 percent between 2019 and 2029. This growth rate represents the average of all tracked computer science jobs. 

At one end of the spectrum are software development jobs, which are predicted to grow 22 percent by 2029. Even on the lower end, estimated growth rates are pretty high. For example, the job market for computer systems analysts is still projected to grow by seven percent over the same period. 

According to BLS, the average growth rate for all occupations is four percent. Most computer science careers have an above-average projected growth rate. The availability of computer science jobs shows no signs of slowing in the coming years. 

There are many great educational options.

We’ve already mentioned that computer science professionals can either earn bachelor’s degrees or attend coding bootcamps to start working in the computer science field. There are pros and cons to each route. People with degrees tend to earn more money, but coding bootcamps can get you working faster. 

You don’t have to know how to code software to find a computer science job. If you’re interested in another academic discipline like electrical engineering, you’ll find space in the field. Many universities offer concentration options to students who have specific goals in mind. 

You can create valuable intellectual property.

With or without a degree, you can create profitable intellectual property with your computer science training. Two brothers invented Photoshop in 1988 and sold it for $34.5 million a few years later. Hardware has similar stories and learning the basics of circuitry now can lead to the likes of Apple and Microsoft paying big bucks for your design down the road.

You can positively impact people’s lives.

Advances in computing have given humanity everything from the international space station to the smartphone. With an advanced computer science degree, you can work on the computer science theories that drive practical developments. Or you can be the one who builds applications that change medicine, the arts, and communication for the better.

You can solve complex computing problems.

As you may have noticed above, much of computation comes down to giving machines information and the analytical thinking methods to use that information in a specific way. Whether those methods lead to new desktop apps via software engineering or new models of computation via theoretical research, you can use your brainpower to generate results.

Learn Computer Science in 2021: Requirements, Learning Paths, and Programs

Two women discussing software development in front of a whiteboard What Is Computer Science?
There are plenty of paths to good computer science jobs that don’t involve breaking the bank.

Computer science is showing respectable job growth, and there are many ways to find a fulfilling job that can also change the face of humanity. Your academic discipline and level of education will determine your computer science job prospects and your salary. 

We’ve researched the best ways to learn computer science and how to access these different educational tracks, so read on if you want to know how to start a career in computer science.

How Do I Learn Computer Science?

You can learn computer science by attending a coding bootcamp, earning an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, or taking online courses. The best route to getting a computer science education depends on your goals, your level of expertise, and your station in life.

Because this field contains so many elements, computer scientists tend to specialize in just a few of them, if not just one. It’s common for people in different computer science disciplines to work together on projects, so don’t worry about your electrical engineering degree keeping you from earning a job maintaining a new operating system.

Computer Science Associate Degree

An Associate Degree in Computer Science is a two-year program that focuses heavily on technical training. It will train you for an entry-level job such as web developer, digital designer, or computer support specialist. An associate degree doesn’t guarantee a job in the field, but it’s the fastest way to earn a solid position that’s not strictly code-based.

Computer Science Bachelor’s Degree

A four-year bachelor’s degree gives computer science students a more balanced entry-level education that combines both theory and practice. You can attain all of the previous jobs we listed and more, as many jobs require prospective employees to have a bachelor’s degree. However, the price may be a major drawback of this option for you.

Coding Bootcamp

Coding bootcamps teach students everything they need to know to work in fields including web development, desktop software development, data analysis, and more. Coding bootcamps usually only last a few months, so you may only learn how to program or analyze data, but some bootcamps like Codesmith do take a deeper dive into some principles. 

Attending a coding bootcamp may be less prestigious to potential employers than having a traditional degree, but many bootcamps have great career services to help you find work after graduation. 

Computer Science Online Courses

Online courses can teach you just about any computer science subject. You can study the internet of things, systems design, and even prepare for professional certification exams. Many of these courses only lay a basic foundation of knowledge or teach one-off skills, so it can be difficult to enter the industry with online courses alone.

Many massive open online course (MOOC) platforms provide courses for free. Check out MOOCs like Udemy, edX, and Coursera for affordable courses on a wide variety of subjects. 

What Are the Entry Requirements to a Computer Science Program?

The top computer science undergraduate programs require hard work, a strong GPA, a high school diploma, and a well-rounded background for admission. Other programs, like associate degree programs, coding bootcamps, or online courses, don’t require much beyond a willingness to succeed and the means to pay for the course. 

If you’re still in high school, an Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science class can give you a head start on learning the concepts you need for your career path. Participating in the AP program will also likely shave some time off of your degree path because you will accrue college credits if you pass the AP Computer Science A Exam. 

What Can You Do with Computer Science in 2021?

Learning computer science can give you opportunities in a strong job market, while also advancing your quality of life. A computer science salary, as we’ll cover below, is higher than the national average, and the computer science job market is rising steadily. In addition to the career benefits, you can also improve your technological capabilities by mastering the hardware and software you already encounter every day.

What Is the Average Computer Science Salary?

The median salary for computer science professionals is around $91,250, much higher than the national median annual wage of $41,950, according to BLS. The lowest earners make less than $32,830, while the highest earners take home more than $194,430.

10 Best Computer Science Jobs in 2021

Computer Science JobAverage Salary
Computer and Information Research Scientists$126,830
Software Architects$125,952
Computer Network Architects$116,780
Software Developers$110,140
Senior Systems Engineer$108,247
Information Security Analysts$103,590
Database Administrators$98,860
Computer Systems Analysts$93,730
Technical Project Manager$93,687
Network and Computer Systems Administrators$84,810

Should You Learn Computer Science in 2021?

You should learn computer science if you’re looking for a rising job market where you can make good money while also challenging yourself. Plus, there are education options for people at any stage of life, so you can find something to teach you exactly what you need to land an entry-level job in the computer science field.

What Is Computer Science? FAQ

Which field is best in computer science?

The best computer science salary is in Computer and Information Research Science, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As far as the best field for you, it depends. If you enjoy working on physical things, you may be happier in an engineering role. If you’d prefer to work on software systems, you can pursue a software development career. If you’re creative, you can pursue a career in video game design.

Do you need to be good at math for computer science?

You don’t need to be good at math to be a good computer scientist in general. Math and computer science are interrelated disciplines, and both require analytical thinking to solve problems. But unless you’re working in fields like engineering, high-level theoretical computer science, or data science, you won’t have to do much math.

Which computer science jobs are in demand?

The most in-demand jobs in computer science are in software development, cyber security, and database administration, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These are the jobs that are showing the fastest employment growth in the industry, so they’ll be doing the most hiring as you finish your education.

Is software development hard?

Yes, software development is hard at the beginning. But because most object oriented programming languages follow a similar logic, once you grasp one of them, you may have an easier time learning more. And you may be surprised to find out that some of the most popular programming languages are also the easiest programming languages to learn.

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