25 Computer Science Terms to Decode Before Your First Semester

illustration of a figure shadow on a computer screen of code

Have you ever spent time with a group of computer or IT pros who were talking shop? Terms like “LAN,” “RAM” and “bandwidth” were flying through the conversation, and you had no idea what any of it meant. It can be a little intimidating to hear all that tech lingo thrown around. But don’t let a little language barrier hold you back from enrolling in a computer science program.

Just because you’re new to the game doesn’t mean you need to be left out of the conversation. With a little preparation, you can impress your classmates on the first day of school with your know-how of computer science terms.

To get you started, we rounded up this basic list of computer science terms you should decode before stepping foot in the classroom. Brush up on this common vocabulary and you’ll be keeping up with your tech friends’ conversations in no time.

25 Computer science terms you need to know

Every industry has its own set of jargon, and computer science is no exception. Familiarize yourself with these 25 computer science terms to wow your classmates and teachers from day one.

1. Analog

Analog technology is any piece of technology that does its job without processing numbers electronically like a computer does. You might think of analog as “old-school” technology, like film cameras or tape recorders.

2. Bandwidth

This term refers to the amount of information that can be transmitted or processed, either wirelessly or across a hardwired connection. Internet services will advertise fast speeds measured in bandwidth, so it is a well-known component of the IT world.

3. Big data

Big data is a quick way to refer to the massive amounts of data that companies collect on a day-to-day basis. Corporations face a number of challenges of managing big data, especially when it comes to analysis and security.

4. 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. Since they’re so miniscule, computer whizzes also need to know some basic tech math to think of bits on a larger scale:

  • Byte= 8 bits
  • Kilobyte = 1024 bytes 
  • Megabyte= 1024 kilobytes
  • Gigabyte= 1024 megabytes

5. Bug

A bug is a programming error that causes unexpected glitches or problems for a program’s end user.

6. Cloud storage

Cloud storage is an alternative to storing data on a computer’s physical storage. Information that’s stored “on the cloud” is kept on remote servers that can be accessed anywhere via the Internet.

7. Code

Code refers to different programming languages used to create, edit or manage computer programs or applications. Most computer science students will specialize in a small handful of coding languages depending on the career they’d like to pursue.

8. Control panel

Just like it sounds,the control panel is a tool that allows you to change a program’s settings or alter the way it looks or behaves.

9. CPU

CPU stands for the Central Processing Unit, which is the processing chip and "brains" of a computer.

10. Data security

This is the process of protecting data from unauthorized users or hackers.

11. Debug

Debugging refers to the process of finding and removing errors from a program's source code. The goal is for programmers to discover and fix bugs before their end user experiences problems.

12. Digital

Digital technology is the opposite of analog. It’s anything that uses a computer’s binary language to do its job. To digitize something is to convert analog data into digital data that can be used by a computer.

13. Disk storage

Disk storage refers to a computer’s hard drive or long-term memory. This is where a computer stores information that isn’t being used at the time. If disk storage becomes too full, a computer may become sluggish as it takes the time to wade through all that data.

14. Ethernet

Ethernet is similar to the Internet. It’s a system connecting a number of computers or devices to the same network, allowing for fast, monitored transmission of data. Ethernets have restricted network access that’s managed by a handful of system administrators, making it a secure network solution for many companies.

15. Hacker

This term can refer to an expert programmer. But it’s most common usage is referring to someone who can gain unauthorized access, or “hack,” other computers or networks. IT specialists can earn qualifications to become a certified ethical hacker.

16. HTML

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. HTML is a coding language used to write Internet-based documents, like websites. It’s one of the basic coding languages you’ll most likely learn early in your computer science career.

17. Hub

This device is a central connection for all computers in a network, which is usually Ethernet-based. Information sent to the hub can flow to any other computer on the network.

18. Index

An index is a list of data, such as a group of files or database entries. It is typically saved in a plain text format so a computer can quickly scan it to retrieve the information it needs.

19. IP address

Also known as an "IP number" or simply an "IP," this is a numerical code that identifies a specific computer on the Internet. Think of it as a computer’s unique Social Security Number.

20. LAN

LAN stands for "Local Area Network." This is a small computer network, often located within just a single room. (Think your high school or college computer lab.)

21. Plain text

Unformatted text that doesn’t support italics, underlining, bold characters, fonts or font sizes.

22. Processor

Also referred to as the microprocessor, this little chip is the heart of a computer.  The processor does all of the computations for the computer—meaning it’s in charge of every piece of input and output that comes a computer’s way! Speed is important when it comes to processors and many can handle trillions of calculations per second.

23. RAM

This is an acronym for Random-Access Memory, the place where a computer stores data while it is being used or changed. Think of it as a computer’s short-term memory. It doesn’t have unlimited storage, but it makes for quick access to information you’re currently using.

24. ROM

ROM stands for Read Only Memory. This is memory that can only be read from and not written to. Computers use ROM to store important tasks like start-up processes and software instructions.

25. Vaporware

Vaporware is software that is advertised and sometimes sold but doesn’t actually exist yet. Sometimes companies are still fine-tuning their vaporware products before they release. Other times companies know that a product doesn’t exist (or won’t for many years to come) but are simply using a marketing ploy to gauge interest.

Take your computer knowledge to the next level

Now that you’re ready to impress with these computer science terms, you can feel confident that you can keep up with the basic conversations in your first few courses. Most curriculum will cover many of this vocab, meaning you’ll be a step ahead of your classmates.

But not all degree programs are created equal. Learn how our program stands out among the rest in our article: 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Rasmussen College Computer Science Program.


Aaron Lawrence

Aaron is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. His interest in writing articles for students stems from his passion for poetry and fiction and the belief that all words can educate.

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