Computer Scientist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in computer science? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if a career in computer scientist is right for you.
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Virtually every company uses computers to help them operate more efficiently. This demand means that computer science is a field with good job growth potential, but you'll want to consider several factors when determining if it's the right field for you. For example, most computer-related jobs pay well, but require overtime and continuing education to keep your skills updated.

PROS of a Career in Computer Science
Wide variety of job possibilities*
Good job prospects in some areas (as high as 19% from 2014 to 2024)*
Higher-than-average median salaries (about $77,000 for programmers in 2014)*
Some jobs available without a 4-year degree*

CONS of a Career in Computer Science
Lengthy education requirements for some positions (6+ years)*
Overtime is common*
Continuing education requirements*
Changing technologies can outdate specializations*
Outsourcing of jobs to countries with lower wages*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options and Descriptions

There are many career options within the field of computer science. Some of the most popular are computer programming, which involves writing code for software programs; software development, involving the design of both programs and underlying computer systems; and database administration, which involves using software to sort, store and secure data, such as hospital records or bank accounts. Typically computer science professionals work in offices, as a part of a team. Overtime may be required, particularly as new systems are being rolled out or installed.

Salary and Job Prospects Information

As of May 2014, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report showed computer programmers earning a median salary of almost $77,000, and projected that programming job opportunities would decline by 8% between 2014 and 2024. According to the report, database administrators were paid annual median salaries of about $80,280 and were expected to see an 11% increase in jobs over the same decade. The BLS also projected job growth of 19% for software application developers, reporting a median salary for the group of around $95,000 per year. Systems software developers also had a good outlook, with a projected 13% increase in jobs, and the highest salaries, averaging close to $102,000 per year.

Education

Education requirements vary widely in this field because employers may allow several years of experience and/or some post-secondary coursework to replace a degree requirement. With vocational coursework at the high school or community college level, you may be able to work in entry-level programming or computer support. Computer science-related certificate and associate's degree programs are widely available.

To work in areas such as software development, programming or database administration, you'll need a bachelor's degree. Computer science degree programs will include coursework in calculus, computer programming, discrete structures, software engineering and database systems. Master's degrees in business or computer science are generally required to work in management or with complex computer systems, while doctoral degrees are required to work in research or to teach at the college level.

Skills

People who work with computers need to be creative, detail-oriented and have excellent analytical skills. The ability to communicate clearly is necessary because programs need to have documentation for the users, and some positions will require you to train new users of software or operating systems. Additionally, you will need to develop solid technical and problem-solving abilities.

What Do Employers Look For?

Employers typically look for experience with a variety of operating systems and proficiency in multiple programming languages. The ability to work in a team and communicate clearly was also highlighted in postings. What follows is a sampling of job openings posted in November 2012:

  • An Illinois technical employer sought an entry-level computer programmer for a contract project. Excellent math proficiency and programming ability in languages, such as C++, Java, VB or SQL, were required. An IT-related college degree with a focus on programming over hardware was required.
  • A Texas vending machine manufacturer advertised for a senior systems software engineer to work on telemetry solutions. Role would include 25% Linux embedded software, 50% application software and 25% digital hardware/peripherals. A bachelor's degree with 5-7 years of experience in product development was required.
  • A Washington state healthcare services company posted an opening for an applications development software developer. A 4-year IT-related degree or equivalent experience, plus four years of software building experience was required, along with database knowledge, JavaScript, ORM, HTML5/CSS3 and web services. The ability to work with customers and good oral and written communication skills were listed as essential.
  • A Massachusetts company advertised for a database administrator to work with the software engineering department in designing, implementing and supporting all 2xB environments. A bachelor's degree in computer science or equivalent plus 4-5 years of related experience was required. Experience with SQL servers monitoring tools and SQL code, and the ability to document clearly and write specifications were desired.

Add Certifications

Many software vendors offer certification in their products, and certification is sometimes preferred or required for specific positions. Software operating systems and programming languages, such as Oracle, C++ or Java, commonly have certification options, which can be earned through community colleges or vendors. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), offers credentials for software development professionals, and may provide you with both networking and educational opportunities.

Expand Expertise

Knowing multiple programming languages or platforms is one of the best ways to stand out to an employer, and earning certification in a programming language or operating system would demonstrate proficiency.

Additionally, take coursework about the type of industry you'd like to work in. Computers are a tool used by businesses to operate more efficiently, so having an understanding of the business you'd like to work in may give you an edge in getting a job in that industry.

Mathematician

Computer science is based heavily on math, and if that's what you really enjoy, a career as a mathematician may interest you. Mathematicians work to develop new mathematical principles and to solve real-world problems using math. Mathematicians may work for the government or in science and engineering research. The BLS reported salaries for mathematicians of just over $101,000 in 2011. Job growth was projected to be 16% from 2010 to 2020. A master's degree is necessary.

Computer Information Systems Manager

Once you have 5-10 years of experience and a master's degree in either computer science or management information systems, you may be ready to move into computer information systems (CIS) management. According to the BLS, job opportunities were projected to grow by 18% between 2010 and 2020. The BLS also reported a median salary of around $118,000 for CIS managers as of May 2011.

Computer Science Professor

If you are interested in a career that would allow you to work with students and keep on the cutting edge of technology, working as a college professor teaching computer science may be very satisfying. Teaching at this level will require at least a master's and likely a doctoral degree. You'll prepare lessons and instruct students, and may conduct research and publish. The BLS has projected a 17% increase in job opportunities for college professors and reported a median salary of about $73,000 per year for computer science professors.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

ECPI University

  • Bachelor's - Network Security
  • Associate's - Network Security
  • Web Design & Dev

What is your highest level of education?

Georgetown University

  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Full Sail University

  • Master of Science - Mobile Gaming
  • Master of Science - Business Intelligence
  • BS - Cloud Technologies (Campus)
  • Bachelor of Science - Software Development

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
  • PhD in Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
  • MBA - Applied Computer Science
  • MS Technology and Innovation Management Computer Science

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctorate: Computer Science
  • Master of Science in Computer Science
  • BS - IT - Web Development

Are you a US citizen?

Keiser University

  • Master of Business Admin - Information Security Management
  • Bachelor of Science - Cyber Forensics/Information Security
  • Associate of Sciences - Information Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • Master - Information Technology Management
  • BS - Information Technology
  • Graduate Certificate - Cyber Security

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Information Technology - Information Assurance and Security
  • Master of IT: Project Management
  • Bachelor of Technology: Information Assurance and Security
  • Bachelor: IT - Network Admin

Are you a US citizen?