What Is Computer Science? Experts Explain Their Field
By Kirsten Slyter on 04/13/2020
You’ve been interested in computers for as long as you can remember. So, when you embarked on the hunt for a new career, it’s no surprise that careers related to computer science jumped out as a possibility.
Working with technology all day sounds like a dream job, but you need more details before you commit to a career concentration—what is computer science, what skills do you need to succeed and what sort of education does it take to snag a job in this field?
We consulted the experts to learn all the ins and outs of computer science. This article will answer your questions so you can make an informed decision about a career in computer science.
What is computer science, anyway?
Computers are a vital part of our daily lives, and computer science is behind what drives every piece of that technology.
“Computers are pretty simple machines at their core,” explains Brian Gill, CEO at Gillware Data Recovery. “The programs computer scientists write are what allow humans to capture the computing power of these dumb machines for useful purposes like designing a better airplane, analyzing DNA or playing Angry Birds.”
So what exactly is a computer scientist? A more fitting title for a computer science professional would be problem-solver, according to software engineer Kevin Hayen. “Our job is to give the computer instructions on how to do repetitive tasks to solve a real-world problem.” Computer science professionals solve those problems by writing code, creating algorithms and putting their creativity to work.
Computer science may appear mysterious or even magical to the inexperienced. But in reality, it’s a field filled with hard-working programmers who use many skills and tools to make computers function. Much of the field is applied to creating software, but computer science also related to the design and engineering of hardware components as well.
A brief history of computer science
Computer scientists manage everything from operating systems to apps and search engines, and they’ve been doing so for decades. One of the first academic-credit computer science courses was offered at Columbia University in 1946.1 The first ‘computer languages’ were born in the 50s, personal computers began hitting the market in the 70s, and by the 90s, Google® was on the scene.2
Computer science, called “computing” in the early days, has developed quickly over the years, thanks to help from talented computer scientists who changed the field.
“The past 25–50 years have seen a significant amount of development in the field,” says Brandon Na, Principal Consultant at Seattle Organic SEO. “There have been so many changes that, honestly, it might show you the trajectory for the next 10, 25 or more years.”
Changes are indeed coming to the computer science industry. The technology field is known for its fast growth, and computer scientists must constantly adapt to stay on top of new developments. “The field is always expanding in new territories, such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and health sciences,” says Cyber Intelligence Agent Jonathan Racicot.
Debunking the myths about computer science
Computer science may be expanding, but people outside the industry still believe plenty of misconceptions about what the field is really like. Our experts are setting the record straight on some of the most common myths surrounding this technical career.
1. Computer science isn’t just for geeks or geniuses
Many people picture a stereotypical nerd when they think of a computer scientist, but you don’t have to be an eccentric genius to succeed in this career.
“Computer science is no longer the guarded realm of hardcore nerds spending their nights writing line of code after line of code,” Racicot says. Artists and entrepreneurs alike can make computer science come to life with the right training and dedication to the field.
2. Computer science isn’t only about technical skills
When you think about what a computer science professional does all day, are you picturing lots of math, coding or other technical work? Think again. There are plenty of soft skills involved and required in this line of work also, including an emphasis on creativity.
“Perhaps the most common myth of computer science is that it is not creative work,” says data scientist Matt Townley. “Computer scientists finish every day having created something that did not exist before.”
In addition to having the necessary tech skills, you’ll need your fair share of communication skills, attention to detail, and a knack for problem-solving to thrive in the computer science field.
3. Computer science isn’t the same as computer repair
Computer scientists often have to fend off friends, family and random acquaintances asking for help fixing their technology woes.
“Just because I’ve been a programmer for 30 years and am an expert in software architecture does not mean I want to troubleshoot a friend or family member’s Windows ME problem,” Gill says.
It’s easy for those unfamiliar with the technology field to lump all of its workers together as all-knowing computer experts, but that’s just not the case. Yes, computer science professionals work with computers and because of this may have a better-than-average understanding of how to troubleshoot hardware problems. But that doesn’t mean their work is the same as the person who comes to fix your printer or wireless router.
What do computer science professionals do?
Now that you know a bit more about computer science as an industry, it’s time to learn what that could mean for your career. We used real-time job analysis software to find the most sought-after job titles for associate and bachelor computer science degree holders.
Computer science job titles:3
- Software development engineer
- Network engineer
- Database administrator
- Business intelligence analyst
- Applications engineer
- Information security analysts
Learn even more about these and other computer science job titles in our article, “What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?”
You’ll need the right blend of hard and soft skills if you want to land job titles like these. Take a look at these technical and transferable skills that will come in handy in a computer science career, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Top technical skills:4
- Development software like C++, Oracle®, Java®, Python®, Perl
- Program testing software
- Database management system
- Web platform development software
- Operations analysis
- Systems evaluation
Top transferable skills:4
- Judgment and decision-making
- Critical thinking
- Active listening
- Complex program solving
Computer science education and training
You may have a natural talent for computer science, but earning a degree can help make you a more desired employee in the workforce. We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 1 million computer science-related job postings from the past year. The data helped us identify the preferred education level employers are seeking.
Analysis of the in-demand jobs discussed above revealed that nearly 90 percent of employers are looking for candidates with at least a Bachelor’s degree.1 This shows how important a formal education is in the field, but the learning doesn’t stop there. In order to keep up with the ever-evolving industry, it’s imperative for computer science professionals to continue learning and keeping a pulse on new trends and technologies in the field.
Could computer science be the field for you?
Now that you know more about what computer science is and have a better understanding of some of the common myths and misconceptions about this field, you may be more prepared for a career in computer science than you realize.
Find out if you’re a natural fit for the field in our article, “6 Computer Science Skills You Didn’t Know You Already Had.”
1IBM, Icons of Progress, The Origins of Computer Science [accessed March, 2020] https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/compsci/
2LiveScience, History of Computers: A Brief Timeline, [accessed March, 2020] https://www.livescience.com/20718-computer-history.html
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 1,195,953 computer science job postings, February 1, 2019 – January 31, 2020)
4Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, [accessed March, 2020] www.bls.gov/oes/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Google is a registered trademark of Google, Inc.
Python is a registered trademark of The Python Software Foundation.
Oracle and Java are registered trademarks of Oracle Corporation.