Which Computer Science Career Is Right for Me?
Nearly every employee in every company in every industry relies on computer technology in some way. In everyday life, we also depend on digital resources for important (and mundane) tasks, from checking our bank balance while on a morning walk to ordering lunch at a kiosk.
With all of this advancing technology comes a greater need for professionals who can keep servers, systems, and software working. If you’re one of the many people interested in this growing field, you might be wondering, “Which computer science career is right for me?” It’s a big question because there’s so much to choose from. Once you have an idea of which areas interest you most, you can prepare for that career with the best computer science degree that fits your needs.
Let’s take a look at some of the career options.
An In-demand Field
Before we get into specific types of jobs and roles, we should first reiterate how in demand this exciting field is. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for computer and information technology (IT) occupations is estimated to grow by 13 percent in the next decade. This is faster than the average growth rate of all occupations, which is about seven percent. Further, many of the BLS-defined computer science-related occupations are also expected to grow “faster” or “much faster” than the average career, which means you’re likely to find promising career prospects.
Dr. S. R. Subramanya, a computer science professor at National University, has been in the field for long enough to see the industry evolve. Today, he says the increased focus on cloud computing, mobile devices, and cyberthreats have contributed to this growth. This evolution has also created new opportunities.
“User interface design, user experience design, mobile application development — these positions didn’t exist 10 years ago, and now they are highly sought after,” he says. “Security has also become a really important issue in the field, so there’s a real need for cybersecurity analysts.”
The BLS backs that statement up: One of the fastest growing areas within computer technology positions involves security.
Which Computer Science Career Is Right for Me, Though?
Before you can decide which computer science degree program to enter, you’ll first need to decide where you see yourself working and what you see yourself doing. Do you prefer to work alone or with people? Do you want to build programs or keep them running? Do you want to analyze data or protect it? As you can tell, you have many options so the best way to answer this question is to take a look at popular degree programs and what they may lead to. In doing so, you’ll also learn how to study computer science in an intentional way based on your career goals.
It’s OK if you don’t know exactly where you see yourself; that’s often part of the learning process. In fact, Subramanya says, “A lot of people don’t know what they want to do.” But as you discover the different career options you’ll start to get a better idea of how to proceed.
While the courses in computer science will prepare you for your career area of choice, Subramanya says there are some traits that may be helpful for computer science majors. On his list are maturity, math proficiency, problem-solving skills, and critical-thinking skills.
He also suggests, if you aren’t sure what area of computer science you’d like to get into, to participate in local programming competitions or ‘hack-a-thons,’ or even join local clubs that will expose you to the technology and people in the field.
“People can check out these events and try out their competencies, he says. “There are many avenues to find out what interests you.”
One other way to answer “which computer science degree is right for me?” may be to consider which industries you’d like to be part of or in what type of environment you’d like to work. From there you could figure out what the most needed technology positions in those fields are. Nearly every industry relies on computer science professionals; for example, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, education, banking, insurance, travel, hospitality, marketing firms, and, of course, the software industry itself.
Let’s take a look at some of the types of careers you can aim for with a computer science degree in hand.
What You Can Do with a Computer Science Degree
What started as a sub-discipline within mathematics is know a booming area on its own. “Computer science has changed so drastically over the years, especially in the past five years,” explains Subramanya. He continued that in the early days of computer science as an academic discipline, it was mostly about programming. Today, though, it really revolves around the user experience.
A major in computer science is a well-rounded option which will prepare students for software development and design positions as well as roles in networking, says Subramanya. He also says a solid background in math is helpful.
In the next section, we’ll explore some computer science careers in more detail, including:
- Software developer.
- Computer network architect.
- System administrator.
- Database administrator.
- Computer and information systems manager.
- Computer and information systems analyst.
- Information security analyst.
These are some common names of occupations within the field. However, you’re likely to see many different kinds of titles and job descriptions available in the workplace from mobile app developer to VP of information technology.
Get to Work
If you’re interested in designing and developing computer programs that help companies carry out their work or help people manage their lives, a general computer science degree is a worthy choice. You’ll cover areas like operating systems, programming, communication, and even topics like ethics and global policy. Graduates of a computer science program have many options, and software developer is one of the most popular.
“Many of our students end up at traditional software companies like Google, Microsoft, or Oracle,” says Subramanya. With so many types of programs and apps being developed to solve problems or for entertainment, software development is also a great area of computer science for creative types. Instead of working for a large traditional company, you may be more inclined to work at a smaller start up software company, which typically have more of a niche solution for businesses and consumer segments.
Software developers are one of the fastest-growing occupations according to the BLS; the field is expected to grow by 24 percent in the next decade. The national average salary for a software developer is $103,560.
Another well-paying position for computer science graduates is a computer network architect. This position involves designing and building communication networks in a variety of settings, from large offices to a system that lives in the cloud. The BLS says the average national salary is $104,650 for network architects.
What You Can Do with an Information Systems Degree
This type of degree, Subramanya says, is not as math-focused. An information systems program prepares graduates for a system administrator role, among many other options. The BLS states the national average salary for system administrators is $81,100.
“Information systems doesn’t involve software development; it’s about managing big software for a corporation,” says Subramanya. This could be at the company level, such as managing the in-house systems, or on the customer-end, working on the programs that allow companies to communicate with users.
Data is a big part of how companies make decisions, but someone has to manage that information. A database administrator is another position an information systems degree could lead to. According to the BLS, this field is expected to grow 11 percent through 2016, which is faster than the average occupation; the national average salary is $87,020. Database administrators can find work in a variety of places, but companies and organizations with especially large amounts of data — such as universities, hospitals, or insurance firms — may have the most opportunities.
What You Can Do With an Information Technology Management Degree
Information technology, commonly called IT, has become the heart of organizations of all sizes. In an IT management degree program, you’d prepare to help companies figure out their technology needs and then implement and manage those plans. Coursework here would include database administration, systems analysis, and quality assurance. This type of program also focuses on project management as well as providing support to users.
One career option for graduates of this type of an IT management degree program is computer and information systems manager. In this position, you help plan and direct computer-related tasks within a company or organization. This field, according to the BLS, has a national average salary of $139,220 per year and is expected to grow faster than the average career, at 12 percent between now and 2026.
Another occupation related to this field is a computer and information systems analyst. According to the BLS, the national average annual salary for this type of position is $95,510. It’s not just a well-paying career, but it’s also one on the rise. The BLS says demand is estimated to grow 28 percent through 2026, making it one of the fastest-growing areas of IT, as well as any occupation in general.
What You Can Do With a Cybersecurity Degree
As Subramanya pointed out, the rise of cyberthreats has resulted in a specialized field of computer science. But, as “the internet of things” becomes commonplace, smart devices — like appliances, lightbulbs, clothing, and other items that you can control with an app and wi-fi access — also bring a level of risk.
“Everything connected to the internet has a security vulnerability,” he says, adding that today there are many more aspects of security to think about than there used to be. For example, he explains how cryptography, or the act of data encryption, was once the big focus of protecting and communicating sensitive information.
This means companies of all sizes need to consider the safety of data, which, for example, often includes personal customer information. When hacks happen, thousands of people worry about their data being compromised or falling into the wrong hands. This has led to a greater need than ever for companies to build trust with consumers and, as a result, the sharp rise in the demand for skilled workers in information security.
Information security analysts, a career option related to cybersecurity, help protect, secure, and manage a company’s networks and systems. This could include creating protective measures for testing systems for vulnerabilities. This sector of computer science is booming, too. The BLS estimates the field will grow 28 percent over the next decade, which is much faster than the average occupation. The national average annual salary is $95,510.
How to Study Computer Science
If you’re wondering how to study computer science, you’ll be happy to know you have many options for not just types of degrees, but also for when and where you can earn them. For example, National University offers several master’s programs in computer science related fields — and all of them are available online.
“We have many, many students in our online programs,” says Subramanya. “Students might be restricted by distance or time.” The online option allows students with even the busiest of professional or personal schedules to access the educational training they need to enter or advance in computer-related careers.
The online learning platform does seem particularly fitting for students interested in working with computers. Subramanya says National’s web-based courses include instructor lectures, chats, discussions, and other easy-to-access assignments and materials.
“Our learning management system provides very easy ways to submit homework and graded assignments,” he says. “And students can have seamless communication with the faculty.”
Can You Get an Online Master’s in Computer Science?
The computer science careers we discussed so far usually require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to get started, however earning an online master’s in computer science may allow you to start out in a higher position right away, help you advance more quickly, or, in general, give you an edge in the application process in a highly competitive field.
As information technology departments and divisions grow at companies and organizations, the need for people to lead and manage these areas is also rising. This means that IT experts with experience in the field can move up in their positions, and furthering your education can give you a leg up on advancement. Graduate-level computer science programs often go beyond technical topics; for example, courses covering leadership and strategic planning can give you valuable skills to manage others. Aside from moving into leadership, earning an online master’s in computer science or a related field is a perfect way to expand your knowledge and skills in a specific area. Finally, for the entrepreneurial-minded computer science student, a master’s degree provides a broader understanding of the industry; this background will be helpful in launching a new company or product.
Finally, you may be familiar with the terms CEO (chief executive officer), COO (chief operations officer), and CFO (chief financial officer). The growing importance of technology has led to newer C-suite positions like CTO (chief technology officer) or CIO (chief information officer). Plenty of work experience, and often a master’s degree, can lead to these upper-level positions.
Tying it All Together: So Which Computer Science Career IS Right for Me?
Now that you’ve explored some career opportunities, you might be closer to choosing the answer to “Which computer science career is right for me?”
Some things to consider as you figure out how to study computer science in a way that will prepare you for your desired career are of course the demand, earning potential, and availability of jobs near where you’d like to live. On the more personal side, though, you can look for the computer science options that best fit your interests and skills. For example, if you can see yourself creating solutions or coming up with ideas for programs, those creativity and problem-solving characteristics are ideal for software developers. If you enjoy the idea of keeping companies (and people) safe, working in cybersecurity may be for you. If communication and keeping people and systems connected appeals to you, computer networking could be a good fit; and if you love data, your analytical skills may lead you to working with database or information management.
As Subramanya explained, the field is constantly evolving which means jobs are too. What’s next? Subramanya says computer science programs will also come to prepare people to work with “autonomous cars, smart devices, machine learning, and quantum computing.”
Once you have a better idea of your career goal, you can then decide which online master’s degree in computer science is right for you. If you’re ready to start exploring your options, visit our Master of Science in Computer Science program page. There, you can also request more information by filling out the contact form on the page. One of our advisors will be happy to work with you to find the career path and educational option that are right for you!