what is a computer scientist

What is a Computer Scientist?

As a practice, computer science applies theoretical expertise to real-world problems in order to develop more efficient technologies. This involves designing computer software, developing information technology and improving computer hardware.

More broadly, computer science is the study of how computers can solve a wide range of problems. This field integrates topics from mathematics, physics, engineering and design.


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Among these topics, ​​computer scientists explore computational complexity theory as well as the theory and design of programming languages. These theories focus on examining how computers can be used to complete tasks more efficiently. This requires an understanding of the foundations of computer science such as formal logic, cryptography and probability theory. While these topics are often abstract, they have real-world applications. Research from these fields enables and strengthens the technology we use on a daily basis.

Throughout their careers, computer scientists develop theoretical expertise that they can creatively apply to new problems like algorithm development. At the same time, an understanding of practical software tools and patterns can help them build interpretable code. Finally, application domain knowledge can aid them in effectively addressing any problems that arise.

Computer scientists have many options for computer science careers. Computer scientists may be employed by software companies and research institutions. However, the widespread use of computers means computer scientists work in many diverse fields.

What Does a Computer Scientist Do?

The role of a computer scientist is to apply concepts from computer science to create efficient solutions. However, the goals and responsibilities of a computer scientist vary depending on the organization or job.

In academia, computer scientists may focus on expanding computational theory as well as educating the next generation of computer scientists. Meanwhile, computer scientists in various other industries focus on finding ways to improve efficiency of real-world computer systems.

Working alongside computer engineers and software engineers, computer scientists effectively communicate their work to these teams, as well as to non-technical stakeholders.

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How to Think Like A Computer Scientist

The book “How to Think Like a Computer Scientist” is a guide to the basics of programming and computational thinking. It is an open source resource published under the GNU Free Documentation License. This means it is freely available to anyone interested in learning the basics of computer science. It is a useful resource and a starting point to learn the essentials of computer science.

“How to Think Like a Computer Scientist” is not only a guide to the Python programming language, but to many essential concepts of computer science like the theory of computation. Additional areas this book dives into include:

  • How computer programs work
  • Object-oriented programming
  • Recursion
  • What a programming language is and the essential components such as syntax, variables, conditionals, iteration and more

Computer Scientist Skills

When it comes to core skills, computer science professionals should have the ability to measure and compare the efficiency of programs (which is called “analysis of algorithms”). A strong understanding of computer architecture, or how computers work, is also essential.

Additionally, computer scientists are familiar with various programming languages such as PythonCJava and others. Computer scientists most likely have a passion for technology and enjoy learning about how computers work.

How to Become a Computer Scientist | 5 Steps

While there are different routes to becoming a computer scientist, aspiring professionals tend to follow some variation of this traditional trajectory: Earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science, pursue a master’s degree in computer science or engineering, find a specialization, consider a Ph.D. and eventually land their first computer or information research job.

While everyone’s goals and path to success can differ, computer scientists should be equipped with the proper education and practical experience. Learn more about how to launch your career and become a computer scientist below.

Earn a bachelor’s in computer science or related field

Aspiring computer scientists may begin their professional journey by earning their bachelor’s degree in computer science or a STEM-related field. Although topics may vary depending on the program or university, a bachelor’s degree in computer science typically involves courses in software engineering, computation theory, data structures and algorithms, programming languages and more.

While this foundational knowledge is important, learning how to become a computer scientist also means being attentive to an evolving industry. By learning key computer science concepts and adapting to a changing field, you may be better prepared to enter the workforce.

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Earn a master’s degree in computer science or computer engineering

Once you have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, you already have a basic understanding of the field. However, individuals considering how to become a computer scientist typically need to pursue a master’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This allows them to strengthen their expertise and potentially gain a competitive edge over their peers in the job market.

A master’s degree in computer science or a master’s degree in computer engineering build on the fundamentals and give aspiring computer scientists advanced knowledge of programming, discrete mathematics and computer systems. For many, pursuing a master’s degree in computer science online is a convenient option if you are unable to relocate or take time off from your existing job to earn a degree. Online programs often grant you flexibility in completing coursework on your own schedule.

Consider a specialization

On the path to become a computer scientist, many individuals find their niche by choosing a specialization that is more specific to their personal interests and career goals. Professionals can choose from specializations in artificial intelligence, game design, software engineering, computer-human interface and many more.

Choosing the right computer science specialization for you depends on your personal preference, technical experience and long-term career goals. Research different specializations in order to find one that interests you most.

Consider a Ph.D.

For computer scientists farther along in their career and even those planning ahead, a Ph.D. can grant a more comprehensive and advanced understanding of the field. In fact, some employers may require a Ph.D. in order for you to qualify for high-level roles.

This educational path may be suitable for professionals who are interested in a more research-oriented role or are eager to pursue a career in academia. Consider a Ph.D. program if you have a unique research interest.

Get your first computer scientist job

Prepared with knowledge, technical practice and research experience, computer scientists are well-positioned to begin searching for a job in their desired field of computer science.

With new job opportunities come networking communities and insight into how the industry is evolving rapidly. Computer scientists can apply their theoretical knowledge to real-world problems to create more efficient, helpful technology.

What is the Average Computer Scientist Salary?

Computer scientists generally earn above-average salaries. The median annual computer and information research scientist salary in 2020 was $126,830, according to the BLS. Salary will vary by industry and employer.

Computer scientists are in high demand. The BLS estimates computer and information research science jobs in the United States will grow by 22% from 2020-2030. This is well above the average growth rate for other careers.

With increasing utilization of computers in nearly every industry, this trend is expected to continue. Software development companies are continuing to grow and flourish. More industries than ever are integrating computer science concepts into their day to day.

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