Study for a career in computer science and before you know it, you’re hot. You’re in demand. You’re being chased by employers, like a well-qualified ground squirrel being pursued by a pack of prairie wolves, hungry for your skills. Just look at these statistics relating to computer science careers:
– Computer science graduates have the highest average starting salary. ($66,161)
– 31% of computer science majors had full time job offers by graduation.
– 61% of 2014 computer science graduates have fulltime jobs, compared to 45% for other graduates.
These figures are from a 2015 report commissioned by Looksharp, an internship and entry-level job seeking website, and they add up to one indisputable fact; Computer Science Grads Are So Hot Right Now.
This is no flash-in-the-pan hotness. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a job growth rate in the computer science field of around 20% until the year 2022, much more than the national average of 8%. In fact, the Bureau says that 74% of new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs by 2022 will be in computing.
A Buffet of Study Options
Computer science sounds like a dream come true if you’re looking for a vocation where current job prospects are good, future prospects are even better, and the pay packet is better still. It all sounds too good to be true. There must be a catch, right?
Actually, it’s hard to find a reason why you wouldn’t major in computer science, or at the very least, do a handful of courses in the subject to give your career prospects a boost. As you’d expect, in an industry enjoying such spectacular growth, there is a proportionate increase in the number of academic programs specializing in computer science. To be wonderfully imprecise, there are hundreds and hundreds of them. So, if there’s a catch in all this, it is that it might be a little difficult choosing exactly what to study, and where to study.
You might be one of those lucky people who has it all mapped out. You know where you want your computer science career to go, and you know when you want to arrive at that particular destination. Not all of us are quite that prepared. Most of us see a degree in computer science in the same way a starving person eyes the buffet at a Las Vegas casino. So many delicious options, so many ways to overfill our academic plate. All the courses look irresistible, so which one should we choose? Which course from this buffet would satisfy us the most, and which course would most satisfy the employers who are hungry for freshly-graduated computer science grads?
Something Else To Consider
Adding to this dilemma is the question of exactly where you should study. 40 of the world’s Top 200 computer science schools are in the United States, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the top of the tree, closely followed by other venerable institutions like Harvard, Stanford and Princeton. Hundreds of lesser known campuses offer computer science programs, from the very broad to the very specialised and, just to confuse you a little more, don’t forget all the online degrees now available.
The ‘what’ and the ‘where’ of computer science degrees becomes as complex as a plate of spaghetti. So, it could be suggested that some of the most intense research you’ll ever do as part of your computer science degree will be done even before you start the academic program. It’s the research of all the courses, all the sub-disciplines, all the career outcomes, all the campuses and all the at-home study options that will help you navigate your way through your computer science degree and help you arrive at a career destination that seems like the sort of place you want to stay in for a while.
All college study requires prior research. But computer science courses are more complex than your average college degree. Not only are there more career choices to consider, there are more sub-disciplines as well, areas where you can specialise and make an even higher salary.
What Do You Want To Be?
A computer science graduate has the world at their feet, and their fingertips. Computer science now touches our daily lives in almost every aspect, and its applications to what we do during every waking hour is extraordinary. This is reflected in the number of career options available to a computer science graduate, and the number of job vacancies in the industry all over the world.
The most common roles taken on by computer science majors include:
– Software developer, who design or customize computer applications software. Median salary in 2014 of $95,510.
– Computer systems analyst, whose primary responsibility is to analyze data processing problems to improve computer systems. Median salary in 2014 of $82,710.
– Computer systems engineer, who solve applications problems and other network issues. Median salary in 2014 of $83,410.
– Network systems administrator, who installs and maintains network systems. Median salary in 2014 of $75,790.
– Web developer, responsible for designing, writing and editing website content. Median salary in 2014 of $63, 490.
This is just the tip of a very lucrative iceberg. There are high-paying jobs in many other fields of computer science including software quality assurance tester, business intelligence analyst, database administrator and, of course, computer programmer. And within each of those fields, are specialized roles, and within those specialized roles are even more specialized roles, and so on and so on, a bit like a Russian doll with a geek complex.
All of those roles in the computer science field, and the urgency to find grads to fill them, pushes up salaries. It’s nice work if you can get it, and with the demand for computer scientists, you easily can.
Where the Jobs Are
Computer scientists are like Starbucks or McDonalds. They’re everywhere! As technology becomes more prevalent in everything we do, and reaches into every corner of the globe, computer science graduates are in demand all over the world. No longer is Silicon Valley a rare technological hub, although the Valley, in Northern California, is still home to many of our best and brightest computer science graduates. But these days, just about everywhere you go is a technological hub.
Careers in computer science follow general trends. The bigger the city, the more jobs there are. In the computer science industry though, there just happen to be more jobs than jobs in other fields of endeavor.
Washington D.C., with its government departments and defense contractors, has more job listings in computer science than any other place in the United States, followed by New York City, Silicon Valley, Boston and Seattle. And while big places offer more opportunities, smaller centers still have a disproportionately high number of jobs for computer scientists compared to other industries. This can lead to the happy occurrence of you being able to study computer science, and work in computer science, without having to leave your hometown. This is just great if you can’t bear the thought of leaving Mom and Dad, or the baker who produces the world’s best bagels, or the hot barista who makes even hotter coffee. Some of these things are so hard to give up.
Living the Life of a Computer Scientist
For many people, choosing to major in computer science is a lifestyle choice. They have sniffed the breeze, and realised there are career opportunities and benefits like no other.
For example, as technology changes the way lives are lived all over the planet, there is a demand for computer scientists all over the world. For those of us with a desire to see the world, or even just the Grand Canyon, a degree in computer science can be a passport to travel and adventure.
Others look at the flexibility aspect of a career in computer science, beyond the high salary, as a reason to take it as a degree. For example, a lot of work within the computer science field can be done at home, without the expense and hassle of the morning commute to overshadow the day. While many people working in the industry also negotiate flexible working hours, so they can fit their technological endeavoors around the demands of their everyday life.
All this is possible because employers are willing to be flexible. They realize that good computer scientists have a lot of job options before them, so the employers have to present a very attractive employment package, beyond offering a day off on a worker’s birthday. So things like work-at-home options, odd hours that suit the employee, fringe benefits, and a very good salary, are common place. It really is an employee’s job market.
Give Your Career an Edge
It’s all so positive this article, isn’t it? It could have been written by Pollyanna. There doesn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky when we discuss computer science, it’s all fine and perfect and sunny. Is there any cloud on the horizon that could darken our view of computer science, as a degree and a career?
One issue that may arise is that computer science might become a victim of its own popularity. As more of us discover the benefits of studying and working in computer science, with its high salaries, numerous vacancies and flexibility, the more of us will decide to take a degree in the subject. Which means more graduates. Which means more competition for jobs. Which means more chances of you missing out on the job you really want. What’s needed here is a competitive edge, something that makes you stand out from the crowd.
Making yourself stand out is easier said than done. It requires a little bit of mind reading, and reading more than one mind is preferable. These minds belong to employers, professors, teachers, career guidance counsellors, anyone with some skin in the game as far as computer science goes.
Don’t be afraid to call the people who do the hiring and firing at the sort of companies you’d like to work for. Ask them what they look for in a computer science graduate, and why one graduate might stand out from all the rest. Don’t be surprised if you’re told that people skills, as well as computer skills, are very highly regarded. ‘Company culture’ is big these days, and employers look for people who will fit into the team, going forward. Yes, yes, it’s all corporate speak, but those who speak it the loudest are usually the ones who do the hiring.
Contact colleges and ask professors of computer science what specialized fields should be learned now to help secure a job in the future. Ask them about emerging trends they see becoming more prevalent in the near future, or ask them to predict how the whole world of computer science might look in a year from now, or a decade from now. This might help you look at more obscure areas of computer science that might not be so obscure by the time you graduate. Don’t be shy to ask for opinions. People love being asked for their opinion. It’s good for the ego.
You will probably be surprised at some of the answers you hear. That’s great. You want to be surprised, you want something unusual and distinctive to work on as you make yourself a different, and highly appealing, prospect in a crowded job marketplace. While other students are doing what they want as they study, why don’t you do what prospective employers want? Structure your degree around the responses you receive, and stand out. Be the alligator in the goldfish bowl.
Nothing But Blue Skies
Time to get positive again, and end with blue skies and a fine forecast. The growth in the computer science industry continues unabated, and in the short term there is no need to worry about opportunities. They exist, and the number of vacancies continues to grow. There’s no such thing as a certainty in the job market, the vagaries of the global economy will always cause things to change, but studying for a computer science degree has a very secure look about it.
Prospects are good, and the chances of job satisfaction are even better. It’s not just the median annual salary that makes for a happy computer scientist, there are other factors as well. For many of us, computers are a passion. They’re what we use to entertain ourselves on a daily basis. Being able to make a (very good) living from something that gives us so much pleasure is a major factor in computer science courses being very popular. Indeed, many computer science students say the practical side of their studies are rather easy, even fun, if you have a little knowledge on how these things work. Given how often we use technology these days, for business and for pleasure, many of us have more than just a little knowledge.
So, is computer science the best career choice in town? In all areas, such as current vacancies, career development, median salaries and job satisfaction, it is hard to think of a smarter choice. It is certainly fair to say that computer scientists have never been hotter.