Should I Major In Computer Science?
"I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but my parents seem to think that computer science is the best field out there right now. My dad is a programmer and I am under a lot of pressure to follow in his footsteps. I do find programming kind of interesting, and I do want a good job, but I don’t know if I can survive the courses, considering that math is not something I excel at, and I also am just not very logically oriented. When I look at the work he does for a living, I feel myself kind of “glaze over,” because it just looks totally abstract and meaningless to me. What should I do?"
asked by Beth from Denver, CO
The last thing you should do is force yourself into a major you won’t enjoy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a chance if it does interest you, even a little, but you should ultimately be the one who makes up your mind about what to do with the rest of your life, and not someone else, even if your parents are paying for your education.
I knew someone once who worked at a computer science firm who was not really into her profession, and it showed. While she was able to write a program, she usually needed assistance, and she had a difficult time from one day to the next. Her career was a struggle instead of something she found fulfilling and enjoying.
That isn’t to say something difficult can’t be fulfilling and enjoyable (and if you found this article and you do find computer science enjoyable, there are many good reasons to consider it for your career, which I will discuss in a little bit).
My suggestion to anyone in a similar situation is to start out undeclared as a freshman, but take some basic math and science classes which you would use to get started on a computer science track and see whether you like them. Start out with Calculus 1, a science class like physics, or Engineering 101, and take Computer Science 101. That way you are starting to get the basic requirements under your belt.
Computer Science Does Not Have to Be Easy to Be Rewarding
I think there is a common misapprehension among students who sign up for courses like these in their freshmen year, and drop out early because they are having a difficult time. If you actually take a tough class like Computer Science 101 or Calculus 101 at the introductory level, and you stay in it, you will notice that the class gets a lot smaller after the first month or so is complete.
Every week students drop, and the class that finishes is often much smaller than the class that gets started. Most of the students who drop were capable of completing the course; they simply believed they were not “good” at it.
One thing that is important to realize is that these classes are tough for almost everyone, even people who are “good” at math and science. Those people usually have to struggle to succeed, just like anyone else. And that’s something you’ll probably see a lot of when you are in your classes. So if the reason you feel unsure about computer science is just because you’re worried you’ll find it challenging (as opposed to dull), then you may find that you are up for the challenge after all and that you enjoy it.
Sometimes things that are really hard can also make us “glaze over” while we are studying, because they feel like too much for our brains to handle. But with some time and dedication you may discover that you enjoy it.
For this reason, I would suggest completing at least one computer science course when you start out as a freshman, from start to finish, even if you find it tough. Many students who quit classes like these early never figure out if they have a knack for computer science or find it interesting. Not every unit of computer science is going to be like every other.
You may very well be great at one thing and bad at another, or find one aspect dull and tedious, and another stimulating and exhilarating. The only way to find out is to try to get through at least one class. If you stick with it, you will have a far better idea of whether computer science is something you might enjoy doing for a living or not.
Why Is Computer Science an Appealing Career Field?
What are some of the reasons you should major in computer science, assuming you do actually enjoy it and find it rewarding (whether you find it difficult or not)? Let’s take a look at what makes computer science a great career field, and why you may find it a rewarding role for your future.
- High pay. One very good reason to think about computer science for your profession is the salary. As of 2010, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the lowest median pay for computer science jobs came out to $69,160 per year. That is a comfortable living salary, and enough to support a family. That does not mean that it necessarily represents a starting wage, but you may expect to earn a similar figure soon after starting out on the job. Some types of computer science professionals earn more money than others, and seniority can also result in higher wages. At the top of the pile were Computer and Information Systems Managers, who were able to pull in as much as $115,780.
- Fast rate of growth in some subfields. Not all computer science jobs are growing quickly, but in certain niches, there is fast growth and a lot of opportunity. Computer and information research scientists are showing a growth rate of 15% according to the BLS, and software developers are in an even faster-growing field at a rate of 22%. Computers have become an integral part of our day to day lives, and are essential in numerous different industries, and as a result, computer scientists are needed everywhere.
- Work in any sector you want. If you are majoring in computer science, you will of course be working with computers, likely in a home office environment (but you may also find some telecommuting jobs available). One nice thing about computer science though is that you can often choose your industry, since computer science majors are needed in so many different sectors! If you have always wanted a job in the healthcare field, you may very well find an opportunity to use computer science to advance healthcare goals. If you always wanted to develop video games, your computer science degree may open doors in that industry. If you want to work in defense, you may find a lot of great opportunities to develop solutions to protect the country from foreign threats. These are just a few possibilities.
- Enjoy working in an environment where you are respected for your technical expertise. Because computer science is a challenging field and so many people are unable to succeed in it (or decide not to try), it is an area of specialized knowledge where your own knowledge should be respected by your colleagues and bosses. You may work on your own or with a team, but either way, the work you do will require an advanced understanding of computer science. Because of this, you may be well paid and recognized for your hard work.
- Use your unique talents to solve real-world problems. Many computer scientists feel a genuine sense of pride at their professional accomplishments. When you apply your knowledge of computer science to real-world problems, you provide real-world solutions with measurable results. When you actually see how your computer science solutions are impacting real lives, you may be very happy with the rewarding work you are accomplishing.
Do You Have What It Takes to Major in Computer Science?
You might also be asking yourself whether you have the personality traits that you need to succeed as a computer science major, and later, as a computer science professional. It may surprise you to realize that the most helpful traits for a computer science major are the same traits which are helpful in many other fields.
The Department of Computer Science at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock recommends that students be mature, organized, responsible, persistent, and helpful. As you can see, these are all pretty general abilities, the same ones you would need if you were majoring in law, mathematics, civil engineering, chemistry, or anything else. These recommendations cast some perspective on computer science.
Do you need technical expertise to succeed in computer science? Yes, but that is what you are going to class to get.
Computer science is not just a technical field, though, it is also a human one, which often involves a lot of close work with colleagues and project leaders, and sometimes clients. That’s why qualities like leadership, helpfulness, and persistent hard work are so important.
Should you major in CS if it does not appeal to you? If however computer science doesn’t really “grab” you, you probably should do something else with your life, because nothing good ever comes of forcing yourself to major in a field you do not like because somebody else wants you to, or because you think you “should” do it. You might find another technical career which interests you, like IT, engineering, a science field, or mathematics. Or maybe something outside of the technical disciplines will appeal to you more.
You want to look for a combination of a reliable salary, a reasonable amount of opportunity, and something which you can at least tolerate doing each day. I think that if you are in a similar situation, as long as you find research backing up your career choice as one which has a lot to offer, you stand a good chance of getting your parents to back your education.
If however you are interested in computer science, and you find the idea of a career in computer science potentially exciting from what you read here, then you should sign up for Computer Science 101 during your freshman year and start out on your mathematics track as well (you will be doing a lot of math as a computer science major).
Be ready to put a lot of overtime into computer science. The lab time you are given to complete your programming assignments is generally insufficient, and odds are you will be spending many extra hours in and outside the lab with and without your classmates.
If you are able to put in all that overtime, even if you find it tough, odds are you have found something you are passionate about, and you may excel as a computer science major!
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