Computer science is the study of computers and computational systems. It tends to focus on software and software systems rather than the physical process of actually building computers, which is usually left to the engineers. It's a vast field of study that includes artificial intelligence, systems and networks, security, database systems, human-computer interaction, numerical analysis, programming languages, software engineering, bioinformatics, the theory of computing, physics, further math, and even philosophy.
Unsurprisingly, computer scientists are always in high demand. And as we continue progressing rapidly to an evermore digitalized world, their skills and services will only become more valuable. This makes computer science a well paid profession that's also future-proofed against economic and cultural shifts that may threaten millions of jobs all over the world. Some experts predict that automation and AI will replace millions of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs by 2030. However, all of these intelligent machines will still need designers, programmers, and engineers. Moreover, the coming economic shift will create new industries and exciting careers opportunities for savvy computer specialists.
So with all that in mind, here’s a few more reasons why you should seriously think about studying computer science.
Why study computer science?
Today's mid-career computer scientist's salary is around $110,100, while it's not unusual for fresh graduates to land jobs with starting salaries of approximately $65,000. Top performers can earn more than $250,000 a year, especially if they are willing to work as sub-contractors on lucrative business or government contracts. And for true innovators, there's a chance to earn a staggering amount of money. Mark Zuckerburg, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and Google creator Larry Page all studied computer science at college. In fact, Google began life as a PhD research project after Page met fellow Google founder, Sergey Brin while studying at Stanford University. Page and Brin now have an estimated net worth of over $100 billion.
In addition to the significant financial rewards, computer science is an exciting subject with almost boundless possibilities, making it an ideal choice for ambitious, intellectually curious students driven by the chance of making some real-world change. As we can see from the previous examples, computer science graduates have created platforms that radically changed our societies, and their work is continuing to shape the human experience, and maybe even human consciousness. In the words of the famous computer scientist Mike Fellows, computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes. Instead, it's a complex field that includes a highly theoretical (and sometimes even philosophical) approach to how computers can create a fairer, safer, and more exciting world for everybody. More importantly, it recognizes the existential threats posed by the coming technological revolutions and it will play a crucial role in managing these risks. Essentially, computer science is a conversation about the future and anybody entering the field will get a chance to have a say about what that future might look like.
How to become a computer scientist
Computer science is a highly technical subject that combines maths, physics, ICT, computing, law, and philosophy. Given the rising popularity for computer science programs, competition for undergraduate and postgraduate places is high, especially in the more prestigious universities. This means potential students need top grades in most of these core subjects, as well as a solid understanding of computing principles, like design and coding.
Thankfully, many schools, including elementary schools, have recognized the importance of preparing students for the challenges of the future. Children as young as six are now taking part in coding classes, while software development and computing are becoming core parts of the curriculum. In other words, get started as early as possible and make the most of all these new and exciting learning opportunities. Organization Code.org, which has the mission statement that 'every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science', has a whopping one million teachers as users, has seen 51 million projects created on it, and a full 30% of American students have an account on it. And there are many other organizations doing great work in this area.
Your formal education is a vital part of gaining a place in a computer science program, but there are still plenty of ways to build up your skill set outside of the classroom. Would-be computer scientists can download coding programs and learn the fundamental principles of software development and coding without even leaving their bedroom. Python and Basic are really good places to start learning the digital language. Some open source programs will allow you free access, while others have annual fees starting from just a few hundred dollars.
And get YouTubing! One of the great things about the online world is the democratization of knowledge; YouTube hosts thousands of videos covering everything from simple coding to advanced computing programs. Obviously there's a lot more to computer science than just coding or software development, but familiarising yourself with these fundamental skills is a great place to start your journey and an excellent way of making yourself stand out when you start applying for colleges.
Computer scientists need strong problem-solving skills, a logical mindset, as well as some creative flair for those moments when it feels like you've hit a brick wall. Good communication skills are also essential, especially when you're working with less technically minded people or speaking to a more general audience. Many computer scientists are obsessed with technical details and love sharing their knowledge with others. However, having the ability to translate your vision into the kind of language that captures the imagination of a wider audience is a crucial part of getting your ideas off the ground. And you'll definitely need to be adaptable! The only constant in the world of computing is change, and those who adapt quickest, or spot the future trends, have a much higher chance for success. In the words of the late and great Steve Jobs, computer scientists should focus on "inventing tomorrow rather than worrying about what happened yesterday."
Computer science graduates have lots of career options which tend to have two things in common - they are well paid and offer long-term job security. Software development is one of the most lucrative avenues, with many established developers earning six-figure salaries. Alternatively, those seeking big bucks should look into jobs like system engineering, information system manager, and cybersecurity expert. Before gaining notoriety as an NSA whistleblower, Ed Snowden worked as a security analyst for the US government and earned a reported $250,000 per annum. Additional career paths include IT consultant, videogame designer, data analyst, forensic computer detective, and many more.
Many computer scientists continue their research as academics, often working work hand-in-hand with big business and government to develop the next generation technologies. Automation and AI have already given birth to exciting new avenues of computer science, such as emotion engineering and digital ethics, and it's safe to say that these will go on to create even more exciting industries that we can't yet conceive of.
Professor Gavin Wood, a computer scientist from the UK, is currently working on the Etherium project, a digital currency and opensource blockchain platform that many people predict will become a kind of internet 2.0. Another fascinating avenue for computer science graduates is the mysterious world of quantum computing. Quantum computing harnesses the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time. Computers run off bits, single pieces of information that can exist in two states – either a 1 or a 0. This is also known as a binary code. However, with quantum computing, these bits can exist in two states at the same time. In other words, a 1 is still a 1, but it can also function as a 0 simultaneously. These quantum bits, or qubits, are still very much in the development stage, but computer scientists are already making some pretty amazing predictions. Quantum-based cryptographic systems would be much more secure than conventional systems; in fact, they might be completely hack-proof. Quantum computing could also be used to run profoundly complex simulations that might give us insights into the workings of the universe, including identifying the source of a so-called dark-matter, a form of matter that is thought to account for approximately 85% of the known universe.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to computer science than just computers. This revolutionary field has played a fundamental part in forming the world we live in and will continue to do for generations to come. So if you're in interested in a job that gives you the chance to shape the future, then it might be time to enrol in a computer science program...