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Is Computer Science the right career for me?

It’s a tough question, really, especially if you haven’t gotten to experience the work and life of a computer programmer as of yet. Not to worry, though. In this article we will review a few tell-tale signs of whether computer science is a good fit for you, and what you could do to gain the confidence in making the right decision.

a student trying to decide whether computer science is right for him

What is Computer Science?

Let’s start with the basics. In elementary terms, computer science is the study of computers – how they operate and what you can do with them. Although often associated with its applicational uses such as software engineering and web development, computer science comprises a wide range of disciplines. These include computer systems and networks, cybersecurity, database systems, machine learning and artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, computer vision and graphics, statistical analysis, and theory of computing.

What do you learn as a computer science student?

A typical student at a computer science faculty is expected to learn foundational materials in the form of core courses that may include computer programming, programming paradigms, algorithms, data structures, logic & computation, computer architecture, and relevant math courses.

Once a student picks up the basis of computation and principles of programming, they are required/encouraged to take elective courses that suit their interests. In other words, they are expected to choose classes that align with their interests and future career goals. Elective courses usually encompass the disciplines outlined in the section above.

Successful computer scientists are lifelong learners – they continue their education and training as new computer languages, theoretical paradigms, and programming frameworks emerge.

Is Computer Science the right fit for me?

Now that you can picture a basic idea of what computer science is about, you may be interested in knowing whether computer science is the right discipline for you. Thankfully, there is a number of predictive factors that may be indicative of whether you would be interested and successful in pursuing a career in computer science. Below, we consider some subjective (personal) and objective (practical) factors that could assist you in your decision.

Personal (subjective) factors:

1. Your personality

Woman In White Blazer Holding Tablet Computer and speaking on the phone

Did you know some specific personality traits are associated with the abilities to deliver excellent software engineering products? This study in The Journal of Research in Personality conducted a meta-analysis of a total of 1695 software developers and identified that three particular personality characteristics were associated with programming aptitude. These characteristics include:

  • Conscientiousness – the quality of being responsible, organized, goal-oriented, and reliable.
  • Openness – the quality of being curious, open to novel experiences and ideas.
  • Introversion – the preference to remain in one’s inner world, seeking reflection and solitude.

These three personality traits are actually a part of the Big Five Personality Assessment, which is a popular measure of personality characteristics in psychology. If you wish to find out and compare your own personality traits, you may take the free test here.

However, keep in mind, that there is a myriad of different engineers in the world of tech, both introverted and outgoing, creative and pragmatic, that find their jobs exhilarating. Make sure you are not limiting yourself just because of the insights into a collective average and instead, try to use your results to gain additional understanding into your own personal preferences.

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2. Your interests

Do you like solving puzzles, logical tasks, math assignments? Do you take pleasure in organizing your files and finding step-by-step solutions to daily problems? Do you enjoy building things? Excellent news: if you do, you might find computer science appealing, as it primarily relies on algorithms and data structures for solving complex engineering tasks one step at a time and uses logical procedures in tackling software development problems.

3. Your skills

If you are good at problem solving, organizing, planning, and breaking up tasks into smaller bite-sized problems to try and come to correct conclusions, you might be cut out for a career in computer science. Do you have an eye for noticing intricate details? Can you get from point A to point Z in the shortest, most efficient way? If you are reading this and feel like you were “born to do this”, then it is likely you would succeed in one or more fields of computer science.

4. Preferred lifestyle

Do you like working independently, but as part of a team? Are you okay sitting by the computer all day? The convenience of building something incredibly intelligent, fast, and powerful from the comfort of your office/home at the tips of your fingers is an incredible feeling. Also, computer job is not as asocial and lonely place as it may sometimes be pictured in popular culture! You actually get to chat with your colleagues quite a bit at the office, and there are a lot of meetings throughout the typical work day if you desire more social interaction. In all actuality, tech offices are some of the most fun workplaces on Earth!

Practical (objective) factors:

If we are going to consider objective factors in choosing computer science as a profession, it would be unjust to only point out the positives of pursuing a programming career. We will hence shed some light on both favorable and unfavorable aspects of computer science as occupation.

Advantages

1. Salary and Benefits

Person Putting Coin in a Piggy Bank for his future computer science career

Computer science offers some of the best compensation opportunities on the market. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers was $110,140 in May 2020, while middle- and senior-level engineering employees in Big Tech companies are known to make severalfold of that amount. Stock options, free meals, gym memberships, and 401(k)s are just a few of the many additional benefits software engineers in the industry can earn.

2. Flexible hours and location

Computer science and software engineering are known to offer flexibility in working hours as well as freedom to work from many locations, including the comfort of your home. Required setting usually includes nothing else than a laptop/desktop computer, which you could have wherever you please.

The 2022 Codingame and Coderpad tech hiring survey found that 37% of recruiters offered developers full remote opportunities, 42% offered hybrid working conditions, 30% offered total flexibility to either work from home or at the office, and only 9% did not offer any remote possibilities. Moreover, a new study of 2,982 remote software developers has indicated that 57% of the developers were offered flexible working hours as an employee benefit. General projections into the remote tendencies indicate that remote work among developers is here to stay and will still be offered in high proportion in the near future.

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3. High demand

In recent years, there has been an increase in demand for software engineers and programmers worldwide. Between 2020 to 2030, employment in software development roles is projected to increase by 22% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the decade, around 189,200 openings for software engineers will be added each year on average.

However, there are not enough graduates from the existing programs to fill this need. As a result, companies are struggling to find adequately skilled computer science and engineering professionals, which creates increased demand for software developers now and in the future. With the rise of alternative education methods for future developers, such as self-taught learning and coding bootcamps, this demand may slowly start to be met. Now, however, is an excellent time to start your career in computer science and watch it bloom while the conditions are favorable.

4. Varied opportunities

There are more professions to choose from that software development. Graduates of computer science programs can choose to pursue a variety of different specializations, which include:

  • Web development
  • Data science
  • Game development
  • Mobile development
  • UI/UX design
  • Cloud computing
  • Systems engineering
  • Cybersecurity
  • Computational research
  • Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

You are also not limited to technical roles and may pursue such specialties as Product Manager, Project Manager, and Human Resources specialist, among others. With so many options available, you are not confined to a narrow field and are free to choose a specialty with the right amount of programming and administrative tasks according to your liking.

Disadvantages

Let’s continue our review of the objective factors for choosing computer science career with a discussion of unfavorable parts of choosing this route of occupation.

1. Tight deadlines

Sand clock indicating tight deadlines in computer science career

Although not universally, software engineers often complain about tight deadlines which makes their job stressful. This, of course, may vary by company size and culture, but you may often be expected to deliver fairly large chunks of code in a limited amount of time. Even more, this is commonly complicated by frequent meetings, which take away hours from a typical working day – the time that could have been dedicated to accomplishing time-sensitive programming tasks.

2. Sedentary job

Like many other office jobs, software engineering is mostly a desk-bound occupation. You will have your coffee breaks and leisurely chats throughout the day, but all-in-all, most of your day will be spent behind a computer screen typing away coding features, answering e-mails, and video-conferencing with co-workers.

While many may actually prefer this physically relaxed and non-demanding lifestyle, it does come with potential risks for developing health problems. Musculoskeletal disorders, including lower back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, insomnia, and cardiovascular problems are among the common health abnormalities seen in software developers. These concerns, however, can be mitigated by utilizing strategies for reducing immobility at sedentary workplaces.

3. Mental exhaustion

Programming is hard work on the brain. No matter how fun and engaging your task may seem, doing hours and hours of coding daily may lead to exhaustion of your cognitive resources. Developer fatigue can lead to loss of motivation, diminished mental sharpness, and, in some cases, burnout. In order to avoid cognitive exhaustion, engineers should pace their efforts, take frequent breaks, follow a healthy diet and exercise program, and plan periodic vacations.

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4. Constant learning

People may disagree on whether this is a true disadvantage in the field of software engineering, but staying up-to-date with new technologies can certainly cause increased stress among some developers. Keeping up with the ever-changing tools and frameworks may take a significant portion of weekly working hours and contribute to drainage of mental resources. It is commonly advised to schedule a certain amount of hours every week for upgrading your knowledge in developing technologies to avoid falling behind and having to overwork yourself all at once when a need to learn a new skill arises.

Still not sure whether Computer Science is right for you?

Try things out! Honestly, there is no better test to find out whether you will be happy and successful in computer science than actually dipping your toes in the process of coding. Read our article about the first, easiest, and most entertaining programming language to learn (it’s JavaScript!), which also includes the resources to getting started as a complete beginner. Once you have started implementing the basic tasks and building your very first mini-projects such as a custom-made website, you will get a sense of what it feels like to code on a daily basis. We think you will love it, and if you don’t, that’s okay too! It means there is something else out there that conquers your passion and you should continue exploring what an ideal career might look for you.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, there are many positives, as well as a few negatives, about being a computer science professional that we have laid out in this article. Our recommendation for you is to rank those factors, both subjective and objective, in order of relevance for your personal values and take a look of whether the overall pictures looks favorable for you.

One thing we have noticed in ourselves, as well as many other aspiring professionals (across disciplines both within and outside of CS) is that passion for the process trumps all other factors. If you are deeply interested in the subject and experience a flow state when engaging with a programming task, it’s one of the most favorable factors that should influence your decision. An uninspired and unmotivated developer who laments every new assignment that gets sent his way will never be happy at his work despite all the great benefits this career provides. On the contrary, being deeply in love with the process of software development may make all the hiccups seem small and irrelevant.

So, while we recommend exercising logic and considering all parts of the equation, we are also saying listen to your gut and stay in touch with your inner desires. Often, we don’t need to be strictly calculating and should go with what feels right.

We hope that this article has assisted you in painting a picture of what a career in computer science looks like and helped you decide whether to move forward on your way to becoming a CS professional. Comment and share if you found this article useful!