You probably use a computer every day, for work, school or gaming. But how much time do you spend thinking about how this marvelous piece of engineering works? Computer science is the wizard behind the curtain, so to speak — the why and how of each piece of technology you use. Let’s take a closer look at computer science and everything you need to know about this swiftly growing field.
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What Is Computer Science?
Computer science is “the study of the principles and use of computers,” but what does that mean? This field focuses specifically on the software and software systems that make a computer tick. Computer engineers focus on the hardware and the nuts and bolts of a computer system.
A computer scientist can create code, write programs, create problem-solving algorithms and figure out what a computer system can and can’t do. If a computer engineer is a mechanic fixing a broken-down car, computer scientists are the programmers that create the software for the car’s computer.
Computer science comes in three knowledge levels: coders, programmers and computer scientists.
Level 1 — Coder
The first level of computer science is the coder, someone who writes lines of code to create a program. These individuals can create computer programs, software tools or mobile apps from their computer. Anyone can learn to write code — there are even online tools designed to teach children the fundamentals. They may only be fluent in one programming language, such as HTML/CSS for website design or C++ for mobile app development.
Coders are the lowest level of computer science, but this isn’t a bad thing. Coders spend time learning the fundamentals of programming, but may not have any formal education. Some coders might not be looking to break into the computer science industry, instead teaching themselves code as a hobby. They may not have the finesse or the algorithmic knowledge to create sophisticated pieces of code, but they can still be a valuable part of any programming team.
Level 2 — Programmer
The second level of computer science is the programmer or the developer. These coders are fluent in more than one programming language. They can write code that is both easy to understand and free of errors. Coders who reached this level may have sought out professional education to improve their skills. At this level they write more sophisticated code.
Programmers or developers often manage projects and will delegate small or simple projects to the coders on their team. Their schooling and experience make them more than capable of designing and implementing a plan from start to finish.
Level 3 — Computer Scientist
The third and highest level of computer science is the titular computer scientist or software engineer. These are the programmers who have taken the time to learn three or more programming languages. They typically have one or more degrees under their belt. Computer scientists have both the knowledge and the experience to create software architecture programmers and coders can use as their foundation.
Data scientists also fall into this category. These scientists use computers and programming to study huge swaths of collected data to find patterns and help businesses and individuals make informed decisions. So much data gets created and stored annually that it even has a moniker — big data. While big data is still in its infancy, in time and with the assistance of skilled data scientists, it could improve health care, help us safely use self-driving cars and change the way we look at technology and programming.
Becoming a Computer Scientist
If this piqued your interest, what do you need to do to become a computer scientist?
- Start with the basics — If you haven’t written code since Geocities or MySpace were popular, start with the basics. Code.org or Code Academy are both valuable tools for learning or relearning the foundations of coding.
- Practice, practice, practice — Coding isn’t something you can learn overnight. Practice as often as you can.
- Go back to school — Online or campus-based computer science classes can help fill in the gaps you might not be able to discover on your own. Finding a career in computer science is easier with a degree under your belt.
- Create — Create something amazing with your new skills.
Computer science is growing and changing rapidly as technology continues to advance. Sound interesting? Want to know where technology is going? Start with an online tool like Code Academy to get the basics and move forward from there. Whether you’re aspiring to be a coder, a programmer or a computer scientist, there is more than enough work to go around. Next time you pick up your cell phone or boot up your computer, thank a computer scientist.