What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?
Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.
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 degree in computer science, one of many technology programs, you can enter into a career path with dozens of potential job roles suited to your interests. You can also use the knowledge you develop in classes to apply foundational concepts and theories to work in a variety of industries, including technology, business, manufacturing and more.
What Kind of Jobs Can You Get with a Computer Science Degree?
In addition to working across broad industries, computer scientists can specialize in a number of areas within computer and information technology. For example, you could design and build communication networks as a computer network engineer. As a computer systems analyst, you might analyze an organization’s computer network and find ways to make it more efficient and productive.
Because computer science is such a comprehensive field of study, you can determine which of many paths within the discipline you're best suited for—and 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 data science, robotics and computer programming principles 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:
- Creating and enhancing software that forms the basis of users’ experience
- Identifying and helping to solve foundational problems in computing
- Inventing new technology and computing languages and tools to improve computing systems
- Publishing 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 earned a median income of $131,490 in 2021, and a master’s degree is usually a requirement for the position, according to BLS.
Computer programmers specialize in different programming languages to manipulate program designs by engineers and developers into instructions the computer can better understand. “Computer programmers write the code that allows software programs to run. The programmer's job entails refining the ideas and solving the problems while converting the program into code,” said Dr. Albanie Bolton, an adjunct in computer science and information technology programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
Computer programmers work hand in hand with software developers and engineers, and some of their job functions can overlap. Other duties computer programmers do include:
- Writing computer programs with fluency in multiple programming languages
- Testing programs for errors and fixing computer code to fix those errors
- Updating and maintaining existing software programs and applications
Computer programmers earned a median salary of $93,000 in 2021, BLS reported. If you want to become a computer programmer, know that most have a bachelor's degree, and many certifications are available in specific programming languages and products. Some companies require their programmers to become certified in the company's programs.
You might consider taking introductory courses in a computer programming certificate to gain some foundations in programming. If you earn it online at SNHU, for example, you may be able to transfer all of the credits you earned in the certificate program toward a related associate or bachelor's degree program.
To advance within a company, you may need to develop business experience and become a computer systems analyst or software developer, according to BLS.
Computer Systems Analysts
Computer systems analysts—or systems architects—study a business or organization’s computer systems, networks and protocols and find ways to make them work more efficiently. “The computer systems analyst is also generally responsible for identifying and solving problems with applications, operating systems and integration of items with the overall enterprise computing environment,” said Dr. Francis Manning, an information technology and computer science adjunct at SNHU.
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
- Manage installation of new system configurations and perform quality control testing
- Research new technology and evaluate its potential benefit
Many computer systems analysts have a bachelor’s degree in computer or information science, but those aren't your only options. Since you have to evaluate IT needs in the context of business goals properly, you might also consider business courses or choose a business major with a computer science concentration, according to BLS.
Computer systems analysts made a median salary of $99,270 in 2021, and the field is expected to grow by 9% through 2031, according to BLS.
Information Security Analysts
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:
- Developing, recommending and updating an organization’s computer security protocols
- Documenting hacking attempts and security breaches
- Identifying and deploying software and firewall programs to protect against cyber attacks
- Performing “penetration testing” by simulating attacks and highlighting weak points in a computer network
Most information security analysts have at least a bachelor’s in a computer-related field, such as a computer science or cyber security degree, and many companies look for candidates with previous experience in a related field.
There are also many licensure opportunities for information security analysts, according to BLS, including the Certified Information Systems Security Professional designation.
Security analysts made a median salary of $102,600 in 2021, and the field is growing quickly. BLS estimates security analyst positions will grow 35% through 2031. As advancements in technology continue to accelerate, the field of information security is of increasing importance.
Software developers supply the creative inspiration behind the millions of software programs and applications. “Software developers can or may create customized software for a specific customer or commercial software to be sold to the public," said Bolton. “They are in charge of outlining and creating the code and design for a program.”
There are two main types of software developers, according to BLS:
Other typical core duties for software developers include:
- Analyzing user needs and developing, testing and creating applications and programs to meet those requirements
- Executing software maintenance and testing protocol to ensure software continues to operate optimally
- Identifying and recommending new software or software updates to meet clients' needs
- Working with other specialists to develop software
Most software developers have a bachelor's degree and strong computer skills. In 2021, they earned a median income of $109,020, and the field is growing quickly. It is estimated to increase by 25% through 2031, according to BLS.
You might also consider becoming a software engineer, a type of software developer. Some computer science programs offer you the chance to focus on this role with a software engineering degree concentration.
Web development is a subset of computer programming. A web developer's role is to mainly focus on the creation of the website. In addition, they work on the everyday use of the website, ensuring it is both visually appealing and easy to navigate for the user.
While some web developers work on all aspects of a website, others have specialties, according to BLS:
- 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 typical for web developers include:
- Working with internal and external clients to determine the look and functionality of a website
- Collaborating with writers, designers and other creative professionals to determine a site's layout and content
- Integrating multimedia assets 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 with a bachelor's degree in computer science or programming. You might also consider earning a web developer certificate focused on full stack web development.
Web developers earned a median salary of $78,300 in 2021, and the position is expected to grow by 23% through 2031, according to BLS.
What Do Computer Science Majors Do?
Most jobs in computer science require a degree in a computer-related subject—and, to earn one, you need to enroll in an accredited college or university that offers the degree you're interested in.
A bachelor's degree in computer science will teach you the theory, development, application and design of computer science as well as a number of programming languages and an array of other vital skills.
A computer science program can 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
“The purpose of the computer science degree path is to provide the student with a significant amount of background information to understand why things work in a particular way,” said Manning. “If you want to be able to contribute to the overall body of knowledge for computer science, understanding 'why' things work is absolutely essential.”
What is the Best Degree for Computer Science?
You can find computer science degrees and related programs at all educational levels; however, the best option depends on you and your individual goals within the computer science field.
Your undergraduate programs include an associate degree in computer science or a bachelor's degree in computer science. Some employers may offer entry-level positions to candidates with just an associate degree, while others will require or prefer a bachelor's level education.
To advance in the field, you may discover you need to return to school for a graduate degree such as:
You can also choose to add a concentration if you want to specialize further. A master's degree can provide you with a broader range of courses and subjects within the field to dive deeper into and prepare you for advancement and leadership in your career.
“This credential is often seen as a mechanism of providing proof that your skills in the discipline are at a level that the employer deems necessary to succeed in a defined role,” said Manning.
It's also possible to earn a doctoral degree in the field, especially if you're interested in taking your career into academia or on a private venture.
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.
Discover more about SNHU’s bachelor's degree in computer science: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.
Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.
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