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What is Computer Science?

Are you considering enrollment in a computer science degree program in South Dakota? While higher education of any kind can increase employment opportunities and pay potential, this major is likely particularly appealing to those interested in information and technology. Earning a degree in this subject can lead to a wide variety of engaging, innovative, and dynamic career opportunities. Computer science is a great field of study for anyone who plans to pursue employment in software design, networking, and information technology security.

In general, however, most computer science professions involve creating and/or using various technologies to achieve identified goals. Depending on the job, professionals in this field may be responsible for testing software or finding innovative ways to address complex computing problems. With so many options available, it’s fairly common for individuals to specialize their expertise in certain areas or sub-fields.

Some common concentrations include:

  • Computer Programming
  • Database Administration
  • Hardware Engineering
  • Information Research
  • Network Administration
  • Software Developing
  • Systems Management
  • Video Game Development
  • Web Development

Computer science professionals should also be prepared for varied work settings. They may work in small offices or large research facilities, with some moving between multiple locations in order to provide services to multiple companies and organizations. While almost every industry utilizes workers in this field, the best prospects typically exist among entities involved in computer systems design services, information security, education, and the federal government.

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Online Computer Science Education in South Dakota

Curriculums vary from institution to institution and based on academic level, but there are a few topics students commonly study. These include computer programming languages, mathematics, and database design. Those enrolled in computer science programs can also expect to develop skills in analytics, communication, logical thinking, and problem-solving. Knowledge and skills in these areas are often highly coveted by employers in most industries, making graduates well prepared for future career success.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in computer and information technology occupations is expected to increase by 15% from 2021 to 2031. This is much faster than the average of all occupations and will account for approximately 682,800 new jobs throughout the nation. Several factors impact this projection, but the primary reasons are continued reliance on and increasing demand for technology. Additionally, as cloud computing becomes more popular, the need for information security will rise. Notably, most companies and organizations rely heavily on professionals in this field, which indicates relatively stable employment outcomes for the foreseeable future.

Computer science and technology is not considered a top industry in South Dakota, but many of the state’s biggest sectors depend heavily on information collection and data storage. These services are essential to companies and organizations involved in finance, insurance, education, healthcare, manufacturing, real estate, wholesale trade, retail, business services, entertainment, and food services. As a result, there are likely to be many employment opportunities available to computer science graduates in the state.

The BLS also reported that computer and mathematical occupations accounted for 8,680 jobs in South Dakota as of May 2021. The state offers workers in this field decent pay, with an annual mean wage of $77,210 reported. This is significantly above the annual mean wage for all occupations in South Dakota, which is only $46,810. Those interested in this field should, however, be aware that many other states offer higher salary prospects. The median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations nationwide was $97,430 in May, 2021.

While South Dakota is an average sized state, its population is relatively low when compared to many others in the nation. As a result, prospective students may be tempted to study computer science by enrolling in online degree programs offered elsewhere. While distance learning may be preferable due to scheduling flexibility, those who plan to pursue jobs in South Dakota should give preference to academic institutions in the state. There are many reputable colleges and universities that provide instruction in computer science and other related degrees. These institutions understand regional employment needs and expectations, which allows them to tailor classwork to ensure graduates possess the most relevant knowledge and skills for the area. Additionally, many schools establish relationships with nearby companies and organizations in order to make internships and professional positions more readily available to students and alumni.

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After earning a degree in computer science or related major, graduates can choose to pursue a wide variety of professional opportunities in South Dakota. In fact, information and technology positions are available in almost every industry. While this bodes well for those in the field, it can make identifying defining computer science professionals difficult. Even jobs with the same titles can have vastly different job descriptions, with workers performing sometimes completely unrelated tasks. This makes it imperative for computer science majors to assess opportunities carefully to ensure they thoroughly understand expectations before applying.

While some computer science professionals enter the field with self-taught knowledge and skills alone, most people who pursue information and technology careers require some amount of higher education. Those with degrees are more competitive when applying for jobs and generally make more money than those without them.

There are many online colleges and universities in South Dakota that offer degrees in computer science and other related subjects. Prospective students can choose from programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Some academic institutions may also offer undergraduate and/or graduate certificates, which are ideal for obtaining specialization in various sub-fields or entering the field laterally. Higher education of any kind can be beneficial, but more advanced degrees tend to result in the best career prospects. Graduate school is particularly important for those planning to pursue top positions in data science, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, software engineering, and information technology (IT) management.

Online Associate Degree in Computer Science (AS)

Associate degree programs in computer science generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. Students will be responsible for taking both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Those enrolled can expect to receive the foundational knowledge necessary to pursue further education, as well as a broad introduction to the information and technology field. Instruction also tends to help develop object-oriented programming skills that can be applied to many different professions.

This type of degree can be completed quickly and often leads to a wide variety of entry-level employment opportunities. This makes is a great option for those who want to qualify for basic information and technology jobs without committing the time and money necessary to earn a traditional four-year degree. Some of the most common careers available to graduates relate to computer support and web design.

Graduates may also choose to continue their education by enrolling in bachelor’s degree programs. The credits earned while completing associate degrees can often be transferred and applied toward further learning at the undergraduate level. In fact, most four-year colleges and universities accept up to 60 or 90 credit hours of coursework from other accredited institutions, allowing those with associate degrees to enter as juniors instead of freshmen with only two years of studying remaining.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science (BS)

Bachelor’s degrees in computer science generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately four years to complete. Students continue to take both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. While curriculums vary, most programs delve a little deeper into the field, providing those enrolled with a more expansive overview that can be used to obtain employment or pursue further learning. Some key topics often covered include computer science theory, computer systems, and computer applications. Students may also have opportunities to differentiate coursework by selecting concentration tracks such as software engineering, network and security, and game development.

This type of degree is the minimum education requirement for most computer science professions. Graduates typically possess the knowledge and skills needed to start successful careers in the field. Many choose to pursue entry-level employment related to information and technology. Some of the most prominent job opportunities available are often computer programmer, information security analyst, software developer, and computer system administrator.

Graduates also have the option of continuing their education even further. Those interested in pursuing more advanced positions often benefit from enrolling in master’s degree programs. Prospective students should be prepared to meet graduate school admittance requirements, however. Most colleges and universities expect candidates to submit prior transcripts and standardized testing reports to prove they meet minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score requirements.

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

Master’s degree programs in computer science generally consist of 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. At this level, students no longer take general liberal arts classes. Instead, instruction topics tend to be either practical or research-based and relate directly to the information technology field. Those enrolled can expect to learn about advanced computer science and business administration concepts, with many opportunities to practice. Additionally, many colleges and universities encourage students to select concentrations. Some common options include software theory and engineering, artificial intelligence, security, systems, and data science and analytics.

This type of degree is ideal for those seeking advanced mid-to-upper supervisory roles in computer and information technology as computer and information research scientists. Graduates often possess specialized knowledge and skills that are highly coveted by employers. As a result, they often enjoy greater job security, more promotional opportunities, and higher pay potential.

Online PhD Degree in Computer Science (PhD)

Online doctoral degree programs in computer science can take between six and seven years to complete. Curriculums can vary significantly from institution to institution, but students generally spend their first few years learning in traditional classroom settings. Prior to graduation, however, they are often expected to conduct their own independent research before writing and defending dissertations to an academic board.

It's important to note that very few computer science professions require candidates to possess doctoral degrees. This level of education can, however, lead to some very exciting and prestigious career opportunities. Graduates are qualified for positions involving information and technology research, as well as higher education.

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Become a CIS Professional in South Dakota

The first step to becoming a computer science professional in South Dakota is identifying your preferred profession. With so many possible career opportunities available to graduates, it’s important to research and determine which occupations are most appealing. This not only provides a goal to work toward, but it will make selecting an appropriate degree program much easier. The type and amount of education you will require is often directly connected to your intended profession. Narrowing your focus also ensures that you obtain the necessary training and experience needed to be successful moving forward.

Once you have met the minimum education and experience requirements for your preferred occupation, you may benefit from seeking additional credentials related to the computer science field. Potential benefits include improved your job prospects, more promotion opportunities, and increased salary potential. There are many certifications and licenses available, which can demonstrate your proficiency with important information and technology knowledge and skills. While not always necessary for employment, many professionals pursue these credentials in order to distinguish themselves from others when competing for jobs. Certifications and licenses can make it easier to obtain certain professions, especially in highly technical sub-fields.

Most certifications related to computer science are offered by technology companies, professional associations, or professional certification boards. Both vendor-specific and vendor-neutral credentials are available.

Some common options include:

  • Certified Information Security Manager
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer
  • Project Management Professional
  • Certified Information System Security Professional
  • Project Management Professional

Certifications and licenses may not be required in order to obtain a job, but it’s not uncommon for companies and organizations to necessitate that new hires earn specific credentials shortly after starting. To ensure you are adequately prepared to meet these expectations, always read job postings carefully before applying.

Many certifying and licensing bodies may also require continuing education to maintain your earned credentials. This is particularly prevalent for computer science credentials, as information and technology is constantly changing and advancing. As a result, professionals must take steps to ensure their knowledge and skills remain relevant. In most cases, continuing education requirements can generally be met by completing free and/or paid training programs, attending seminars at conventions, and/or enrolling in academic courses.

Careers for Computer Science Graduates

Graduates with computer science degrees will be qualified to apply for a wide variety of employment opportunities in South Dakota. While specific job titles, expectations, and salaries will differ, some of the most common career options include the following.

  • Computer Science Professor
    Postsecondary and higher education professors who teach computer science courses teach others about the field. They create relevant curriculums for higher education students attending colleges and universities. These professionals must possess strong mastery over their content area as they are responsible for regularly delivering engaging and information lectures. Computer science professors also grade assignments, meet with students, and may conduct related research projects. According to PayScale, postsecondary and higher education professors make an average base salary of $88,250 per year.
  • Cyber Security Analyst
    Cyber security analysts take various steps to ensure that information technology infrastructures remain safe. They keep data secure by performing assessments and offering suggestions for updates. These professionals often monitor networks and systems to detect potential security threats and analyze alarms. When detected, it’s also their responsibility to report possible intrusion attempts. According to PayScale, cyber security analysts make an average base salary of $76,650 per year.
  • Data Scientist
    Data scientists utilize computer science, statistics, and mathematics to analyze, process, model, and interpret data. They often work to prevent and solve problems, offering recommendations for more cost-effective changes to existing procedures. According to PayScale, data scientists make an average base salary of $96,550 per year.
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  • Network Analyst
    Network analysts ensure computer networks, hardware, software, and peripherals work properly. They may also coordinate with other technology experts, such as network engineers, to troubleshoot network-related issues. These professionals are sometimes asked to evaluate new vendor products before purchase. According to PayScale, network analysts make an average base salary of $60,200 per year.
  • Network Architect
    Network architects design and maintain networks by assessing system integrity, monitoring progress, and escalating issues to administrators. They often initiate the use of new technologies in the workplace, ensuring that all network implementations are completed successfully. According to PayScale, network architects make an average base salary of $121,200 per year.
  • Software Designer
    Software designers often work with other programmers and testers to develop new computer software. They then serve as resources to those who utilize the software, answering questions and troubleshooting issues as they arise. These professionals may also be responsible for creating reference guides that explain what software does and how it works. According to PayScale, software designers make an average base salary of $77,750 per year.
  • Technical Support Specialist
    Technical support specialists identify and troubleshoot technology issues. They often work to improve the efficiency of current programs and/or write new programs to replace those that are obsolete. These professionals also communicate information, bugs, and feature requests to development teams and/or senior support specialists. According to PayScale, technical support specialists make an average base salary of $52,500 per year.
  • Web Developer
    Web developers create web pages and websites using computer code. They often work to ensure materials are maintained in easily accessible databases. These professionals may also test and modify new software before incorporating it into company or organization websites. According to PayScale, web developers make an average base salary of $60,100 per year.

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