How Can I Become a Computer Scientist?

Research what it takes to become a computer scientist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Computer Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Computer Scientist?

Computer scientists focus mainly on computer software and software systems. Computer scientists will oftentimes need to create or apply new technology for new or existing uses. You'd also need to address technical issues and problem-solve computer functionality. As a computer scientist, you'd have a strong understanding of the design and processes of computers as well as computer theory, algorithms, programming languages, and the functionality and structure of computers.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's, Master's or Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Computer science or related field
Key Responsibilities Computer and information research, computer programming, web development, software development, computer systems analysis
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% (computer and information research scientist)
17% (software developers)
21% (computer systems analyst)
Median Salary (2015)* $110,620 (computer and information research scientist)
$100,690 (software developers)
$85,800 (computer systems analyst)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Types of Degree Programs are Available for Computer Scientists?

U.S. schools host computer science programs at all degree levels - associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral. Schools may cover the subject in a general way, but many programs allow you to select a specialization or concentration. Information management, multimedia and gaming, software engineering and enterprise computing are areas of emphasis you might encounter in a bachelor's degree program.

Human-computer interaction, security, software theory and artificial intelligence are possible concentrations in a master's degree program. All Ph.D. programs are extremely research intensive. You are expected to conduct original research in some previously uninvestigated aspect of the subject.

What Will I Study?

Your studies will fall broadly into the areas of personal computer hardware, programming languages, operating systems, software applications, information systems and networks, although the mix of topics varies from school to school. An aptitude for math is very helpful. Associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs give some class time to theory but are mostly devoted to introductory and intermediate content. Master's degree programs are much more concerned with theory while allowing some opportunities for research.

What Are My Employment Prospects?

The degree level you choose will have a large influence on your employment prospects. Associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees are sufficient for positions in computer programming, technical support, network administration or database administration.

Master's degrees open up opportunities in hardware design, software design and systems analysis. However, if you want to work as an actual computer scientist you will need a doctoral degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of computer and information research scientists will increase 11% over the years 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov).

What Will My Job Duties Be?

If you work in the private sector as a computer scientist, you will conduct research with the primary aim of expanding the power, capacity and functionality of computers. You might focus on designing better computer chips or better methods of fabricating chips. You might attempt to improve artificial intelligence systems, improve graphics or develop more realistic virtual reality environments. You might work on extending the ability of robots to perform useful tasks with little or no human control.

You will also conduct research if you work for a college or university, but you may have more freedom to devote to theory. In addition to research, you may teach computer science to undergraduates or master's degree students.

What Can a Computer Scientist Expect to Earn?

Computer scientists are well compensated, even those with relatively little work experience. The BLS reports that, as of May 2015, the median salary of computer and information research scientists was $110,620. According to PayScale.com, as of October 2016, computer and information scientists with 0-5 years of experience earned a median annual salary of $82,000, while those with 20 or more years of experience earned a median salary of $138,000. According to the BLS, those who worked in the information services, and research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences fields earned the highest salaries.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Computer and information systems management is a popular related career that requires only a bachelor's degree. Professionals in this career are typically found in the IT department. Computer hardware engineering is another career that only requires a bachelor's degree. This job involves working with computer hardware such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, and routers. One could also become a postsecondary teacher to help spread the knowledge of computer science that is so important in today's world.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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