Computers—and the software programs they run—are at the heart of almost everything we touch in today’s world. They’re in our pockets, on our wrists, and even in our eyeglasses.
They run our businesses and our governments. They make our music and our movies. They’re how we stay connected to our friends and families. And they’re how we access the vast store of human knowledge, the internet.
In short, computer science is everywhere, and it touches everything.
So it’s no wonder that there is a growing demand for people with computer science skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of computer science jobs is expected to grow by 22% from 2020 to 2030—much faster than the average for all occupations. And about 3200 openings for computer science jobs are expected to occur each year.
It’s not just the tech industry that’s looking for computer science talent. Businesses in every sector are increasingly relying on technology and need employees who can help them navigate this complex landscape.
So, how do you get into computer science? For some people, it’s a natural progression from another field, such as engineering or mathematics. Others have always been interested in computers and have been self-taught. And still, others have pursued specific training, ranging from coding bootcamps to lengthy and very specific Ph.D. programs.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are a few general pathways people are taking to get into computer science. This guide will outline some of the most common pathways and help you decide which one is right for you.
Computer Science Pathways—What’s the Right Fit for You?
There is no single pathway into computer science. The most important thing is to find a pathway that’s a good fit for your interests, skills, and goals.
One way to think about the different pathways is in terms of the “depth” of computer science knowledge and skills you want to develop. Do you want to develop a broad understanding of computer science or focus on a specific area?
Do you want to learn the basics of coding or become a master programmer? Do you want to use computer science to solve problems in your current field or create new products and services?
Whatever the case, there’s a pathway into computer science that aligns with your objective. Here are some of the most common pathways into computer science:
If you want to learn the basics of coding and computer science concepts but don’t want to commit to a four-year degree, a bootcamp might be the right fit. Bootcamps are short, intensive programs that teach you the skills you need to get a job in a specific field.
There are dozens of bootcamps, and the curriculum can vary widely. Some bootcamps focus on specific coding languages, while others teach you how to use different programming tools and frameworks. There are also bootcamps that focus on specific industries, such as data science or cybersecurity.
Bootcamps are a good option for people who want to get started in computer science quickly and don’t mind paying for the privilege. They’re also a good option for people who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field and want to make a career change. Some bootcamps will even accept people with no college experience.
The downside of bootcamps is that they can be expensive. In 2020, the median cost of a coding bootcamp was about $13,500. And because they’re so short, you might not have time to explore computer science and figure out what you’re passionate about.
Computer science bootcamps are either held in-person or online. In-person bootcamps are typically more expensive, but they offer the benefit of hands-on learning and face-to-face interaction with instructors and other students.
Online bootcamps, on the other hand, are a good option for people who want the flexibility to learn on their own schedule. They’re also generally more affordable than in-person bootcamps.
The curriculum of a computer science bootcamp will vary depending on the program you choose. But in general, you can expect to learn about:
- Basic coding languages
- Front end development
- Full stack development
- Software development
- Software engineering
- Software design
Some bootcamps will also teach you specific skills for industries like data science, cybersecurity, or web development.
Most computer science bootcamps last between 10 and 12 weeks. Some bootcamps are full-time, meaning you’ll attend classes and work on projects for 40 hours or more per week. Other bootcamps are part-time, which allows you to keep your day job while you learn new skills.
Those who want to learn specific coding languages or tools, but don’t want to commit to a full degree program, might consider getting a certification instead. Certifications are short, specialized programs that can be completed in a matter of weeks or months.
There are dozens of different computer science certifications available, so it’s essential to choose one that aligns with your goals. For example, if you want to become a web developer, you might consider getting a certification in HTML or CSS. And if you’re interested in data science, you might get a certification in SQL or Python.
Although certification programs tend to be less expensive than bootcamps or degree programs, they still require a significant investment of time and money. And because they’re so specialized, they might not give you the well-rounded education you need to launch a successful career in computer science.
Most computer science certifications are offered online, which gives you the flexibility to learn on your own schedule. Some programs might require you to complete coursework and projects on a set schedule, but in general, you’ll have more flexibility with an online certification than you would with an in-person program.
If you want the benefit of hands-on learning and face-to-face interaction with instructors, you might consider getting an in-person certification. But these programs are less common and typically more expensive than their online counterparts.
You can complete some computer science certifications in as little as eight weeks, but some programs take between three and six months to finish. It is essential to consider the length of the program when choosing a certification, as you’ll need to factor in the cost and time commitment.
Some computer science certifications are offered by coding bootcamps, while others are sponsored by tech companies or industry organizations. There are also several independent certification programs that are not affiliated with any particular school or company.
Popular computer science certification options include:
- The AWS Certified Developer Associate
- The Azure Developer Associate
- Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
A computer science degree is the most traditional route into the field. But with so many different types of computer science degrees available, it can be challenging to know which one is right for you.
The first step is to decide whether you want to study computer science at the undergraduate or graduate level. Undergraduate programs typically last four years, while graduate programs can take two to three years to complete.
If you’re unsure whether you want to commit to a full degree program, you might consider getting a minor in computer science. A minor is a less intensive program of study that can be completed alongside your major.
Once you’ve decided on the level of study, you can start to narrow down your options. With so many computer science degree programs available, it’s important to choose one that aligns with your goals and interests.
Some degree programs are very general, while others are pretty specialized. For example, you might choose to study general computer science, which would give you a well-rounded education in the field. Or you might choose to specialize in a particular area, such as artificial intelligence or Robotics.
Also, consider whether you want to get your computer science degree at a traditional brick-and-mortar school or an online school. Online schools are becoming increasingly popular as they offer greater flexibility than traditional schools.
In general, computer science degree programs will cover topics such as programming, algorithms, data structures, and software engineering. But the specific courses you take will depend on the program you choose.
Some popular computer science degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
- Associate’s in Information Technology
- Associate’s in Computer Science
- Master of Science in Software Engineering
- Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence
- Master of Science in Machine Learning
- Master of Science in Robotics
- Doctor of Philosophy in Information Technology
While a degree or certification is a great way to get started in computer science, there’s no substitute for real-world experience. One of the best ways to gain experience is to get an internship in a relevant field.
Let’s say you’re interested in becoming a web developer. In that case, you might intern at a web development agency or a tech company with a web development team. Not only will you get to learn from experienced professionals, but you’ll also get a chance to put your skills to the test.
Internships give you the opportunity to learn new skills and gain valuable work experience. And if you intern with a company you’re interested in working for, it may eventually lead to a full-time position.
Some other ways to gain experience in computer science include:
- Working as a teaching assistant for a computer science course
- Doing freelance work
- Working on personal projects
- Contributing to open-source projects
- Taking a part-time position at a tech company
Job boards like Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor are great resources for finding computer science jobs at all levels. Depending on your skill and level of experience, you can secure a position as a web developer, software developer, computer programmer, machine learning engineer, or database administrator.
Why Get Into Computer Science?
With the ever-growing demand for tech-savvy workers, there are many reasons to consider a career in computer science. Here are just a few of the reasons why you should consider getting into computer science:
You can earn a very good salary as a computer scientist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for computer and information research scientists was $131,490 in 2021.
When it comes to job opportunities, the sky’s the limit for computer science majors. With the ever-growing demand for tech workers, many industries are eager to hire computer science graduates.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects that the number of computer science jobs is expected to grow by 22% from 2020 to 2030. That’s much faster than the average for all occupations.
The computer science field is constantly evolving and growing. As a result, computer science majors have the opportunity to continuously learn new things and stay up-to-date with the latest trends.
#4. Solve Interesting Problems
No two days are the same in computer science. You’ll get to work on a variety of interesting problems that require creativity and critical thinking. Even if you’re working on the same project for months or years, you’ll still find new ways to solve problems and improve your code.
#5. Build Future Technology
Computer science majors have the satisfaction of knowing that they’re building the technology of tomorrow. Whether you’re working on developing new software or designing better algorithms, you can take pride in knowing that you’re playing a role in the future of technology.
Computer Science Outlook
With the ever-growing demand for tech workers, there’s no shortage of opportunities in the computer science field. And as the world becomes increasingly digitized, computer science majors will be in high demand.
If you’re considering a career in computer science, now is a great time to get started. With the right skills and experience, you can secure a well-paying position in a growing industry.