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What Can You Do With a Computer Science Degree?

Ilana Kowarski

In today's economy, potential employees who know how to create and improve software are highly marketable, making the field of computer science increasingly popular among those hoping to land a well-paying job after graduation.

The field of computer science focuses on the study of software systems, and a degree in the discipline allows someone to pursue a variety of careers. Contrary to what it may seem, the demand for computer scientists is not limited to positions in Silicon Valley technology companies, according to computer science professors. Instead, the increasing use of technology throughout the business world means that companies in many industries are hiring grads of computer science programs.

"It's a golden age right now for computer science, and we're very fortunate in this field," says Salvatore Stolfo, a professor of computer science at Columbia University in New York City. "For people who study computer science in their education, it's a great, great time, and essentially the sky is the limit."

An April employment forecast from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website indicates that the number of job opportunities for computer science grads is growing. According to the forecast, employment within computer and information technology occupations is expected to increase by 13% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average among all occupations.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also shows that some careers common among computer science degree-holders frequently lead to six-figure salaries. For instance, in May 2018, the median salary among computer and information research scientists was $118,370, and the median salary among computer network architects was $109,020. Software developers also typically received generous paychecks: their median salary in May 2018 was $105,590.

[Read: Computer Science Grads Can Earn More Than MBAs.]

Sam Gavis-Hughson, the CEO and founder of Byte by Byte, a company that helps aspiring software engineers prepare for job interviews at prestigious tech corporations like Amazon and Facebook, says people who lack a genuine interest in technology should not pursue a computer science degree simply because of the allure of high salaries. "I think that a lot of people are doing it for the money and not doing it because they enjoy programming," says Gavis-Hughson, who earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from Princeton University.

He says programming is only fun for people who have a knack for problem-solving, adding, "Not everyone has that really analytical sort of mind."

However, Gavis-Hughson acknowledges that a computer science degree is broadly applicable. "One of the greatest things about a (computer science) degree is that it allows you to work in whatever industry you desire," he wrote in an email. "Every single industry requires programmers, so you can decide what path you want to pursue. For example, you could do software development and work for Warby Parker and be in fashion, or work for Google doing (artificial intelligence) type projects. If you are into cars, you could work for a big auto company and write the software for their vehicles. The possibilities are endless."

[See: Best Computer Science Programs.]

Justin Sherman, a college junior at Duke University in North Carolina who is double-majoring in computer science and political science, says getting an education in computer science can enhance one's understanding of the world in general, since technology plays a pivotal role in society.

"Whether it's in your day-to-day life as a citizen in our world or just as a consumer, you're going to be interacting with a variety of these technologies, online, with smart devices (and) in your vehicle," says Sherman, who is also a cybersecurity policy fellow at New America, a public policy think tank based in the District of Columbia. "A computer science degree is sort of a way to unlock understanding how all of that works, how all of that functions, how all of that interacts."

[Read: 3 Reasons to Earn a Graduate Computer Science Degree in the U.S.]

Sherman says an education in computer science can not only provide people with the training necessary to invent new technologies, but it can also allow them to identify potential improvements for current technologies.

"Computer science touches every field," Sherman wrote in an email. "Its knowledge and applications are everywhere, from disease prediction in health care to automation in manufacturing to data privacy regulation in state legislatures."

Jobs for Computer Science Grads

Greg Law -- a co-founder and chief technology officer at the Undo software company, which operates both in the U.K. and the U.S. -- says computer science positions are plentiful, and that there are many interesting jobs available to computer science degree-holders.

"I'd recommend computer science to anyone who feels they have or may have an affinity with it," Law, who has a Ph.D. in computer science from City University London, wrote in an email. "Programming is a creative and fun endeavor -- it's the act of creation and problem solving. And unlike most other creative roles, demand for good programmers far outstrips supply; the opportunities are diverse and the financial rewards can be significant. The top tech firms in Silicon Valley routinely pay seven figures a year to new graduates, and even signing on bonuses that can immediately pay off all your student debt."

Constantine Coutras, a professor of computer science and chairperson of the computer science department at Montclair State University in New Jersey, says he would encourage people with an interest in and aptitude for math and science to consider pursuing a degree in computer science.

The following types of jobs are positions where a degree in computer science is a major asset:

-- Data scientist

-- Software tester

-- Web developer

-- Systems analyst

-- Business analyst

-- Product manager

-- Network architect

-- Software engineer

-- Software developer

-- Full-stack developer

-- Engineering manager

-- User interface designer

-- Database administrator

-- Cloud computing engineer

-- Information security analyst

-- Computer science professor

-- Chief information security officer

-- Software quality assurance manager

-- Information technology specialist

-- Mobile application designer or developer

-- Research and development (R&D) scientist

-- Computer scientist or computer science researcher

-- Artificial intelligence and machine learning engineer

"The most common path is to become a software developer, but there are many other paths open, including system administration and systems analyst," Law says. "The great thing about a (computer science) degree however is that today every company is becoming a software company, so a degree in computer science gives you access to a more diverse range of opportunities and industry than almost any other qualification."

Law says that a Ph.D. degree is typically necessary for research-intensive computer science positions, but many computer science careers are attainable with only a bachelor's or master's degree.

"If you want to go into research -- working for a research (center) for one of the big tech companies or at a university, then it's difficult to do so without a Ph.D.," he wrote. "But beyond a research role, speaking as someone who has a Ph.D. and who hires a lot of software developers into highly demanding roles, I don't feel a Ph.D. opens up any opportunities that would otherwise be precluded."

Hannah Pierce-Hoffman -- a technology company that designs and sells manufacturing systems for semiconductor chip manufacturers, who recently received her bachelor's degree in computer science from Columbia University -- says a computer science degree is a versatile credential.

"Almost every type of company relies on software infrastructure to some degree; almost every new technology being developed has some type of software component," Pierce-Hoffman wrote in an email. "Additionally, studying computer science teaches you to solve problems very clearly and logically, which is a skill that can be applied in any field."

Stolfo, in addition to his faculty appointment, is also the founder and chief technology officer of Allure Security, a data security firm that safeguards sensitive data for its clients. He says it's important for computer science degree-holders to know that there are degrees in computer science outside of San Francisco. "There's no particular region of the U.S. where computer science is not in demand," he says. "Choose where you want to live, choose who you want to work for, and pretty much you will find a job or position there and for them."

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