A Guide to Computer Science Career Paths

Why Should You Pursue a Career in Computer Science?

We use technology every day—from making essential purchases to chatting with friends on social media. If you’re interested in using technology to solve everyday problems, a career in computer science may be right for you. 

Computer science can be a rewarding career for those with an aptitude for math and technology, but it’s so much more than crunching numbers and coding languages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, computer scientists advance computing technology and innovate existing technology. At its core, a computer science career focuses on finding the most efficient approach to improve computing technology performance. If you are deciding how to get into computer science, it’s important to look at computer science career options to understand which is the right fit for you. 

Do You Need a Master’s in Computer Science?

When considering a career in computer science, it’s important to note that most jobs in the computer science field require a master’s degree in computer science or a related discipline, according to the BLS. Computer scientists work in a diverse range of specialized fields. For example, a computer scientist working on biomedical applications may have a background in biology in addition to a Master of Science (MS) in computer science. 

An MS in computer science typically requires two to three years of study, after you have earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. While it’s not always required, a master’s in computer science can be a step toward maximizing your career potential and opening doors for new opportunities, such as teaching or managerial positions. A number of master’s in computer science programs allow students to tailor their education to specific needs or interests and gain niche skills in subfields, such as artificial intelligence. 

Can You Get a Master’s in Computer Science Without a Bachelor’s in CS?

When considering a career change to computer science, you might be wondering: Can you get a master’s in computer science without a bachelor’s in computer science? According to the IEEE Computer Society, most professionals in the computing industry have at least an undergraduate degree in math, computer science, software engineering or a related field. While an undergraduate education in computer science is one way to learn about the fundamentals of computer science and prepare toward an advanced degree, some graduate programs are open to non-CS majors. A master’s education in computer science allows candidates to deepen their knowledge and become more specialized, according to a guest post on Communications of the ACM, the official blog for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). 

Learn more about the master’s in computer science at Syracuse University

Computer Science Career Outlook

Computer science is an in-demand career right now, with employment opportunities projected to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, according to the BLS. This is much faster than the average for all careers. As the need for new and improved technology continues to grow, the demand for computer scientists will as well. Some areas of growth in the industry include data collection and data mining services, cybersecurity and software efficiency. 

There are many industry trends, such as security cross-cutting issues, increased online courses in education, universal memory and computing, that open up more opportunities for growth within a computer science career, according to the IEEE CS 2022 Report (PDF, 7.6 MB)

Computer Science Career Salaries

Computer science career salaries tend to have a wide range. The median annual wage for a computer scientist was $126,830 in May 2020, according to BLS pay data. The highest 10% earned more than $194,430, while the lowest 10% earned less than $72,210. A computer science career salary depends on your skill set, specialization and location, among other factors. According to the BLS, top industries for this profession include: 

IndustryMedian Annual Salary (as of May 2020)
Software publishers $145,920
Research and development in physical, engineering and life sciences$140,000
Computer systems design and related services$136,950
Federal government (except postal service)$112,930
Colleges and universities$82,220
Computer Science Career Salaries

Computer Science Career Paths

There are many computer science career paths, ranging from software engineer to technical writer. In a short publication on computing disciplines (PDF, 94 KB), the ACM reports that computer science career options include:

  • Computer Engineering: planning and designing the digital hardware and software systems.
  • Computer Science: developing computing solutions. 
  • Information Systems: communicating computer information systems to a business. 
  • Information Technology: helping maintain computer infrastructure and addressing the needs of the people who use it. 
  • Software Engineering: developing software systems.

Knowing what each computer science career entails can help you determine the best fit for you. Find below the scope of work for various computer science roles:

Software Engineer

A software engineer is a computer science career professional that focuses on the impact of software systems in safety-critical applications. Their work often involves software development and testing in order to assess customer needs. They may work closely with software developers and share similar duties in the workplace.

Data Scientist

A data scientist analyzes data and builds statistical models with insights used to inform business decisions. According to leading analytics company SAS, data scientist job duties include but are not limited to: 

  • Collecting large amounts of data and transforming it into easy-to-understand formats.
  • Solving business problems using data-driven techniques.
  • Using programming languages.
  • Using analytical techniques like machine learning, deep learning and text analytics. 
  • Communicating with IT and businesses. 
  • Spotting trends and patterns in data that can help a business. 

Software Developer

Software developers create and develop computer programs and the underlying systems that run control networks. They plan the entire development process for a software program and give instructions to programmers who will write the code. According to the BLS, software developers are typically tasked with the following

  • Analyzing user needs in order to inform the process of designing, testing and developing software to address those needs. 
  • Recommending software upgrades for users’ existing programs and systems.
  • Creating models and diagrams that show programmers the software code needed. 
  • Software maintenance and testing.
  • Collaborating with other computer specialists to create optimum software. 
  • Designing applications or systems and planning how they will work together.

Web Developer

Web developers are the creative masterminds behind maintaining websites to fit a client’s needs. They optimize a website’s performance and capacity, as well as content creation. According to the BLS, the functions of a web developer include: 

  • Technical construction of the website.
  • Creating the basic framework of the website and ensuring functionality.
  • Establishing procedures that allow others to add new pages to a website.
  • Discussing major changes to a website with clients.
  • Creating technical features for a website’s look. 
  • Developing and integrating website layout, graphics and application. 
  • Monitoring website traffic.

Database Administrator

Database administrators focus on monitoring database performance. They do this by utilizing software to store and organize data. Database administrators may perform the following job responsibilities, according to the BLS: 

  • Backing up and restoring data to prevent data loss.
  • Ensuring organizational data is secure. 
  • Identifying users’ needs to create and administer databases.
  • Operating databases efficiently without error.
  • Testing modifications to database structure.
  • Maintaining databases and merging old ones into new. 

Network Administrator

A network administrator focuses on the day-to-day operations of networks and computer systems. They support an organization’s computer systems as well as data communication systems. According to the BLS, the network administrator’s scope of work encompasses: 

  • Organizing and installing network hardware and software.
  • Making upgrades and repairs to networks as needed.
  • Maintaining network and computer system security.
  • Evaluating network or system performance.
  • Adding users to a network.
  • Updating security permissions on the network. 

Web Designer

A web designer oversees the design, layout and look of a website. Web designers often carry out the following tasks, as noted in the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: 

  • Meeting with clients to discuss design and functionality of a website.
  • Creating and testing applications, interfaces and navigation menus for a website.
  • Using programming languages to write code for the website. 
  • Working with graphic designers to determine the website’s layout. 

Technical Writer

Technical writers work closely with computer hardware engineers and software developers to manage information flow. They gather technical information and communicate them through the organization. According to the BLS, technical writers perform a variety of editorial-related tasks, including:

  • Writing instruction manuals, how-to guides and journal articles to communicate complex technical information more easily. 
  • Studying product samples with product designers and developers.
  • Writing or revising supporting content for a client. 
  • Incorporating graphics to improve a user’s understanding of the material. 

Systems Analyst

System analysts organize computer systems and procedures within information technology to help businesses operate more efficiently. According to the BLS, systems analysts’ job duties include:

  • Consulting with an organization’s management to determine the role of IT systems.
  • Researching emerging technologies that might help increase efficiency. 
  • Providing a cost-benefit analysis to computing infrastructure.
  • Coming up with new ways to add functionality to existing computer systems.
  • Choosing and configuring hardware and software.
  • Testing systems to see if they work as expected.

Computer Programmer

A computer programmer is responsible for writing code that allows for software to function.  They help turn the programs that software developers create into instructions that a computer follows. Computer programmers are trained to perform the following tasks:

  • Testing newly created applications and programs for errors to ensure they’re working properly.
  • Writing programs in computer languages.
  • Updating and expanding existing programs.
  • Using code libraries to simplify writing.

Computer science offers a variety of career options that go beyond the technological sphere. It can be useful in multiple areas of work, such as communications or project management. Whatever you make of your master’s in computer science degree, there is more than one direction you can follow.

Learn more about the master’s in computer science at Syracuse University