BY Jenna DutcherJuly 07, 2022, 1:03 PM
Illustration by Martin Laksman
The next time you join a computer network, download a new app to your phone, or back up a vacation’s worth of photos to a hard drive, you’ll have a computer scientist to thank. But what is it that computer science practitioners actually do?
Occupations run the gamut of titles, compensation, and responsibilities, and employment in computer and information technology occupations is likely to grow 13% from 2020 to 2030, leading to the creation of more than 667,000 new jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a faster growth rate than the average for all occupations nationwide. And computer science is experiencing more than just job growth; the industry also saw a median annual wage of $97,430 as of May 2021.
Every one of the positions in the broad computer science industry draws on prior work experience, additional training, and various levels of education to meet the needs of computer users where they are. And when it comes to the range of fields that computer science graduates can find employment in, the sky’s the limit.
Intrigue for all types of intellectual curiosities
Graduates of a master’s degree program in computer science may go on to pursue a wide range of jobs in various industries, but common roles include:
- Computer and information research scientists, who seek out new ways to use computer technology.
- Computer network architects, who are responsible for designing and building data communication networks.
- Computer programmers, who develop code for software and applications.
- Computer systems analysts, who are tasked with improving the efficiency of existing computer systems.
- Database administrators and architects, who establish and fine-tune data storage systems.
- Information security analysts, who work to protect computer networks and systems.
- Network and computer systems administrators, who coordinate the daily needs of networks and computer systems.
“Computer science opens a lot of different doors for you,” developer advocate Lauren Schaefer says, “and you can go into a variety of different industries.”
Schaefer currently works for writing assistance software technology company Grammarly. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science, and working for nearly a decade as a software engineer, she drew on those same skills in combination with her passion for the field to position herself as a respected developer advocate.
Naturally, her days now look a little different. Schaefer speaks at developer conferences, works to bring developers together online and offline, and creates written content and other media that can help communicate technical concepts to developers and consumers alike. It’s a role she crafted for herself out of her education, skill sets, and wide-ranging interest in the nuances of computer science.
But with a hands-on computer science background, how did she get started in this type of advocacy position? While working in a previous role at IBM, Schaefer found the perfect match between her computer science education and her communications talents, volunteering to write developer-facing articles and produce other related media about the division’s latest releases. One advocacy project led to another, and a new career was born.
Computer science careers: branch out by diving in
Schaefer’s story may be unusual for a computer science graduate, but she’s by no means alone in shaping her own career path.
Kathy Pham is another such example. Pham earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology and from Supelec in Metz, France. After stints at the United States Digital Service (USDS), Google, IBM, and Harris Healthcare, she now puts her computer science education to work as the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the Federal Trade Commission.
A computer science degree opens up a lot of opportunities, Pham says: “You can be interested in a number of things, whether it’s health care, medicine, cars, shopping, marketing, gardening, agriculture, you name it—there’s some component now where a tech or engineer or computer science degree is either needed or is immensely useful, because it’s just so ubiquitous in everything we do now.”
Schaefer agrees: “There’s the quote everyone says: ‘Software is eating the world.’ But if you’re interested in space, you can go work for a space company. If you’re interested in developer tools, which is what I love, you can work for a company that’s building developer tools. If you’re interested in finance, you can do that. And so having those developer skills gives you a lot of options and a lot of flexibility.”
How to take computer science from basics to broad
A bachelor’s degree in computer science, like the one Schaefer holds from North Carolina State University or the degree Pham earned from the Georgia Institute of Technology, can be a good first step toward a lifelong career working in computer science or a related field, like developer advocacy.
Students enrolled in a computer science program at an undergraduate level will learn principles and essential curricula, including basic and advanced computer programming coursework, modules on computer networks and operating systems, and coursework in databases, also ranging from basic to advanced.
However, while a bachelor’s degree in computer science can certainly open doors, the specialized learning that comes with a graduate education can be invaluable. From studying programming languages to coursework on information security, machine learning, or even real-world business applications of computer science, the targeted content offered at a master’s level can prepare candidates for their future careers in a way that few other things can.
And average salaries rise to match—research from compensation data aggregator Payscale found that job holders with bachelor’s degrees in computer science earn an average of $87,000 annually, while those with master’s degrees in computer science earn an average of $107,000 per year.
For those people who are passionate about computer science topics, interested in a well-paying occupation, or simply intrigued by a flexible career path that could lead to a variety of titles and industries, committing to a computer science education is a great first step.