Computer Science Career Paths: What to Expect as Your Career Progresses
Computer science is a broad field that can encompass a wide variety of career opportunities and paths. With so many options, it’s important to understand potential goals as you think about pursuing education and employment.
To help you get a better sense of your potential future in this field, we used real-time job analysis software to identify some of the most common occupations found in a computer science career path.1 We also gathered expert insight into what you can expect as your responsibilities develop from entry to senior-level positions. If computer science is something you’re interested in, consider these insights about what your career could look like in the long term.
Questions to consider about computer science career paths
Everyone’s career path will look different. Some may move up to higher levels of the same role. Others will have many roles and titles along the way. While there is no universal answer, there are some questions that may help you determine your direction.
What education will I need?
The answer to this question can be kind of tricky. Like we said earlier, “computer science” isn’t a single role—it encompasses several occupations, and each of those occupations may have different education requirements. That said, a Computer Science Bachelor’s degree will likely suffice for many roles.
If you’re looking for an option that would allow you to get started in a related field sooner, there are Associate’s degrees related to Computer Science that can provide a solid starting point. For example, focus areas such as Web Programming and Software Application Development will also develop skills applied in this field.
How do computer science professionals put their education to work?
Given the relatively broad nature of this field, there are several careers and occupations that can put this knowledge to use. We’ve used an analysis of job postings seeking candidates with a Computer Science degree to identify three primary career focus areas.1 From entry to senior level positions, these career paths have plenty of potential opportunities.
Software developers and engineers are the most in-demand positions seeking candidates with a Computer Science degree. Whether you're just starting out or have been in the game for a while, you can expect to find jobs related to this discipline.
Typically, professionals in this field specialize in creating applications like the word processing software on your computer or the game on your smartphone. Some software development roles can also focus working on the systems or platforms that host these applications. All will require a strong understanding of programming languages, logical reasoning and the potential limitations of the hardware used to run these programs.
Either way, a good deal of creative problem-solving is necessary as developers must first understand the needs of users. Once they design how each piece of the software works together, they must communicate that vision to others—and in many cases work to ensure that the “piece” they’ve built works with what others have created.
Example job titles:
- Software developer
- Software engineer
- Quality assurance analyst
Computer science professionals who focus on data analysis roles work to gather and translate large amounts of data into actionable information for businesses or organizations. These professionals create data-collection systems, generate reports, interpret trends, and visualize the results. This requires solid technical skills and a strong understanding of programming languages like SQL and Python®, as well as statistical software and Google Analytics™.
There are different ways to apply data analysis. One of the most common is in business. Also known as business analysts, professionals working in this capacity use data to improve decision making in almost every aspect of an organization.
They might track the purchases and demographics of customers, narrow in on target markets, and communicate those findings to business executives. This requires strong interpersonal skills and the ability to translate technical jargon into accessible language.
Example job titles:
- Business intelligence analyst
- Data analyst
- Data architect
Professionals in this area are responsible for planning, organizing, designing and maintaining large-scale networking technologies.
Though many computer science roles are much more software-focused, these positions utilize a bit of both software and hardware knowledge. While systems and networks may be more hands-on, it is still an in-demand area that those educated in computer science often pursue.
Example job titles:
- Systems engineer
- Network engineer
- Solutions architect
How will my career change as I move up in this field?
No matter what career path you choose in computer science, there are ways that it will change as you move up. Lauren Hasson, software engineer and founder of DevelopHer, shares her experience working in the industry.
As you mature in your career, she says, you can expect to focus less on singular issues and be more involved in how things affect the bigger picture. In software, for example, you might start out by fixing glitches or writing sections of code. As a senior developer, however, you will use more advanced product knowledge to anticipate how each action cascades throughout a software system.
You might expect this to require highly specialized knowledge, Hasson continues, but that is not always the case. Professionals in this field are often distinguished as either generalists or specialists, and there are advantages to each. Hasson, for example, spent many years of her career focusing solely on iOS™. For her, it was a great choice. Once iOS became more mainstream, however, she saw the need to move on.
“The trick is to find an area that employers desperately want to hire in but can never find qualified candidates for,” she says. “Being proficient in that area is a good place to be.”
No matter what avenue you choose, it’s important to continue refining your knowledge. As technology evolves, so must you.
“I’m constantly re-upping my tech skills," Hasson explains.
Perhaps more important than technical ability, however, are the soft skills you’ll need. If leadership is something you’re interested in, then communication, teamwork, and critical thinking are crucial to your success.
“Companies can teach you the technical side,” she says, “but soft skills are really valuable.”
Hasson admits that she is not the fastest or fanciest coder, yet her ability to communicate and connect with an audience is what has set her apart in the world of computer science. So, as you look toward leveling up, consider both the technical and interpersonal skills you need to develop.
Get started on your computer science career path
There are a lot of computer science career paths out there. And as you move up in this industry, you will likely see more develop as technology does. Whether it’s creating software, analyzing data, structuring systems or something else, every career has to start somewhere.
If you’re ready to see where a career in computer science could take you, check out Rasmussen College’s Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science program and learn more about the opportunities available.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 195,311 Computer Science job postings, April 1, 2019 - March 31, 2020)
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