What is Computer Science?
Careers in computer science cover a wide range of opportunities at all levels for nearly any type of organization. In this field, you will be able to find jobs with government agencies at local, state, and federal levels. It’s also possible to find work for enterprise corporations, small businesses, non-profits, religious entities, educational institutions, and more. Virtually every industry employs computer science professionals in various job types.
Computer science is like most careers in that it is common for entry-level positions to be filled by newly qualified individuals who are in their first career positions in their early 20s to mid-30s. Mid-careers can be anywhere between your late 20s to early 50s. And senior roles are most commonly filled by people in their late 40s to mid-60s. In tech careers, executives might even be younger, starting at the age of 40.
In computer science careers, age and even education may be less important than work experience, skills, and abilities. Another reason individuals may move up quickly in a computer science career in Alabama may be directly related to the fact the state, like many other states, was once greatly lacking in qualified computer science professionals, and the industry as a whole is still looking for more qualified workers to maintain systems, networks, and digital security. Additionally, a growing number of career shifts are happening, with people in their mid-careers shifting over into a computer science or cyber security focus because of the many openings and possibilities for success. As such, the ages of individuals in IT may be changing at all career levels over the coming decades, resulting in a greater mix of people of all ages in early to mid-career positions.
Computer Science Education in Alabama
The state of Alabama has created a number of initiatives to prepare both students and employers for the needs and demands of technology in business, government, and the workplace. Alabama works with employers to stress the importance of these careers on business success, growth opportunities, and general security. The Made in Alabama initiative works to create high-tech solutions and careers to advance the state’s technological prowess and capabilities on a global level, including new major tech company data centers, Global IT Talent Centers at universities, adding hundreds of jobs each year, and hosting computer institutes for the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service.
Alabama has been working diligently to educate and train its population in recent years as a way to keep talent in the state while also attracting outside talent. The state has also created a number of programs designed to start kids on the pathway to careers in computer science at a young age. One such program is Alabama’s Career and Technical Education program, designed to train and develop IT skills for kids between grades K and 12. It also provides them with work experience and placement into top local colleges and universities. This means that students can begin on a career pathway in computer science at a much younger age, providing them with competitive advantages over individuals from other states. This also directly influences the quality of education at Alabama colleges and universities that offer computer science degree programs.
Associate Degree in Computer Science (AS)
Employers of technology-related careers often prefer that their employees have higher-level degrees; however, many individuals can secure jobs in IT without a bachelor’s degree. With as little as an associate degree, it’s possible to land entry-level positions with any number of employers. Computer science associate degrees provide a basic foundation in education and skill development to start out in general IT positions such as computer support specialists, information security specialists, computer programmers, and others.
It’s possible to find more advanced positions with an associate degree as long as you also have the right work experience and skillset. Keep in mind that, even though you may be able to access manager roles and promotions with an associate degree, you will likely always earn less money than if you complete advanced degrees and certificates.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science (BS)
Most employers of computer-related professionals will typically seek out candidates with a CS bachelor’s degree at a minimum. For entry-level positions, a bachelor’s degree will provide candidates with a competitive advantage over those with an associate degree or no degree at all. The best jobs with the best employers will require a bachelor’s degree rather than simply preferring one. These jobs will typically have the best pay, benefits, and room for career advancement. This degree will also open the door to more advanced entry-level positions such as database administrator, network administrator, software development, web developer, and others.
Master's Degree in Computer Science (MS or MC)
Master’s degrees in computer science are often only pursued by individuals who seek out pay increases and positions with greater responsibility. Many computer science professionals will advance to a management position with a bachelor’s degree. However, individuals with a CS master’s degree will likely do so more quickly and earn more money each year. An MBA with a computer science-related specialization is increasingly becoming a preference in any IT management position.
The same is true for a number of mid-career, non-management roles. Today, nearly all mid-career IT professionals must have a strong business acumen to succeed. While a growing number of undergraduate computer science programs are beginning to integrate more crossover core courses with business, a computer science master’s degree that combines business and IT is often considered more beneficial for decision-making positions. Certificates in business and in computer science specializations can also provide a boost in career possibilities and pay without a master’s degree.
PhD Degree in Computer Science (PhD)
Despite a significant amount of flexibility in degree requirements for most jobs in computer science, a PhD is still necessary for certain careers, though not most. As with most professions, college and university professors from regionally accredited schools typically require a PhD to become a tenured employee. With that being said, a growing number of colleges and universities are hiring adjunct professors due to the lack of PhD candidates available to teach computer science courses. These professors typically only require a minimum of a master’s degree and are hired on a part-time or contractual basis. The degree level of completion will affect employment terms and payscale.
Another area in which a PhD is still a requirement in IT is that of research. Individuals who wish to become computer and information research scientists will typically require a PhD. Computer engineers may also require a doctoral degree in the most advanced positions and when looking to work for the best companies such as NASA, Intel, Google, and GE. Even if a PhD is not a requirement for a position, it will provide you with a competitive advantage over those who have not completed this terminal degree.
Become a CIS Professional in Alabama
Computer science is a rather broad term used to generalize the field of IT and all technology-related positions that exist within the area. In actuality, the field is highly complex, and it is broken down into different career types, job types, employer types, and industries. People can work in robotics, video games, graphic design, software development, apps, the cloud, IoT, artificial intelligence and much more. The following are a few examples of more specialized areas of IT and how you might get into them in Alabama.
- Cyber Security
This is a specialty area of IT that centers around cyber protection of programs, systems, and networks from cyber threats. These professionals can work in any other area of IT while specializing in the protection of that area: networks, hardware, and operations. It’s also possible to focus on specific types of technology and work for nearly any type of employer. If you’re looking for the best path into cyber security within Alabama, you’ll want to find an AL school with CAE (Center for Academic Excellence) designation. These schools have cyber security programs that are approved by the DHS and NSA, the largest employers of cyber security professionals in the country. Just some of these schools include Auburn University, Jacksonville State University, Northeast Alabama, and more.
- Data Science
These careers center around the analysis of large quantities of data. It is also the responsibility of a data scientist to capture, process, maintain, and communicate data through proper channels. These individuals must also possess skills to perform data mining and complete various programming tasks, which is why it’s important to gain an education in STEM. Much of data science is analysis, so students of data science spend plenty of time on statistics, general mathematics, and algorithms. This is one of the available computer science fields that will be most difficult to enter without an education.
- Networks, Systems, and Support
It has been said that networks and systems are the foundation to any solid IT infrastructure. Individuals in this field will create, implement, test, and support each network and system within an organization. If you’re interested in computer science and willing to spend the time to teach yourself the basics, then you can get into this field with little to no education and might even be able to gain training on the job to help you earn certifications.
- Development and Operations
IT development and operations professionals often collaborate with others including co-workers, clients, suppliers, vendors, and more. These individuals also work with other IT team members to design technology-based solutions for the whole of the organization as well as individual departments and projects. Partially because of the collaborative, and because of the need for in-depth knowledge of development and engineering, this field will require a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. Those with a master’s are likely to find themselves making more money and finding a job more quickly than those with a bachelor’s.
Many entry-level computer science jobs do not require degrees in Alabama; however, employers strongly prefer degrees. As such, candidates with degrees in these fields will nearly always be considered over applicants without degrees. A bachelor’s degree is often required for entry- to mid-career roles, and a master’s degree might be necessary for C-suite positions. However, certifications can be a highly effective way to compensate for the lack of a degree as well as to specialize in specific skills.
Top College Programs in Alabama for Computer Science
- Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL):
Tuskegee University has a dedicated Department of Computer Science. Each program centers around community service, instruction, and research. Students will be able to learn theories, develop skills, and work on real-world projects. The department also structures all courses around ethics and professionalism.
- University of South Alabama (Mobile, AL):
The University of South Alabama offers a bachelor’s degree in computer science that is ABET accredited. It allows for students to learn a variety of in-demand areas such as big data, cyber security, graphics, information assurance, robotics, and video game development. A master’s degree and a PhD are also available with various specializations. The university is a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense by the NSA and DHS.
- Samford University (Birmingham, AL):
Samford University’s computer science degree provides undergraduate students with graduate degree opportunities. Students will learn fundamentals in many vital areas such as programming, networking, architecture, AI, operating systems, and more. At the same time, they will have access to research projects and community experiential learning options.
- University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL):
The University of Alabama offers computer science students with a wide array of hands-on experience through designing, implementing, testing, and maintaining software and systems. Many graduates work as database designers, programmer analysts, software analysts, software engineers, and systems managers.
- Auburn University (Auburn, AL):
Auburn University features numerous computer science-related degrees at all degree levels in many IT fields, including computer science and software engineering. Some degree programs are accredited by the ABM-CSSE. And all students will have access to experience and study high-level applications, such as flight, medical, and space systems as well as more daily practical applications of IT.
Careers for Computer Science Graduates
- Data Analyst:
Data scientists, which are similar to data analysts, aim to discover patterns of past behavior to establish future projections. These individuals must approach data with new viewpoints and perspectives while creating statistical models and writing algorithms as a way to capture and track data.
- Web Developer:
Web developers create websites. These IT positions often require skills in both front-end and back-end development through design and writing code for optimal outcomes. A web developer may also be responsible for writing content and providing administrative support to ensure minimal site disruption and maximum performance.
- Network Architect:
A network architect is responsible for creating, modifying, and maintaining the network infrastructure including hardware, software, and components. They may have to select suppliers and upgrade networks as technology advances and cyber-threats change. Installation, solution development, and collaboration are additional aspects of these positions.
- Software Engineer:
Software engineers develop and build computer systems based on various software applications. The type of software that requires development will vary including user interfaces, cyber protections, operations, and more. It will be essential to have a solid understanding of, potentially, several programming languages and engineering principles.
- Network Administrator:
A network administrator focuses on the performance of a network. They will be in charge of planning, designing, analyzing, installing, and maintaining networks. It will be necessary to implement configurations and updates for continuous improvements. Most individuals will work in an office; however, a growing number of employers are embracing remote work for these roles.
- Security Consultant:
Security consultants, also referred to as cyber security consultants, will act as a defender from an attacker of software, networks, and systems. They might be self-employed, work for a consulting company, or be employed by a company directly. These IT professionals work to find weaknesses and create strengths to protect and respond against cyber-attacks and cyber-threats.
- Computer Science Professor:
A computer science professor will work at a higher learning institution of any kind, such as community colleges and four-year universities. These professions engage and teach students the fundamentals of computer science. They may also specialize in certain computer-related areas. It is the responsibility of a professor to instill the importance of ethics and to prepare students in skill development and research methodologies.