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What is computer science? Is it worth getting into?

My high school has recently started up a computer science program, and I'm thinking of taking a few classes. What kind of stuff do you do as a computer engineer? Should I get into it even if I'm not very technologically adept? #computer-science #computer-software #engineering

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John ’s Answer

Honestly, when I was in high school, I thought the same thing as you. Why would I want to be a CS major? I don't want to sit in a cubicle for hours upon end. I don't want to have a career where I don't talk to people. But let me tell you... I was so completely wrong about the major. When I realized how passionate I was about technology and actually gave CS a shot, I learned just how amazing CS is as a major, field, and career.


I'm still quite young, so I can't really "look back" very far... but I have to say, so far, that it's been so incredibly worth it. Because I'm young, let me provide a bit of my CS background (and hopefully speak to my credibility). I've spent a bit of time working in industry through my 2 internships (and 3rd this summer!). I have a bit of experience in research (bioinformatics, computational epidemiology, and starting CS+education). I'm still a student, so I still have quite a bit to explore, but from where I am now, I know that I've made an amazing choice.


The main point I want to make in this answer is that Computer Science is an incredibly versatile major. In all of the outreach and recruiting that I do, I preach that. Computer Science is an incredibly worthwhile major and career choice, because you can combine it with pretty much anything imaginable. I love music, sociology, psychology, and education (among other things). All of those are fields that, when combined with CS, make up some incredible research areas. Even subjects like English, which seems completely opposite from CS, have crossdisciplinary applications (NLP - Natural Language Processing). And, you can even do work in just pure CS! AI, Machine Learning, Computer Vision, etc are all incredible fields too. So, if you're looking to devote your life to study and research, CS opens up so many doors.


Even if you're not looking to do research, look at the tech industry in general. The diversity within the industry is enough to tell me that CS is a worthwhile career. Look at how much of our world revolves around or involves some sort of technology. When I do outreach, we ask the students "how many computers do you own?" Sometimes, they answer with 0, 1, or 2 because they're thinking about laptop or desktop computers, when in truth items such as cellphones, microwaves, cars, televisions, etc all have computers of some sort in them. This means that, if you choose a career in CS, you're likely to never get bored of your work. You could work in one company on projects relating to social and then move to another that works on mobile or web or products or data analysis, the possibilities are endless! Even within the same company, there could be teams that do incredibly different work. The example I usually make with students is Microsoft - think of Windows, Microsoft Office, Outlook, XBox, Azure, Windows Phone. Those are all so different, yet they're all in one company. And, the concepts behind the products (operating systems, productivity, email, gaming, cloud, mobile) are being worked at different companies. And those aren't even all of Microsoft's products, nor does Microsoft work on all of the products or concepts in the industry. The industry is incredibly diverse and full of options!


On a side note... When I go and talk to students, I tell those who are undecided about what major to choose to pick Computer Science, because just about every major has to program or work with technology at some point.


Now to address some of the points you've made in your question description...


Never have I sat in a cubicle for 8 hours. The only time I sat in a cubicle was when my team moved into a new building and standard procedure for the company was to set up the floor in cubicles until everyone was settled and then they could change it back (needless to say, I was only there for a week anyways). There are places where you will work in a cubicle, it just depends. But, there are definitely a good number of companies where you won't sit in a cubicle (unless you want to, and there are definitely advantages to cubicles!).


The only reason I've stayed in the office more than 8 hours is because I wanted to. I know that sounds crazy, and my friends (and coworkers) thought I was crazy too. Of the past 2 summers, the 8+ hour days only happened during one of them. When you find something that you're passionate about, time just flies. Seriously. In all honesty, during one of my internships, I left the office at 6:30 (after eating dinner nearby) every day. Maybe occasionally at 7:30, but not very often. It has to do with loving what you do. No one really forces you to stare at a computer screen for 8 hours. Even when I would spend 8+ hours at work, not all of it was spent staring at a computer or at code, even. A good portion was spent meeting with people, working at white boards, walking around to try and work out a problem or bug in my code. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the "long hours" aren't necessarily a requirement or expected part of a career in CS; it's more like something that comes with the territory and loving the product that you're working on.


It is beyond exciting to build "cool stuff"! It's crazy to see your code in production. Something as simple as a creating a button on a website or changing where something is located can affect hundreds, thousands, millions of people. It's almost hard to take that in. For me, I can't even begin to realize how many people have seen changes that I've made. And I'm not even that great of a programmer. I'm so young, I've done nothing. Imagine working in this industry for years upon years, impacting people through the ages? Like, I'm going to be working for the engineer who created page breaks on Google Forms. How many people make multi-paged Google Forms? That's crazy. I (briefly) worked with someone who I later learned was (basically) a Facebook giant. I just thought he was another engineer in the chat division. I can't even begin to imagine the people he's impacted over the course of his career.


Costya touched on the pay. I don't want to spend too much time talking about the money. Yes, it's quite a bit. It's good pay. I didn't take any of my internships or research fellowships for the money (even though I would have good reason to).


It is such a satisfying job. I think the information I've given above illustrates that, but in case it didn't... A career in CS is so satisfying. It's beyond satisfying. I'm passionate about helping people, connecting people, working with technology... I get to do all of that for a living and get paid to do so? That's incredible. Even if you didn't get paid, the fact that someone, anyone has the opportunity to really change the world is incredible. Computer Science is one of the majors that really does change the world. When I think about how much technology has changed and affected society, I realize just how important CS is as a major and field.


Can you expect to get hired at 40 or 50? I'm not really anywhere near that age, but I'd assume so. If your skills are good, I don't see why not! And, there are people who move around in the industry too. And, to assure you that I'm not kidding, my dad just started working again after fight and defeating cancer (GO DAD!). And, he's a CS-er too!

Thank you comment icon Thank you for such a thoughtful response! I am taking a computer science course right now, and I am enjoying it very much (even though it is rather tough). It sounds exciting to be able to create something that others would use, and I'll try to get started on some projects that I might be able to do now! Albert
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Seth’s Answer

Hello Albert! Computer Science is a large field so you may find something that interests you! Software engineering and programming are very popular fields. I would advise you to try a couple intro classes to see if it is something that would interest you!

Thank you comment icon Thank you for the advice! I will take my school's intro class and see if I like it. Albert
Thank you comment icon Anytime, I hope you enjoy it! Seth Kazmar
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Nayeem’s Answer

When some people think of computer science, they think of mobile apps, or cubicles, or hipster hackers, or gamer nerds, or server farms. These are all things that exist in the software world, but they're not the point.


Computer science is, in essence, the study of how to make things faster, more powerful, more automated, more efficient, more scalable. How to extract meaning from data so complex a human could never hope to understand it by just reading through it, and how to process that at a massive scale. Programming is merely the means to that end.


Understanding computer science will change the way you approach everything in life. And it's applicable to virtually everything.


Also yeah the jobs are pretty cool.

Thank you comment icon Thanks for the insight! Could you elaborate on some of the jobs that you thought were the coolest or most exciting? Albert
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Pradeep’s Answer

The only reason I've stayed in the office more than 8 hours is because I wanted to. I know that sounds crazy, and my friends (and coworkers) thought I was crazy too. Of the past 2 summers, the 8+ hour days only happened during one of them. When you find something that you're passionate about, time just flies. Seriously. In all honesty, during one of my internships, I left the office at 6:30 (after eating dinner nearby) every day. Maybe occasionally at 7:30, but not very often. It has to do with loving what you do. No one really forces you to stare at a computer screen for 8 hours. Even when I would spend 8+ hours at work, not all of it was spent staring at a computer or at code, even. A good portion was spent meeting with people, working at white boards, walking around to try and work out a problem or bug in my code. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the "long hours" aren't necessarily a requirement or expected part of a career in CS; it's more like something that comes with the territory and loving the product that you're working on.

Thank you comment icon Thanks for your insight! I agree, I think if I love what I do, I will naturally want to put more hours into it to finish it. I will give CS a shot this year and see if I love it enough to want to do it as a career! Albert
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Ayan’s Answer

Computer science is one of the fastest growing fields in the international and US markets and a computer science (CS) degree is a great way to break into this lucrative industry. The best candidates for a CS degree would be those that have a deep interest and passion for computing as it is an incredibly difficult major for those not comfortable with computers or technology.


Most computer science programs will focus on the elements of programming, information technology, and computer engineering. Programming is the art of speaking to a computer. Programmers are needed in nearly every industry ranging from game development to big-time finance firms. Information technology is based around managing networks and the flow of information. There are separate degrees for IT, but CS majors typically need to know at least a base understanding of IT. Computer engineering is learning how to design and maintain the hardware the keeps computer system working.

Thank you comment icon Thanks for your insights! I am taking a CS course right now, and it is nice to know what lies ahead of me if I decided to pursue it. Albert
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