During his presidency, Barack Obama consistently made headlines for talking about how “everybody’s got to learn how to code.” Indeed, Obama could see that computer science was going to become an increasingly important skill to have in the modern workforce.
According to Code.org, a college-educated computer science major can earn up to 40% more than the average college graduate—that’s an impressive sum!
But what is computer science, and why are so many people talking about the benefits of learning how to code? Those are the questions we are going to answer in this article.
What is Computer Science?
We use computers to do everything from playing games to talking with friends, to writing and submitting reports at work. But have you ever thought about how it all works?
Computer science is the study of computers and covers everything from the software you use every day—like email and word processing—to the hardware that you depend on such as computers and phones.
Computer scientists are in the business of solving problems using technology. When a computer scientist is called to work, they will gather information on a particular issue, then use their skills to come up with a way to solve the said problem using technology.
For instance, suppose you operate a coffee chain and you are looking to improve efficiency in deliveries. You could call up a computer scientist—who would use their knowledge of computers and the data you have collected—to come up with ways for you to make faster deliveries.
To solve problems, computer scientists use a technique called computational thinking. Essentially it means breaking down a problem into its basic parts, then think about how a computer can solve that problem.
Then, once a computer scientist has identified an approach to solve a problem, they use programming languages to actually build the solution they have designed.
Why Is Computer Science so Important?
Computer science is everywhere in our world. We rely on Amazon Echos, for instance, to play music. We rely on phones to guide us on our travels. We rely on computers to work. Indeed, no matter where you look or go, there is likely to be technology somewhere nearby.
Computer science is so important because computers are capable of solving some problems more effectively than humans. So far, computers have been tasked with everything from mapping the human genome to tracking viral outbreaks around the world. This is because computers can analyze a large amount of data effectively and efficiently.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1,365,000 software engineers employed in-field in 2018, and the number of software engineers is expected to grow by 21%—a rate “much faster than average”—by 2028. This shows that learning about computer science is a valuable investment of your time, and could even help you break into a career in technology.
What Skills Do Computer Scientists Use?
Computer scientists solve problems using computers and critical thinking skills. Their knowledge allows us to leverage the power of computers—which is growing by the day—to solve some of the biggest issues we face today.
There is no specific list of things that a computer scientist does on a day to day basis, but there are a few key skills that make for a successful computer scientist.
Computer scientists often use the following skills:
- Breaking down a problem into smaller parts
- Thinking about how a problem can be addressed using technology
- Analyzing data collected using a computer
- Simulating real-world problems using computers
- Creating visualizations and graphics to show off data
Good computer scientists must also have a range of soft skills, which refer to the non-technical skills that they use on the job. Communication, especially, is a useful skill for computer scientists to have because oftentimes, they solve problems as part of a larger team. Here are a few other soft skills commonly used by computer scientists:
- Problem solving and analysis
- Logical thinking
- Attention to detail
- Ability to organize information
There are various different branches of computer science that focus on specific areas of using computers. For instance, web developers are a type of computer scientist who uses programming languages to build websites while software engineers are a type of computer scientist who uses programming to build software for computers.
Computer Science vs. Programming
One common question beginners to computer science and even existing coders have is: What is the difference between computer science and programming?
The main difference between these two topics, which are very similar, is that computer science is more focused on the theory behind computers and how they work, whereas programming is more about the practicalities behind solving problems.
In a computer science course at university, you may spend your time learning about systems, how computers are built up, and what standard algorithms are used to perform common operations with computers. But, in a programming course, you may focus more on practical skills like building web applications, analyzing datasets, or designing mobile apps.
Computer Science Is Everywhere
There is no escaping computer science in the modern economy. In the 21st century, information technology has become a part of all of our lives, and technology is now implemented across a wide range of different fields.
In manufacturing, for example, computer science is used to improve products, make supply chains more effective, and power robots. In healthcare, computer science is commonly used to design security systems for patient data, and to sequence DNA. In retail, computer science is used to predict trends, improve stock storage, and streamline supply chains.
Here are a few other industries that are known to employ computer scientists:
- Research laboratories
- Software companies
- The government
- Financial service providers
- Defense contractors
- Telecommunications companies
- Entertainment businesses
With this in mind, it’s clear why learning computer science is such a valuable skill. In fact, according to Code.org, 90% of parents want their child to study computer science. And it is no wonder, given how 67% of all new jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields are focused on computing.
In short, computer science is a field that focuses on solving problems by using computers.
While programmers may be more focused on practical applications, computer scientists are usually more focused on the theory behind computers. They will spend time analyzing problems and figuring out how to solve them using computers and standard algorithms.
As technology becomes an ever-more important part of our lives, the demand for computer scientists is increasing and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
Learning about computer science not only gives you a better understanding of how the technology you use every day works, but it also gives you a wedge into a wider career in the tch field. What’s not to love!