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What does a Computer Scientist do?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a computer scientist as "a research scientist who invents and designs innovative approaches to computer and computational technology while finding original uses for existing technology." In addition, computer scientists also examine and unravel answers to complex problems involving computational algorithms and equations for science, medicine, business and other relevant industries.

Computer scientists excel in developing algorithms rather than programs. Although they are proficient in writing and deciphering programming languages, computer scientists focus more on the theoretical aspects of computer systems in contrast to what computer engineers study, i.e. computer hardware operations. Specific areas of research pursued by computer scientists include data structure development, database theory, numerical analysis, computer vision and programming language theory.

Computer scientists work in numerous fields where computer algorithms and software programs are necessary to facilitate daily operations. The goal of computer scientists employed in fields as diverse as robotics, shale mining, bioinformatics or government security is to create and validate mathematical models for determining computer-based system properties involving processors, human-computer interaction, computer-computer interaction and finding ways to improve the performance of any computer system.

Education Requirements for Computer Scientists

The minimum degree requirement for a computer scientist is a Bachelor of Science, although most pursue higher degrees such as Master's and Ph.Ds. Obtaining a four year, B.S. in computer science takes four years, while earning an M.S. takes six to seven years. Computer science doctorate degrees may require students devote another two or three years of research and work experience following completion of their master's degree before obtaining a Ph.D.

Computer scientists typically excel at mathematics, abstract thinking and have exceptional problem-solving skills. Math courses comprising a computer science degree program include trigonometry, linear algebra, differential equations, abstract algebra, numerical methods, graph theory and combinatorics. Additional elective classes involve computation structures, programming methodology, principles of quantitative analysis, dynamics of nonlinear systems and programming compilers and languages. Depending on whether a student wants to work as a computer science professional or remain in academia and teach computer science at a university will influence the direction of course electives the student chooses to take.

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