3 answers

How relevant is computer science, in today's world, in comparison to other majors?

Asked Chicago, Illinois

Studying #computer-science at UIC is a lofty ordeal indeed. Me and my classmates spend long hours and days completing arduous assignments, learning dense material, and studying for exams. Meanwhile, other majors require less effort and time, while still others require more.
This leaves me wondering where computer science stands among other fields and if this extends a significance to the real life beyond campus.

3 answers

Eric’s Answer

Updated Cambridge, Massachusetts

As Carol said, think of how much technology has shaped your life. Computers are so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget about them and overlook them. These days, there are computers in our car keys, our washing machines, for some of us our light bulbs, in the games we play, plus they run the grid that brings electricity to all of this. And so on.

But the thing about computers is, they can't do anything on their own. They all require people to program them. One path to becoming such a programmer is to study Computer Science in college (there are others ways, from teaching yourself to coding boot camps, but if you're already in college it's likely that the major is the most accessible method for you right now.) Computer Science is in very high demand, because we keep finding new things to put computers in, and keep upgrading the computers we're putting into things, to say nothing of the enormous number of pure software companies employing people to write programs to run on general-purpose computers (desktops, phones, servers over the Web, and so on).

So, it is very, very relevant. It's hard to compare to other majors because all have their niche, areas of the world where they are particularly relevant. But with computer science, you can find a place to be relevant pretty much anywhere there is electricity, and even places where it's sporadic. Computer science also works well with a lot of other majors. If you like Physics, you can find relevance helping to program the simulations used to test theories. If you like Sociology, you can set up studies and tools using their principles to put their ideas into use. If you like music, you can write programs that help compose new pieces, help musicians learn and practice, and so on.

People have been talking for a while about that idea that sooner or later, computers will be able to program themselves and that will make computer science irrelevant. While Machine Learning has become an exciting new field, and in a few specific areas has been able to help programs do better than humans had ever been able to program them (such as Google and DeepMind's AlphaGo), humans who knew computer science still have to set up the models that allow Machine Learning systems to learn at all. So it doesn't look like this is likely to cause irrelevance any time soon.

Finally, a note on terminology. Technically, "Computer Science" is an advanced branch of math, which people usually only study in graduate-level courses. It can be esoteric and may be less relevant in a lot of ways. However, I'm assuming that you are getting an undergraduate Computer Science degree. This tends to involve more Software Engineering (and you may even have a class or two called that), which is the actual profession you would be going into that I was describing. It's mostly just a quirk of history that we call the undergraduate degree "Computer Science" rather than "Software Engineering", so don't worry that you're in the wrong major on that regard.

I hope this helps give perspective!

Carol’s Answer

Updated Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Try this - go through your average day and think what tasks you do. Then look at those tasks and consider how many of them you used technology to complete. That's how relevant computers (and therefore computer science) is these days. The world has changed a lot over the last couple of decades, just about everything you do involves some form of computer along the way now. Cars, TVs, phones, checkouts at the supermarket, everything has a built-in computer, in some cases it's not obvious but it's probably there. Even if it doesn't have a computer itself, there was probably one involved in making it, delivering it, or selling it.

Joe’s Answer

Updated Tampa, Florida
In spite of the long hours at university, do you ENJOY Comp Sci overall? When I was going to school, I averaged 4 hours of sleep a night, due to the detailed assignments - and working. But I did (and do) enjoy programming and other aspects of working with technology (it's been 30 years so far). If you enjoy it, then it can be quite worthwhile. Enterprises are now wanting ALL employees to have at least some technical prowess, and I think that will only grow.