Computer Science Careers Jobs, Education, and Skills for Creating the Next Big Thing

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David McCann Software Engineer View bio

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There is a shift underway in the U.S. in terms of how we work. Due to technology, more aspects of the workplace – and jobs – are going digital. These changes and advances are all enabled by highly skilled and talented computer scientists, from engineers to software developers and network architects to security analysts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth across computer occupations is expected to be 12 percent from 2014 to 2024 and many of these jobs offer attractive salaries. The following guide examines different CS careers, educational options, and salaries to help get you started on a path towards this exciting and innovative field. Explore what computer science has to offer.

Careers in Computer Science

Computer science is a broad industry, allowing CS students to specialize their education and find employment in a wide range of exciting and innovative fields. The section below takes a closer look at a few common career paths for someone interested in computer science.

Computer System Analyst

Computers and the software they house are merely tools. If a company’s employees are unable to use those tools effectively — or if the tools are unnecessarily complicated — the company is not getting full value on its investment. Computer systems analysts are charged with seeing how tools are being used and working with managers to improve or replace systems to increase employee productivity. Computer systems analysts can go on to become computer system managers or, in some cases, computer network architects.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 21%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer science or liberal arts degree with relevant technical experience

Software Developer

Developers can be broken into two camps: applications software developers and systems software developers. Applications developers represent approximately two-thirds of the field and have slightly higher job growth but lower median salaries than systems developers. Applications developers can, for instance, design games for a mobile phone or word processors for an operating system. Systems developers, on the other hand, build and refine operating systems such as OS X and Windows or, in the case of phones, Android and iOS. Software developers may code but some do not and instead pass their designs to computer programmers who then turn the vision into reality.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 17%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field

Web Developer

A Web developer’s main role is coding, and their skills and creativity can really come across in the websites they design. Unlike certain other creative types, however, Web developers have to color within their clients’ designated lines, meaning they must produce a site that meets the client’s needs and attracts the audience targeted by the client. For larger sites, they work in teams with other developers.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 27%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Associate degree in Web design, although some employers require only a high school diploma and others want college graduates with a BS in computer science

Computer Programmer

Software developers are the dreamers, but computer programmers are the doers. They take instructions from developers and write the actual code, often in multiple programming languages, and test their work to make sure it produces the desired result on screen.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): -8%

    (The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the decline is due to more companies hiring programmers abroad, where wages are lower)

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field

Data Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 and Occupational Information Network, 2014

Computer and Information Research Scientist

These CS professionals can work hands-on with hardware, creating the computers (or computerized technologies) of the future. Robots? That’s research scientists. But they could just as easily focus on software, perhaps by inventing a new language or coming up with an algorithm that’s faster and more accurate than Google’s. Scientists are, by nature, explorers on the cutting edge of development.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 11%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    PhD in computer science

Computer and Information Systems Manager

IT professionals with relevant real world experience can work their way into a position as a computer and information systems manager, also known as an IT manager. These managers have a strong hand in coordinating a company’s IT staff, including developers, security analysts, and support specialists. They can also play a strategic role by setting organizational goals and implementing the technology needed to achieve those goals.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 15%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer science or information science; some positions require graduate degrees

Computer Network Architect

Also known as network engineers, computer network architects are simultaneously designers and builders. Their scope may be confined to creating networks for a large office, but they are just as likely to dream up cloud-based solutions for their employers. Therefore, with this job, the sky really is the limit. Architects must learn their craft first, usually by putting in time as a network and computer system administrator.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 9%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field

Information Security Analyst

Having started with a few years’ experience in information technology, an information security analyst is in charge of installing – and keeping current – software to guard against security threats from hackers looking to steal information from a company. To stay one step ahead, information security analysts regularly simulate cyber attacks to test their network’s vulnerabilities. They address those vulnerabilities by installing new software or developing new practices for employees. Analysts must also be prepared for worst-case scenarios by ensuring data is properly backed up.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 18%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field

Data Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 and Occupational Information Network, 2014

Statistician
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 34%

  • Education and Training:

    Master’s degree in mathematics, economics or computer science

Informatics Nurse Specialist
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 14%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree in nursing with certification

Computer Support Specialist
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 12%

  • Education and Training:

    Associate degree or certification

Multimedia Artist and Animator
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 6%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer graphics, animation or fine art; on-the-job training in specific software applications

Computer Hardware Engineer
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 3%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, electrical engineering or computer science

Data Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 and Occupational Information Network, 2014

Going Up: Computer Science Salaries

According to a 2015 survey of 50,000 college students by Looksharp, computer science majors had the highest expectations in terms of salaries. Importantly, when those students were actually hired, most ended up earning even more than they had anticipated. It’s no wonder expectations are so high for graduates. In the fall of 2005, computer and math science professionals earned an average of $31.91 an hour, according to BLS. Ten years later, BLS noted it was $40.37, up 27 percent.

Take a look at salaries for different computer science careers:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015

Years of experience and specialized skills can also have a significant impact on computer science salaries. While a CS grad fresh out of college may command a good salary, someone with several years of experience will likely take home a much higher pay. See how experience and skills can affect salaries for computer scientists:

How Experience Affects Computer Scientist Salaries

Median
Salary
  • Experienced +18%
  • Late-Career +17%
  • Mid-Career +12%
  • National Average $86,000
  • Entry-Level-17%

How Certain Skills Affect Computer Scientist Salaries

  • Machine learning +34%
  • Image processing +19%
  • JavaScript +12%
  • Matlab +5%
  • Software development +2%
  • Systems engineering +1%
  • National average $86,000

Source: PayScale.com

Is Computer Science Right for Me?

According to software engineer David McCann, one clear trait stands out among people who are meant to be in a computer science career: puzzle solving. As he puts it, “If you’d get hit by a car because you were so distracted about finding the solution [to a problem], this is a great field for you.”

Indeed, looking at the evolution of computing over the last thirty years — and the speed with which our world has been technologically altered — budding computer scientists have a lifetime of puzzles to solve. And the languages they use today may not be around ten years from now. The section below shows some skills every person in a computer science career should have.

Required and Preferred Skills

Coding

Even non-programmers in the computer science world need to understand the languages that run computers. Without code, nothing works.

Collaboration

Computer scientists work in teams to solve big problems; while some prefer to work solo, exploring problems together can open up creative solutions.

Communication

Computer scientists work with techies and nontechnical clients. To do so, they need to relay highly technical information to people who may lack the same vocabulary. This requires strong communication skills.

Logical thinking

Computer scientists need to think not only creatively but also logically. For one thing, computer languages are written in logical formats (i.e., they’re not like English, which has irregular verbs). For another, they have to communicate how to think to machines, which requires the impartation of cognitive processes.

Source code editors

Microsoft Word works for writing in English, but programming languages such as Python and Java have their own syntax, which requires special editing software. Notepad++ is one example.

Database management system software

Large volumes of data need to be securely managed through a system like Microsoft SQL.

Development environment software

Software can be created, tested, and modified using development environment software. Microsoft Visual Basic is one example.

Web platform development software

This software uses one or more computer languages to create applications. Apache Flex, for example, helps developers create Web and mobile apps.

CS Degree Program Options

Earning a degree in computer science can serve as the foundation for a successful career in the field. CS degree programs are offered at the following levels:

Associate Degree

An associate degree in computer science is offered at a number of community colleges, but because most computer science careers require bachelor’s level education, this degree is typically used as a cost-effective way to earn a four-year degree. Students complete lower division general education coursework as well as introductory CS courses. For example:

  • Introduction to Computer Programming

  • Introduction to Unix

  • Calculus

  • Data Structures and Algorithms

  • Assembly Language Programming

Bachelor’s Degree

Offered as either a Bachelor of Science (typically for engineers) or a Bachelor of Arts (usually for non-engineers), this four-year degree program explores fundamental concepts and theories in computer science, teaching students how to analyze problems and identify and implement appropriate solutions. Bachelor’s degrees in CS typically consist of 128 credits, though the exact number may vary across different colleges, in courses such as:

  • Calculus

  • Linear algebra

  • Probability and Statistics

  • Discrete Math

  • Programming

  • Data Structures and Analysis

Master’s Degree

Earning a master’s degree in computer science gives you advanced, more specialized knowledge in the theoretical and practical principles of CS. This degree option usually takes about two years to complete if you’re a full-time student and culminates in a master’s thesis. Core coursework typically includes topics such as:

  • Advanced Programming Language Principles

  • Theory of Computation

  • Mathematical Logic

  • User Interface Design

  • Object-Oriented Analysis and Design

  • Cloud Computing

Doctorate Degree

In a PhD in computer science program, students work closely with a research advisor, faculty members, and peers to explore the unknown and create new knowledge that helps to advance the field. In addition to advanced coursework, students usually have to fulfill other graduation requirements such as a research exam, teaching assistant requirement, qualifying exam, and dissertation and defense. Examples of course titles are:

  • Theory of Computing

  • Advanced Operating Systems

  • Computer Networks

  • Machine Learning

  • Data Mining

  • Elements of Artificial Intelligence

CS and Coding Bootcamps

For certain computer science fields, such as software development, bootcamps have become a popular academic option for those who want to gain specialized skills and get into the field immediately or anyone currently in the field looking to enhance their skillset. Unlike computer science degree programs, bootcamps offer intensive, hands-on training over the course of 8-12 weeks. Students completely immerse themselves in the practical knowledge and skills that today’s CS employers are looking for. Learn more about bootcamps, how they work, and where to find them in the guide below.

Specializations in CS

Stanford’s graduate program is considered one of the best in the nation for computer science. That may be because it offers a broad range of specializations for students that can then be carried into a career. Take a look at some of the most common specializations for computer science students:

Mobile and Internet computing

This specialization helps developers use their skills and knowledge towards the creation of Web-based and mobile apps.

Biocomputation

Natural scientists may be drawn to this specialization, which focuses on solving biological problems with computer solutions.

Systems

This specialization teaches system software developers to start from the ground up, taking a blank screen and creating an operating system to make it go.

Theory

This specialization can be abstract or practical. Students in this area are concerned with contemplating the boundaries of computing and finding ways to blow past them.

Artificial intelligence

Building robots requires a keen sense of logic and how to instruct an inanimate object how to “think.”

Computer and network security

Making and breaking codes is the ultimate form of puzzle-solving; the former keeps users’ information out of others’ hands, while the latter can be applied to solving cybercrimes or regaining control after a hack.

Information management and analytics

Big data is everywhere, and people in this specialization figure out the best way to capture, make sense of, and ultimately use data, often through algorithms.

Are Credentials Necessary?

Licensure is not a requirement in the computer science industry and passing an exam to earn certification is not typically required by employers. With such high demand, employers look for qualified candidates who either have the requisite skills to code right out of the gate or can quickly learn them.

Nonetheless, there are numerous types of voluntary certifications available for computer science professionals. Programmers, for example, can get language-specific certifications, although they’ll still need to prove their coding prowess during skills sections of job interviews, which are extremely common in the industry. Computer network architects can earn software-specific certifications, which are offered by software companies themselves and imply that the architect knows how to properly maintain a network with its software. Information security analysts can earn industry certifications showing that they are prepared to handle threats should the hypothetical become reality.

One instance in which professionals may consider getting certified is if they’re applying with government or international NGOs that use graded hiring systems. In order to decrease salary inequities between workers, these employers have strict pay scales in line with employees’ experience and qualifications. Certifications in certain areas can move a potential employee up into a higher salary bracket.

Where You’ll Work

Computers are becoming more mobile. That’s true not only of hardware, but also of software and data, which is migrating to the cloud. The mobility movement that computer scientists have helped to usher in has changed the working environments as well.

Whether working for a large tech company, a small start up, or a non-technical organization such as the government, computer scientists could end up working in any of the following environments:

Standard office setting

Some computer science jobs are very 9-5, with cubicles, water coolers, and business casual attire.

Start up environment

Software companies are known for a more relaxed atmosphere with open working environments, beanbag chairs, and employees in flip-flops. Some larger tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, have maintained this startup culture as they’ve matured.

Server room

All that cloud data has to sit somewhere. Hands-on types such as network administrators may spend a good deal of time in a server room, making sure everything is running smoothly.

Laboratory

Researchers may spend time in the laboratory working on robotics or computerized products, such as engines.

Café

Programmers and developers can still work from anywhere, as long as they have a laptop and a high-speed Internet connection.

That’s where computer science professionals work. But who do they work for? Here are five of the most common types of employers of, divided by industry:

  • Computer systems design

    Thirty-eight percent of programmers and 33 percent of software developers work in this industry, either in offices or by telecommuting.

  • Software publishers

    Seven percent of programmers and eight percent of developers work for software publishers, either established brands or start-ups.

  • Finance and insurance

    According to software development company Telliant, the insurance industry needs computer experts to create software to analyze risk and to handle crash and financial data from its customers.

  • Wired telecommunications carriers

    Nine percent of computer network architects work for wireless companies, splitting time between offices and server rooms.

  • Government

    Twenty-eight percent of the 25,600 research scientists work for the federal government, mostly for Department of Defense initiatives; local and state governments also hire tens of thousands of computer systems analysts.

Where to Find Computer Science Jobs

A great place to look for jobs is with your university’s career center or computer science department. Some computer science departments, like North Carolina State’s, place their well-used job boards online for anyone to access. Here are just a few places to search for jobs in the field:

  • Computerworld

    This publication website and digital magazine for IT and business technology professionals posts job openings for computer science – and related – careers. Users can also find information on just about anything computer-related, from cloud computing to security to emerging technology.

  • Computing Research Association

    The CRA’s missions is to promote industry innovation. In addition to numerous resources, the site also has job announcements for computer scientists, engineers, and researchers.

  • Dice

    Dice is the leading career platform for technology and engineering professionals. Users can upload their resumes and/or search thousands of tech openings by distance, title, city, company, or employment type.

  • TechCareers

    This membership-based site helps tech professionals find jobs and also provides several helpful careers resources.

  • TechCrunch

    CrunchBoard is TechCrunch’s official job board. Job categories include computer and information technology, mobile development, and engineering/technical services, to name a few.

Computer Science Internships

College students want to get hired straight out of the gate, and an internship can bring you one step closer to this goal. According to a student survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in 2014 undergraduates who started their job search before graduating had a 52 percent chance of getting hired for a full-time position, if they had an internship on their resume. Those without an internship, were only successful 39 percent of the time.

Landing an internship takes the same effort and time as getting a job. But students shouldn’t limit themselves. The more internships they apply to, the better their chance of getting accepted, provided they still take the time to present a clean resume and write a compelling personal essay. Several internships from prominent companies are listed below, but opportunities for computer science majors are available around the world, either from tech companies or from companies who need computer expertise.

Akamai Summer Internship

Location: Cambridge, MA

From June through August, undergrads and graduates sit in on weekly development sessions with company department leaders, network with staff and learn about day-to-day operations at Akamai, which handles 30 percent of the Web’s traffic.

Apple Internships

Location: Santa Clara, CA

Apple has a robust internship program for students looking for summer experience or hands-on experience during the semester. The beauty of an internship with Apple is that it handles both hardware and software applications, so you can pick a role that suits you.

Bloomberg Technology Internships

Location: Hong Kong, London or New York

Though known for its news network and eponymous mayor, Bloomberg’s core business is providing businesses with financial data. Undergrads and graduate students can do summer or half-year internships in software engineering or software development.

Central Intelligence Agency Undergraduate Internship Program

Location: Washington, D.C.

You can give up two summers or a summer and a semester analyzing, modifying and testing hardware and software for the Directorate of Science and Technology.

Facebook Internships – Engineering, Tech and Design

Location: Menlo Park, CA

Computer science university students, regardless of degree level and concentration, should check out Facebook’s internship page. The company’s various departments all run internship programs of different lengths. Most are based in California, but some can be found in other parts of the U.S. and the world.

IBM Extreme Blue Internship

Location: Austin, TX or Research Triangle, NC

A combination of a tech internship and a concentrated business program, the 12-week Extreme Blue summer internship puts undergraduate and graduate software developers in teams to use computer technology to solve a business a problem.

Khan Academy Internships

Location: Mountain View, CA

Khan Academy hires interns throughout the year to work on software applications, mobile apps, product design and data for its free education platform. The paid internship includes travel and housing allowances.

Microsoft Internships

Location: Redmond, WA

Students and recent graduates of bachelor’s and master’s programs can apply for internships in IT and engineering fields, such as data, user experience and publishing.

CS Associations & Organizations

There are at least three reasons to join a professional organization in computer science. First, it enhances a resume by showing a commitment to the field. Second, it provides instant access to online and in-person networking opportunities, which can come in handy when doing a job search. Third, professional associations aggregate knowledge in the field, alerting their members to new developments as well as seminars and events that can expand their knowledge. Below are six professional computer science organizations you should consider joining.

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American Society for Engineering Education

Educators with computing and technological expertise can join the ranks of ASEE’s more than 12,000 members. ASEE regularly puts on conferences, publishes journals and magazines, and in keeping with its mission of advancing higher education in engineering, sponsors fellowships at all degree levels.

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Association for Computing Machinery

There are more than 850 professional and student chapters of ACM serving 110,000+ members, who can attend the 170 conferences ACM puts on a year. They’ll be able to network with other members and keep abreast of changes in the fast-moving field of computing.

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Association for Women in Computing

AWC has 10 chapters in nine states members can join, but it is also open to independent members who want to tap into the mentoring and networking opportunities the organization provides.

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Association of Information Technology Professionals

Members of professional AITP chapters in 34 states plus Washington, D.C. or of their corresponding student chapters can take advantage of in-person networking and online skills-based workshops.

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IEEE Computer Society

Just look at the numbers and you’ll see that the IEEE Computer Society provides good value to its 60,000 members in 400 chapters: 200 conferences and events annually, 17 journals, 13 magazines and a digital library housing over half a million articles — not to mention several hundred postings on its job board at any one time.

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Upsilon Pi Epsilon

Self-described as the “International Honor Society for the Computing and Information Disciplines,” UPE is open to undergraduate and graduate students at over 240 chapter schools across nearly all 50 states.

Updated: July 27, 2017