A computer science degree shows that you’ve completed a computer science program, attaining the skills and experience needed to perform jobs that involve designing, developing and implementing software. While programs like coding bootcamps allow students to quickly pick up new skills, a computer science degree track takes a much more detailed approach by encouraging students to cultivate well-rounded skill sets.
What Is a Computer Science Degree?
A computer science degree shows that a student has completed a computer science program. Typically, this degree qualifies students for technical roles that involve designing, developing and implementing software.
A background in computer science opens the door to a range of career paths, including software engineer, UX designer and QA analyst. And having the skills to excel in numerous sectors is only one of the many upsides to earning a computer science degree.
Benefits of Getting a Computer Science Degree
The perks of a degree in computer science last well after the program ends, resulting in a rewarding career trajectory.
Diversified Skill Set
A computer science degree allows students to take classes where they go more in-depth into the building blocks of computer science, such as popular programming languages and techniques for reading code. This can lead to various professional positions and careers.
Real-World Experience and Research Programs
Two- and four-year computer science programs involve more than just classroom work. Some programs partner with local or national companies, giving students the chance to gain on-the-job experience at top employers. Students may also choose to support the research projects of faculty members, cultivating crucial hard and soft skills. This gives students room to explore their specific interests within computer science and build their resumes.
Demand for Computer Scientists
People who earn a computer science degree can look forward to plenty of job opportunities in the near future. Between 2021 and 2031, employment in computer and information technology roles is expected to rise by 15 percent. Computer science is bound to remain a competitive field, and its job growth also makes it a promising area for younger professionals to nourish their career aspirations for years to come.
Broad Career Options
Computer science program graduates also have a slate of career paths they can pursue. Software development, data science and cybersecurity are just a few areas where a computer science education is applicable. That said, some graduates may choose to enter humanities professions, like teaching and law, since computer science holds many similarities with philosophy.
Room for Innovation and Creativity
A background in computer science gives professionals access to some of the most rapidly evolving industries. In the field of artificial intelligence, developing niches like drones possess exciting technologies that professionals can explore. Cybersecurity also continues to see new cyber threats emerge, so computer science graduates can expect to exercise their innovation and problem-solving abilities in this sector.
Flexible Work Situations
Many software developers and other computer science-related professionals are able to work remotely, which comes with lots of flexibility. And since technology is a thriving global sector, computer science professionals may be able to relocate for international companies and get to know a different corner of the world.
Ability to Collaborate and Meet Other Professionals
Collaboration is a core part of many computer science-related roles, so computer science grads can look forward to working alongside other like-minded professionals and cross-functionally with other teams.
Opportunities to Make a Positive Impact
Working in computer science-related professions often gives tech workers the chance to leave a positive impact on society. For example, computer science professionals can help companies become more eco-friendly through green computing. And as the cybersecurity industry continues to change, professionals with a background in computer science may be asked to take on bigger roles in defending sensitive data.
Types of Computer Science Degrees
Students should review the four main types of computer science degrees to determine which one best caters to their professional goals.
Associate’s Degree in Computer Science
An associate’s degree in computer science usually takes two years to complete and covers the higher-level details of computer science. Courses may touch on topics like algorithms, web development best practices and programming languages. Associate’s programs provide an overview of computer science basics. If students want to dive further into the field, a bachelor’s degree is the next step.
Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science
A bachelor’s degree is a four-year program that introduces students to more complex concepts and areas of study. Students can learn more about programming fundamentals and how to apply their skills to software engineering, data science and other sectors. Some bachelor’s degree programs also encourage students to specialize in areas like AI, cybersecurity and data analytics, guiding students with a more structured track.
Master’s Degree in Computer Science
A master’s degree in computer science is more intensive than undergraduate programs and typically takes two years to finish. Students can hone their skills in data analysis, network design, computer programming theory and other advanced topics. Those who pursue a master’s degree do so to develop specific skills that make them qualified for managerial or research positions in a computer science-related field.
PhD in Computer Science
A PhD in computer science is the most advanced level of education. Building on undergraduate and master’s programs, a PhD program typically lasts four to five years and emphasizes independent research on a focused topic of one’s choice. This type of computer science degree is ideal for those looking to enter academia, but it can also establish students as attractive candidates for top-ranking positions at companies in their desired fields.
Computer Science Concentrations
The beauty of a computer science degree is that it’s relevant in numerous industries. These are just a few computer science concentrations that students can specialize in.
Software engineering is a common sector where computer science graduates can flex their programming and problem-solving expertise. Professionals in this sector excel at designing and analyzing software. Developers and software engineers often test their software and make any necessary software patches to ensure applications run smoothly.
Computer science students with a data science concentration learn the tools and techniques for processing, analyzing and visualizing data. Although computer science and data science remain distinct disciplines, computer scientists still need a working understanding of a company’s data. A data science concentration takes this a step further, providing a more in-depth look at how computer science professionals can use software to analyze data for improving operations and other aspects of a business.
AI is a booming field that offers many opportunities for professionals with a computer science degree. With a thorough background in coding, developers can build machine learning algorithms that automate processes in factories, vehicles and business workflows. Software teams can also leverage algorithms to power drones and conversational AI, further raising the demand for computer science professionals in the AI sector.
Within an information systems concentration, computer science professionals take their knowledge of computers and apply it toward running a company’s computers, networks and digital infrastructure. Computer science professionals must feel comfortable monitoring a business’ information architecture and making repairs when needed to keep computers functional and in compliance with the latest security standards.
Cloud computing addresses the problem of businesses collecting more data than ever before and needing more room to store it. Computer science professionals in this discipline learn about tools and methods for storing data, as well as how to transfer data into cloud environments. Professionals must also know security and network access best practices for keeping companies’ data safe in the cloud.
With the need for smarter and faster security responses, cybersecurity is a field ripe with possibilities for professionals with a computer science degree. Software developers can create AI and machine learning algorithms that automate security processes like monitoring endpoints and sending alerts to security teams. These kinds of technologies make it easier to eliminate false alarms and deploy security measures in record time.
Computer science professionals can also contribute to an essential sector of society by entering the health informatics field. Analysts and developers in the healthcare industry are tasked with storing, monitoring and transferring data in the form of Electronic Health Records. Tech workers in healthcare must also keep up with the latest data privacy laws, including HIPAA regulations, when managing health data for hospitals and organizations.
The UX design arena gives computer science graduates the chance to apply their programming knowledge to areas like front- and back-end development, web development and mobile application development. Developers can craft software while applying UX and UI principles to ensure products meet the needs of customers. In addition to coding and software skills, developers in this discipline demonstrate sound knowledge in inclusive and accessible design.
The rise of greentech has led to a push for green computing, and computer science has a role to play in supporting more sustainable technology. With their knowledge of computer systems and programming, developers can work with companies to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint. This might mean reassessing how teams use computers and digital systems or investing in eco-friendly technologies that manage energy more efficiently.
Intricate narratives and technologies define the gaming industry today, with complex character development lifting gamers’ standards. Software developers can refine their coding skills by designing AI algorithms for games, instilling non-player characters with more autonomy and the ability to exhibit realistic behavior. This enhances the gaming experience and makes gaming environments feel more life-like for human players.
Expected Salary With a Computer Science Degree
Lucrative jobs often follow a computer science degree, but salaries can vary between different sectors and specializations. Computer and IT positions yield on average an annual wage of $97,430. Under this umbrella, a computer programmer may make around $93,000 per year while a computer research scientist in computer systems design can earn up to $161,870 per year. There may be no standard wage across computer science-related roles, but professionals can look forward to at least earning an amount in the higher five-figure range.
How to Identify Which Tech Role Is Right for You
Computer science graduates should be flexible, curious and willing to experiment in a number of tech roles and domains to ultimately find the right fit.
“Don’t be afraid of being wrong in terms of your choice initially,” Philippe Clavel, senior director of engineering at Roblox, told Build In. “What I’ve seen from new grads is they really want to take the safe route and not explore. I say it’s OK. It’s the start of your career, you should definitely take some risk. If you want to create a startup, you should do that.”
Tools to Untangle Career Path Confusion
- Visit your college career center
- Join student organizations and clubs
- Take a wide variety of college courses, even outside of your major
- Job shadow
When trying to identify what career path to take, first ask yourself: Why are you pursuing a computer science degree? What problems do you want to solve? Then figure out what role you want and what industry you want to work in.
Getting to know your college career center workers is critical because they can arrange job shadowing and internship opportunities, as well as networking to learn about the different tech roles. Student organizations are also critical to join because you can work on projects together and get exposure to different types of tech roles.
Job shadowing can help narrow down your options. It benefited Carina Ly, an undergraduate computer science major at Stanford University and co-president of the university’s Women in Computer Science (WiCS) organization.
After graduating from high school in Seattle, Ly attended a special program Microsoft offered where students learned about how the company was structured and the different tech roles it offered.
Ly job-shadowed her boss, a product manager, and felt it was also a good role for her.
“When I entered Stanford, I wasn’t completely lost,” Ly told Built In. “I knew I wanted to do something that was people related and tech related. I think that product management is kind of a good intersection of that.”
Caitlyn Shim, general manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS), received her bachelor’s degree in computer science. She suggests students sign up for a variety of college classes to see what you naturally gravitate towards. That interest can be followed up with internships.
“Take as many internships as you can, because these are great opportunities to actually get a real world sense of the kind of coding you may want to do,” Shim added.
Not only can internships point you to potential tech roles you may want, but they also serve a reverse function too.
“Internships can also help you see what roles you don’t want,” said Marvin Lopez, director of student programs for engineering student services at University of California at Berkeley and a computer science and engineering grad from the University of California Los Angeles. “That’s gold.”
What Jobs Can You Get With a Computer Science Degree?
The most common job for computer science degree graduates is software engineer.
That said, “there are all sorts of derivations of that,” according to Lopez. “Software developer, application developer, programmer, coder. The whole family of these job titles is all about writing code.”
Computer Science Career Paths
- Software engineer
- Software developer
- Application developer
- Web developer
- UX designer
- Product manager
- QA tester
- Systems administrator
- Cybersecurity software developer
Fewer students consider exploring the bookends of the software development lifecycle as their first job out of college, even though their computer science degree positions them for that path, Lopez noted.
Project managers and UX designers sit at one bookend for the early stage of the software development lifecycle, while QA testers and implementers, such as system administrators, sit at the other end for the late stage of the lifecycle.
“Students aren’t likely to get exposure to the bookends of the software development cycle in the classroom, but they’re more likely to gain this experience working on projects with student organizations,” Lopez said. “Here, they’ll get a sense of what happens before you start coding and when you’re done coding.”
Most computer science majors do not learn about applying their skills to these bookend roles until they begin working for a company. Once at a company, they may be called on to help with these bookend roles for various projects and then realize there are other areas where they can apply their computer science skills.
UX roles are the second most popular among computer science majors after code writing roles like software developer, Lopez noted, attributing it to the creativity involved with the job.
Is Your Confusion a Liability in Getting Hired?
Although grads may be concerned they don’t have a specific tech role in mind when they graduate with a computer science degree, prospective employers aren’t worried.
“We generally look at people with computer science degrees as all potential,” Shim said. “We don’t expect you to be an expert in any particular thing yet and we expect to teach you a lot.”
Computer science graduates should expect to be flexible in taking on a variety of roles when they join a company, which in turn will benefit them greatly, said Lopez, who has also previously worked as a tech hiring manager and recruiter.
“It’s really about being flexible to understand the potential range of things that you could do and be comfortable with moving around from place to place,” he added.
Your drive and passion will also mean more than a clear statement about which tech role you’d like to assume.
“What have you done outside of your college degree? Do you have any GitHub links that have your projects that you built yourself?” Clavel said. “What we usually look for in an interview is to understand what drives you.”