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Best computer science job 2021: Top careers compared

ZDNet logo ZDNet 7/16/2021 Genevieve Carlton
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Computer science explores the potential of computers and computing systems. Thanks to breakthroughs in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and big data, the computer science field continue to thrive.

Computer and information technology jobs will grow much faster than the average between 2019-2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition to high demand, many computer science career paths offer strong earning potential.

Careers in computer science require strong technical, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. With career paths in the tech sector, business, finance, national security, healthcare, and more, computer science jobs offer a strong outlook.

Web development

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Web development builds websites, from the components visible to visitors to the back-end databases and systems that run the site. Web developers use programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create new websites and modify current sites. They work closely with clients and web designers to create a finished product.

You might like this field if: You enjoy solving problems with creative solutions; you bring strong analytical and communication skills; you can move easily between the big picture and small details.

Career options:

  • Front-end web developer

  • Back-end web developer

  • Full-stack web developer

Hardware engineering

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Hardware engineering focuses on creating computer components such as routers, memory and data storage, and processors. Hardware engineers research materials, components, and systems to create new hardware technologies. 

They also design and test hardware, including computers, smartphones, and components.

You might like this field if: You enjoy electrical engineering and build circuit boards in your spare time; you bring strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills; you can effectively communicate with other engineers.

Career options:

  • Computer hardware engineer

  • Firmware engineer

  • Network engineer

Software engineering

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Software engineering applies engineering principles to computing problems. Software engineers design computer programs and applications, determining how the many parts of a software program fit together. They often work closely with software developers, quality assurance testers, and programmers.

You might like this field if: You enjoy computer science and computer engineering; you think logically and approach problems analytically; you work effectively in a team, and enjoy a fast-paced environment.

Career options:

  • Software development engineer

  • Software design engineer

  • Quality assurance engineer

Computer programming

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Computer programming uses computing languages to run applications and software programs. Coders use programming languages like C++, Python, and Java to create computer programs. Programming represents the first step for many computing applications, and some professionals specialize in programming.

You might like this field if: You pick up new programming languages easily; you enjoy learning new skills throughout your career; you think logically and enjoy problem-solving.

Career options:

  • Database programmer

  • Python developer

  • Programming analyst

Data science

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Data science analyzes large bodies of data, sometimes called big data. Using algorithms or statistical analysis, data scientists draw information from data sets. In diverse fields like business, healthcare, and finance, data scientists solve problems through data analytics.

You might like this field if: You have strong analytical and statistical skills; you enjoy solving problems with data; you're a logical thinker with good interpersonal abilities.

Career options:

  • Data scientist

  • Data analyst

  • Data engineer

Artificial Intelligence

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The field of artificial intelligence uses computing power to replicate the human mind. AI professionals specialize in areas like machine learning and deep learning where they train computer systems to problem-solve and think analytically. 

Computer programs like Siri and Alexa rely on artificial intelligence.

You might like this field if: You enjoy managing large data sets and designing algorithms; you bring a background in linguistics or learning; you thrive in complex environments.

Career options:

  • Machine learning researcher

  • AI research scientist

  • Machine learning engineer

Web design

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Web design determines the look and feel of websites. Web designers select the layout, color scheme, and visual style for new websites while also updating current sites. The field requires strong technical skills and graphic design training.

You might like this field if: You have a graphic design background; you enjoy combining visual and technical elements; you enjoy working closely with a team that includes web developers and clients.

Career options:

  • Web designer

  • Mobile app designer

  • Graphic designer

Cybersecurity/Information security

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The cybersecurity field focuses on protecting data from security breaches. Information security professionals implement security measures and investigate potential data breaches. They also conduct testing to identify weaknesses in networks and computing systems. 

With ever-changing threats, the field continues to evolve at a fast pace.

You might like this field if: You're interested in national security; you love solving puzzles and unraveling complex problems; you thrive in a fast-paced environment.

Career options:

  • Information security analyst

  • Information security consultant

  • Cybersecurity administrator

Computer information systems

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Organizations in every sector rely on computers and data management systems to function. Computer information systems focus on the most effective and efficient ways to manage information and computing systems. Database management, information security, and systems management all play a major role.

You might like this field if: You're equally comfortable accessing a database and explaining technical procedures to business decision-makers; you enjoy analytical challenges; you can take a broad view of problems while also focusing on details.

Career options:

  • Computer systems analyst

  • Computer network architect

  • Information systems manager

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Network architecture

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Network architecture focuses on connecting data through local area networks, wide area networks, and cloud infrastructure. Network architects figure out how to design networks that achieve organizational goals. The field requires both business and technical abilities.

You might like this field if: You have a detail-oriented outlook; you bring a background in business; you can balance analytical abilities with interpersonal skills.

Career options:

  • Computer network architect

  • Network engineer

  • Cloud architect

Game design

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Game designers work with a team of creative and technical professionals to create new mobile and video games. In the production stage, game designers create models to outline the game. After writing the code, they conduct tests and make changes.  

You might like this field if: You love video games; you want a job that blends creativity with technical skills; you enjoy working closely with a team of people.

Career options:

  • Game programmer

  • Game designer

  • Level designer

Computer science job guide and career timelines

Many career paths in computer science pay six-figure salaries and only require a bachelor's degree. This section introduces common computer science jobs, minimum degree requirements, and the years of experience required for different roles. 

The list ranks jobs by the 2020 BLS median salary from highest to lowest.

Computer and information research scientists

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Median Salary (2020): $126830

Minimum Degree Required: Master's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer science; computer engineering

Years of Experience Required: 0

Computer and information research scientists apply computing skills to solve problems in diverse industries. They design new algorithms and computing languages. Computer and information research scientists also conduct experiments on software systems. 

Depending on their specialization, they manage big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence projects.

Computer hardware engineers

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Median Salary (2020): $119560

Minimum Degree Required: Bachelor's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer engineering; computer science; electrical engineering

Years of Experience Required: 0

Computer hardware engineers design computer components, including circuit boards, memory devices, and processors. They research and develop new hardware, working closely with other engineers and developers. 

Computer hardware engineers then test the hardware and oversee the manufacturing of new computer systems.

Computer network architects

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Median Salary (2020): $116780

Minimum Degree Required: Bachelor's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer science; information systems

Years of Experience Required: 5

Computer network architects design communication networks that share data. Their networks range from local intranet systems to cloud computing infrastructure. Network architects assess an organization's business plan to create a network that serves its needs. 

They also upgrade hardware and software.

Software developers

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Median Salary (2020): $110140

Minimum Degree Required: Bachelor's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer science; information technology

Years of Experience Required: 0

Software developers design and create software programs that run networks or perform tasks. They determine how parts of an application will work together, supervise programmers writing parts of the code, and conduct testing. 

Software developers also oversee maintenance and upgrades.  

Information security analysts

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Median Salary (2020): $103590

Minimum Degree Required: Bachelor's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer science; information assurance; information technology

Years of Experience Required: < 5 years

Information security analysts implement security measures to stop cyber attacks and protect private data. They monitor networks for security breaches, install firewalls and other security measures, and investigate data breaches. 

Information security analysts also recommend security improvements. 

Computer systems analysts

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Median Salary (2020): $93730

Minimum Degree Required: Bachelor's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer science; information technology; management information systems

Years of Experience Required: 0

Computer systems analysts blend business and information technology training to improve an organization's computer systems. They determine an organization's IT needs, design systems to meet those needs, and implement systems. 

Computer systems analysts also research new technologies and suggest improvements.

Computer programmers

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Median Salary (2020): $89190

Minimum Degree Required: Bachelor's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer science; information technology

Years of Experience Required: 0

Computer programmers write the code that tells computers how to run applications or software programs. Programmers specialize in a variety of computer languages, including Java, C++, Python, and JavaScript. 

They work with software developers to create and test code. 

Network and computer systems administrators

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Median Salary (2020): $84810

Minimum Degree Required: Bachelor's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer science; information technology; computer engineering

Years of Experience Required: 0

Network and computer systems administrators manage network operations for organizations. They determine the organization's needs, install computer systems, and perform maintenance. 

Network and computer systems administrators also recommend upgrades and improvements designed to increase security and efficiency.

Web developers and digital designers

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Median Salary (2020): $77200

Minimum Degree Required: Associate's

Most Relevant Major(s): Computer science; programming; web design

Years of Experience Required: 0

Web developers and digital designers manage the functions and look of websites. Web developers write the code to run websites and shape their functionalities, while digital designers focus on user experience and layout. 

Programming skills, particularly in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript help web developers and digital designers.

Computer support specialists

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Median Salary (2020): $55510

Minimum Degree Required: Associate's or bachelor's

Most Relevant Major(s): Information science; information technology

Years of Experience Required: 0

Computer support specialists advise users on troubleshooting computer problems, using computer network systems, and installing new software or hardware. 

They blend technical knowledge with customer service skills to help individuals and organizations effectively use their computer systems.

Computer science contractor jobs and assignments

Many computer science careers offer roles to contract and freelance tech professionals. For example, game designers, web developers, and software developers may work on a contract basis for a specific project rather than as full-time employees. 

Computer science professionals may prefer the flexibility of contract work. Rather than working for a single company, freelancers build a portfolio of clients and work on a variety of projects. That can mean designing custom websites for clients, contributing to a software testing project, or creating custom code.

However, consider the benefits and drawbacks of contract positions before going freelance. Computer science contractor jobs do not pay benefits, for example. While contractors often earn a higher rate, they pay additional taxes. And contractors may find themselves out of work between projects. 

In conclusion

Computer science jobs pay above-average wages with many opportunities for career advancement. Before enrolling in a computer science program or bootcamp, consider learning more about the field through computer science blogs and podcasts. People pursuing computer science career paths should also evaluate their strengths and professional goals to find the right role for their unique needs.

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