Computer science as a distinct discipline has its origins in the early 1960s, decades before its current object of study. The digital, internet-connected computer you sit in front of at your desk or the smartphone you hold in your hand – was even a glimmer in technology’s eye. However, the foundational disciplines that went into its making – mathematics, physics, electrical engineering and management information systems still inform it to this day.
Today, with computers forming a core function in the daily lives of billions of people and innumerable businesses across the planet, it’s not surprising to find the desire to learn more about it growing rapidly, hence the rise of numerous online tutorial platforms. However, given the contemporary reliance that the business world has developed today on advanced, high-functioning computer systems and the fact that modern businesses, healthcare systems, educational establishments and other industries could not function without computers in today’s digital world, growing numbers of people are taking a rather more professional interest in the discipline. Many are now seeing it as an attractive career option, and this means that aspiring computer scientists need more than introductory online tutorials, they need an advanced, recognized, academic degree.
Let’s take a closer look at what computer science is today, how it works, how businesses apply it – and how those who foresee a rewarding career in it can get qualified, even if they have existing work and family commitments to juggle.
The serious shortage of qualified computer scientists in the U.S.
In the summer of 2022, a revealing news story broke concerning the status of computer science in the modern world. Yahoo News reported that governors from all 50 states had committed to funding a computer science curriculum to reach more American school students. This was a new effort to attract a new generation of future experts into the field.
The initiative had been organized by a Seattle-headquartered non-profit, Code.org. The governors acted after more than 600 business leaders from fields as diverse as non-profits, universities and technology giants signed a letter supporting the inclusion of computer science in the United States K-12 curriculum. Big tech names were among the signatories, with Amazon, Apple and Microsoft among them.
Covering the same story, the business technology news outlet ZDNet pointed to a “desperate skills shortage” in computer science. At the time of publication in July 2022, America had 700,000 vacancies open for computer scientists but only 80,000 annual graduates in the discipline. As the Code.org letter notes, “The United States leads the world in technology, yet only 5% of our high school students study computer science.”
For those with an interest in computer technology and an aptitude for its foundational subjects, now may be a particularly good moment to consider a career realignment into this massively sought-after discipline. That may sound like an unrealistic option for the many people who already have full-time jobs (and often family commitments, too), but it’s becoming more practically feasible than one might assume. Thanks to the growing trend by higher education establishments to offer advanced, flexibly-delivered degrees online, it’s now possible to graduate as a computer scientist not by attending a campus-based program, but by completing an online master’s of computer science.
The Master of Science Online program provided by California’s Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) offers one particularly attractive example of this coveted degree. A world-class center of academic excellence recognized for its influential faculty and accomplished alumni, WPI offers mature students with already-busy lives the chance to switch careers by working around their existing obligations from the comfort of their own homes. There are no commuting expenses and no need to consider unaffordable options such as giving up work to study full-time on campus, instead you focus on the top-tier education that is provided in this urgently needed discipline.
What is computer science, and how does it work?
“Computer science” is an umbrella term concerning the study of digital computers, a discipline that encompasses a raft of related subjects. These include computational theory, computer architecture, the study of algorithms and how humans interact with technology, data science, robotics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, game development, and software and hardware design.
Computer science isn’t confined to laptops and smartphones; it applies to a vast array of applications, from ATMs to wearable technologies such as Fitbits. In fact, most modern businesses are heavily reliant on computers to function, right down to the brick-and-mortar retail store setting up e-commerce facilities and/or an app for customers’ smartphones.
A few definitions may be in order. “Computational theory” concerns an understanding of how computers solve problems in the real world. An algorithm is essentially a type of recipe, or a sequence of instructions for executing a complex task. In computer science, algorithms effectively “tell” computers what to do and how to do it, while computer architecture refers to the structure of a digital computer. The latter encompasses the design and format of the computer’s instruction set and storage registers. Different architectures are chosen for different real-world applications (e.g., domestic use, scientific use, business use, and so on).
Computer science: How it’s applied in business
Computer scientists are extraordinary problem-solvers. Upon receiving a report of a problem, their training equips them to collect the relevant information, begin communicating with the computers associated with the glitch via the appropriate programming languages and logic (scripting), and move on from there to solving the issue. This is typically done by means of creating a sequence of rules or directions for the affected computer(s) to execute and thereby eradicate the identified aberration or malfunction.
These are the very abilities that make them indispensable to modern businesses. Computer scientists can help tech-dependent businesses to scale more effectively, streamline their operations, analyze huge pools of data for effective business decisions, and keep the enterprise functioning should a computer-related problem arise.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Computer scientists help businesses ensure that email marketing campaigns function smoothly. They play a pivotal role in web development and social media marketing, and they ensure that business-critical, computer-facilitated financial transactions and accounting systems continue to operate smoothly.
In short, without access to the depth of expert knowledge and breadth of advanced problem-solving skills embodied by the computer scientist, many businesses and other organizations would simply be unable to function.