The pioneer days of computer science are behind us – computer technology is normal. With a new generation of digital natives growing up in an environment in which computer technology is taken for granted and no longer carries an air of sci-fi and mystery, we have a well-established industry, clearly defined higher education programs, and an understood path to professional careers. Yet far too many Americans, especially those born before the Millennials, still do not know where they fit in this new economy.
While many sectors of the American job market have been stagnant for years, computer and technology careers are still on the way up, at all levels, from entry-level programmer to management. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is growing at 12% overall, with some specializations, like Information Security, growing even faster.
That shouldn’t be surprising; nearly every aspect of day to day life in the 21st century has some dependence on computers, and the field as a whole is in serious need of expert technicians and managers to keep everything going – in fact, there are not nearly enough qualified people to fill all the jobs needed.
The College Consensus is dedicated to giving prospective students the full picture of today’s higher education and career landscape. Here, we provide an overview of the degree and professional options available in Computer Science and Technology, from what kinds of degrees exist and what to specialize in, to work environment and job outlook.
What Are the In-Demand Major Options?
The most common degree types in computer science and technology are the Bachelor and Master of Computer Science, and the Bachelor and Master of Information Technology. In general, Computer Science programs focus on the technical work of creating computer programs, networks, and tools, while IT degrees focus on the use of computer technology to solve problems in areas such as business, government, or education.
Computer science and IT students will usually be expected to specialize or major in particular skill areas, such as:
- Computer Programming
- Databases/Data Mining/Data Management
- Networking Engineering
- Software Engineering
- Web Development
These concentrations will generally relate directly to a type of job, such as Database Manager or Information Security Analyst. Other majors and specializations may provide students with broader, more adaptable areas of expertise, such as
- UX Design
- Digital Marketing
- Artificial Intelligence
- Game Design
Are There Any Online Options for Studying Computers & Technology?
Computer science and other technology majors are some of the most common programs for online learning, for a lot of reasons. First of all, people who are interested in a degree in the computing field are generally pretty comfortable with technology, and can handle the unique challenges of an online degree.
Secondly, much of the target demographic for computer science programs is non-traditional students, often those who are already in a career related to technology and need updated skills and credentials, or who are looking for a career change. For these students, an online degree programs allows them to keep their current jobs while working toward a degree that will help them get their next job.
Finally, computer and technology programs are a natural fit for online learning, for the obvious reasons – you learn to program, analyze, and use computers on computers, so why not streamline the process with an online program? If you have access to the technology on your own, there may be no reason to sit in a room of computers and other students.
Are There Complimentary Majors or Fields to Computers & Technology?
Business, management, and entrepreneurship are good choices of minors or certifications for computer science majors; they will help you understand the broader economic and market context of what you are doing, provide leadership skills that can help you earn promotion, and give you confidence to strike out on your own as a tech business owner.
For areas like Web Design or Programming, a healthy selection of fine art and design classes can help give you a perspective on image, structure, and form beyond what you get in digital design courses.
English, writing, and communications courses can be key in helping develop your ability to express your ideas and work with others in a more corporate setting. Writing skills are never obsolete or outdated, and being the person who communicates your team’s work to the management can make your name more prominent. Many people in tech jobs are reluctant to be the spokesperson, but those communication skills can help you distinguish yourself.
Advanced or Alternative Degree Options?
Because of the nature of the profession, computer technology is one of the most significant testing grounds for alternative education experiments. In the tech industry, a degree is often considered less important than experience and the plain ability to do the job, so tech companies tend to have much less stringent education requirements than other industries.
To get a tech job, it’s more important to be able to demonstrate and document your ability in other ways, like portfolios and previous projects you’ve worked on. If you don’t have a strong tech background, one of the most convenient and quick ways to develop one is through alternative means: intensive workshops, online certifications, and even MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).
For students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, such as business or communications, a graduate certificate that helps improve specific computer skills and show potential can be a boost on the job market.
In the tech industry, a degree is just a piece of paper if you can’t do the job.
What Kind of Career Might I Pursue?
Besides jobs that we all associate with the tech industry, like Computer Programmer and Web Developer, there are a number of managerial careers you can enter with a computer science degree. These include:
- Database Administrator
- Information Security Analyst
- IT Manager
- Systems Administrator/Analyst
These are jobs that require both a high level of technical skill and knowledge, as well as an ability to lead teams and solve problems. They are also particularly fast-growing, due to the growth of technologies like cloud computing. The rise of Big Data has created a significant demand for analysts and administrators who can handle databases, while the monetary value of information has made Information Security/Cybersecurity a particularly hot commodity.
According to Payscale, the highest-paying roles tend to be administrative roles in corporate settings, such as Senior Engineering Manager or Principal Software Engineer, so focusing on those business-related minors may pay off.
Required Skills or Personality Type?
Technology changes constantly, and the digital tools you use today may be obsolete in only a year or two. Few industries put such a premium on adaptability, flexibility, and quick learning, because good computer experts need to be learning throughout their career, always working to catch up to the latest tools. Continuing education will always be part of a tech career, either formally (as in courses and workshops) or informally, on your own time.
Jobs in the tech industry tend to be project-based – you, or the team you work with, will be given a task to do in a particular time frame. In that environment, some of the most important skills and personality characteristics include self-motivation, time management, and organization. Employers may not care how you get the work done, but deadlines will be hard and excuses are worth nothing.
Computer science experts are usually stereotyped as being loners, but in the contemporary business world, that is increasingly rare. Major projects require teamwork and collaboration, whether in real life settings or virtually, so while a tech worker need not necessarily be the life of the party, playing well with others is critical. While much tech work is remote, being able to communicate effectively is more important than might be expected, to avoid misunderstandings and wasting time on confusion.