From software development to cybersecurity, the computer science field is full of exciting, diverse, and high-growth careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer science jobs are projected to increase by 13% from 2020 to 2030.
Whether you’re just starting, thinking about switching careers, or looking to advance your computer science knowledge, this guide will help you navigate the many different computer science career paths, jobs, and skills needed to break into the industry.
Table of Contents
- Is A Computer Science Career Right For You?
- Top 9 Computer Science Jobs
- Computer Science Career Paths
- How to Get Into Computer Science Without A Degree
Is a Career In Computer Science Right For You?
Computer science is a lucrative field with applications across diverse industries. Generally, if you are interested in working with computers, complex mathematics, and problem-solving, you are probably a good fit for a career in computer science.
At its core, computer science is about problem-solving using computers, which requires a foundation in mathematics, data structures and algorithms, and programming. Much of the prerequisites for an undergraduate computer science degree require discrete mathematics, linear algebra, and calculus.
“You can be a lawyer who's now building software to be used by law offices. You can be an artist that's building ways to be artistic, to create installations, or create something virtually.”
However, adding computer science skills can be tremendously beneficial to your career. “You can be a lawyer who's now building software to be used by law offices,” said David Joyner, computer scientist and executive director of online education at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech and instructor for edX courses such as GTx’s Introduction to Python Programming. “You can be an artist that's building ways to be artistic, to create installations, or create something virtually.”
Diverse Computer Science Career Paths: Where Can It Take You?
One of the most popular career choices for computer science graduates is software engineering and other high-demand technical specialties like cloud computing.
"For those looking for the best career paths, it is evident that cloud-native computing, DevOps, Linux, and security hold the most promising opportunities."
“For those looking for the best career paths, it is evident that cloud-native computing, DevOps, Linux, and security hold the most promising opportunities,” said Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin.
However, a background in computer science can open doors to many other careers and fields. Some of these careers include data science, product management, quality assurance, project management, and system administration.
For example, edX learner Juan Carlos was able to transition from engineering to product management at Rolls-Royce by gradually building his computer science skills. “MIT’s Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python was just the first of several online courses that eventually enabled me years later to confidently change my career at Rolls-Royce, from an engineering role into product management,” said Carlos.
What Are The Best Computer Science Jobs? 9 Exciting Careers
There’s more to computer science jobs than software engineering. Computer science skills can take your career in just about any direction, from cybersecurity to data science. Below are just a few of the most popular computer science jobs on the market.
Read tips from seven industry and academic experts in fields from cybersecurity to cloud computing to learn how code-curious learners can begin exploring skills and career paths and why now is a great time to get into coding.
1. Software Engineering
Software engineering is considered one of the best jobs in computer science due to lucrative salaries and remote work options. Software engineers are computer programmers who apply engineering principles to create software and applications. Software engineers must be versed in at least one programming language, web frameworks, version control, and test-driven development.
Software engineers enjoy high salaries over the course of their careers.
While many software engineering jobs require a formal computer science bachelor’s degree, it’s highly possible to become a self-taught software engineer if you learn the appropriate technologies and have a portfolio of projects.
2. Full Stack Developer
Full stack developers are versed in both front and back end development. They are generally proficient in a wide range of new technologies and languages such as Java, Python, HTML, and CSS, and sometimes work with databases and APIs. As a full stack developer, you can choose to develop a specialization in either front or back end development. Many smaller companies and startups require the skill set of a full-stack developer.
3. Cloud Engineer
One of the most in-demand cloud computing jobs is cloud engineering. A cloud engineer updates and maintains resources in the cloud. Their responsibilities vary, but some of what they are responsible for are building and maintaining infrastructure and networks using tools such as TerraForm. According to Upkar Lidder, senior software engineer and instructor of IBM’s Full Stack Cloud Developer Professional Certificate, there are many versions of cloud engineering.
“If you are more into data, the role of cloud computing data engineer would be to write different ETL pipelines in order to gather data, transform data and make sure it's ready for whatever the next step might be,” said Lidder. “For example, data science. Depending on what your interests are, if you're into security, that's another big field in cloud computing on how to secure your clusters and secure your environment.”
4. Mobile Developer
5. DevOps Engineer
According to the 2021 Open Source Jobs report by edX and the Linux Foundation, one of the top skills in high demand by hiring managers is DevOps. DevOps is the bridge between development and operations. DevOps engineers monitor how software is deployed and generate scripts to automate updates, deploy software, and more. DevOps is ideally for someone who enjoys getting things working rather than writing code themselves.
6. Product Management
Product management is the combination of user experience, business, and technology. Product managers own the experience of a product, and one of their major tasks is to work cross-functionally with developers, marketers, and designers to create features. Often, an understanding of computer science can be helpful to determine what software code is needed to create those features, which is why many software engineers often transition into product management.
7. Security Engineer
According to a workforce study by (ISC)2 there is a global talent shortage for cybersecurity professionals. One of the most important cybersecurity jobs is the information security engineer, who designs and tests security software that is resilient to cyberattacks. Information security engineers must have a strong background in computer science and cybersecurity frameworks.
“We'll see a lot of expansion in cybersecurity, especially given some of the recent news on different hacks and compromises,” said Joyner. “It's a rich area as well, because it's not an area where we know all the answers and we can now just implement the answers.”
8. Computer Systems Analyst
If you’re looking to get into information technology (IT), the computer systems analyst position may be a good fit. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer systems analysts earn a median salary of $93,730. The role of a computer systems analyst is to research an organization’s computer systems and make recommendations or improvements.
9. Data Scientist
Much of the skillsets demanded from data scientists and data analysts naturally overlap with computer science. Data science professionals often use programming languages like Python or R to automate much of their work and spend much of their time cleaning data for their machine learning algorithms.
“The reliance on technology that's developed over the past 12 months has just meant that there's even more data out there to do stuff with, which in some ways, is a bigger challenge because more data doesn't necessarily mean better data,” said Joyner. “But it means there is more opportunity out there to derive useful conclusions from what we're logging and everything anyway.”
How to Get Into Computer Science Without A Degree: Expert Advice
Not all computer science careers require a relevant undergraduate or master’s degree. For example, in cybersecurity, employers look at certifications more than degrees. Still, formal education can be critical for some careers like software engineering. Data from a 2020 survey by StackOverflow reports that 75% of developers have a bachelor’s degree.
The popularity of online master’s degree programs coupled with changing industry standards is prompting more professionals to ask themselves: is a master’s in computer science worth it? Read on to find out.
With that said, here are a few tips on how to break into computer science sans a degree.
Be Prepared To Learn
You won’t become an entry-level software engineer or a computer scientist overnight. The process can take several months to years, especially if you don’t have a technical background. That’s why it is important to supplement your learning with online courses and programs.
“I gained admission into the computer science program at a local engineering college,” said Akshay Kulkarni, a former software engineer at Microsoft. “However, I found the classes uninteresting and didn’t learn anything substantially. I was really confused and began considering other career options. [Then] I took Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python by MIT, and the course turned my life around. I realized not only was I good at programming but I also actually loved it.”
Get Hands-On Experience
Learning computer science concepts and theories can only get you so far in your career. One of the best ways to get hands-on experience is to apply computer science skills to real-world problems. For example, if you want to improve your programming skills, you can start a personal project like developing an app or a game. You can even become a contributor to open source projects on platforms like Github and build a portfolio.
Start Building Your Career in Computer Science
The computer science field is constantly changing. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you need to keep your knowledge up to date to thrive in the industry. If you’re interested in learning computer science fundamentals or want to add computer science skills to your repertoire, explore industry-aligned courses and programs on edX.