5 Popular Computer Science Concentrations
- Artificial Intelligence
- Business Intelligence
- Data Analytics
- Health Informatics
Students pursuing degrees in computer science are often amazed at the sheer number of concentrations available to them. Because computer science is such a diverse field of study, it offers numerous career possibilities. When we think of computer science jobs, the ones that generally come to mind are software engineering, computer systems analysis, or software programming occupations. However, with many different computer science concentrations now being offered, career paths in unique niches are available to the computer science graduate. Here are five popular concentrations offered in computer science programs.
1. Artificial Intelligence
One of the fastest-growing branches of computer science is artificial intelligence, or AI. According to Yale University, artificial intelligence covers a lot of disparate problem areas, but it emphasizes complex inputs and outputs that are difficult to compute. In computer science, AI helps identify potential threats, like security and data breaches. Data security is highly impacted by the use of artificial intelligence.
The increasing demand for network security through AI measures drives the growth and expansion of this concentration. Computer science programs from some of the nation’s top-ranked and accredited colleges and universities now offer degrees in computer science with a concentration or specialization in artificial intelligence. Within these programs, students explore topics like analysis of algorithms, deep learning and its applications, foundations of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and web technologies. Advanced programs, such as master’s degrees, offer courses in digital image processing and robotics. Depending on your particular area of interest, some programs will allow you to focus the concentration even further by exploring unique topics like speech recognition or math of high-dimensional data.
2. Business Intelligence
Business intelligence concentrations are typically offered as part of a bachelor’s or master’s in computer science degree. This concentration teaches students advanced techniques for analyzing and managing data. In business intelligence courses, students gain an understanding of how data management technology can be applied to solve problems in business. Students also learn how to create continuous improvement cycles at all organizational levels.
In bachelor’s in computer science programs that offer a business intelligence concentration, students take courses exploring topics like data warehousing, dimensional modeling, ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) strategies, and multidimensional analysis. Earning a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in business intelligence can prepare graduates for work at government agencies, multinational corporations, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses. Professionals in business intelligence can take their knowledge and leadership skills into the workplace as financial analysts, information research scientists, management analysts, or market research analysts. However, some of these roles require an earned master’s degree.
Master’s degree programs that offer concentrations in business intelligence prepare students for higher-level careers and advancement opportunities. Courses cover topics like advanced database management, Big Data and e-commerce, data warehousing, statistical data mining, and statistical programming for business analytics. Graduate students typically complete the 30- to 33-credit requirement for the master’s degree and take additional courses to satisfy the concentration stipulations.
3. Data Analytics
A concentration in data analytics explores various topics and tools related to data analysis, data processing, and visualization. While many concentrations are found attached to graduate-level computer science degrees, few exist in undergraduate programs.
A data analytics concentration is a career-centric specialization that offers extensive exposure and hands-on experience with database systems, data mining tools, data visualization tools, and cloud services. Students also explore cutting-edge areas relevant to the industry, like emerging analytics and artificial intelligence. Some of the courses offered in a graduate data analytics program cover topics like analysis of algorithms, computer language theory, computer networks, operating systems, and software engineering. The concentration courses cover topics like computer graphics, data analysis and visualization with R, and web analytics and mining. Electives dig deeper into specialty topics like biomedical sciences and health IT, financial informatics, and health informatics.
4. Health Informatics
Health informatics, which is the integration of health information and information technology, is a popular concentration for computer science students. The health informatics program is also referred to as biomedical IT. In addition to learning the basics of computer science, students learn about medical science ideas behind different technologies, including ultrasound imaging, digital radiography, computed tomography, and nuclear medicine. This concentration also focuses on HIPPA laws and teaches students about data protection and security. Students also learn about electronic health records and public health informatics.
Core courses for a bachelor’s in computer science emphasize the basic principles and foundations of the discipline. Adding the health informatics concentration allows students to tailor their computer science degree toward a specific interest area. Courses in health informatics undergraduate programs cover topics like EHRs, health data management, and medical terminology. In graduate programs, students take courses that explore topics like advanced health informatics, biomedical sciences and health IT, enterprise cyber security, health informatics, and health information systems. In addition to coursework, students enrolled in graduate health informatics and computer science programs are often required to complete a thesis. In this case, students are assigned a thesis advisor or full-time faculty member who works closely with the student during the last year of the program.
With the high number of security and cyber threats impacting businesses and organizations, security is a big issue in both our private lives and the business world. The security concentration teaches students to design, create, and implement computer systems with the highest level of security. Students also learn how to not only get rid of security threats, but identify them before they become a problem. This concentration is typically part of a computer science or computer information systems degree program. Course topics in an undergraduate program include cybersecurity, database management systems, network security, and systems software. In bachelor’s degree programs, students complete the coursework required by the computer science degree along with an additional 12-15 credit-hours of cybersecurity or security-oriented coursework.
Graduate-level computer science programs also offer cybersecurity or security concentrations. In a master’s in computer science degree program with a specialization or concentration in security, students build upon foundational principles and explore more advanced topics. Courses may cover topics like advanced computer network security, applied cryptography, foundations of algorithms, knowledge representation and reasoning, mobile computing, and software security.
Earnings Potential for Computer Science Graduates
The earnings potential for computer science graduates varies by occupation, geographic location, and industry. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations is $91,250, which is over twice the median annual wage of $41,950 for all occupations. The following jobs and their median pay provide insight into the earnings potential for computer science graduates.
Computer and information research scientists: $126,830
Computer network architects: $116,780
Computer programmers: $89,190
Computer support specialists: $55,510
Computer systems analysts: $93,730
Database administrators: $98,860
Information security analysts: $103,590
Network and computer systems administrators: $84,810
Software developers: $110,140
Web developers and digital designers: $77,200
As stated above, earnings potential varies by industry. According to BLS, top-paying industries for computer and information research scientists include software publishing; research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences; computer systems design; federal government; and colleges, universities, and professional schools.
The top-paying industries for web developers and digital designers include publishing industries; computer systems design and related services; advertising, public relations, and related services; and management, scientific, and technical consulting services.
In addition to industry and occupation, geographic location can impact earnings potential. Top-paying states for computer and information research scientists, as reported by BLS, include California ($150,830 annual mean wage), Virginia ($146,830), Washington ($143,010), New York ($138,190), and Oregon ($137,760).
Pay also varies by city. In fact, BLS reports San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California as the highest-paying metropolitan area for computer and information research scientists. Also ranking among the top five highest-paying metro areas are San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California; Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Oregon/Washington; Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington; and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria-DC, Virginia/Maryland/West Virginia. In nonmetro areas, the highest wages were found in Northeastern Virginia.
Job Outlook for Graduates of Computer Science Programs
Graduates of computer science programs are very much in demand and will continue to be in demand for the near future, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, the employment of information technology and computer jobs is expected to grow 11 percent during the decade of 2019-2029. The bureau expects that about 531,200 new computer-based jobs will be created during that period. Professionals who study concentrations in computer science should see the best career opportunities. In fact, according to BLS, individuals with specialty knowledge in areas like cloud computing, collection and storage of Big Data, and information security should see the best job prospects over the next several years.
Specific occupations listed by BLS also reveal favorable job outlooks. For example, computer and information research scientists should see a favorable growth in employment of 15% through 2029. Job prospects are expected to be excellent for this occupation as the demand for new and improved technology grows. On average, about 3,000 openings for computer and information research scientists are anticipated each year over the next decade. Most of these job openings should result from the need to replace retirees and those who transfer to different occupations. As with all computer science occupations, qualified candidates will fill these positions. To make yourself a favorable candidate, earning a concentration in an in-demand discipline helps. For example, individuals with cybersecurity knowledge should see the most favorable job prospects.
Jobs for Computer Science Graduates
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer science jobs are plentiful and interesting. The field is constantly changing, with new career paths emerging annually. Top tech firms around the world are willing to pay top dollar to new graduates. Signing bonuses and incentives that immediately pay off student loan debt are not uncommon for firms hiring computer science graduates. In Silicon Valley, top firms pay new hires six- and seven-figure salaries.
For those with a strong interest in math and computers, the field may be a great fit, but you don’t have to be exclusively STEM-bent to acquire a career in computer science. Sure, a strong aptitude in math and computer science is crucial, but creativity matters. In fact, some of the leading Silicon Valley tech firms seek out-of-the-box thinkers who are willing to take creative risks. Learning another language, exploring your inner artist, and minoring in graphic design can all help lead to a lucrative career in computer science.
Below are several positions where a computer science degree and concentration can make you an asset to any employer.
Computer network architect – A computer network architect builds and designs communication networks, including local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). Most individuals working in this role hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
Data scientist – Computer, data, and research scientists design innovative solutions and uses for today’s existing technology. Most working in this role hold a graduate degree, but those in federal government may hold a bachelor’s degree.
Information security analyst – An information security analyst typically holds a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field, such as computer science. The security analyst is responsible for carrying out and planning security measures that protect an organization’s computer networks and systems. According to BLS, this occupation has one of the most favorable job outlooks over the next decade. In fact, a 31% employment growth is expected for this occupation.
Network and computer systems administrator – Responsible for the day-to-day operations of computer networks in an organization or business, network and computer systems administrators lead teams and manage IT departments. The role generally requires a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a closely related field.
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