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What is Computer Science?

Computer science careers run the gamut. From web development and database administration, students are able to choose the field they want to be a part of when they graduate. Computer science requires majors and professionals to think analytically; this allows them to troubleshoot issues and create new programs and systems. Creativity is another important skill. After all, it’s the computer science professional with advanced skills who may develop a new technology-related piece of electronics and make the next breakthrough product that everyone in the world wants to get their hands on.

Some of the careers that computer science graduates may want to enter include computer hardware engineer, computer network architect, computer systems analyst, web developer, computer and information research scientists, information security analyst (cyber security), IT project manager, computer and information systems manager, and many, many others.

This field is broad so, for the student who isn’t quite sure what they want to do with a degree in computer science, knowing what career fields are out there helps them to narrow their choices down while they are still in school.

Computer science degree programs in the state of Alaska are particularly valuable because not every college or university in the state offers a degree program in this field. Students who look through lists of colleges and universities offering computer science degrees may be surprised at how short the list actually is. Although, if you grew up in Alaska, you may not be.

Some of the top colleges and universities in Alaska include Ilisagvik College, the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, and the University of Alaska - Anchorage. These schools offer STEM programs with range of degrees, from general computer science to information and network technology.

Computer science professionals can expect to work in a variety of roles throughout the computer industry, just as long as they satisfy all requirements at their level of education. Roles include computer system administrator, computer programmer, software developer, and information security analyst or cyber security expert.

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Computer Science Education in Alaska

Well-designed computer science degree programs offer both theory and experiential learning. This lets students apply the theory they learn in their courses to hands-on projects or internships. Senior capstone projects that allow students to use their learning in a practical problem in computer science allow them to demonstrate their knowledge. Internships mean that students will gain the practical experience they need to get a great job in their field, either at a technology company or in an IT department, which leads to positive student outcomes.

Professionals in the computer science field design, create, and test new software. They may also find work in difficult programming jobs or they might create new ways to use computers and existing technology, the same way the internet took an existing device and opened a world of opportunity. These professionals also strive to find new ways to solve computing problems, make databases more accessible, and protect networks and systems from infiltrators. A world with computers offers challenges but it also allows companies and individuals to handle tasks remotely that, in the past, meant a trip to a bank or the store. Today, mobile banking and shopping are the norm.

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Associate Degree in Computer Science (AS)

Students in an associate computer science degree program will be able to launch themselves into technical careers at the entry level. In these programs, they may learn about areas such as web design, systems analysis, computer operations, programming, databases, etc. but they will have to gain experience in the field or a bachelor’s degree before they can move past the entry-level careers that mostly offer computer or technical support.

In addition, students can take courses that teach about new software development tools, programming languages, and other popular topics in order to expand their horizons and move up more quickly. Some of these include computer architecture, advanced Java programming, program design, advanced C++ programming, and mobile programming, among others.

An associate degree in computer programming is only the beginning. If a student has career aspirations that include leadership positions, earning more advanced degrees may allow them to achieve these goals. However, earning an associate degree is a great way to get your foot in the door and start making money and gaining experience while you complete a higher degree.

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Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science (BS)

A four-year degree in computer science gives students access to an even larger variety of potential careers, depending on their interests and goals. Students, after they graduate, may choose to work in a huge variety of fields such as healthcare, finance, government organizations, non-profit or private companies, finance and banking institutions, and more. A bachelor’s can provide entry to all types of computer-related careers, though you may still need extra experience to get into a management position.

The most common positions for computer science employees with a bachelor’s degree are software applications developer, computer systems analyst, systems software developer, web developer, network systems administrator and database administrator. Those who go the extra mile to earn a bachelor’s in this field not only have an easier time moving into management positions and earning certifications, but they will also be offered higher salaries than those who only earn an associate degree.

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Master's Degree in Computer Science (MS or MC)

After earning a graduate degree in computer science, professionals will be able to make the most of the fact that the computer science industry is growing faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected that, by 2028 almost 550,000 new computer science positions will be available for trained professionals, on top of those which currently exist and will need new workers as others retire or move into higher-level roles. With the knowledge that computer science graduates bring to the field, it’s no surprise that the technology landscape is changing quickly, which makes it even more clear that professionals with the skills and expertise needed will be highly sought after in the years ahead.

One reason for this positive outlook is that employers are looking for people who have niche skills which may not be attainable with a bachelor’s degree in a related field. It’s also becoming more and more common that people are entering computer science careers from other degree fields. They may earn a master of business administration (MBA) with a concentration in computer science or cyber security and move into the technical areas after working in business for years.

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PhD Degree in Computer Science (PhD)

When a computer science professional decides to return to school to earn their PhD, they can decide then which direction they wish to take their career - toward research, gaining professional collaboration skills, or teaching upcoming classes of students who want to become computer science professionals.

PhD students are often active learners. They spend this time earning their degree researching mobile apps that improve learning, they build operating systems intended for high-performance computers, they work to improve computer performance, or they may work on security and privacy programs intended to protect data. The scholarly requirements of the degree program prepares these high-level students to conduct research and teach the next generation.

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Become a CIS Professional in Alaska

Students can jump-start their computer science careers in a two-year program or take the most common route through a four-year undergraduate program. No matter what the student’s goal, education really is the best way into this career, unless you’re a whiz at computers and you have already self-taught everything you need to know to program software and administer databases. And even so, most employers, even in Alaska, are looking for candidates who have earned some sort of degree or are well on their way to earning one.

However, Alaska does not have any certification or educational requirements for computer science professionals. You’ll need to be certified to work as a computer hardware or software engineer, but for nearly every other computer-related field, you simply need to show that you know how to do the job and complete the education required to get you noticed by employers. Some even find jobs after finishing nothing more than a cyber security bootcamp. If this is the route you want to take, you are welcome to do so.

And it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a company that’s willing to hire you into their IT department at the very least. Computers and their related developments are a major part of the world today; artificial intelligence, autonomous cars, biometric security, virtual reality, and robots have already been developed and are in use all over the world right now. The one thing all of these devices and concepts have in common is that computers run them. Today’s vehicles are operated by chips. Many surgeries are performed with the help of robotic arms, and their larger cousins help put together those same cars. For this reason, students who are interested in a computer science degree will need to have some concept of the career field they wish to enter. Before very long, they will be expected to choose a specialty, such as biometric security, as they continue their education.

Holding a certification in various computer science fields isn’t a mandatory requirement in Alaska but they will interest future employers. Schools with state or regional accreditation are excellent choices for students; employers are more likely to take a second look at these graduates, due to their high-quality education.

Western Undergraduate Exchange

The Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program provides a greater number of options for Alaska students who are looking to earn a computer science, or any other, degree. This program includes several western US states and provides students looking to attend schools within any of them access to all of their state programs without making them pay out-of-state tuition rates. If you thought you couldn’t attend a school in the California university system or in Oregon without paying the more exorbitant out-of-state rates, then this might be the solution to your problems. Usually, state universities are subsidized by the state and students who are residents of the state can expect to pay much less than those who wish to attend from out of state. This is not the case with private universities, only those which are public. However, when exchange programs like this are put in place, they take a lot of the pressure off, providing students in Alaska with access to a much larger variety of programs and degrees, which may not be offered by local colleges or universities. The states included in the WUE include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Top College Programs in Alaska for Computer Science

Due to its remoteness, Alaska relies heavily on the internet, computers, and mobile devices to stay connected and it needs to build up a bench of computer science professionals who plan to stay in the state as they move through their careers. For some who live in the most remote areas of the state, online computer science programs are helpful. From the associate level to the master’s level, students interested in working with technology can find the right school for their career goals. Some of the more critical, entry-level roles may be filled by graduates of two-year colleges.

Three colleges or universities within Alaska offer these programs:

  • Ilisagvik College, located in Barrow, Alaska, is a small technical college. The student body is made up to 233 students, as of 2019. The college is set in an outlying rural area, serving students who live in and around Barrow.
  • The University of Alaska - Anchorage has an enrollment of 12,766 and a student-to-teacher ratio of 28 to 1. The school’s computer technology department graduated 72 computer technology graduates. Four degree programs were at the associate level, two at the bachelor’s level, and one at a certificate level.
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks has a student population of just under 7,200. Its student-to-teacher ratio is 21 to 1. The school has a computer science degree program, which awarded six bachelor’s degrees and four master’s degrees in a recent year.

Careers for Computer Science Graduates

  • Data Scientist/Big Data Analyst:
    A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for this specialty. A four-year degree will help graduates get their foot in the door as they begin their career. The more important areas needed are statistical techniques and practical computer science. Data science professionals planning to move into management should earn advanced degrees in data analysis or an MBA in business analytics.
  • Web Developer:
    Students choosing to major in web development are in high demand. Those in community college will be able to attain the knowledge they need and learn fundamental principles such as programming languages, web technologies, and coding skills. Students who are able to use coding skills within a wider context may have a slight edge.
  • Network Administrator/Architect:
    A network administrator/architect helps to design, build and manage networks, enabling easier data communication. These include local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANS), and intranets. Earning a 4-year degree may be a requirement; however, this isn’t a given as long as a computer professional also knows computer and network systems administration and communication skills. They may design networks that are intended to operate in a cloud infrastructure.

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  • Software Designer/Engineer (Full Stack Software Developer):
    These computer professionals are required to hold a bachelor’s degree. However, some employers willingly look at candidates with computer science and computer programming backgrounds rather than specific degrees. These specialists use their knowledge to create computer programs. Full Stack Developers need to know both front-end and back-end technologies. Knowing several programming languages, databases, and user interfaces also helps.
  • Network Analyst (WAN/LAN/etc.):
    A network analyst helps to create both hardware and software configurations as they work to improve a network’s functionality. As a part of their duties, they verify that all computers in the network are able to communicate effectively with each other. They may also develop technical solutions to issues on the business side. A network analyst may work for a retail company, computer consulting company, government organization, or financial firm.
  • Security Consultant (Cyber Security):
    Security consultants are cyber security professionals. It is their role to assess every security measure in place for their clients or employers. Along with this, they study possible security breaches, as well as recommending and overseeing the implementation of security solutions.

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