If you love computers and want to enter a fast moving field with better than average job growth, a career in computer science may be for you. But what can you actually do? Plenty. There’s cybersecurity, software development, computer design and even language design. Not to mention lots of other disciplines are incorporating computer technology like never before, allowing for even more varied and interesting employment opportunities. Entertainment, finance, bioengineering, medicine, physics, math, chemistry, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are just some of the fields that computer science is being integrated into. Though few realize it, there is a difference between computer science and information technology (IT). Computer science is actually a part of engineering. The true goal is to study computable structures and processes. IT on the other hand is the creation and implementation of computer-based systems. These include both hardware and software.
Whether you select computer science or IT, possible career choices include: computer programmer, systems analyst, network engineer, systems developer, database administrator, multimedia programmer, web developer, information systems manager, network engineer, embedded systems programmer—for cell phones or robots, graphics animator and game developer. Are these satisfying careers? Money Magazine recently ranked software engineer as the best job in America (https://www.cs.umass.edu/admissions/career-options). So how do you enter career in computer science? You must earn either a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) from a four year university. As one might expect, the majority of the courses focus on math and science.
So should you earn a B.A. or B.S.? There is much debate surrounding this question. Some say a B.S. makes you more marketable when it comes to a job search. Others say a B.A. gives you a more well-rounded background, which is desirable to certain employers. For those who excel in science and math but not so much on the liberal arts side, a B.S. may be best. Otherwise, you risk a lower G.P.A. Areas of concentration on the bachelor’s level include artificial intelligence (AI), search engine technology, robotics, medical informatics, bioinformatics and more. Some advisors suggest going on to earn a Master’s in order to make one more marketable, but also to open up further opportunities either in academia or the private sector. Earning a doctorate will allow you to teach on the university level.
Some cost savvy students earn an Associate’s degree at a community college and transfer into a four year school, as these are less expensive than completing one’s entire education at a four year college or university. Yet the quality is similar, if not the same. Some two year schools even offer an Applied Associate of Science Degree (AAS). It is worth noting that there may be some positions available for those who have earned an associate’s degree. But these are far fewer and have less growth potential than for those who earn a bachelor’s or beyond. Any serious student should select a program which received certification from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) (http://www.abet.org/accreditation/).
Just as with other fields, an internship can make you more marketable and give you a taste of what life is like on the ground (http://financecareers.about.com/od/consultants/a/Consulting-Firms.htm). Most computer professionals earn on average a $40,000-$60,000 per year starting salary. For those who go all the way to Ph.D. they can earn a $100,000 to start. Companies either hire directly or via a consulting firm. High school students can prepare by taking advanced math, science and computer courses. There are also often computer camps you can go to in the summer and other special programs. Check with your computer science teacher or guidance counselor to see what opportunities there are in your area.
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