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What is Computer Science?
A computer science professional is a technology expert who works in the field as a software developer, computer programmer, cyber security expert, and many other areas. This is a highly analytical field that attracts those with talents in mathematics and logic. While the field does rely on these sorts of skills, computer scientists also grapple with more philosophical questions related to topics such as human intelligence, consciousness, and behaviors. To achieve these goals, computer scientists typically learn a variety of coding languages and some even become involved with developing whole new computing languages which address specific problems.
Computer science professionals tend to work with technology firms who are engaged in developing software. They might also work as part of a technology team for a consulting firm, or they could be cyber security experts for a firm or who work independently. Their working environment always involves work on a computer which can be conducted from anywhere in the world, though most computer science professionals work in an office.
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Computer Science Education in Iowa
When we think about Iowa, our first thoughts probably aren't about coding and artificial intelligence. For those who study economics, the first thoughts might turn to agriculture, hog farms, manufacturing, and great expanses of wheat or corn. While Iowa may indeed be a home to these things, it's also rife with creative, cutting-edge thinkers and builders who are at the vanguard of technology. In fact, some refer to Iowa as part of the Silicon Prairie. After all, not every computer whiz needs to live in California's overpriced, overpopulated Silicon Valley.
The state is also home to many businesses and industries that need high tech solutions to problems that face every company in the world. They need technological innovations that will give them an edge over the competition. Manufacturing companies need new software to run their machines in ways that cut costs and inventory tracking packages which don't allow for any waste. The all-important supply chains also need constant oversight from high tech solutions that keep all the packages flowing to their destinations.
In response to this need, Iowa's colleges and universities have responded with top-notch computer science programs that produce some of the nation's top computer experts. The state even is taking a proactive approach in that they are bolstering high schools with courses that fire their student’s imaginations while instilling skills in coding and hardware. An Iowan student can progress from their high school through a baccalaureate degree and even through a master’s computer science education without ever leaving the state.
Iowa's computer science students are also able to pursue other complimentary degrees. For instance, they can earn an MBA with a concentration in computer science that may launch them into a CIO position. They might also have a desire to study cyber security and become a CISO after they complete their business training.
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Since Iowa has such diverse needs for skilled workers, its colleges and universities have created the programs that are needed to create success for everyone. After all, professors and department chairs all know that they need to make coursework relevant in order to retain students. Those students are indeed retained and then go on to achieve terrific things in the Iowa economy.
Associate Degree in Computer Science (AS)
To get a foothold in the world of computer science, many technology lovers start out with an associate computer science degree. In these two-year programs, students are introduced to computer programming languages and the general concepts needed to work in the field. Many community colleges these days are offering computer science certificates and degrees to help people launch careers in programming. There are also online associate computer science degree programs available for those who need that flexibility.
The associate degree route is particularly smart for those who wish to start working as soon as possible. It's also a great choice from a financial standpoint. This is because most community colleges offer affordable credit hours while providing top-notch academics. In fact, many associate computer science degree programs are ABET accredited and there are many two-year cyber security degree programs that are considered Centers of Academic Excellence by the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science (BS)
A four-year bachelor’s computer science degree is probably what most employers are looking for when they need to staff an entry-level position. This is because students who devote themselves to a full four-year computer science degree program are generally considered highly dedicated to the field. A full baccalaureate degree also offers more opportunities for learning and development than an associate computer science degree.
Bachelor degree students find that they can pursue other fields as a minor concentration that augments their computer science studies. Some pursue higher level mathematics courses, including statistics and linear algebra, to inform their computer science courses. Others might study finance or economics with an eye toward working in those areas upon graduation. One of the best advantages to a four-year computer science degree is the opportunity to pursue internships, which provide experience and networking opportunities. There are many ways to flesh out a degree in computer science, since it impacts every aspect of human life these days.
Master's Degree in Computer Science (MS or MC)
At the master’s level, computer scientists gain highly specialized knowledge and skills. There are as many options as one can possibly imagine. Some possible focus areas for a master’s computer science degree include cyber security, blockchain technology including cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, programming languages, and software engineering. This degree level will prepare students for higher level jobs than their friends with bachelor's degrees.
After earning a master’s computer science degree, you may be recruited by a hot start-up company who needs top talent to take their ideas to the next level. On the other hand, many pursue a master’s computer science degree in order to develop ideas of their own, which may later power independent start-ups. Along the way, many computer science students find like-minded programmers and software engineers with whom they can partner for dynamic new projects. On the other hand, many computer science master’s students attend an online computer science master’s degree program so that they can continue working and pursuing other projects without having to attend traditional classroom courses.
PhD Degree in Computer Science (PhD)
This top-level degree will place any computer scientist above the rest. While most of the business world shies away from doctorate degrees, technology companies embrace this level of scholarship. In fact, many of today's cutting edge cryptocurrency executives and CEOs either have their PhD or are considered ABD. That status indicates that they have completed the PhD coursework but have yet to finish their dissertation. Since many computer scientists choose to research hot, marketable ideas for their dissertation, they may choose to dive into the business world rather than complete a degree.
With a doctorate, many computer scientists find jobs in research. However, there is much that depends on their dissertation or their focus area while in school. They can lead teams of artificial intelligence developers, for instance, but they could also be hired to research cryptography. They might even work for top financial firms to develop new trading algorithms. Firms who need proprietary technology will seek out PhDs who can set them apart from the pack.
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Become a Computer Science Professional in Iowa
There are many ways to become a computer science professional in Iowa. After all, the profession doesn't require any specific degree or license. Anyone with the right motivation and determination can pick up a book and learn to write code. There are even non-degree online certificate programs that will teach anyone anything they need to know. In fact, many early computer programmers have started in exactly this way. However, there are better ways to approach the profession that will ensure better success and happiness in the long-term.
Many budding computer scientists start their careers as youngsters who are fascinated with computing and the possibilities that programming promises. In an earlier era, curious youth sought out a book that helped them learn a basic computing language, but nowadays there are graphical interfaces that help them learn the logic behind programming. Youngsters who start programming in this way will have an easier time when it comes to writing code from scratch in their later years.
As these youngsters move up into high school, they should start seeking out classes through their school. Many STEM high schools offer introductory programming courses. For students who are at or beyond that level, they might join computer clubs where they can discuss their passion with other students.
Some youngsters who find that their high school's computer courses aren't quite enough might seek out alternative education solutions. There are affordable learning opportunities online where students can explore new languages and technologies without having to worry about anything marring their permanent record. In fact, students who are successful at completing certain courses will earn professionally respected certificates. These credentials may even lead to part-time or freelance work.
After high school, computer science whiz kids should assess their skills and goals. They may have enough skill, as is, to enter the job market. However, all students should at least consider an associate computer science degree. That way they will have some college credits to build on if they later decide that they need to earn a bachelor's computer science degree.
Beyond the associate degree, computer scientists will need to continually assess their skills and desires. Some will see the inherent value in a formal education, while others will continue to remain self-taught or reliant on non-traditional education and credentials. Regardless, the computing field continues to expand and provides new opportunities for everyone.
Careers for Computer Science Graduates
- Technical Support Specialist / IT Support Specialist:
These computing professionals can perform tasks as mundane as rebooting a system to diving deep into server code to root out malware and viruses. In some organizations, a technical support specialist can earn a six-figure salary. To rise through the ranks of this profession it's important to earn certificates in specific technologies such as Linux Server, Microsoft, or Oracle.
- Software Tester:
These professionals are a valuable part of a software development team. They put products to the test and ensure that everything works as it should. Some software testers even bring in ordinary computer users to test out certain products. After all, it's not unusual for ordinary users to discover issues with a software package that even the developers were unaware of.
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- Cyber Security Analyst:
This field is in high demand these days. Cyber security analysts might work for a firm where they keep constant tabs on a network. In their daily routine, they might run tests, create reports on the network, or configure cyber security tools to help secure their systems. Others might work as consultants or as independent professions who help out companies on a temporary basis. Their assessments help keep valuable data safe from bad actors.
- UI Developer:
These coders create the interfaces we have come to rely on to interact with our computers. After all, without a graphical user interface (GUI) many of us would have never touched a computer. UI developers come up with new ways to present menus and help construct the logical flow of operations in a software system. Without accessible UI, most software packages would never find a market.
- Application Developer:
These computer scientists are called on to create the cyber tools we use all the time. Sometimes we don't realize how much we might use a specific application until an ingenious developer finds a way to solve certain problems. Application developers also see the flaws in older applications and find ways to redesign the packages so that they are more user friendly.
- IT Project Manager:
These professionals typically work with larger corporations or consultancies where they manage IT professionals, including coders and computer scientists. They are the liaison between the client or department head who needs an IT solution and the IT team. IT project managers may be tasked with keeping their team on schedule and under budget.
- Senior Database Administrator:
This position comes after many years spent working on a database for a client or employer. Senior level database administrators oversee a team of database analysts, and they check to ensure that work is done in a timely manner and meets budgetary constraints. They may also devise new projects, such as porting data from one database to another. Frequently, a database administrator works along with a cyber security professional who ensures that the data is secure.
- Data Scientist:
This is a title that describes any technology professional who analyses data. They might work for a social service agency to assess health statistics, for example, or they could work for a Wall Street firm to determine the best trading strategies. Since the root of all computer science is data, many computer science pros decide to call themselves data scientists.