Computers are a part of almost everything we do, from banking to streaming movies and videos to work (especially remote work). Given how important computers are to our lives, computer science is a field that’s constantly growing and evolving. It’s a field where your work can make a difference. Below, we’ll take a closer look at computer science, careers in the field, and how to get started.
The basics of computer science
Computer science is the study of computers and how they work, including software, hardware, and algorithms. An algorithm is a list of instructions for completing a task. In computer science, an algorithm tells the computer what to do and how to do it.
Computer science is an umbrella term that covers everything from artificial intelligence and data science to robotics, game development, cybersecurity, and more. While you might think of computers like laptops or desktops, computer science involves everything to do with computing. That means everything from cell phones to ATMs to wearable technology like Fitbits.
It’s also a way of thinking. As Alex, one of our Curriculum Developers, explains:
“Computational thinking is about understanding how computers solve real-world problems. There are things we do every day that use computational thinking. If I’m meeting a friend at a restaurant, and I know where the restaurant is, I’ll naturally find the shortest or most efficient path there. Being able to recognize how we think computationally and translating that to programming is a big part of gaining that foundational computer science knowledge.”
Our free course Learn to Code with Blockly takes a closer look at the basics of programming.
Is computer science hard?
Like any field, computer science can be challenging at first. It involves a lot of new terms and concepts and learning programming languages. If you want a career in computer science, you can achieve that goal by taking classes with expert instructors who help you learn at your own pace. Our courses certainly fit the bill, and we’re happy to help you choose courses that will be a good fit for your goals and learning style.
Computer science jobs
As we explained earlier, computer science is an umbrella term covering several disciplines. Similarly, various roles in software development and software engineering fall under the term “Computer Programmer.” Our free course Choosing a Career in Tech goes over some of the most popular careers in the field and the steps required to pursue them, but here’s an overview:
A Front End Engineer develops the user interface elements of a website or application. They’re the ones that make something visually appealing, functional, fast, and user-friendly. They work closely with other engineers and designers to solve problems and improve the end product.
Back-End Engineers build the behind-the-scenes components of a website or application. They spend time maintaining and improving servers, implementing security measures, and writing server scripts and application programming interfaces (APIs). Server scripts are instructions that tell a server how to respond to requests. APIs are software that help two applications communicate with each other.
A Full-Stack Engineer works on the front end, the back end, and everything in between. They help connect all the applications and programs and ensure they can talk to each other so the website or application can work effectively. They take a big picture view of projects and spend a lot of their time solving problems.
As websites and apps have grown in popularity, so has the amount of data that businesses and other organizations have. That data can provide valuable insights if you know how to analyze it.
Data Scientists make sense of data, create algorithms and models to find patterns and trends, deploy data tools, make predictions, and communicate their findings to colleagues.
Given the frequency of cyberattacks, cybersecurity is a critical part of computer science. It’s also a fast-growing field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cybersecurity positions include Cybersecurity Analysts, Cybersecurity Managers and Administrators, and Incident Analysts.
Have an idea for a unique app or the solution to a common problem? Instead of working for someone else, you could start a business of your own. Some of today’s largest computer firms started with a few people who wanted to solve problems. If you’re creative and driven, entrepreneurship could be an exciting and fulfilling career within computer science.
Do you need a computer science degree?
A computer science degree shows hiring managers that you’ve completed certain courses and had the discipline to finish a degree program. Still, it’s not the only path to a career in computer science.
You can also start a career in computer science by taking courses that teach you the skills you need. For example, take our Computer Science Career Path. Modeled after the core curriculum at universities like Stanford and MIT, our Computer Science Career Path covers everything you’d learn in a traditional undergraduate program (at a fraction of the cost).
You’ll learn the basics of programming with Python, delve into data structures and algorithms, computer architecture, the math behind programming, and more. Plus, as you learn, you’ll also prepare for your future job search — building projects and portfolios, preparing for technical interviews, and more. While discussing the Computer Science Career Path, Alex (who we heard from above) explains:
“You can come into computer science to appreciate a new way of thinking, and to shape how you think about problems in the world. You’ll start to see how this way of thinking relates to things you’re excited about and things you want to build. Or you can come into computer science with something you’re really excited to build. And in the process of building that, you’ll learn all of these foundational skills.”
The days are gone where you’d need a computer science degree to enter the field. Every day, more and more people are teaching themselves new skills and discovering new opportunities in the world of computer science.
Preparing for a computer science career
Aside from the Path detailed above, you can also prepare for a computer science career by taking courses to learn the specific skills you need. One of the best places to start is by learning one or more programming languages. Our free course Choosing a Programming Language explores some of the most popular options and their suitability for beginners, but here are some common ones to consider:
- HTML & CSS: HTML & CSS work together to create websites. These are a good foundation and beginner-friendly.
- Python: This language is general-purpose, concise, and easy to read. It’s also a good choice for beginners, and it’s supported by a large programming community.
- Java: This is another great place to start. Java has a wealth of online documentation and is used in software development, large systems development, mobile applications, and more.
- SQL: SQL is used to manage relational databases, and it’s an especially good fit for people who want to pursue data science.
- C++: C++ is fast, flexible, and used in various industries, including game development, virtual reality, robotics, and scientific computing.
- C#: C# is also used in various settings, including video games, web apps, mobile apps, and cloud computing.
- PHP: PHP is a general-purpose scripting language backed by an active community.
- Ruby: Ruby is an intuitive, general-purpose programming language often used in web development.
Ready to get started? Sign up today to launch your path to a fulfilling, exciting computer science career.