What a Computer Scientist Should Know to Grow Their Career

February 1, 2018 • Devin Partida


Are you currently a computer scientist? Do you want to learn how to do more with your existing skills and become more capable and desirable as a professional? It’s no secret that computer science has changed considerably in recent years. Learn what a computer scientist should know.

Computer science is increasingly a bellwether for social progress in general since it influences so much of our lives on a daily basis and helps us improve our standard of living. We’re going to take a look at the skills you will want to focus on, emerging trends you should familiarize yourself with, changes within related industries and how you can weather them with distinction.

Let’s begin.

What a Computer Scientist Should Know

These days, about 20 percent of students who graduate from American universities with degrees relating to physics, electrical engineering, statistics and other mathematics go on to work in computing-heavy fields.

This figure is only expected to increase, too. Expectations for industry growth by 2024 indicate an addition of nearly half-a-million new jobs, which is a great deal faster than the current average for all types of employment.

Clearly, this is a field to consider if you have an aptitude for math and science, but should you focus on other specific and practical skill areas, as well? You may be pleased to learn that you might not have had to study computer science explicitly in college to pursue a new career in the field.

A recent project conducted by the Brookings Institution used census data to plot the school-to-employment trajectories of college students between 2010 and 2013. They found that the following percentages of graduate types went on to develop software professionally in the private sector:

  • Computer engineering: 30.3 percent
  • Electrical engineering: 11.3 percent
  • Physics: 8.2 percent
  • Astrophysics and astronomy: 8.1 percent
  • Mathematics: 6.1 percent
  • Aerospace engineering: 5.6 percent

These exciting points of overlap are not surprising — think of smartphones today, which measure barometric pressure and help us crowd-source weather to make it more accurate and timely. In a device the size of a deck of cards, we see the coming-together of a panoply of disciplines, with computer science right at the heart of it.

In short, technological advancement is less a straight line these days and more a web. It doesn’t progress linearly — each new advance powers five or six more. And so it goes, with computer science now powering life as we know it.

Computer Science Is Not Just One Industry Anymore

Trends throughout the industry can help us see where this is playing out in the real world. Given how varied the skills are that can be parlayed into a career as a computer scientist, you would expect to find commensurate upticks in this type of employment at some of the biggest corporations — and you’d be right.

Microsoft is expanding from their “traditional” pools of talent (read: computer science) and courting grads with well-rounded mathematics backgrounds. So is General Motors. Epic Systems wants biology majors who dabble in coding to help revolutionize healthcare data.

Just knowing how broad your possibilities are after graduation, and that companies won’t always need you to have studied computer science specifically, will open doors for you that many others don’t know are available yet.

If there’s a vital takeaway here, it’s that, as a computer scientist yourself, you now have the freedom to cease thinking about what you do as a single industry and instead as a discipline which touches many others.

If you have developed a passion for something — farming, agriculture and sustainable resource management, say — to which advanced digital technology may be applied to make it more capable or efficient, there are almost certainly jobs out there for people just like you. And if there aren’t, you might be able to devise your own.

Beyond college and grad school, as a computer scientist, you have the benefit and burden of having many avenues to explore. And, yes, it might be tough-going at times. Freelance bug-hunters prove their value to major companies sometimes and get rewarded or hired on the spot. Others find unconventional ways to use technology to flog their wares for the right audience.

And if you are still in school, start thinking early about where your interests and passions might take you. Use on-campus career services and seek out companies that interest you, or find out about their computer-related needs to work on your expertise.

Another tip? Don’t settle on a single programming language if coding is what you’re into. The world runs on many operating systems and content management systems, so engage in some self-directed learning and brush up on Assembly, C, C++, Java, JavaScript, Swift and Racket.

The point is, no matter which rung of the ladder you’re on, computer science is rich enough that, no matter where in the field your interests take you, you’ll almost certainly find a role to step into that makes the most of it.

The Disposition of a Computer Scientist

It might not be a hard skill, but there is one more thing every computer scientist should possess if they aspire to greatness: a desire to innovate. We don’t just mean “dreaming big” and trying to “change the world” — even the little innovations help keep the world turning.

Software engineers at Oath, now owned by Verizon, understand that the daily responsibilities of a software engineer, coder or programmer can be repetitive and sometimes less-than-glamorous. There will often be no clear answers to the problem in front of you, requiring repeated trial-and-error to get right.

Essentially, it’s important that you have a passion for innovation to be successful in the field. You’ll need a keen eye for details and a sturdy disposition for those late-night bug-hunts, but you’ll also be on the cutting-edge of one of the most dynamic and consequential career tracks out there right now.

The bottom line is that utilizing all of your hard skills will increase your chances of success in the industry. The field of computer science is rapidly expanding its attention to various specialties, which makes investing your assets in IT corporations more advantageous than ever before.

Whether you are an elite mathematician or an engineer with experience in software management, try honing in on your interests to make the most out of your career.