There’s been a lot of debate about whether a computer science degree is worth the time and money required to earn one. After all, some of the greatest developers are self-taught, and you can learn most of what you need to know on the job. Self-taught start-up CEOs have gone on record declaring that computer science degrees are a waste of time and resources, and some argue that self-taught programmers are more resourceful and skilled than computer science graduates.
But the truth is that a computer science degree can still prepare you for a lucrative and promising career in any of a long list of industries. Even if you’ve already taught yourself coding skills, a formal education in computer science can help you understand the theories underpinning the work you do, so you’ll be better-equipped to keep up with the fast pace of developing technology, prepared to move up into senior roles, and less likely to reach a career-ending plateau.
What a formal education in computer science can do for you
It’s true that you can teach yourself enough basic knowledge to land an entry-level job in software development, and much of the rest, you can learn on the job. But what you can’t teach yourself - or, at least, what you’re unlikely to get around to teaching yourself - are the scientific theories underpinning the things you do as a developer or other IT specialist.
But, who needs theory when you can have practical skills? Sure, practical skills are, well, practical. You definitely need them to succeed in the tech world. But understanding theory can help you engage with your work at a higher discursive level. You’ll learn to think critically about the decisions you and your team are making. For example, if other members of your team want to implement Apache Kafka to send messages between applications, you’ll have the theory background to consider whether that’s the best platform for the job, because you’ll understand how it works and how that methodology will fit into the environment you’re creating. When you get stuck on a slow database query or find yourself struggling to configure something, you’ll be able to buckle down and solve the problem yourself, rather than passing it on to a senior engineer - and, eventually, you’ll be more likely to become that senior engineer.
The concepts you’ll learn about how computers, operating systems, algorithms, programming languages, and other tools and system work will make you a better developer, help you to more easily wrap your head around complex concepts, and, crucially, will give you the foundational knowledge you’ll need to keep up with developments in technology and programming. You’ll no longer need to be intimidated by the prospect of tackling new skill sets and tools, even if you take some time off from working in the field.
Career options for computer science graduates
While self-taught - and self-appointed - “experts” are downplaying computer science degrees, computer science graduates are finding fulfilling work in a range of industries. Computer science is a broad field, because so many industries need professionals with the skills computer science majors possess. That means you’ll find plenty of job opportunities; many computer science students start getting job offers before they even finish their studies, and most have jobs lined up after graduation.
Earning a computer sciences degree, online or the old-fashioned way, can prepare you to work in software design, app development, or even university or industry research. Jobs that will be available to you with your computer science degree include:
- Software developer/computer programmer;
- Information technology (IT) consultant;
- Web developer;
- IT project manager;
- IT manager;
- IT consultant;
- Systems engineer;
- Programmer analyst;
- Senior software engineer;
- Software architect;
- Business analyst;
- CAD/CAM designer;
- Technical writer;
- Database analyst;
- Systems analyst;
- Technical sales representative;
- Special effects specialist;
- Webmaster; or
- Technical support representative.
Numerous industries are hiring computer science graduates. You might find a job working for:
- A college or university;
- An accounting firm;
- An airline;
- An engineering firm;
- A bank;
- An online service provider;
- A telecommunications company;
- A defense contractor;
- A hospital;
- An insurance company;
- A retailer;
- A research organization;
- A telecommunications company;
- A computer services firm; or
- An electronics manufacturer or another type of manufacturer.
This is just a few of the industries open to computer science graduates. Any industry that relies on information technology systems needs skilled computer scientists, and these days, every industry relies on information technology systems. Starting salaries for computer science graduates are about $65,540 for bachelor’s degree holders, and $81,039 for master’s degree holders.
If you’re looking for an exciting career in a promising field, a computer science degree might be for you. It’ll give you a solid background in the foundational theories you’ll need to do your best work, and stay at the top of your field as your career progresses.