Computer Science

Computer science focuses on the understanding of programs and how they are used to create software in order to create new and better programs. It involves the study of computation and information and their role in computer systems. They are implemented by the use of algorithms, which create and transform the information so that it can be read by the computer system.

Computer science is composed of many disciplines, which are grouped into two main areas of science: theoretical computer science and applied computer science. Theoretical computer science includes subtopics such theory of computation, information and coding theory, programming language theory, formal method and databases. Applied computer science includes topics such as artificial intelligence, computer architecture and engineering, computer graphics, computer security, computational science, information science and software engineering. Theory of computation focuses on what can be computed and the required resources. Information theory relates to finding limits on data operations, and coding theory deals with code properties and how they can be used for certain applications. Programming language theory is a field of computer science that involves designing, analyzing and classifying programming languages. Formal methods are mathematically-based procedures used to develop and verify hardware and software systems. Databases are used to store large amounts of information so it can be easily retrieved. Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science that studies communication and learning processes in humans and animals. Computer architecture focuses on the design and organizational structure of a computer system. Computer graphics involves the visual aspects of data and are most commonly used in video games and special effects. Computer security seeks to protect from unauthorized use and modification. Computational science uses quantitative analysis and mathematical models to solve scientific problems. Information science is composed of information retrieval, knowledge representation, language processing and human-computer interaction. Software engineering studies software to ensure it is affordable and of high-quality.

In just the past few decades, there have been many achievements in the area of computer science. These achievements have shaped society as a whole and have helped shaped businesses as well as our personal lives. These Information Age contributions include the Internet, as well as programming languages, cryptography, scientific computing, algorithmic trading, image synthesis, human language processing and simulations.

Computer scientists are the ones who invent new technology by solving complex computer problems. They perform research on many topics within computer science. They create computer hardware and find ways to make computers work faster and better. They may work with robotics, having machines do tasks without human interaction. Computer scientists may also perform simulations to test equipment by using a virtual reality.

A career in computer science requires at least a bachelor's degree, with many companies requiring a master's or Ph.D. degree for more technical positions. A bachelor's degree can take up to five years to complete, with a Ph.D. requiring five more years of education on top of that. Computer science is a very broad field; therefore, as a student, you can expect to take a broad range of classes. Besides science and math, you can expect to learn about databases, web authoring, algorithms, data structures, numerical analysis, programming, computer languages, computer organization, operating systems, networks, application servers, human-computer interaction, software architecture, software engineering, technical communication, computer security and web development. Many colleges also offer concentrations for those who are interested in a particular area of computer science. These concentrations may include software engineering, security, robotics, computer architecture, artificial intelligence, networking, software systems, programming languages, theory of computation, and search and data mining. With trends in computer science turning toward 3-D graphics and video gaming, more and more colleges are offering classes and concentrations geared toward these areas.

Besides a solid and varied education in all aspects of computers, those in the computer science field also need specific skills. They must have good communication skills, for they will often work in teams and communicate with team members, management and clients. They also will be asked to write reports from time to time. They must also be analytical and detail-oriented. They will often work on many tasks at once and need to be able to prioritize and work efficiently. In addition, computer science requires creative problem solving. Computer scientists will come across many problems in their work and they will need to find unique ways to solve them. Being able to think out of the box is crucial.

There are currently nearly 30,000 computer scientists in the United States. Most are employed in the computer systems design field, as well as the federal government. However, the highest-paying fields in computer science are commercial equipment and motion pictures, both with average annual salaries exceeding $102,000. The top-paying state by far is Washington, with average salaries above $115,000. Next is Oregon, with average salaries exceeding $97,000. Overall, salaries range from about $43,000 to more than $121,000.

Computer science is prevalent in all sectors of the economy. Virtually every company uses computers to some extent and requires the skills of knowledgeable and skilled computer scientists to create networks and databases. Most computer scientists (about 23 percent) work in the computer systems design industry, with many others working for scientific research and development companies and software publishers. Some also work in education as teachers at the college level.

Computer science is expected to grow by 24 percent by 2018, much faster than average. This is due to demand for more sophisticated computer technology and efficiency in computing speeds, software performance, networking and embedded systems. Those with advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D., are especially in high demand in the computer science field. There will also be a need to replace those who move on to other positions. Many computer scientists eventually move on to management positions or start a teaching career, so skilled computer scientists will be needed to fill these vacancies.

Last Updated: 06/08/2014

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