23 Computer Science Terms Every Aspiring Developer Should Know

illustration of a figure shadow on a computer screen of code

If you’re trying to get yourself acquainted with the field of computer science and the tech world at large, it doesn’t take long to start feeling a little bit buried by the huge number of unfamiliar terms, acronyms and jargon used.

Instead of getting flustered reading about the latest Agile Django bootstrapped platform or whatever it may be and having zero clue what they actually are, let’s take a step back and get familiar with some of the foundational computer science and tech terms you’ll likely encounter.

Keep in mind, this list of computer science terms and definitions should serve more as a clarifying starting point. Much of what’s covered below will take further reading and learning to fully grasp what they are and how they’re used. Like with learning any new subject, you’ll want to take this step and get acquainted with the terminology before navigating the more complex concepts.

Computer science terms related to hardware

These computer science terms connect to the physical components of a computer. Hardware represents the most tactile aspects of computer science and the materials computers are made of.

1. CPU

CPU stands for the Central Processing Unit. It is the processing chip that serves as the "brains" of a device that interprets (or processes) the digital instructions provided by applications.

2. Bit

Bit is an abbreviation for “binary digit,” the smallest piece of information used by a computer. Each bit is either a 1 or a 0, which are the binary digits that make up computer language. Bits are literally the foundation upon which computer science is built. In modern computing, information is stored and processed at a scale that is orders of magnitude larger than individual bits. See the conversion rate below to better contextualize the size of a bit:

  • 1 Byte = 8 bits
  • 1 Kilobyte = 1,024 bytes
  • 1 Megabyte = 1,024 kilobytes
  • 1 Gigabyte = 1,024 megabytes

3. RAM

Random Access Memory (RAM) is the hardware component used to store data that is actively being used by a processor. When needed, information flows to RAM storage from long-term secondary storage—typically a hard drive.

4. Secondary storage

Secondary storage refers to the long-term data storage options found in a device. This includes hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD). When you save a file to your computer, it is sent to secondary storage.

5. ROM

ROM stands for Read-Only Memory. This is memory that can only be read from and is not electronically modifiable after being manufactured. Computers use ROM to store critical foundational information like start-up processes and software instructions.

6. Input/Output Devices (I/O Devices)

I/O devices refer to anything people use to input information to the computer or to take information out (output). For example, a keyboard and mouse are input devices. A printer is an output device.

Computer science terms related to software

The physical components of devices are only the tip of the iceberg. Much of the computer science field focuses on software applications and their development.

7. Algorithm

At a basic level, algorithms are simply specific procedures used to solve computational problems. As computing power and data capabilities have grown more sophisticated, so have the algorithms and the problems they intend to solve. For example, a shipping company may turn to an algorithm to help determine the optimal route for delivery drivers.

8. API (Application Programming Interface)

An API is a software go-between that brings information from one application to another. It allows applications to communicate with one another while preserving some security measures for each end point. For example, an API can be used to securely transfer data stored by your web browser to a mobile app.

9. Boolean

A function in programming with binary choices, like “Yes or No” and “True or False.” This serves as a basic building block of programming logic.

10. Bug

A bug is a programming error that causes unexpected glitches or problems for a program’s end user. Debugging is the process of identifying, documenting and fixing the issues caused by bugs.

11. Camel Case

Camel case refers to the practice of capitalizing the first letter of each compound word in a programming variable to improve readability. For example, “StretchLength” and “FixedHeight.”

12. Code

Code refers to the string of commands or directions used by different programming languages in order to create, edit or manage computer programs or applications. Code is used by computers to determine which action should be taken, define parameters and more.

13. Compiling

The process of taking code that’s written in a high-level language (like C++) by human developers and translating it into machine-readable code.

14. Conditional statements

Conditional statements, another fundamental piece of programming instructions, set the terms for when a program moves forward. This is often expressed in an “If, then” format. If all conditions expressed are met and true, only then will the computer move on to do the next step.

15. Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

An integrated development environment is a software tool where developers can write code and run their programs. Many provide useful features like syntax highlighting, debugging tools, version control and more.

16. Latency

Latency is the measure of time between entering an input and the returned output. The higher the latency, the longer it takes. This is an important factor for web applications and interfaces where a noticeable delay may impact user satisfaction.

17. Scripts

Similar in a way to the scripts used by Hollywood stars, a script in programming terms is a line by line set of instructions for a computer program to follow. These are often used for automation or for generating dynamic page content.

18. Structured data

This refers to data or information that’s been organized and “cleaned” in order to make it easier to search, manipulate and interface well with software applications. Structured data often is used for categories like names, addresses and credit card information but can be used for any quantifiable data category.

19. Syntax

Syntax refers to the rules that dictate the structure of a language. Programming languages, like all languages, need structure for the reader—whether a computer or a human—to make sense of the information. While some elements of syntax may carry over from language to language, most programming languages have unique and specific syntax rules that must be followed.

Computer science terms relating to the tech industry

Computer science today is about so much more than a computer and what it can do—it’s a massive area of study that intersects the industry of technology in countless ways. Here are some of the industry terms you’ll want to ensure you know.

20. Agile development

Agile development is a project management process for producing and releasing software (or other projects) that calls for quick cycles that repeat, improving as they go. This typically breaks projects down into smaller increments. This can be helpful in software development where the individual components of a software application may need to be adjusted or revised in order to accommodate unexpected issues or changes downstream.

21. Big data

Big data is a quick way to refer to the massive amounts of data collected by organizations on a day-to-day basis. Data at this scale can be tapped into for a variety of purposes like trend analyses, forecasting, process automation and more.

22. Cloud storage

Cloud storage is an alternative to storing data on a computer’s physical storage. Information stored “on the cloud” is kept on remote servers that can be accessed anywhere via the Internet. For more on how that works, check out A Beginner’s Guide to Cloud Computing.

23. Cyber security

Cyber security is the process of protecting data from unauthorized users or hackers. It also represents a huge sector of the tech industry as more and more companies race to stay ahead of cyber criminals and security threats.

Put these computer science terms to good use

Computer science is a fascinating field of study with tons of information to learn! These computer science terms only scratch the surface of what you’ll learn in a Computer Science Bachelor’s degree program.

Ready to learn more about the Computer Science program at Rasmussen University? Start with our article “8 Things You Didn't Know About the Rasmussen University Computer Science Program.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

female writer

Related Content

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen University to support its educational programs. Rasmussen University may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen University does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

logo-accreditation-acen logo-accreditation-ccne chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors-masters 0 Credits90 Credits180 Credits48 CreditsStart HereHIGH SCHOOL GRADSStart HereTRANSFER STUDENTSStart HereSECOND DEGREE PURSUERSEnd HereASSOCIATE'S DEGREEStart HereMASTER'S DEGREEPURSUERSEnd HereBACHELOR'S DEGREEEnd HereMASTER'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors 0 CreditsStart HereHIGH SCHOOL GRADSStart HereTRANSFER STUDENTS90 CreditsStart HereSECOND DEGREE PURSUERSEnd HereASSOCIATE'S DEGREE180 CreditsEnd HereBACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-msn chart-credential-laddering-nursing-programs chart-credential-laddering-nursing DNPMSNRN to BSNLPN to RN BridgeAccelerated BSNProfessional Nursing ADNPractical Nursing DiplomaPre-LicensurePost-Licensure icon-colored-outline-bank icon-colored-outline-certificate icon-colored-outline-circle-dollar-sign icon-colored-outline-folder-search icon-colored-outline-hand-heart icon-colored-outline-head-blocks icon-colored-outline-head-cog icon-colored-outline-head-heart icon-colored-outline-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-outline-hospital icon-colored-outline-lifelong-learning icon-colored-outline-light-bulb-analytics icon-colored-outline-location-pin icon-colored-outline-maginify-glass icon-colored-outline-magnifying-glass icon-colored-outline-monitor-healthcare icon-colored-outline-monitor-paper-search icon-colored-outline-nurse-rays icon-colored-outline-padlock-shield icon-colored-outline-person-presenter-screen icon-colored-outline-scales icon-colored-advance icon-colored-arrows-cross-curve icon-colored-briefcase-star icon-colored-build icon-colored-bulb-analytics icon-colored-certificate icon-colored-continual-development icon-colored-duo-chatbox icon-colored-folder-mortarboard icon-colored-forward-ribbon icon-colored-gears-clock icon-colored-globe-pen icon-colored-growth icon-colored-hand-bubble icon-colored-hand-stars icon-colored-hands-gear icon-colored-head-blocks icon-colored-head-cog icon-colored-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-hospital-building icon-colored-laptop-cbe-skyscraper icon-colored-laptop-checkmark icon-colored-laptop-webpage icon-colored-location-map icon-colored-location-pin icon-colored-monitor-paper-scan icon-colored-mortarboard-dollar icon-colored-national icon-colored-people-chat-bubbles icon-colored-person-cheer-star icon-colored-person-laptop-checkboxes icon-colored-person-screen-instructor icon-colored-person-whiteboard icon-colored-phone-chatbox icon-colored-police-light icon-colored-prep icon-colored-presenter icon-colored-regional icon-colored-save-time icon-colored-shirt-hat icon-colored-skyscraper icon-colored-state icon-colored-student-centered icon-colored-support icon-colored-world-experience icon-triangle-arrow-up-plant icon-triangle-calendar-pencil icon-triangle-clock-rotating-arrows icon-triangle-display-gears icon-triangle-hand-right-speech-bubble icon-triangle-laptop-coding-brackets icon-triangle-mortarboard icon-triangle-paper-ribbon icon-triangle-person-cheer-star icon-triangle-person-juggle icon-triangle-triple-people-chat-bubble icon-arrow icon-bank icon-camera icon-filter icon-general-chart icon-general-connect icon-general-degree icon-general-discuss icon-general-email icon-general-find icon-general-hat icon-general-heart icon-general-laptop-building icon-general-laptop icon-general-leader icon-general-map icon-general-money icon-general-paperwork icon-general-people icon-general-phone icon-general-speak-out icon-head-heart icon-info-circle icon-mail-forward icon-mglass icon-play-solid icon-quote-mark-left icon-quote-mark-right icon-scales icon-share-square-o icon-simple-chat icon-simple-desktop icon-simple-find icon-simple-hamburger icon-simple-phone icon-spinner icon-tag icon-testimonial-quotes icon-util-checkbox-white icon-util-checkbox icon-util-checked-white icon-util-checked icon-util-chevron-down icon-util-chevron-left icon-util-chevron-right icon-util-chevron-up icon-util-circle-arrow-down icon-util-circle-dot icon-util-language-switch icon-util-loading icon-util-open-window-button icon-util-open-window-link icon-util-pdf-button icon-util-pdf-link icon-util-refresh icon-util-x rebrand-arrows icon-modality-campus icon-modality-field icon-modality-online icon-modality-residential icon-social-facebook-square-colored icon-social-facebook-square icon-social-facebook icon-social-google-plus-square icon-social-google-plus icon-social-instagram icon-social-linkedin-square-colored icon-social-linkedin-square icon-social-linkedin icon-social-pinterest-p icon-social-twitter-square icon-social-twitter icon-social-youtube-play-colored icon-social-youtube-play ras-logo-flame ras-logo-horizontal ras-logo-stacked