Technology is part of our everyday lives. Many of us work with a computer or machine that runs different programs, have a smartphone to keep in contact with friends and family (either with a call, text or message), and use hardware to access the internet for business or entertainment. Many of the advantages we now have is widely thanks to developers with a background in computer science.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, computer science is the study of information and how it can be manipulated to solve problems – both in theory and in practice. So it’s all about data and algorithms.
What it isn’t is the study of computers, nor does it require the exclusive use of computers. That’s because you can use data and algorithms without using hardware such as a computer – you can use just a pen and a piece of paper to do this – so is similar to maths.
Disciplines and thinking
Computer science has many different disciplines, and the term is used to describe items such as programming, the interactions between hardware and software, plus the analysis and manipulation of data. Similar fields include:
- Computer engineering (the study of data and algorithms in relation to hardware)
- Software engineering (writing programs using theories and algorithms)
- Information technology (using existing software and hardware, plus maintaining networks)
Being a computer scientist means using computational thinking, which is when you see a problem and work out how a computer might be able to help you to resolve it. It’s just analyzing a problem and planning solutions to it: you might use it in everyday life and not realize it. If you are a programmer – and people in these types of roles will use computational thinking all the time – then you will be a logical thinker and a problem solver. There’s usually more than one way to solve a problem, and coders will try to find the most efficient way by using the fewest steps possible.
So computer science is both an engineering role and a science one, as engineering helps you to understand a problem and come up with step-by-step solutions. You will then need to code these steps into programs for people to use in real life – which could be anything from websites to apps to guidance systems for airplanes.
As a scientist, you investigate what problems can be solved and how easy it is to resolve them. You learn how computers work with information, different processes, and the implications of working with data. Having a background in computer science means you can create complex software for people to use in the way they expect it to do so, while the computers are also used as efficiently as possible.
Where it’s used
Computer science has useful applications in many different industries – such as biology, sociology, healthcare and economics, to name just a few – because using computers to solve problems will give you an advantage. You can also go on to specialize in one of several fields. This could be artificial intelligence (AI) – the development of machines that can have functions such as thinking, speaking and solving problems. Along with this, machine learning is another area that looks at the ability of machines to learn, evolve and recognize data patterns.
Another popular area within computer science is games development for a variety of items such as computers, mobiles and the web. This involves a different way of designing engines compared to those for business and research applications because they use unique algorithms and data structures for real-time interactions. Security is a pertinent field of computer science. Here you’d protect computer systems against malware and intruders by developing algorithms, methods and software. This could be for a cloud or a network, anti-virus software, encryption and decryption, plus security for PCs, mobiles and email.
If all of that sounds good to you, then you might want to think about getting a computer science degree – maybe even a master of computer science qualification. Looking to study in this area means you will develop technical skills and offer a new perspective on problem solving. So ask yourself:
- Are you excited by new software and technologies, and prepared to learn something new?
- Are you creative, logical, persistent?
- Do you enjoy solving challenging problems?
- Do you like creating tools that increase productivity?
The good news is that this is a rapidly-growing field that will give you plenty of options from which to choose your next career move. You will also have developed a great many technical and non-technical skills that are highly valued by employers. So your aptitude could be in high demand across a wide range of industries, such as finance, management consultancy, communications companies, government agencies, universities and hospitals – and, of course, within the computer industry itself.
So what kind of career could you expect to have once you’ve graduated with a computer science degree? One of the most common computer science careers is being a multimedia programmer. This is where you would be responsible for creating multimedia computer products, making sure they function and meet the designer’s specifications. You’d be using creative and technical skills in this type of role, as you’d be developing features such as text, sound, graphics, animation and video. As well as working with the designer, you’d be identifying operational rules, writing code or script, and running tests. You’d also need to provide technical support once the product is complete.
You could become a systems analyst, where you would use computers and other systems to design new IT solutions. You’d also need to modify and improve current systems to add new enhancements or features to improve productivity and efficiency. It means having to be highly technically proficient, and to be aware of current business practices.
There are other career options available to you too, including in cyber security, information systems, gaming development and even technical writing, as well as robotics, graphics and computational theory. So there are many different ways you can work with data and algorithms as part of your job – all you need to do now is to discover how to make that happen for you.