Computer Science is rapidly becoming a popular major among students as the job market for CS majors shows consistent growth. Additionally, the market for CS majors shows Wall Street-esque behavior, as CS majors are generally given large signing bonuses and moving between tech firms has a very up-and-out feel to it. Yet, I believe that studying CS with the intention of making lots of money can lead to foreseeable discontentment. If your heart isn’t in CS, given the sharp learning curve, necessity to train oneself constantly in order to stay relevant, and the inherent meritocracy of the technology industry, you will find yourself in a career that quickly drains any entrepreneurial motivation to succeed in this industry.
In these articles, I hope to give guidance on both how to quickly decide if you want to study computer science and how to choose a university at which to study this discipline. In further articles, I will go into more depth about specific universities and their CS programs.
Should I study computer science?
Computer science is an exciting field, and I love the inherently entrepreneurial nature of the discipline. You are constantly forced to reform your ideas, learn new concepts, and integrate STEM across all of the sciences. Every few weeks, the community develops new tools, ideas, algorithms, software, etc… which keeps the field constantly fresh. The only other industry with this type of innovation is finance, and currently, finance and computer science are growing symbiotically which makes this a very exciting time to study both fields.
Now, here is a list of questions you should ask yourself if you are considering a career in CS. These questions are ordered in increasing abstraction:
- Do I genuinely enjoy using computers, machines, and technology? Am I interested in how they work, how they can be improved, and how we can use computers best, or do I prefer to just use computers as tools to reach an end?
- Do I enjoy few or more of the following subjects: logic, mathematics, economics, physics, philosophy, neuroscience, psychology?
- Am I interested in creating, developing, and innovating? Do I have a desire to improve? Am I motivated by problem-solving?
- Do I learn for the sake of learning? Do I enjoy learning new things, and do I view education as a lifelong endeavor?
- Am I interested in what it means to know, to process, to understand, to interpret, to convey, and to learn? Am I interested in the fundamental underpinnings of thinking and knowledge?
Granted, there are many other ways to determine if CS is for you, but from a very philosophical standpoint, these are important questions to ask yourself about the field of computing.
Where should I study computer science?
Assuming you have decided that computer science is the career for you, where should you study computer science as an undergraduate? This is a difficult question which would require much more introspection, and in later articles I will give more concrete overviews of CS at specific universities, but for now, consider this idea: because CS is meritocratic, meaning you are constantly having to prove yourself as both an innovator, learner, and collaborator in order to keep a job in this industry, the prestige, selectivity, and curriculum of a college matters very little; rather, the character, drive, discipline, and intellect of the individual defines the quality of his or her career. It’s true, certain schools attract more recruiters from bigger name jobs, but the fact of the matter is that entering the technology industry depends little on prestige (for example, Wall Street maintains exclusivity by recruiting at only a handful of universities) but rather on what one can prove. This aspect makes CS both an exciting and competitive industry.
When choosing an undergraduate college for computer science, I believe there are three factors to consider:
- Am I interested in working closely with professors or do I prefer large lecture based environments?
- Am I interested in a particular professor’s or department’s CS research projects?
- Would I be challenged and motivated to continue learning throughout my life?
The last one is a little tricky and much more subjective, but it is nonetheless crucial to choosing a path for undergraduate study. Some sugegstions I have for determining #3 include reviewing the major requirements, emailing or calling professors, and looking through the department’s mission statement.
This overview is not meant to provide an all-encompassing determination of whether or not CS is for you, but I do hope it helps with understanding what it means to study computer science. In Part II, I will talk about specific undergraduate programs and what these colleges offer in the way of teaching undergraduates computer science.