Computers are an essential part of our internet-enabled lives today, but what does it mean to study computer science? Computer science, often referred to as CS, is a broad field encompassing the study of computer systems, computational thinking and theory, and the design of software programs that harness the power of this hardware to process data.
Those studying computer science may end up taking a similarly broad range of career pathways. Many CS majors focus on building skills in software programming, coding, and web development, all of which are highly sought after by a wide variety of companies. However, others may focus on more specialized topics such as algorithmic problem solving, machine learning and artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and even robotics!
Computer science lends itself particularly well to online learning, for obvious reasons - after all, where better to learn about computing than on your computer? Self-motivated learners can choose from a wide range of great courses. Many CS professionals started off learning from personal programming projects, classes, and bootcamps.
That said, it’s important to pursue your online computer education in an order that makes sense, so that each new course builds on a foundation of skills you’ve already acquired. Start with learning to code, ideally in a relatively simple language like Python or else whatever language is most relevant to your career goals (you might want to do some online research). In-browser coding tools can make a growing number of programming languages easy to learn.
Once you start developing the mindset of a programmer, you can develop more advanced skills in your first programming language - or, even better, start adding additional languages to your toolkit! After you really get the hang of coding, you should take some time to think about your career goals and research the CS courses that are the most relevant to achieving them. Coding skills are fundamental to any CS career, but it’s these higher level specializations that will make you a true computer scientist.
A career in computer science can take you pretty much anywhere! All sorts of companies need web developers, software engineers, mobile application developers, and other experienced programmers, giving you opportunities to use your CS skills to advance your career in an incredibly wide range of industries. Most tech-related companies also have a Chief Technical Officer (CTO), enabling your CS career to take you all the way to the C-suite.
Other computer science careers are much more specialized. If you’re a gamer, becoming a game developer at a company like Blizzard or Electronic Arts might be your dream job - and require more specific types of expertise than your average web developer. If you’re a hardware geek, you might look to build critical computing infrastructure as a computer architect, network analyst, or computer hardware engineer. Cybersecurity consultant, artificial intelligence developer, and other advanced careers are growing fast, too.
Once you've got a handle on programming basics in one or more languages, you can proceed to more advanced courses that will allow you to use these skills to take your career to the next level. The advent of big data has made an education in data structures and databases highly valuable in a variety of industries. Full stack web development is an in-demand skill for pretty much any company in the mobile economy. And the growing number of algorithmic using machine learning and AI need programmers skilled in algorithms and algorithmic thinking.
For example, Coursera offers MCS degrees from the University of Illinois and Arizona State University, and a Master of Applied Data Science degree from the University of Michigan. All of these high-quality degree programs allow you to pursue an affordable advanced degree in CS with the flexibility to fit into your schedule. And thanks to live video sessions, office hours, and close collaboration with classmates, you can get the career and alumni network benefits of an on-campus education from anywhere in the world!