Computer science graduates can go on to work as computer science teachers, software developers, computer programmers, and internet architects, among many other careers requiring IT engineering skills. Ideal candidates for computer science jobs have advanced math skills and an knack for statistics, data, and computer coding. Graduates with a bachelor's-level computer science degree are prepared for many jobs in the field, including network architect and systems analyst, though most employers require advanced degrees for research-based jobs.
Computer science jobs suit both recent college graduates and those looking to change or advance their career. The starting salary for computer scientists remains above the national average, but those with extensive experience in the industry earn the highest salaries. Computer science majors should search for internship opportunities as early as possible upon enrollment in their college program, potentially for the type of employer they hope to work with after graduation.
Skills Gained in a Computer Science Program
Computer science careers offer opportunities to tech-minded students from all walks of life. Earning a computer science degree prepares students for the technical aspects of a computer career, but graduates must also have career skills in order to enter the field. Many schools incorporate the following skills into their computer science programs, which some students prefer to supplement with additional training or certifications to build soft skills for employment.
- Analytical Skills
Computer scientists must use precise scientific and mathematical analysis methods on a daily basis in their job. Analytical skills, including the ability to stay organized while performing research and formulating conclusions, remain critical to professionals in the field.
- Technological Expertise
Computer scientists must have advanced technological expertise — even those in administrative or managerial positions. Depending on the job, employers may expect computer science majors to demonstrate a working knowledge of data systems, coding languages, or software and web development skills.
- Problem Solving
Especially in technical support and security positions, computer science professionals must regularly solve technical problems. Problem-solving skills are critical to all computer careers, as is the ability to communicate problems and their solutions to non-computer science colleagues.
- Time Management
Computer scientists must stay organized and manage their time to remain on task. Many computer science professionals work in teams, where each member depends on the next to meet deadlines as they approach a common goal. Poor time management could delay the entire project and put critical funding at risk.
- Critical Thinking
Professionals working in computer science must know how to apply a critical eye to any project. Crucial to forming a scientific hypothesis and researching its outcome, critical thinking skills allow you to question existing conventions and previous research, and are among the most important attributes of a true computer scientist.
Why Pursue a Career in Computer Science?
By completing their degree at an accredited college, computer science majors are qualified for many different careers after graduation. Computer science came in third on Forbes' list of most worthwhile college majors, with mid-career professionals earning a projected pay increase of 73% from their starting salary. The major also continues to introduce new and exciting concentrations, including cloud computing, mobile app development, and cyber security.
Computer science degrees maximize students' career options and opportunities for growth in their field of choice. Graduates qualify for top tech jobs and can also work in diverse industries, including engineering, design, fine arts, government intelligence, and management. Additionally, careers in computer science suit students who thirst for knowledge and keep up with the latest tech industry trends. Lifelong careers in computer science require continuing education, and the field constantly updates its certification and training opportunities.
How Much Do Computer Science Majors Make?
Many factors affect the potential salary of a computer science graduate. Generally, as computer scientists gain experience, they increase their potential for more advanced positions and higher salaries. Many computer science jobs require only an undergraduate degree, so candidates with extensive experience and an advanced degree can generally access more competitive employment opportunities. Additionally, a candidates' location and chosen industry affect their average salary, as metro areas tend to pay the most.
How to Work in the Computer Science Field
Earn Your Degree
Computer scientists must always have a college degree. Degree requirements vary from job to job, but most computer science careers require at least a bachelor's degree for entry-level employment. Some entry-level computer science jobs, such as web developer, require a minimum of an associate degree, but many employers also prefer candidates with additional work experience or specialized coursework in a related field.
The computer science field provides unlimited growth potential, with many opportunities for students seeking upward mobility throughout their career. Associate or bachelor's graduates entering the field as computer systems administrators can advance to IT manager or computer network architect positions with additional experience and a graduate degree. The tech industry provides abundant certification opportunities through industry icons like Microsoft and Cisco, which increase their chances for employment.
Computer degrees are especially popular for their ability to teach students the technical skills they need in a computer science job, and for their highly adaptable career training components. The ideal computer science degree encompasses broad industry skills, such as writing code, understanding basic programming, and interpreting data, while also ensuring graduates feel confident in their leadership, problem-solving, communication, and analytical thinking abilities.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Be a Computer Science Professional?
Many factors affect the length of an online degree in computer science. Generally, an associate degree in computer science takes two years to complete, and a bachelor's takes four, though some online programs offer accelerated schedules, which enable students to graduate faster. Online programs also deliver information through either an individual pace or cohort learning methods, allowing online students to complete coursework at their own pace or as part of a group.
Bachelor's degrees in computer science are more common than associate degrees. Most associate degrees consist of 60 hours, while the majority of bachelor's programs require 120 semester hours and provide a more comprehensive curriculum, including in-depth concentration options. Graduates of bachelor's programs qualify for most jobs in the industry immediately after completing their degree, unless a particular job requires additional experience. Those pursuing careers that require additional certification can usually complete the certification concurrently with their degree, or complete the certification process through their employer, once hired. Employers that require licensure may offer to compensate new hires for completing the licensure process.
Concentrations Available for Computer Science Majors
- BioInformatics and Computational Biology
This concentration teaches students to apply computational methods to biological data, including protein and cell samples and genetic sequences, in order to analyze and interpret it. Coursework focuses on biology core and molecular biology concepts, plus basic math and computer science courses
Median Salary: $69,598
- Cloud Computing
Cloud computing courses teach students to create and manage cloud computing and storage systems, and other large-scale software databases. The concentration typically requires candidates to study topics including distributed concepts, parallel computing, and parallel algorithms and programming.
Median Salary: $114,930
Sometimes combined with digital forensics, this concentration synthesizes computer coding and programming, criminal justice, and information security. Coursework in topics such as computer and network forensics teaches students to identify, and attempt to prevent, cyber breaches and attacks.
Median Salary: $74,926
- Big Data
Sometimes called a data science concentration, the study of big data teaches students to create systems and models to support complex, disparate, and large-scale data. Coursework covers topics including categorical data analysis, machine learning, and introduction to artificial intelligence.
Median Salary: $91,116
- Media Computing
Also sometimes called digital media, media computing encompasses a broad field, including graphics, animation, and other computerized visual effects. Students explore basic concepts including gaming graphics, virtual reality, fine arts, and the humanities. Graduates may pursue their choice of graphics-oriented computer science careers.
Median Salary: $45,041
- Computer Forensics
Often encompassing a cybersecurity focus, a concentration in computer forensics teaches students to combine computer science and criminal justice by performing forensic investigations and investigating digital cybercrime. Coursework requires a combination of computer forensics, business tech leadership, and liberal arts skills.
Median Salary: $69,226
What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?
Computer science degree jobs depend largely on your level of education. Some schools offer associate degrees in computer science and related majors, but most colleges focus on offering comprehensive bachelor's degrees in computer science fields, which is widely regarded as the minimum degree requirement in the industry. Generally, computer science bachelor's degree graduates can earn a generous starting salary, which is often well above the national average. Some of the most common and lucrative computer science careers available to bachelor's degree holders include software development engineering, information security, and mobile apps.
Some careers in computer science require advanced degrees at the master's level. Such positions include senior software engineers and architects and IT project managers for large corporations. Both bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science enable students to focus on a concentration or specialty, preparing them for a unique career in their choice of industry. Those holding a doctoral computer science degree can become senior researchers, CTOs, and postsecondary professors.
Associate Degree in Computer Science
Earning an associate degree in computer science provides the education and experience necessary for some entry-level computer science jobs. Graduates with an associate degree may qualify for positions such as web developer, IT support specialist, and systems administrator. Many bachelor's degrees in web development, computer science, computer programming, and IT management prefer applicants with an associate degree in computer science or a related field. Associate degrees introduce students to the math, programming, and telecommunications skills they need to enter the workforce in this field.
- Web Developer
Web developers create, design, and track performance statistics on websites. Candidates interpret programming languages, write code, and monitor site traffic.
- Software Developer
Software developers conceptualize the systems and applications people use on computers and other technological devices. They produce creative ideas and work closely with web developers to implement their vision. Aspiring professionals in this field should emphasize computer programming and software development skills.
- Information Technology Support Specialist
IT support specialists diagnose, troubleshoot, and help resolve technical computer network problems. They often work directly with users as help-desk technicians. Candidates should have an understanding of data networks and network administration and possess excellent customer service and communication skills.
- Systems Administrator
These professionals manage all types of data systems for a company or organization. Systems administrators install and maintain networks including WANs, LANs, and intranets to help ensure their client's continued performance and efficiency across numerous channels. An associate degree prepares students to stay ahead of the latest technology trends.
- Information Technology Systems Engineer
IT systems engineers build customized computer systems from the ground up. These professionals tailor their schemes to their client, creating whatever kind of computerized structure their client needs, and maintain the system after construction. IT systems engineers should prioritize experience in software development and network administration.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science
A bachelor's in computer science elevates and emphasizes the fundamental concepts introduced in an associate program. Students dive deeper into computer programming and data structures, exploring paradigms, algorithms, probability and statistics, and systems architecture. Graduates with a bachelor's degree in computer science qualify for the next level up from an associate degree in terms of job prospects. These positions include software engineer and application developer. Bachelor's graduates are also eligible for research-oriented analyst jobs and higher-ranking management positions in the computer science field.
- Software Engineer
Software engineers help unify all aspects of the software design and development process. They create and maintain the functionality of a software program, aiding both the developers and programmers in creating a working piece of software from scratch. Candidates should have a bachelor's degree and professional experience in computer coding and programming.
- Programmer Analyst
Programmer analysts design and beta-test computer programs. They must know how to properly document the code they write through diagrams and flowcharts, and they may need to customize a program to clients' needs. Professionals should be highly skilled in debugging and troubleshooting techniques, algorithms, applications, and common computer languages, including Java and C++.
- Information Technology Manager
IT managers plan, organize, and guide activities related to a particular IT network or system of networks. They often supervise other IT professionals, including software developers and computer support specialists, to make sure all network systems and departments are functioning properly. Candidates must have at least a bachelor's degree and work experience; some employers prefer both IT and business experience.
- Application Developer
Applications developers create, test, and maintain computer applications. They may specialize in a particular type of software, such as mobile applications, or aspire to a senior supervisory role, such as lead applications development manager. Application developers should show exceptional proficiency in programming languages, scripting, and coding. They must also have advanced communication skills.
- Software Development Manager
Software development managers oversee the various teams required to design and develop complete software systems. They engage in all aspects of the software development process and communicate with clients, programmers, and computer engineers. Professionals in this position should encompass a combination of technical, communication, and managerial skills.
Master's Degree in Computer Science
Master's degrees in computer science enable students to expand on their core knowledge of the field, focusing on practical experience and career skills. A computer science master's degree examines subjects including networks, software development, and computer programming in more detail than a bachelor's degree. At this level, students can pursue their choice of specialty to tailor their degree to their professional goals. Common concentrations include computer networks, security, and data analytics. Coursework in advanced programs teach heightened skills, such as advanced operating systems, artificial intelligence, and high performance computer architecture, which are required to earn senior positions.
- Senior Software Engineer
Software engineers at the senior level may lead a group of engineers. Responsible for writing and testing applications and software for clients, software engineers must understand advanced methods of web development and programming code. They must also have strong leadership and managerial skills to qualify for senior positions.
- Solutions Architect
Solutions architects serve a unique role in company tech departments. They provide whatever solutions may be necessary to meet long-term technological goals. In addition to network administration skills, these professionals can benefit from experience in business management or planning, or quality assurance. They may consult for a company, training or mentoring employees in the interest of a common goal.
- Senior Software Architect
Senior software architects develop new programs for predominantly tech-based organizations. They must keep up with the latest developments in the industry to stay competitive. They ultimately assume responsibility for all aspects of development and implementation of in-house technologies. They must be proficient in coding languages, including Java and C++.
- Project Manager, Information Technology
IT project managers oversee all aspects of a technology project for a company or organization. They ensure that projects stay on schedule and on budget. They often manage staff or teams interdepartmentally in order to accomplish a given task. In addition to IT skills, project managers can benefit from problem-solving and leadership experience.
- Java Developer
Working with one of the most complex coding languages, Java developers create some of the internet's most advanced applications. They qualify to create or revise Java-based applications, tailored to a client's needs, including animation, cursor-induced moving images, audio effects, and e-commerce functions. Java developers should have expertise in Java script and code and be excellent communicators, team players, and researchers in their field.
Doctoral Degree in Computer Science
Students seeking a path to the highest levels of academia or research in computer science should consider a doctoral degree. As the terminal degree in computer science, a doctorate or Ph.D. prepares graduates for careers as college professors, high-level researchers, or IT entrepreneurs. Students pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science must conclude their education with a dissertation, which involves intensive research in a particular specialty. Most jobs in the tech industry don't require doctoral degrees, but doctorate graduates enjoy the most flexibility in their careers and the highest potential earnings of all computer science professionals.
- Research Scientist
Research scientists gather and analyze data to better understand computer systems, data networks, and software development. They conduct experiments, often working with colleagues in technology, science, and academia. They may publish their findings in a scholarly journal or industry publication.
- Senior Data Scientist, Information Technology
IT-based data scientists must be able to interpret advanced math and statistics data and know how to articulate such figures to colleagues, board members, shareholders, and other executives.
- Chief Technology Officer
On par with positions including CEO and CFO, a company's chief technology officer leads all technology-related activities at the highest executive level within a company. They must have an advanced understanding of computer programming languages and data networks and possess exceptional leadership and problem-solving skills.
- Postsecondary Professor, Computer Science
Computer science professors must have advanced knowledge of core concepts in their field, as well as general teaching skills to train college students. Postsecondary professors in this area must develop and implement subjects into their curricula, including fundamentals like data structures, software design, and computer programming.
- Senior Computer Scientist
Computer scientists in senior roles typically work for large or high-profile companies in supervisory positions, often leading multiple research teams responsible for streamlining operations and developing new applications or software as necessary. Senior computer scientists primarily perform intense scientific research into the most efficient methods of processing, storing, and networking information.
Unexpected Careers for Computer Science Majors
Computer science degrees don't lend themselves strictly to computer science careers. Many industries offer other employment options to computer science majors, while still capitalizing on the leadership, problem-solving, and technological skills those candidates learned in their computer degree. As schools increasingly offer niche programs in emerging sectors of technology — including robotics engineering, forensic intelligence, and AI — some students start on their path to a unique career by choosing a highly specialized concentration within their core computer science degree.
Others can build on their foundation in computer science to take an entirely different path, in a new industry. As the visual arts are becoming increasingly digitized, fashion designers, animators, and even cartographers must now master computer skills in addition to fine artistry to succeed in a commercial career. Many computer science degrees incorporate specialty skills for students interested in a niche field. Students aspiring to careers outside of computer science may supplement their career programs with coding, web development, or programming coursework.
- Robotics Engineer
Robotics engineers specialize in designing and applying robot technology. Some professionals in this field hold advanced degrees in mechanical or electrical engineering, but the industry also welcomes software engineers. Schools increasingly offer robotics as a concentration within computer science master's programs, and in some cases, full graduate degrees in robotics engineering.
Median Salary: $79,983
- Intelligence Analyst
Similar to security systems analysts, intelligence analysts investigate a more comprehensive pool of data, including computerized databases, websites, and image banks for potential security threats. They work primarily for the government and government-affiliated agencies. Intelligence analysts should have at least a bachelor's degree, with extensive experience in security intelligence or a related subject.
Median Salary: $66,844
- Fashion Designer
Fashion designers must possess the skills to effectively create and present their designs in a digital format. While entry-level degree requirements vary, some computer science programs offer specializations related to fashion technology. Conversely, many fashion design programs incorporate intensive computer science coursework to prepare students to market their work online.
Median Salary: $62,473
While most fine arts college animation programs still require knowledge of hand-made techniques, animation remains primarily computer-based. Many animators start as computer science majors with concentrations in gaming, 3D animation, or motion graphics. Computer science degrees in such specializations often include coursework in Flash, Maya, and Morpheme. Skilled animators may seek employment in the marketing, film, or gaming industry.
Median Salary: $50,703
Among the world's most historic and scholarly professions, cartography today relies on a variety of computerized technologies to maintain GPS systems, live mapping, and even public networks controlling water and electricity services. Many cartographers study educational technology or graphic information systems as a concentration of their computer science degree.
Median Salary: $50,616
Where Can You Work as a Computer Science Professional?
Computer science jobs span a variety of industries around the world. Qualified professionals can enter their choice of computer science careers, but location and industry greatly affect job opportunities. For example, a professional living in a large metro area with an established technology industry may qualify for more entry-level computer science jobs than one in a rural farming community.
Each state has its own salary potential for tech jobs and offers a unique balance between factors like risk populations and quality of life. Regulations regarding licensure for tech professionals vary from state to state. Aspiring programmers, software developers, and computer engineers can find the most lucrative computer science jobs in states that combine high employment, high average salaries, and low cost of living for technology professionals.
- Software Development
Software development requires researchers, designers, programmers, and testers of new software. Software developers may fill one or all of these roles. They may work alone or as part of a team for a large company or corporation.
Average Salary: $82,558
- Financial ServicesY
The financial services industry includes commercial banks, trading enterprises, investment firms, and insurance agencies in the global market. Computer science professionals in this industry may lead IT-related projects, manage e-commerce, or oversee data collection networks.
Average Salary: $87,373
- Information Technology Consulting
The field of IT consulting includes computer science experts who are responsible for tailoring IT services to suit an individual's or company's tech needs. IT consultants may work independently for multiple clients or through a staffing firm specializing in IT placement.
Average Salary: $82,342
- Aerospace and Defense
Computer science professionals working in aerospace and defense help ensure that the industry's computerized intelligence, tracking, and navigation systems are operational and up to date. They may also perform research to improve technological advances in aerospace engineering.
Average Salary: $83,219
Healthcare professionals with advanced computer science skills may work with electronic medical records systems or help develop software and apps used specifically in the healthcare industry. They may also perform research to advance the use of technological devices in medicine, such as artificial organs.
Average Salary: $84,767
- Computer Hardware Design
Computer hardware designers may work for large, well-known corporations, such as Dell or Microsoft. They design the physical components of a computing machine. Hardware designers often work in teams with programmers and beta testers to build functional and stylish products.
Average Salary: $92,160
Consultants in the IT world may specialize in a particular area of computer science, such as mobile apps, cloud computing, or website maintenance. They have the benefit of choosing how broad, or how specialized, their clients should be. Consultants often work for multiple clients and have the potential to address both small and large company networks.
Average Salary: $79,750
How Do You Find a Job as a Computer Science Professional?
All computer careers start with resume building, but candidates can often set themselves apart by pursuing certification in a particular area of expertise, such as C++ programming or Microsoft sales licensure. They might also emphasize study in a unique specialization, such as robotics or cybersecurity. Employers in some states require computer science certification in specialized fields, especially for K-12 teachers. Aspiring computer science professionals can pursue national networking and employment opportunities through dedicated sites including Dice, JustTechJobs, and Stack Overflow.
Computer science majors ultimately serve many different industries, but the federal government (excluding the postal service) employs 28% of computer science professionals, which is more than any other industry. Recent and upcoming graduates can expect relatively steady job growth in computer science, which is projected to grow by 19% through 2026, especially in fields including data mining, cybersecurity, and software development — and specifically in writing new programming languages.
Professional Resources for Computer Science Majors
- Computing Research Association: CRA aims to provide computer science professionals with opportunities for internetworking across the academic, industrial, and governmental communities in the field. Members can access an exclusive job board as well as scholarly publications, workforce reports, RSS subscriptions, and the latest in computing research news.
- Association for Computing Machinery: ACM encompasses the world's largest membership of educational and scientific computing professionals. The organization's exclusive student membership option enables access to ACM's machine learning server systems research, a comprehensive digital library, newsletters, an acm.org email address, and lifelong learning opportunities.
- The Association for Women in Computing: AWC counts itself among the nation's first organizations to focus on mentoring, continuing education, and networking services for women in the computing field. AWC holds monthly member gatherings centered around networking and education. Gatherings usually include dinners, presentations, and group activities. The organization also facilitates and encourages volunteering in the computing community, as well as mentor-mentee relationships.
- The IEEE Computer Society: With more than 60,000 members, the IEEE computer society is the largest international organization dedicated to the promotion of networking and career development for technology and computer science professionals. It caters to researchers, educators, students, and technicians in the field, providing conferences, continuing education opportunities, publications, and a mobile app.
- The Institute of Engineering and Technology: IET provides resources including seminars, conferences, education and training, and career development to engineers working in technology in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. It also hosts chapters and events all over the world. The organization boasts nearly 170,000 members and provides international professional registration through the Engineering Council for specialists in the field.
- International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology: The IACSIT provides access to an annual conference, international publications, and workshops and training opportunities. The organization also promotes networking and interdisciplinary collaboration above all else and recognizes emerging and experienced innovators in technology and computer science for their scholarly research.
- The Computer Science Teachers Association: CSTA promotes continuing education and career development opportunities for K-12 computer science educators. Members include teachers, administrators, parents, and nonprofit supporters of computer science academia and research. Resources for CSTA members consist of publications, curriculum development, grant request opportunities, and an exclusive job board.
- AnitaB.org: AnitaB.org focuses on methods of empowering women in technology and computing to develop their skills and potentially further their careers in the industry. The organization offers awards of recognition and scholarship grants, as well as a job board, volunteer opportunities, and a newsroom, where members can find the latest industry developments specific to women in tech.
- ACM-W: With corporate sponsors that include Oracle, Microsoft, and Google, the ACM Council on Women in Computing awards female technicians in the computing industry with financial scholarships and grant support. It also provides them with networking opportunities and access to an annual celebration conference, plus an exclusive lecture series and unique tech-related job opportunities.