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What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?

Two women and a man looking at a computer monitor and discussing a computer science challenge.

Computer science combines the principles of engineering, mathematics and science to study and develop computers, networks, hardware, software, databases and much more. Because of that, there is a wide range of potential careers within the field, from software engineering to computer programming or system analysis.

With a computer science degree, you can embark on a field of study – and career – with dozens of potential job roles suited to your interests. You can also use the knowledge you develop to apply the concepts and theories that are the foundation of computer science to work in a variety of industries, including technology, business, manufacturing and more.

What Do Computer Scientists Do?

In addition to working in a variety of industries, computer scientists can specialize in a number of areas within computer and information technology. As a computer network engineer, for example, you could work designing and building communication networks. As a computer systems analyst, you would be able to analyze an organization’s computer network and find ways to make it more efficient and productive.

Computer Science Career Paths

Because computer science is such an broad field of study, you can determine which of many paths within the discipline you're best suited for – or most interested in.

Computer and Information Scientists

Computer and information research scientists study problems that organizations in medicine, business and other sectors confront regarding computing. They use principles from data science, robotics and computer programming to create or improve computer systems, software and algorithms and sometimes work with electrical and computer hardware engineers on complex projects. Other typical duties, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) include:

  • Identifying and helping to solve foundational problems in computing
  • Inventing new technology and computing languages and tools to improve computing systems
  • Create and enhance software that forms the basis of users’ experience
  • Publish findings in academic journals and conferences

Most computer research and information scientists work for the federal government, a computer systems design service or a research and development organization. They made a median income of $118,000 in 2018, and a master’s degree is usually a requirement for the position, according to BLS.

Computer and Information Analysts

Two of the computer analysis positions you can pursue with a computer science degree are information security analyst and computer systems analyst.

Computer systems analysts – or systems architects – study a business or organization’s computer systems, networks and protocols and try to find ways to make them work more efficiently. They work with clients to find and solve problems in databases and complaints from users. Most systems analysts specialize in computer systems common to a specific industry, such as financial computer systems, according to ComputerScience.org.

Computer systems analysts also:

  • Combine technical and business knowledge to find ways to serve both goals
  • Find ways to increase computer system capabilities and conduct cost/benefit analysis to help management evaluate investment in IT
  • Research new technology and evaluate its potential benefit
  • Manage installation of new system configurations and perform quality control testing

Many computer systems analysts have a bachelor’s degree in computer or information science, but a degree isn’t always required. Since they have to evaluate IT needs in the context of business goals properly, some system analysts take business courses or choose a business major with a computer science concentration, according to BLS.

Computer systems analysts made a median salary of $88,000 in 2018, and the field is expected to grow by 9% through 2026, according to BLS.

Information security analysts are charged with protecting a person or organization’s computer networks and data by monitoring those networks for cyber attacks and intrusions. Security analysts are often intimately involved in planning for a possible security breach and data recovery plan so companies can continue to operate if they are hacked.

Other duties include:

  • Identifying and deploying software and firewall programs to protect against cyber attacks
  • Documenting hacking attempts and security breaches
  • Performing “penetration testing” by simulating attacks and highlighting weak points in a computer network
  • Developing, recommending and updating an organization’s computer security protocols

Most information security analysts have at least a bachelor’s in a computer-related field, and many companies look for candidates with previous experience in a related field. Some companies prefer security analyst candidates with a Master of Business Administration in information systems, according to BLS. There are also a many licensure opportunities for information security analysts, including the Certified Information Systems Security Professional designation.

Security analysts made a median salary of $98,000 in 2018, and the field is growing quickly. BLS estimates security analysts positions will grow 28% through 2026.

Software Developers

Software developers supply the creative inspiration behind the millions of software programs and applications available today. They're in charge of the entire development process for a new program. Through college courses and industry certifications, software developers learn a range of programming languages, including Java and JavaScript, C# and Python, according to ComputerScience.org.

There are two main types of software developers, BLS:

Application Software Developers design the applications you're already familiar with, from spreadsheet programs and word processors to calendar apps and mobile games. They may also create custom applications or databases for clients.

Systems Software Developers create the underlying systems that allow computers to function, like operating systems. They also often design and build a computer system's user interface.

Other typical core duties for software developers include:

  • Analyzing user needs and developing, testing and creating applications and programs to meet those requirements
  • Working with other specialists to develop software
  • Identifying and recommending new software or software updates to meet clients' needs
  • Executing a software maintenance and testing protocol to ensure software continues to operate optimally

Most software developers have a bachelor's degree and strong computer skills. In 2018, they earned a median income of $105,000, and the field is growing quickly and is estimated to grow by 24% through 2026, according to BLS.

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers learn and use programming languages such as Java and C++ and more to build to translate the designs of engineers and software developers into functioning computer code, according to ComputerScience.org. They write the specific instructions a machine follows to implement the designs created by software developers. They also test new applications and software programs and troubleshoot coding mistakes.

Computer programmers work hand in hand with software developers and engineers, and some of their job functions can overlap. Other duties for computer programmers include:

  • Being fluent in multiple programming languages to write computer programs
  • Updating and maintaining existing software programs and applications
  • Testing programs for errors and fixing computer code to fix those errors

Most computer programmers have a bachelor's degree. Many certifications are available in specific programming languages and products. Some companies require their programmers to become certified in the programs that company uses. To advance within a company, some programmers develop business experience and become computer systems analysts, and some become software developers, according to BLS.

Computer programmers earned a median salary of $84,000 in 2018, according to BLS.

Web Developers

Web development is a subset of computer programming that focuses on "websites and applications," according to ComputerScience.org. Web developers specialize in creating the websites most of us use every day, from the aesthetics of the site to its technical capabilities and performance. Web developers also work on the content of a website and work with clients or a company's internal stakeholders to build the functionality the site needs.

While some web developers work on all aspects of a website, others have specialties, according to BLS, including:

  • Front-End Developers create the look and feel of a website, including layout, integrating applications and other content.
  • Back-End Developers work on the behind-the-scenes structure of websites that most users never see. They ensure the technical aspects of the programs that allow the site to function are working correctly.
  • Webmasters update and maintain existing websites and run testing protocols to find broken links and other aspects of a site that can malfunction.

Other duties common for web developers include:

  • Working with internal and external clients to determine the look and functionality of a website
  • Working with writers, designers and other creative professionals to determine a site's layout and content
  • Integrate multimedia asses into a website

Web developers need a good understanding of HTML programming, and some employers prefer developers with knowledge of multiple programming languages. A college degree isn't always a requirement, but some employers look for developers who have a bachelor's degree in computer science or programming. Web developers made a median salary of $69,000 in 2018, and the position is expected to grow by 15% through 2026, according to ComputerScience.org. A degree program can help you develop a wide-ranging skill set that you can apply to a variety of job roles. Among other skills you learn earning a degree, computer science programs should include:

  • Ability to analyze problems and define computing requirements for a solution
  • Ability to function as part of an interdisciplinary team
  • Ability to use design and development principles to build software programs
  • Understanding ethical, professional and legal issues related to the computing field

If you want to go further, a master's in computer science is another credential some employers look for in job applicants. A master's in computer science degree program usually features courses that cover "computer architecture, computer language theory and systems engineering," according to ComputerScience.org.

"A master's in (computer science) provides professionals with the tools and foresight needed for success in the field," according to the site.

Is Computer Science for Me?

With a huge demand for computer science skills and a wide range of job roles, the time is ripe for you to decide "is computer science right for me?" If you're interested in combining your knowledge of computers, mathematics and networking, the answer might be yes.

Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.

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