One of the misconceptions I’m constantly trying to correct is the one that says computer science is about the study of computers. Or the slightly more sophisticated misconception that says that it’s the study of programming computers. No. CS is much more about what can be done with computing! Here’s two great examples of what computer scientists do, which might help you get the idea of how broad and diverse and exiting this field is: yokyworks.org, an effort led by Professor Yoky Matsuoka of the University of Washington, and the Craft Technology Group, led by Professors Mike and Ann Eisenberg at the University of Colorado.
My research work has mostly been in “scientific computing,” a generic term that refers to computational approaches to problems arising in the natural sciences and engineering. This field combines mathematical modeling of natural and engineered systems, algorithms, advanced software implementation techniques, high-performance parallel computing, computational performance measurement and modeling, and data and visual analytics — all to solve some of the most important problems out there. Great stuff!
I love this quote from Dan Reed (from this 2008 article in SIAM News), which views computational modeling & science as a scientific instrument:
The breadth of these examples highlights a unique aspect of computational modeling that distinguishes it from other scientific instruments—its universality as an intellectual amplifier. Powerful new telescopes advance astronomy, but not materials science. Powerful new particle accelerators advance high-energy physics, but not genetics. In contrast, computing and computational models advance all of science and engineering, because all disciplines benefit from high-resolution model predictions, theoretical validations, and experimental data analysis.
Computer science consistently rates near the top of majors in terms of the percentage of graduates that find jobs directly related to their major. You can spin this various ways. If your major is near the bottom of this list, you can claim that you are preparing students for a wide variety of careers! Okaaay. Of course, we will claim that the reason for this statistic is that there are lots of companies that want to hire people with CS degrees, so students only go a different direction because they want to, not because they have to. Another way to see this is to stare at Figure 1 in this news item from the NSF, which summarizes recent data on employment in science & engineering occupations. Notice the size of the pie chart corresponding to “mathematical and computer scientists” and “programmers.” And compare to “engineers,” “physical scientists” and “life scientists.” Let’s just say that a similar pie chart of students majoring in the corresponding fields would look quite different.
News items like this come along every month. I don’t write about them usually, but the new 10-year projection from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics warrants a comment. The news for computer science jobs is still very optimistic. Here are a couple of outlandish quotes from the CRA post summarizing the new report: “‘Computer and mathematical’ occupations are the fastest growing occupational cluster within the fastest growing major occupational group”, and “… among all occupations in all fields of science and engineering, computer science occupations are projected to account for nearly 60% of all job growth between now and 2018.” Here’s the full report from BLS, if you’re curious: [pdf], and here is a nice summary of the good situation that CS graduates are likely to find themselves in for the forseeable future.