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A degree in computer science prepares individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to understand and develop systems of information. A program in computer science provides students with a cross section of study that includes various sciences and mathematics. Computer science is a relatively new field of study, but has grown complex as the pace of technology has increased over the last few decades. Students will be exposed to how computer systems work, learn to manipulate and code for such systems, and how to implement such systems in theory and practice. Degrees in computer science are available from the associate level to the doctoral, with lower level degrees typically involving practical applications and higher level degrees more committed to research and development.
What is Computer Science?
Computer Science may be seen by some as a catch-all term in this day and age as frequently as it is used in every day conversation. As a foundational science, computer science is not the same as computer information systems nor is it the same as information technology. The essence of computer science is an area of study focused the theoretical bedrock of computation and information. By unpacking these facets of computer science, you will get a clear understanding of the term and its applicability in school, work, and beyond.
The definition of computation is any type of calculation utilizing a prescribed algorithmic model to process data and/or information. The nature of computation allows for calculations to include both non-arithmetic and arithmetic steps so long as it adheres to a well-defined model.
A computation can be seen as a physical phenomenon within a closed system like a computer. These physical systems can include the following types of computers: DNA, digital, mechanical, quantum, molecular, wetware, analog, and microfluidics. For additional research, you can dig into a variety of computational theories include physics of computation, natural computing, and digital physics.
In terms of mathematical models, there are diverse models and algorithmic theories developed to efficiently handle an array of computations. A list of common computational models includes the following:
- Computability – The computability theory closely tied to mathematical logic and recursion theory along with Rice’s theorem.
- Formal Language – Formal language theory starts with the notion that languages are seen as sets of operations over an alphabet akin to the automata theory.
- Computational Complexity – The theory of computational complexity starts with whether a problem can be solved with a computer which is bound by space and time complexity.
- State – A state model includes PRAM, Turing machine, and finite state automation.
- Logic – A logical model of computation in computer science that uses programming languages like Prolog, Datalog, and ASP to solve problems.
- Concurrent – A concurrent model breaks down an algorithm into order-dependent units or components which includes process calculi and actor model.
Volumes upon volumes of books have been written about information. The definition, importance, and elasticity of information are widely understood. In this section, we will focus on its applicability to computer science. More specifically, the five most vital aspects of the processes and techniques related to information pertaining to computer science including: capture, processing, generation, presentation, transmission, and storage.
- Capture – Capturing information is the genesis of computer science. Information can be captured through simple modules like a sensor which simply detects changes in its environment and sends that information to another electronic device. On the other end of complexity of information capture is a computer with multi-operational states.
- Processing – How information is processed is another important piece of the puzzle after it has been captured. A common set of processing techniques include encoding, compression, encrypting, and packaging in sequential or parallel in a centralized or distributed network.
- Generation – Information needs to be generated after being captured through some mechanism or system. The three most common types of information generation are computation, composition, and formulation.
- Presentation – Once information has been captured and processed, it is important to provide users with a systematic presentation of the information. Presentation of information can include display methods and visualization for users and computers.
- Transmission – The transmission of information is the transfer of data, voice, signal, image, or video through single-point or multi-point channels. A common set of channels are copper wiring, wireless communication, computers, and optical fibers.
- Storage – Lastly, computer science pays special attention to how information is stored. The most common types of storage methods are digital, optical, magnetic, and holographic.
A curriculum in computer science may include:
- Logic and Computers
- Programming Principles
- Theory of Computers
Individuals with a degree in computer science are qualified for a varying number of jobs. From network administration, to repair, to research and development, individuals with a background in computer science will find no shortage of opportunities. This is due to the increased dependence on computers and the continuing trend toward complexity for technology as a whole. Positions are available with government institutions, private corporations, and everything in between. Retailers of computers often employ individuals with degrees in computer science for positions in repair or sales.
Research positions require doctoral degrees, which may take up to nine years to complete depending on the student and the program taken. Such positions will have individuals utilize current technology to develop and realize the next generation of technology. Such positions are highly lucrative and in high demand due to the limited number of professionals available. Students able to demonstrate skill and acumen in research and design will be highly sought after by companies or agencies developing new and exciting technologies.
Requisite Skills for Computer Science College Students
A common set of requirements for incoming college students and working professionals looking to upskill in computer science includes math, physics, engineering, and computing essentials. The math and physics requirements will vary by school but an advanced set of both educational domains will help immensely. A healthy understanding of sociology, linguistics, anthropology, and psychology can be very helpful tools for many students in computer science as these disciplines help reveal how humans think and behavior. If computer scientists better understand how others think, programs and applications can be constructed to maximize usage and impact.
The more obvious requisite skills for a computer science student is to learn a programming language. With the myriad code camps and free tools available on the internet today, students should be able to have a working knowledge of a programming language or two prior to college matriculation. Prior to taking any online class, do your homework to ensure the course or program utilizes good coding practices as unwinding bad coding habits is a challenge for most people.
For precise information about course requirements by college or university, make sure to investigate schools listed below and request information from schools on your short list. From this centralized method, you will be able to quickly assimilate information about course requirements, admissions, and financial aid prior to applying to the school.
What are the Top Jobs with a Computer Science Degree?
A computer science degree is a window into a variety of computer-based specialties you need to know. The CASB or Computer Sciences Accrediting Board provides great resources for students and professional computer scientists. We have culled a list of areas within computer science that you may find interesting as you work towards the completion of your college degree. These areas of specialty and their respective resource pages include:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Computer Design
- Information Technology
- Computer Architecture
- Database Management
- Computer Engineering
- Computer Theory
- Software Engineering
- Computer Graphics
- Cryptography and Computer Security
- Computer Forensics
- Operating Systems
- Computer Networking
- Computer Installation and Repair
- Software Applications
- Web Design
Computer Science Salary Breakdown
College graduates earning a degree in computer science can expect to receive a higher than average rate of compensation. In fact, computer science has yet again been selected as the #1 best paying college degrees as seen on our recent survey published here. The median base salary for a computer scientist is around $70,000 as an aggregate number. It is important to know the salaries for computer scientists can vary greatly depending on the job, city, state, and years of experience. Here is a quick breakdown of each to give you a working baseline of salaries for computer science majors by each set of important criteria.
Top Paying Computer Science Jobs (MSC)
- Principal Software Engineer Salary Range: $103,179-$173,233
- Senior Software Developer Salary Range: $77,827-$139,688
- Senior Software Engineer Salary Range: $87,154-$149,786
- Software Programmer Salary Range: $66,246-$122,939
- Software Development Engineer Salary Range: $81,451-$123,878
Top Paying States for Computer Scientists – Median Annual Income
- California $116,170
- Washington $111,949
- Massachusetts $98,748
- New York $97,382
- Texas $92,722
Top Paying Cities for Computer Science Majors – Median Annual Income
- San Jose, California $125,978
- San Francisco, California $124,892
- Seattle, Washington $112,609
- New York, New York $100,744
- Boston, Massachusetts $99,555
Median Income for Computer Scientists (MCS) by Years of Experience
Less than 1 Year Experience $72,238
1-4 Years’ Experience $81,608
5-9 Years’ Experience $99,119
10-19 Years’ Experience $113,195
20 + Years’ Experience $127,233
Note: the average salary for individuals with a degree in computer science will vary greatly based on the level of education, type of work, and experience.
Individuals interested in computer science may also be interested in network administration, mathematics, or physics. A list of top computer science programs from accredited colleges and universities can be found on our blog.