COMPUTER SCIENCE degree Programs & Majors

Computer science is such a diverse field, it can be hard for students to pick a path. The following guide looks at computer science education and dissects degree programs and coursework at all academic levels. It then delves into CS on the cutting edge, with profiles of degree options that tap into new tools, ideas and specializations. Get the inside scoop from experts, and learn what it takes to both enter and thrive in one of today’s hottest sectors.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman A graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law, Michael Hoffman nurtured his love for research and writing while a practicing attorney in Los Angeles. Now a freelance journalist, Michael researches and writes on a variety of college and career-related topics, including public health, law and computer science.

Expert Sources & Partners

Walker M. White, PhD. Director of the Game Design Initiative at Cornell

Department of Computer Science

Cornell University
Frank Pfenning, PhD. President’s Professor of Computer Science

Head, Department of Computer Science

Carnegie Mellon University
Wei Zhang, PhD. Associate Professor

Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering College of Engineering

Ohio State University
Sunil Probhaker, PhD. Professor and Department Head

Department of Computer Science

Purdue University
Ronald A. Metoyer, PhD. Associate Professor

School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Oregon State University
Douglas Hart, PhD. Professor, Information Technology

Chair of the Information Technology Department Program Coordinator for the M.S. in Software Engineering School of Computer & Information Sciences

Regis University
Richard L. Blumenthal, PhD. Professor, Computer Science

Program Coordinator for B.S. in Computer Science College for Professional Studies

Regis University

Why Computer Science?

Computing forms the backbone of high tech and countless other industries, offering computer science students their choice of fast-growing fields to explore. Creative and analytical minds are needed to design and maintain websites, networks and systems ranging from customer portals to corporate intranets to back-end business operations.

Computer science graduates can join today’s thought leaders tackling challenges on the cutting edge of research and technology. Global innovations in commerce, education, entertainment and other domains have created diverse employment opportunities for computing specialists. The extent of academic programs and specializations could result in information overload, so this page takes a structured approach to related degrees and career paths.

CS Degrees by Subject

Computer science covers a wide range of sub-disciplines, each with numerous degree options and career paths available to respective students and graduates. Use the following menu to learn more about one or more of these fantastic CS fields on the rise.

CS Degrees by Level: Where to Start

Before diving into one of the numerous computer science programs, it’s wise to evaluate factors like available time and finances, certainty about future plans, and level of skills and technical experience. Students with questions about career goals, or with a basic knowledge of computing, could pursue an associate degree at a community college or other institution. Those with a clear plan for the future often opt for a four-year degree program. A bachelor’s degree could lead to a wide variety of technical roles, as shown below, or to further studies.

Graduate programs in computer science and related subjects groom students for highly technical fields that combine disciplines, as in health informatics. A growing trend toward professional specialization creates in-depth programs such as a master’s degree in statistical computing with an emphasis in data mining. Certain positions require doctorates, for example, teaching and research in four-year colleges and universities.

Computer science grads can consider in-demand occupations like the following. These top professions are listed with typical qualifications and degrees that employers prefer. Also shown are 2013 salaries, calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the job growth projected for 2012-2022. This list can serve as a launch pad for research into these careers.

Associate Degree (2+ Years)

Two-year degree programs in computer science attract students who are seeking a fast track into the workforce, planning to transfer to four-year colleges or exploring different specializations in order to clarify their goals. The community college curriculum introduces workhorse programming languages like C, with options to study the development of mobile and web-based applications. Students also gain a technical foundation for a user support role, one of the expanding occupations discussed below (ordered by expected growth rate).

Web Developer

Salary range: $33,320 – $110,350
Growth rate: 20%

Web developers build Internet sites for online retail, enterprise operations, non-profit groups, social media and more. Websites serve as e-business cards for partners and clients and digital storefronts for customers. Using tools such as HTML, XML, JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets, developers create the code underlying a website, considering visual appearance, site architecture, usability and performance. Web designers work with management, sales, marketing, public relations and other departments.

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Computer Support Specialist

Salary range: $29,260 – $86,110M
Growth rate: 17%

Support specialists offer high-tech trouble-shooting in a range of different environments, from government agencies to industries like telecommunications and computer manufacturing. User support specialists provide customer service for the public, often from call centers, or work in a company’s information technology (IT) department helping other employees. Computer network support specialists focus on issues with data and communications networks.

Social Science Research Assistant

Salary range: $18,250 – $67,780
Growth rate: 15%

Research assistants harness their knowledge of computer science and statistics to make sense of huge amounts of information. From surveys or lab projects, they gather, analyze and manage scientific data. They work with social scientists in research and development settings or academic environments, as paid staff rather than student assistants.

Post-Secondary Vocational Education Instructor

Salary range: $27,940 – $85,120
Growth rate: 12%

Working in public and private institutions, these technical educators provide career training at a level above high school but below bachelor’s degree studies. Some occupational education instructors have professional experience in addition to a two-year degree, for example, an A.S. in computer system engineering technology. Qualifications for teachers vary by subject, school and state.

Computer Programmer

Salary range: $43,640 – $123,490
Growth rate: 8%

Coders use their familiarity with programming languages to transform software designs into computer-readable instructions. For some employers, the level of education matters less than skill and specialized knowledge. Programming talent is sought after in industries like software publishing, health care and insurance. Programmers work alone or in teams, often communicating electronically with remote colleagues.

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Bachelor’s Degree (4+ Years)

Four-year degree programs cover the application of mathematical and algorithmic theories and principles in the design of electronic systems, components and software programs. Students on the baccalaureate track often have a goal in mind, whether it’s a rewarding career or advanced studies at the graduate level. A bachelor’s degree represents the minimum qualification for several occupations related to computer science, but each field has its own requirements. For example, a graduate interested in geographic information systems might need a specialized certificate. For management and high-level roles, employers frequently look for work experience in addition to a degree. Explore the following careers available to bachelor’s degree students in CS.

Computer Systems Analyst

Salary range: $50,290 – $125,460
Growth rate: 25%

Computer systems analysis zeroes in on the information technology (IT) used by a specific organization. Analysts take into account factors such as user requirements, workflow and IT capabilities. After evaluating the existing technical infrastructure, analysts suggest efficiencies and improvements. This occupation requires an understanding of a specific field like banking or health information management. Analysts work with managers and IT departments, and they may also train employees on new systems.

Applications Software Developer

Salary range: $55,770 – $143,540
Growth rate: 23%

Software developers invent applications targeting specific purposes, from online marketplaces to entertainment apps for mobile devices. Applications range from the small scale to the enormous, as in databases constructed to meet the needs of specific companies. Some developers need not only in-depth familiarity with programming languages but also knowledge of an industry and its operations, for example, financial transactions or health informatics.

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Systems Software Developer

Salary range: $63,140 – $150,760
Growth rate: 20%

Systems software designers generally find employment with computer and electronics manufacturers, working on teams to develop new technology. The products in development include operating systems for uses ranging from computers to smartphones to cars. These developers may also invent a system’s interface, such as a graphical user interface that permits a human to control a computer.

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Computer & Information Systems Manager

Salary range:$76,420 – $156,560+
Growth rate:15%

Computer science leadership positions range from top-level executives to technical supervisors who oversee day-to-day work in the trenches. Entry-level managers may provide guidance for teams of hardware engineers or software developers, while project managers work with technical and non-technical staff. Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) manage the computing infrastructure for giant corporations. A bachelor’s degree can lay the groundwork for managerial ambitions, along with experience.

Network and Computer Systems Administrators

Salary range: $45,270 – $117,150
Growth rate: 12%

Network administrators manage communications networks, while system administrators keep an organization’s IT infrastructure running smoothly and securely. Sys admins are in charge of equipment ranging from servers to desktop workstations to mobile devices. Admins work with IT managers and staff, computer network architects and other employees. Some companies outsource data storage networks to cloud service providers, but admins are still needed in broad-ranging industries. In addition to computer science, students interested in this occupation can take subjects like computer engineering or electrical engineering, computer networking and systems design.

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MASTER’s Degree (6+ Years)

Master’s degree programs appeal to students aiming at professional goals as well as those preparing for doctoral programs. The curriculum at each school varies, but one online master’s program includes computer architecture, database management, parallel processing, information security and software design specifications. The added skills and knowledge gained through graduate studies may enable quicker entry into advanced technical positions or business analyst roles like those described below.

Market Research Analyst

Salary range: $33,490 – $114,250
Growth rate: 32%

Market research analysts use sophisticated statistical methods to advise companies on marketing and business plans. They evaluate data on consumer trends and competitor strategies to devise proposals for introducing and pricing new products. Analysts share ideas with clients and managers, and they may also gather opinions from the public. A computer science degree is common in this data-focused field, and a master’s degree is often preferable for higher-level positions.

Operations Research Analyst

Salary range: $42,070 – $130,210
Growth rate: 27%

Operations research analysts help executives and management solve problems and create data-driven strategies in fields like finance, government and manufacturing logistics. They often work with a multidisciplinary team of industry specialists. Analysts take advantage of quantitative methods, statistical software programs and data modeling packages to monitor an organization’s processes and find potential improvements. Many applicants for this specialty have a master’s degree in a subject such as computer science.

Computer Network Architect

Salary range: $53,920 – $145,700
Growth rate: 15%

Network engineers and architects create blueprints for data communication networks, and they design patches for existing infrastructure in response to security threats. Network architects analyze usage to predict organizational needs, often working with managers and CTOs. Given the extensive knowledge involved, employers require at least a bachelor’s degree and may prefer graduate studies in business information systems.

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Database Administrator

Salary range: $43,720 – $120,990
Growth rate: 15%

Database administrators (DBAs) manage vast amounts of data collected in different industries, such as banking transactions, retail chains’ customer records or medical clinics’ patient insurance information. To maintain database performance and security, DBAs rely on their study of information assurance and data warehousing. Some work with management and IT staff to develop new databases. As organizations trend toward “big data” they may prefer DBAs with a specialized master’s degree, according to the BLS.

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High School Computer Science Teacher

Salary range: $37,230 – $86,720
Growth rate: 6%

Computer science teachers prepare lesson plans and practical exercises to instruct students in computing theories as well as the use of computer software applications. High school teachers spend time not only with students but also fellow teachers and school administrators. Employment at public schools requires studies beyond a bachelor’s degree: depending on the state, teachers need post-graduate training resulting in a license or a single subject credential to teach computer science at the secondary level.

PHD Degree (8+ Years)

PhD programs in computer science lead to a terminal degree, the highest available degree in this discipline. Doctoral candidates gain in-depth research skills through writing and defending an original dissertation in an area of their choice. The broad scope of PhD studies could include computational theory, distributed operating systems, cryptography, software engineering, compiler design and construction, interactive computer graphics, web search engines and more. Applicants for these intensive programs are driven by dreams of a college professorship or a position conducting advanced research.

Information Security Analyst

Salary range: $50,430-$138,780
Growth rate: 37%

In a networked world, these professionals play an important role in protecting organizations. They examine existing IT systems and propose security measures, including fixes for vulnerabilities. In industries like finance and cloud computing services, they serve as in-house staff or consultants. Security analysts cooperate with network administrators and computer systems analysts, and they often report directly to CTOs or IT managers. Due to the wide-ranging expertise needed, some employers opt for candidates with graduate degrees.

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Geoscientist

Salary range:$48,890 – $187,199
Growth rate: 16%

Geoscience, the study of the earth’s physical elements, uses advanced technology like computer modeling, data analysis and digital mapping. Geoscientists depend on specialized software packages as they perform field work and lab research, and computer science grads who also study geology can aim for this profession. Working in industries such as government or oil and gas extraction, these scientists share their research with clients and coworkers.

Computer & Information Research Scientist

Salary range: $61,300 – $158,800
Growth rate: 15%

In fields such as business, medicine and science, computer and information research scientists use computing to analyze and solve problems. They improve on current technologies or develop innovative computer algorithms to address specific needs. Many work for the government, hardware and software design firms, academic institutions or R&D labs, where they team up with other experts in their area of research.

Data Mining Specialist

Salary range: $61,300 – $158,800
Growth rate: 15%

Working with massive datasets, these information scientists leverage their academic background in computational statistics. To meet requests from management, they design algorithms and software for data analysis in specific environments. They propose data-supported strategies in areas like public policy, science, business intelligence and medical information management.

Post-Secondary Computer Science Teacher

Salary range: $37,190 – $137,810
Growth rate: 13%

Post-secondary computer science instructors develop class plans and materials to teach the theoretical and practical applications of this discipline. Additional responsibilities often include research and academic publishing. Most of these teachers work at colleges and universities, with a smaller number employed at community colleges and trade schools. College professors regularly interact with students, teaching assistants, department colleagues and administrators.

When Online Learning Makes Sense

As individuals spend more time with on-screen and dual-screen activities, the Internet becomes a logical environment for education as well. Sharing information online comes naturally to most computer science students, and if not, it’s a vital skill to master. Web literacy is a hiring criterion in many industries dependent on networking for their outward-facing presence and internal communications. Online schools could not exist without technological advances, and they offer students a chance to develop hands-on tech savvy.

Computer science programs cover the same principles, whether delivered online or in the classroom. Online studies investigate object-oriented programming, data structures and discrete mathematics, offering the chance to apply theory in practice through web-based labs. Opportunities for e-learners rival those at brick and mortar colleges, with an array of student support services from online tutoring and career counseling to 24-7 tech support. Distance learning does not imply isolation, as online colleges incorporate social media channels in addition to video-conferencing and chat features.

Online students gain exposure to electronic communications, including the technology and “netiquette” to support remote teamwork. As they interact online with peers and faculty, computer science students learn a key skill for the distributed work groups common in high-tech companies. Web-based computer science programs often put students in contact with professors and classmates in other countries, which can help to develop cross-cultural understanding for an ever-shrinking global economy.

An obvious advantage for online studies pertains to the flexible scheduling compared to on-campus classes. Some accredited online programs in computer science offer short terms of about two months, rather than a full semester, with multiple start dates throughout the year. Certain elements of a program may occur at set times, depending on the mode of content delivery, but other features are accessible when convenient for students. Customized class schedules allow students to plan out a manageable load for academics and other responsibilities. Balancing a part-time job with online studies can serve multiple purposes, reinforcing personal finances and building work experience and a record of successful time management that could impress hiring managers.

Accreditation

Colleges voluntarily obtain accreditation to demonstrate that their academic offerings meet standard benchmarks for the quality of curriculum and instruction. Accrediting agencies operate independently of the government, so students should check that these bodies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Colleges may have institutional accreditation from regional or national associations as well as accreditation for a specific program, which typically comes from a specialized organization. For example, one PhD program in business administration with an emphasis in information systems holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Computer science programs generally seek accreditation from ABET, an organization recognized by CHEA. At colleges and universities around the world, ABET accredits applied science, computing, engineering and technology programs. Only programs at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree level can apply to ABET. CSAB, a participating member of ABET, plays a central role in the accreditation process for computer science, information systems, software engineering and information technology programs.

Students should examine the accreditation status of any computer science program, whether web-based or traditional. ABET uses the same criteria when evaluating on-campus, online and hybrid degree programs, and it has accredited a select number of fully online programs. Online colleges may also gain accreditation from agencies focused on distance learning, such as the Distance Education and Training Council, which is recognized by the DoE and CHEA.

Finding the Right CS Program

Prospective computer scientists analyze multiple factors that affect the choice of a degree program. Budget and time constraints influence the mode of study they select, for example, online vs. on-campus. Career goals narrow down the search for appropriate programs, whether focused on computer science for research or for applied use in industry.

Once aspiring students compile a short list of colleges, they need to verify accreditation credentials, which relate to potential transfer of credits and eligibility for financial aid. After crunching all this data, it’s time to get human input by interviewing an institution’s current students and admissions counselors. All this effort should be worthwhile when students dive into stimulating class discussions and projects, followed by varied professional opportunities after graduation.

Computer Science Degrees on the Cutting Edge

Computer science never sleeps. No matter which time of day or night, someone, somewhere, is coding a new app, designing a new cloud server, or creating software for the next generation of self-driving automobiles. This continued push for the future makes computer scientists a valuable commodity on the job market, with private and public tech companies always on the look out for today’s (and tomorrow’s) best and brightest. But how do the tech-talented get there? Some follow traditional educational programs, such as database administration or computer networking. Yet more and more students are finding non-traditional degree paths, which continue to open new doors in new disciplines. See which degrees lie on the cutting edge of computer science.

Data Science and Big Data

At or near the top of almost every expert list of cutting edge computer science fields are data science and the closely related subject of big data. Generally speaking, data science relates to the extraction of knowledge from collected data. “Big data” refers to the collection, storage and analysis of extremely large volumes of data, typically on a scale of terabytes (10 to the 12th power) and petabytes (10 to the 15th power). The recent explosion of data science stems from the explosion of data collection and storage. According to the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley, 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years.

It’s hard to overestimate the implications of this massive data collection trend. The challenge in the near future and beyond will be to discover the means by which these staggering amounts of data can be processed and converted into real, practical knowledge used to improve the lives of individuals and the world as a whole. Hence, the creation of a brand new breed of CS professional: the data scientist.

“As I see it, there have been three major stages in the history of computer science. The first sixty years, from the 1930′s to the 90′s, were about ‘computers as computers.’ The second stage, from the 90′s to today, were about ‘computers as networks.’ Now, and I project for the next ten years, it will be about ‘computers as data centers,’ that is, about data processes and the ‘big data’ problem.”

- Wei Zhang, Ohio State University

Education

The big data revolution has been so sudden and its effect so large that academia and business have been caught off-guard. The unfortunate result is a problem finding professionals trained to handle and extract knowledge from the rising mountain of collected data. This has led to a mad rush, at least by academic world standards, to fill the education gap. Newly created data science degree programs and courses are appearing at a healthy clip, but not fast enough to keep pace with demand.

Students interested in a future in data science have two primary choices: Enroll in one of the rare degree programs designed specifically for data science, or choose a program in a closely related field (information technology, information analytics or informatics) and focus as much as possible on data science and big data courses. Data science and related major degree programs are available on every level mostly from major universities and a few smaller colleges. Online data science degree options remain limited, but there are some, such as UC Berkeley’s Master of Information and Data Science program.

Job Opportunities

As mentioned, there is a rapidly growing demand for trained data scientists across the employment spectrum. Industries hiring data scientists include business and finance, e-commerce, government, healthcare, telecommunications and social networking. Some of the companies currently hiring data science professionals include Facebook, PayPal, Google, Trulia, Autotegrity, Intuit, McGraw-Hill and Capital One. Job titles in the data science field often contain the word “analytics,” such as chief analytics officer , director of marketing analytics and chief scientist-predictive analytics applications.

Given the newness of the field, salary figures specific to data science can be hard to come by. With the current high demand for data science professionals, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in data science may attract offers at the upper levels of the computer science field. National median annual salaries for computer scientists are currently in the neighborhood of $80,000 to $90,000. Master’s and doctorate degree holders may do even better.

Software Development

Software development may not seem a likely choice for a “cutting edge” computer science list. It’s a broad subject, it’s not exactly a new field, and just about everyone has heard of it. But most of our experts believe there’s a rapidly growing need for new software in all facets of CS, including mobile applications, web programming, software repositories and countless others. Wherever computers become more integrated into the daily activities of human beings, a strong need for software development should be close behind.

Education

While many schools offer certificate and associate degree programs, software developers typically possess, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. On the bachelor’s level, software developers usually earn their degrees in computer science, software engineering or a related subject such as mathematics. Nearly all bachelor’s degree programs require at least four years of full-time study, but some accelerated programs exist, as well. Software development courses lend themselves well to distance education. Public universities and private colleges have extensive collections of programs in software development, both real-time and self-paced in delivery.

Students interested in continuing on to graduate school will find a variety of master’s- and doctorate-level programs. These research-oriented degrees are becoming so popular that a number of prestigious universities have created specific institutes to target this academic niche. For example, Carnegie Mellon University has established an Institute for Software Research within its School of Computer Science.

Typical degree courses in software development may include the following:

  • Software design
  • Software assurance
  • C# development
  • iOS software development
  • Java software development
  • Android software development
  • Graphics programming
Job Opportunities

As you might expect, software engineers and computer programmers are in demand by businesses and other organizations of every type and size, and not just those that fit strictly under the heading of computer technology-related companies. The top employers for software developers, however, remain tech-focused companies with well-recognized names such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Oracle and Microsoft, as well as many that may be less familiar, like Sparc, Kony and Zurple. Remember, though, there are probably thousands of potential employers for skilled software developers.

The range of titles for software development professionals is as broad as the field itself. Common titles that job seekers may encounter:

  • Software developer
  • Software architect
  • Software engineer
  • Computer programmer
  • Application architecture and development consultant

Other more specific titles include computer game developer, systems programmer, e-business software developer, and dozens of others. According to BLS projections, job growth in the field should increase by 22 percent between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. National median annual wages for software developers, systems software in May 2013 were slightly over $100,000, while software developers, applications earned over $92,000 during the same period.

Security and Privacy

You need only turn on the television and watch the evening news to understand the serious nature of security and privacy issues in the virtual world. As stated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Our daily life, economic vitality, and national security depend on a stable, safe, and resilient cyberspace. We rely on this vast array of networks to communicate and travel, power our homes, run our economy, and provide government services.”

The subject of computer security and privacy encompasses issues on every level, from a citizen’s need to protect personal information, such as bank accounts and social affiliations, to national and international macroeconomic and industrial concerns. It is no surprise, then, that our experts have indicated computer security (also known as cyber security or information security) as another of today’s cutting edge computer science fields.

Education

Successful cyber security professionals will likely need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in cyber security or information security, although some may manage with an associate degree and several years of experience. Those who possess graduate-level education may find more demand for their knowledge and skills, especially those with a doctorate degree.

Degree titles in the field include cyber security, information security, computer forensics and others. For example, Regis University offers a closely related Master of Science in Information Assurance degree. There are several undergraduate and graduate degree programs to choose from, including some available fully online. Certificate programs and computer science degrees with cyber security specializations are also very popular. It is important to make sure that, whatever program is chosen, it’s accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized agency.

Examples of courses for computer security degree programs include:

  • Foundations in Cyber Security
  • Ethics in Information Technology
  • Digital Forensics in the Criminal Justice System
  • Security Policy Analysis
  • Network Security
  • Prevention and Protection Strategies

Students should expect to devote a minimum of four years to the completion of a bachelor’s degree program. Master’s students will commonly add on two additional years of study, while those seeking a doctorate can expect to spend as many as eight years total on their post-secondary education.

Job Opportunities

Computer security and privacy issues arise in every corner of the digital world, and that means information security professionals can be found just about everywhere. Government at all levels, businesses and non-profit organizations need expert advice in securing their data resources. Top employers in computer security include Cisco Systems, BAE Systems PLC, Computer Sciences Corporation, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Symantec, Raytheon, Hewlett-Packard and the National Security Administration.

According to the BLS, salary potential and the job outlook for the computer security field is positive. May 2013 statistics indicate a national median annual salary for information security analysts of $88,590, with some industry sectors (such as finance and insurance) trending higher. Job outlook predictions in the field are strong, with the BLS forecasting 37 percent growth between 2012 and 2022.

“Along with a solid background in mathematics, students need a well-rounded education, including the ability to write well. Also, you need to be a problem solver and be comfortable with not knowing up front the answer to a problem.”

- Ronald A. Metoyer, Oregon State University

Cloud Computing

Remote computing (also referred to as cloud computing) is another upward-trending area of computer science. It’s closely related to data science because it merges elements of other related fields such as IT, networking and wireless communications.

As with other trending fields, the boundaries of the topic are a bit fuzzy and definitions for remote computing vary. “In the cloud” has become a popular term, but what does it actually refer to? In simple terms, cloud computing relates to increasing the capabilities and capacities of digital consumers by converting computing from a product-based to a service-based technology — in other words, providing computing applications remotely and taking advantage of the consequential economies of scale. Remote computing allows individuals, businesses and other organizations to avoid upfront infrastructure costs and adjust their computing capacities more efficiently to suit their current and ever-changing needs.

Components of remote computing include SaaS, utility computing, web services, managed service providers, Internet integration and many others. As a relatively new cutting edge subject, remote computing’s future is a bit unknown, but it is certain to be an important area of focus going forward.

Education

The selection of specifically designated remote or cloud computing degree programs is relatively limited at this time, although education offerings should grow over the next several years . Students seeking to enter the remote computing field should consider earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science or, if available, one in software engineering. Online undergraduate programs in computer science are somewhat plentiful and offered by public universities and private colleges alike. It is recommended that bachelor’s degree students seek out courses that correspond to the information technology, data science and remote computing fields where possible.

Graduate degree programs with remote or cloud computing majors are also limited today. Some colleges and universities incorporate remote computing into broader degree programs, such as San Jose State University, which offers a Master of Science in software engineering with an emphasis in cloud technology and virtualization. Students may expect to spend the typical four years of full-time study on a bachelor’s degree program and an additional two years to complete a master’s degree. Students considering degrees in the field beyond a master’s will likely opt for a PhD program in computing or information sciences.

Job Opportunities

Although specific statistics regarding remote and cloud computing job opportunities are difficult to come by, a look at the numbers related to computer science and information technology employment may provide a good idea of where cloud computing is heading. National median annual salaries can be expected to fall within the $70,000 to $90,000 range with job growth between 20 and 25 percent over the coming decade, according to the BLS. Top employers for remote and cloud computing professionals include well known companies like Google, Amazon, AT&T and Microsoft, as well as less recognized names like SoftLayer, Rackspace and Salesforce.com. Job titles for remote computing specialists predictably have the word “cloud” in them and include the following:

  • Cloud software engineer
  • Cloud developer
  • Cloud network engineer
  • Cloud product manager

User Interface Design

Just a few decades ago, the only people interacting with computers were information technology professionals and hobbyists (in other words, the original computer geeks). It turns out that those folks were pioneers. Today, of course, humans from every walk of life, employed in every occupation, and enjoying every sort of leisure activity, interact with computing devices.

The continuing challenge of human-computer interaction (HCI) professionals is to develop systems that are “user-friendly” for all types of people, a challenge more difficult than one might first think. The reality is that human beings all think and learn differently — apply different cognitive processes or mental models in interacting with their environment, other individuals and their computers.

Consumers continue to lament that designers and manufacturers of digital devices ignore ease-of use issues. HCI is about much more than simply making computing more user-friendly, however. It’s serious business. Given the all-pervasiveness of digital integration into our daily lives, poor user interface design can, and has, led to all sorts of problems. Nuclear energy and aviation are just two fields where human-computer interaction failure has resulted in disaster. Therefore, user interface design and HCI remains a hot topic within the broader field of computer science.

Education

The education environment for the HCI field is surprisingly robust, with plenty of undergraduate and graduate programs to choose from. Those planning a career in HCI will need to earn, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in either a broadly designated computer science major or in one of the few undergraduate degree programs directly related to HCI. In most cases, students can wait until their master’s program to specialize in HCI.

Fortunately, HCI graduate degrees are available from many traditional colleges offering both on-campus and online degree programs. For example, Iowa State University offers a Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction fully online. Other more traditional programs include bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in HCI that can be earned through Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

Titles of courses found within some HCI degree programs may include:

  • Computer Graphics and Geometric Modeling
  • 3D Visualization of Scientific Data
  • Cognitive Engineering
  • Advanced Learning Environments Design
  • Design and Ethics

As with most college degree programs, a bachelor’s degree will typically require four years of study, while master’s programs in HCI will add another two years to a college career.

Job Opportunities

Estimates regarding salaries and job outlook for HCI professionals seem to fall in line with those for other cutting edge careers. HCI and UI median annual salaries come in at an estimated $61,000 per year, according to PayScale.com. However, salaries can increase rather significantly with education and experience. For example, user interface engineers, a step above UI designers, earn a reported $76,000 annually.

Companies hiring HCI graduates include Electronic Arts, Apple, Microsoft and a variety of computer game designers and manufacturers. Any company involved in the touch screen, application interface and video game markets is also on the lookout for HCI-skilled workers. HCI-related job titles include:

  • iOS developer
  • Interaction designer
  • UI/UX architect
  • User experience designer
  • Web developer

“The ‘smart grid’ is another hot topic today. The use of data science and information technology in the conservation and efficient production of energy resources will continue to be an important area of interest.”

- Walker White, Cornell University

Robotics

The average citizen may hear the word “robotics” and envision a machine of some kind, vaguely in the shape of a human being in a space suit, awkwardly lumbering along a laboratory corridor. In that case, the average citizen couldn’t be further from the truth.

Robotics, more realistically defined, concerns all types of mechanical or virtual devices that are designed, constructed and used to perform tasks traditionally performed by humans. Robotic machines often employ systems and sensors to mimic the human senses, including sight, sound and touch. Robotic devices are used in any number of industries, particularly those involved in manufacturing. They have also proved to be of tremendous benefit in performing tasks in hazardous situations, such as those involving removal of toxic materials and explosive devices.

Two good examples of current real-world robotic applications are drones and self-driving automobiles. Most people are aware of the revolutionary use of drones in military conflicts around the world. Drones performing work in the civil context, though, is just around the corner. And don’t be surprised if, in the not-too-distant future, the car passing you in the fast lane has an empty driver’s seat.

Education

While a few community colleges and for-profit schools may offer associate degree programs in the field, serious students interested in a career in robotics may wish to seek out and complete at least a bachelor’s degree program. Some students may choose to continue on to graduate school with a possible detour for a few years of work experience in between. Many colleges and universities offer both traditional and distance learning bachelor’s programs in robotics or robotic engineering. However, earning an undergraduate degree in electrical or mechanical engineering, or the more general computer science major, is also acceptable.

If a student intends on furthering his or her education, graduate degrees specializing in robotics should be relatively easy to find. Programs consist, not surprisingly, of a blend of mechanical and electrical engineering courses with computer science classes. Course subject areas include control systems, sensors and navigations systems, robotic simulations and machine learning, with course titles such as Computer Vision, Mechatronics and Autonomous Mobile Robots. Online degree programs can also be located, although many require some on-site course study. Again, not surprising given the tactile nature of the subject.

Job Opportunities

The salary projections and job outlook for robotics engineers depends on how you approach the profession. For instance, the BLS includes robotics engineers under the broader heading of mechanical engineers. From that perspective, one might conclude that job growth for robotics professionals will be sluggish over coming decade with just a 5 percent increase. Other industry experts, however, predict healthier job prospects in the field.

Estimated salaries for robotic engineers also fall somewhere between median annual salaries for mechanical engineers and computer scientists ($80,000 to $90,000).

Businesses hiring robotics-skilled workers include major manufacturers in the auto and aeronautics industries, as well companies like Dyson, Elbit Systems, Autonomous Solutions, Amazon, 3D Robotics, Bosch and Caterpillar. Job titles in the field include:

  • Controls engineer
  • Automation engineer
  • Robotics engineer
  • Electro-mechanical technician

Artificial Intelligence [Machine Learning]

Here’s another subject that was brought up as a separate issue by several of our experts, yet is closely tied to a number of other topics, particularly data science and robotics. Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the theory and practice of computers in the performance of tasks commonly requiring human intelligence like visual perception, speech and language recognition, problem solving, and decision making. AI might be best summed up by the definition of the late computer scientist John McCarthy as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”

This is easier said than done, however. Initial excitement in the early stages of AI were quickly tempered with the realization that computers only know what they have been explicitly told, resulting in “the common sense knowledge problem.”

Machines have not done well in passing what is known as the “Turing Test.” Devised by Alan Turing, often called the “father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence,” the Turing Test questions a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior that is indistinguishable from that of a human. While great strides have been made over the past several years (IBM’s Watson technology, for example), AI still has a long way to go before machines routinely pass the Turing Test and therefore it remains a cutting edge area in computer science.

Education

Professionals in the AI field typically start out by completing a four-year bachelor’s degree program in computer science, information technology or electrical engineering. There are a very limited number of distance learning degree options specifically in AI (one example is a Bachelor of Science in Information Technologies-Robotics and Artificial Intelligence offered by Southern New Hampshire University). Most students interested in AI will proceed on to graduate degree programs, where the AI options are more abundant.

Top schools offering graduate degree programs in AI include MIT, Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, Georgia Tech and others. Virtually all major colleges and universities with computer science programs offer courses in AI, including every one of our expert’s institutions. Common course titles for AI master’s degrees include:

  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Data Mining
  • Natural Language Processing
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computational Intelligence
  • Machine Learning

Master’s degree programs in AI will typically require two to three years of study in addition to the four years typically necessary for earning a bachelor’s degree. Doctorate degree programs in AI are surprisingly few, but where they are available, students should expect to devote anywhere from six to eight years total in their postsecondary education.

Job Opportunities

Jobs in the artificial intelligence field often come with titles that don’t explicitly indicate an AI specialization (like software developer or software engineer), so make sure to read the job description carefully. Others do indicate an AI connection, such as user experience designer, UI programmer and android engineer. Top employers for AI professionals include the usual suspects like Microsoft, Apple and just about any computer game company you can think of. Graduates may also want to contact the companies listed above under in this guide’s robotics section. There’s one other big employer of AI workers: the U.S. government.

The BLS includes AI professionals under the broader heading of computer and information research scientists, for whom job growth estimates come in at 15 percent between 2012 and 2022, slightly under estimates for computer occupations in general, but substantially higher than those for all occupations. National median annual salary estimates for the same group are encouraging at $102,000 for 2012 significantly better than for all computer occupations combined ($76,270).

“Get better at math. A solid foundation in math makes the difference between those students who must continue to take classes in new subjects and those who can learn on their own.”

- Walker White, Cornell University

Scholarships

The majority of scholarship opportunities for students interested in the above-discussed cutting edge subjects can be found under the broad “computer science” heading. There are easily hundreds of need-based and merit-based scholarships offered to computer science and STEM-subject degree seekers, many of which are available to distance learning students. Some of the most popular are listed below: