In today’s economy, employees who know how to create and improve software are highly marketable, making the field of computer science increasingly popular among those hoping to land a well-paying job after graduation. The COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed more employees and consumers online, has magnified companies’ reliance on tech and cybersecurity professionals, making computer science credentials even hotter.
The field of computer science focuses on the study of computer hardware and software systems, and a degree in the discipline allows someone to pursue a variety of careers — and not just in Silicon Valley. The increasing use of technology throughout the business world means that companies in many industries are hiring grads of computer science programs, experts say. This discipline provides compelling career options for people with an aptitude for and interest in math and science. “It’s a golden age right now for computer science, and we’re very fortunate in this field,” says Salvatore Stolfo, a professor of computer science at Columbia University in New York City. “For people who study computer science in their education, it’s a great, great time, and essentially the sky is the limit.”
Salaries and Job Prospects for Computer Science Graduates
An employment forecast from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the number of job opportunities for computer science grads is growing. U.S. employment within computer and information technology occupations is expected to increase by 13% between 2020 and 2030, the forecast shows, which is faster than the average expected growth among all occupations.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also shows that some careers common among computer science degree-holders frequently lead to six-figure salaries. For instance, in May 2020, the median salary among computer and information research scientists was $126,830, and the median salary among computer network architects was $116,780. Software developers, quality assurance analysts and testers also typically received generous paychecks: Their median salary in May 2020 was $110,140.
Reasons to Pursue a Computer Science Career
People who lack a genuine interest in technology should not pursue a computer science degree simply because of the allure of high salaries, says Sam Gavis-Hughson, the CEO and founder of Byte by Byte, a company that helps aspiring software engineers prepare for job interviews at big-name companies like Amazon and Tesla. “I think that a lot of people are doing it for the money and not doing it because they enjoy programming,” says Gavis-Hughson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Princeton University.
He says programming is only fun for people who have a knack for problem-solving, adding, “Not everyone has that really analytical sort of mind.”
However, Gavis-Hughson acknowledges that a computer science degree is broadly applicable. “Every single industry requires programmers, so you can decide what path you want to pursue,” he wrote in an email. “For example, you could do software development and work for Warby Parker and be in fashion, or work for Google doing (artificial intelligence) type projects. If you are into cars, you could work for a big auto company and write the software for their vehicles. The possibilities are endless.”
Genuine curiosity about technology is a solid justification for pursuing a computer science degree, experts say.
Getting an education in computer science can enhance someone’s understanding of the world in general, according to Justin Sherman, who graduated from Duke University in North Carolina in 2020 with a double major in computer science and political science.
“Whether it’s in your day-to-day life as a citizen in our world or just as a consumer, you’re going to be interacting with a variety of these technologies,” says Sherman, who is currently pursuing an M.A. in security studies from Georgetown University‘s Walsh School of Foreign Service. “A computer science degree is sort of a way to unlock understanding how all of that works, how all of that functions, how all of that interacts.”
An education in computer science can not only provide people with the training necessary to invent new technologies, but also allow them to identify potential improvements for current technologies, Sherman says.
“Computer science touches every field,” he wrote in an email. “Its knowledge and applications are everywhere, from disease prediction in health care to automation in manufacturing to data privacy regulation in state legislatures.”
Jobs for Computer Science Grads
Computer science positions are plentiful, and there are many interesting jobs available to computer science degree-holders, says Greg Law, CEO and co-founder of Undo, a software company that operates both in the U.K. and the U.S.
“I’d recommend computer science to anyone who feels they have or may have an affinity with it,” Law, who has a Ph.D. in computer science from City University London, wrote in an email. “Programming is a creative and fun endeavor — it’s the act of creation and problem solving. And unlike most other creative roles, demand for good programmers far outstrips supply; the opportunities are diverse and the financial rewards can be significant. The top tech firms in Silicon Valley routinely pay six figures a year to new graduates, and even signing on bonuses that can immediately pay off all your student debt.”
The following types of jobs are positions in which a degree in computer science is a major asset:
— Artificial intelligence and machine learning engineer
— Business analyst
— Chief information security officer
— Cloud computing engineer
— Computer science professor
— Computer scientist or computer science researcher
— Data scientist
— Database administrator
— Engineering manager
— Full-stack developer
— Information security analyst
— Information technology specialist
— Mobile application designer or developer
— Network architect
— Product manager
— Research and development (R&D) scientist
— Software developer
— Software engineer
— Software quality assurance manager
— Software tester
— Systems analyst
— User interface designer
— Web developer
“The most common path is to become a software developer, but there are many other paths open, including system administration and systems analyst,” Law says. “The great thing about a (computer science) degree however is that today every company is becoming a software company, so a degree in computer science gives you access to a more diverse range of opportunities and industry than almost any other qualification.”
Law says that a Ph.D. degree is typically necessary for research-intensive computer science positions, but many computer science careers are attainable with only a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
“If you want to go into research — working for a research (center) for one of the big tech companies or at a university, then it’s difficult to do so without a Ph.D.,” he wrote. “But beyond a research role, speaking as someone who has a Ph.D. and who hires a lot of software developers into highly demanding roles, I don’t feel a Ph.D. opens up any opportunities that would otherwise be precluded.”
The Value of a Computer Science Degree
A computer science degree is a versatile credential.
“Almost every type of company relies on software infrastructure to some degree; almost every new technology being developed has some type of software component,” Hannah Pierce-Hoffman, who earned her bachelor’s degree in computer science from Columbia University, wrote in an email. “Additionally, studying computer science teaches you to solve problems very clearly and logically, which is a skill that can be applied in any field.”
Stolfo emphasizes that there are many careers in computer science outside of San Francisco. “There’s no particular region of the U.S. where computer science is not in demand,” he says. “Choose where you want to live, choose who you want to work for, and pretty much you will find a job or position there and for them.”
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Update 03/07/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.