Guide to College Majors in Computer Science

What is Computer Science?

Those seeking a college degree in computer science may find that such a degree opens the door to a variety of exciting career choices. As institutions, businesses, and organizations continue to integrate increasingly sophisticated computer technologies into their frameworks the need for individuals skilled in computer science continues to grow.

The job titles that fall under the heading of computer science vary from organization to organization. However, each position typically requires specialized training and experience with particular software and hardware programs. Individuals trained in computer science often specialize and work as systems analysts, database administrators, or computer scientists focusing on research and theoretical issues. Despite what focus an individual working in the field of computer science chooses, all computer science careers have opportunities to solve problems, create new technologies, conduct research, and create innovative ways to apply computer technologies.

Career Education in Computer Science

Working in the computer science field allows individuals to theorize, develop, and maintain exciting, cutting edge computer based technologies. In the following sections we will explore detailed descriptions of career options; however, let us begin by considering logistical information, working conditions, and expectations associated with this continually expanding field.

Educational Considerations

Those specializing in computer science are primarily systems analysts, database administrators, or computer scientists. Education requirements that allow individuals to be eligible for one of these career options range from an associate's degree to bachelor's degree, master's degree to doctoral degrees in computer science.

Both physical campuses and online degree programs offer a variety of options in computer science though many systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists have a bachelor's degree in computer science. Typically, the time spent in a degree program breaks down into these three categories:

  1. 35 percent of academic time is spent concentrating on computer science issue
  2. 25 percent of academic time is spent concentrating on math and science subjects relating to, but not necessarily within your computer science concentration
  3. 15 percent of academic time is designated for elective courses.

Employers are looking for those with a broad understanding of computer technologies, solid problem solving capabilities, and sharp analytical skills. In today's job market employers frequently have technological needs that are enmeshed with their workers' duties and clients' needs. Individuals interested in the field of computer science should also have communication, managerial, and interpersonal skills in order to be successfully fulfill their job responsibilities.

It is also helpful for individuals working in the field of computer science to have knowledge about the kind of business or organization by which they are employed. For example, if you are seeking work in business systems analysis, it would be helpful to also have some educational understanding of business dynamics.

In addition to having technical education, managerial skills, and well-developed interpersonal skills, it is important for such individuals to have the ability to multi-task. Those working in the field of computer science should be able to communicate clearly while also accomplishing many tasks simultaneously without losing focus.

Those working in the field of computer science may advance their position in both private and governmental industries as well as in academic or research settings. In private or governmental industries, individuals may choose to become project leaders or managers. Opportunities for career advancement include becoming product managers, chief information officers, chief technology officers, or security specialists. In addition to these options for advancement individuals may also choose the lucrative path of becoming an independent consultant. Individuals who choose self-employment may eventually decide to begin a consulting firm in which they employ other individuals specializing in the field of computer science.

In academic or research settings individuals may advance in their field by choosing to become department heads or authorities through publishing or lecturing at conferences.

The level of education or certification required by potential employers varies depending on organizational needs. One key consideration employers take into account when discerning their needs are the technologies they require. It is vital for individuals seeking to work in the field of computer science to be well-versed in the most up to date information available concerning their particular area of focus.

Prepare for an Education or Career in Computer Science

When looking at what makes an individual successful in the field of computer science it is interesting to note that successful individuals began preparing for their career in computer technologies long before they began working for a degree or certification. When considering your educational options in terms of computer science, you should be aware that it is never too early to begin your training.

In today's world, industries and organizations are eager to work with individuals interested in pursuing an education and career in the field of computer science. The following list is a series of suggestions that will enable you to begin making contact with sources that may help you enter this exciting field.

  • Attend and participate in student fairs. By entering student fairs your ideas will be presented to the general public. This may provide networking opportunities with potential employers and other individuals who have the same interests as you.
  • Visit potential employment sights. Placing a phone call to a list of potential employers allows you to introduce yourself while also learning what skills in particular the organizations consider to be valuable.
  • Enter a mentorship program. Many schools today participate in mentoring programs, which pair students with individuals working in the student's field of interest. By participating in such programs not only do you make potentially valuable connections, but you also learn about your potential field.
  • Request classroom or community presentations. You can ask professionals to speak in your classroom or you can arrange for a presentation at a public venue. This will give you organizational experience and it will also allow you to create a bridge between yourself and the computer science industry.
  • Explore opportunities for internships. Investigate internship opportunities from employers who specialize in computer science. Many employers offer such programs in either paid or unpaid capacities.
  • Create club sponsorship. Are there any existing computer science clubs or societies in your area? If so, consider joining. If there are not computer science clubs or societies in your area, seriously consider starting one. This will build community around your potential field while also providing support and educational opportunities.

In addition to taking initiative by using the above suggestions you may also want to consider enrolling in a pre-college program in order to develop and build your technical abilities. Such courses do not generally offer course credit; however, they can put you in the position to excel when and if you do decide to study computer science with professional aspirations.

What Can You Do with a College Degree in Computer Science?

If you choose to work in the field of computer science you can expect many job opportunities as the need for computer technologies and individuals who are able to maintain these technologies continually grows.

Computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists generally work in pleasant work environments such as research laboratories or offices. Given the advanced technology options available to many businesses and professionals it is also possible to telecommute. As networks evolve and expand individuals can work from home and other non-office locations.

Some individuals working in the field of computer science also work independently or on a contractual basis. For example, an organization installing a new computer system may require several systems analysts in order to get their system running efficiently. Once the system is established and running smoothly the organization no longer requires the services of the analysts. When the on-site work ends the contract ends. Contractual work is not only an increasingly popular option, but is also lucrative and allows for individuals to specialize in very particular technological needs.

Typically those working in the field of computer science work forty hours a week. There are times when evening and weekend work cannot be avoided in order to meet deadlines or deal with specific technological problems that require immediate attention.

Those who work in the field of computer science should be prepared for long hours in front of a computer. Such individuals may be at risk for straining their eyes and back. Sometimes individuals develop hand and wrist complications such as cumulative trauma disorder or carpal tunnel syndrome. For these reasons it is very important for those working in the field of computer science to make sure they have a proper chair and lighting. In some cases ergonomically correct keyboards may be helpful.

Computer Science: Career Options

There are a variety of career options available to those who pursue computer science majors. Individuals choosing to work in this field are primarily systems analysts, database administrators, or computer scientists working in research or academic facilities.

Systems Analyst

Individuals who choose to specialize their computer science skills in the area of systems analysis solve computer problems as well as establish and supply computer technologies to institutions, businesses, and organizations. Systems analysts are key players in the health and success of any organization as they enable organizations to actualize their goals by efficiently putting technologies in the service of the organization's mission statement.

Systems analysts work with practical technological applications and perform a variety of tasks. They design new systems using both hardware and software while working with existing technological capabilities available to them. They seek to integrate new computer methodologies while also harnessing the maximum power of existing computer systems. The majority of systems analysts specialize in specific types of systems based on client needs. For example, if you pursue systems analysis you may choose to focus on systems for scientific, business, or financial systems.

Systems analysts generally begin working on a particular technological issue by discussing the system under investigation with those who use it most. This allows the systems analyst to diagnose the goals of those users and to create a solutions plan that is appropriate to those goals.

Systems analysts enter this process of discernment by dividing the solution into individual steps and procedures. Using the processes of structured analysis, data modeling, mathematical model building, information engineering, sampling, and financial accounting, systems analysts design a system ideal for their client's needs.

If the solutions plan is accepted by the client, the systems analyst begins the implementation process in which he or she determines what computer hardware and software will be required to successfully establish the new system. This phase of development has systems analysts testing and observing the initial use of the system as a way to troubleshoot for any hidden or unexpected problems within the system. They also prepare necessary information in the form of charts, diagrams, and graphs for the system's computer programmers so that they can effectively use the system as well as monitor its health.

Systems analysts also help organizations to network. In other words, they make it possible for all of an organization's computer technologies to internally connect and communicate with one another. This allows the system's users to retrieve information from the larger network in order to work on desktop computers. In order to design a system that successfully allows for technological sharing of this nature, systems analysts must design hardware and software programs that allow for the free exchange of data.

Systems analysts will find employment opportunities in a variety of settings including government agencies, private industry, computer manufacturers, universities, research organizations, and insurance companies. Systems analysts can also work on a contractual basis. Generally, contractual work lasts from two months to two years.

In 2007, systems administrators earned median annual salaries of $73,090, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Database Administrator

As the Internet grows so do Internet based businesses. Such businesses generate large amounts of information and there is a growing need to store and manage this information in efficient ways. Database administrators make it possible for large amounts of information to be organized and accessible.

Database administrators work closely with database management systems. After examining these systems they discern what management method would work best for the system. This discernment process involves properly identifying user requirements and creating computer databases. As database administrators put their ideas into application they must also coordinate and test all modifications they have made to the system. Database administrators are concerned with making systems operate with as few glitches as possible.

Database administrators also work with security issues concerning computers. They design and implement security measures to ensure data integrity within the operations system as well as creating backup systems to protect sensitive data. In 2007, database administrators earned $67,250 in median annual earnings.

Computer Scientist

Computer scientists develop and design hardware and software that allows personal and business computers to optimally achieve their tasks. Individuals working as computer scientists are considered to be inventors, theorists, and researchers. The rapid and constant growth of the computer market provides many employment opportunities for individuals working in this field.

Computer scientists exercise a high level of theoretical knowledge while also dealing with complex computer issues. They use their detailed theoretical understanding to explore and troubleshoot issues around new computer technologies and applications.

Computer scientists often work in academic or other research centered institutions. In research settings computer scientists work on a range of theoretical issues including programming language design, virtual reality development, and advancing ideas towards the relationship between computer technologies and humanity. Computer scientists working in the realm of private industry often conduct research and apply their findings in actual settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer scientists earned a median annual salary of $97,970.

Is Computer Science Right For You?

When considering enrolling in an online or campus-based computer science degree program you may want to consider many issues. By exploring your intentions and questions you should be better able to decide if a career in the field of computer science is right for you. The following list of questions are intended to initiate some important considerations:

  • What is the focus of the degree program you are considering?
  • How many computer technologies does the program cover?
  • What prerequisites, if any, are required in order to qualify for the program?
  • Is the degree program accredited?
  • What research opportunities does the degree program offer?
  • How much hands-on experience does the degree program provide?
  • When working with computer technologies do you prefer to theorize, design, or maintain computer systems?
  • How do you feel about sitting at a desk for most of the day? Does the thought of sitting for long hours and possibly straining your eyes, back, and hands pose a significant issue for you?
  • What are the opportunities for advancement within your potential area of focus?
  • Are you opposed to the idea of having to take additional educational courses in order to keep up with current technological advancements and trends?

Certification, Licensure and Associations

As technology rapidly advances it may also be desirable for individuals seeking to work in the field of computer science to become certified in particular fields by meeting certification qualifications established by some software firms. Many employers consider such certifications a standard prerequisite for applying for positions within their organization. Individuals interested in seeking specialized software certification should discern which computer system programs they want to focus on and consult the manufacturers of the appropriate software.

For More Information about Computer Science Careers and Degrees

To learn more about the field of computer science, the following list of resources offers valuable insights.

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