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What is Computer Science?

By Rachel Burkot
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Computer science is a philosophy and a field of study that covers basically all aspects of information access, particularly as relates to computer code, technical engineering, and Internet communications. Some of the people who work in this area have jobs as programmers, using algorithms to study and solve complex problems and equations; others look for ways of leveraging information technology to make certain tasks more efficient or streamlined. In modern times the field is often very closely related to cutting-edge technology, but this hasn’t always been the case. The building blocks of computer science — the mathematical computations, the information ordering systems, and the logical puzzles used to decode patterns — existed long before personal computers or mobile phones were even invented.

Underlying Principles

The science is perhaps best described as an approach to complex information management. At its most basic level, computer science involves studying the structure, mechanization and expression of algorithms, which are methodical processes for solving problems, and any time facts, figures, or data sets need to be correlated its principles come in to play.

Practical Applications

Technology and digital information management is one of the most obvious applications, but researchers also use the same principles to understand scientific concepts like genetics, to predict earthquake patterns, and to understand theories such as the Big Bang. Mathematicians, scientists, and engineers commonly step into the field when working with complex equations, and even those who work in medicine, the humanities, law and use some of the more computational aspects of the science when charting demographics, compiling data sets, or looking for patterns in information over time.

In the online space, the computer science provides the framework for websites and integrated web content. Programmers and coders use information systems to turn what are essentially series of numerical codes into visual graphics and understandable text that can be easily searched, navigated, and ordered.

Programmers are also responsible for creating user interfaces on computers, tablets, and smart phones, and they design infrastructures so that different devices can to talk to each other. Most of this sort of work is discussed in terms of “bits and bytes.” Bits aid in the transfer of files between machines, while bytes are where they end up and are the most fundamental units of electronic information measurement and storage.

Evolution of the Field

Most people think of computer science as something of a new field, and insofar as it relates to mobile technologies and the Internet in many ways it is. The algorithmic backbone of the discipline has been around for centuries, though, beginning with the most rudimentary calculators and tools that first began to shift the work of solving equations away from the human mind and into the realm of machines.

It wasn’t until the 1940s, though, that the idea of a single “computer” able to handle multiple programs and commands first became popular. Even then, the phrase “computer science” didn’t really enter anyone’s vocabulary until the late 1950s.

Career Paths

Most people who study computing science at the university level go on to work as programmers or computer engineers. Many of these people will be code writers working for Internet or software companies; others will become information technology troubleshooters who help everyday users solve problems learn greater efficiencies on their personal or work computers.

This sort of education doesn’t limit people to working primarily with computers, though. Researchers in many different disciplines rely on people with coding expertise to create programs to mine data, sort information, and identify patterns. Private companies and firms looking to identify certain population demographics are some of the biggest consumers of this sort of knowledge. This can be as complex as narrowing down incidences of certain genetic markers or disease diagnoses, or as simple as targeting likely consumers of a certain product. Computer codes and equations can make these numbers easier to get in the first place, and easier to understand once they are in hand.

Required Skills and Education

Solving problems is at the heart of this field, and it follows that the people working in it must be strong analytical thinkers. The most successful scientists tend to have the dedication to press forward with something until a specific solution is found, and must also usually have a lot of patience because finding an answer and results can take time. An ability to adapt to new and rapidly changing technologies is typically very important, too.

Many colleges and universities offer coursework and degrees in computer science. Programs vary from school to school, but they usually combine math, logical theory, and statistics courses with hands-on coding and programming projects. Graduates at the bachelor’s and associate’s degree level are usually ready to start entry-level work with a software company or research team, while those that earn graduate degrees often go on to more senior-level advisory and managerial positions.

It’s also possible to self-teach many of the core skills. Coding and programming tutorials are offered for free online in many places, and people with the aptitude for complex problem solving often find that they’re able to pick up the basics simply by spending time with the material. Many of the highest paying jobs want evidence of university education, but this is by no means a hard and fast requirement. The ability to get the job done well is often more important than formal credentials.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By anon926247 — On Jan 17, 2014

What does computer science deal with?

By anon348573 — On Sep 18, 2013

How much do they get paid?

By anon188062 — On Jun 20, 2011

what are the things involved in computer science? can you please help me? does this course need so much knowledge about mathematics? i'm not really good in math but i am quite interested. Please help me.

By anon145073 — On Jan 21, 2011

How is computer science involved in computer engineering?


By anon135082 — On Dec 17, 2010

can somebody in computer science learn computer engineering?

By parmnparsley — On Jul 11, 2010

The article stated that computer science began in the 1940s. It is amazing to think that in 70 years, computer science has become such an important science. Computer science has helped all the other sciences develop in leaps and bounds.

I have even read that information technology is the fastest growing part of our economy. This just shows how important computer sciences have become. If you think about everything in your life influenced by computer science, you would be difficult to find an area untouched by a computer.

By Babalaas — On Jul 11, 2010

Computer science is one of the formal science disciplines, along with statistics and mathematics. The three branches of science are very closely related, sharing elements among one another.

Computer science uses mathematics to perform statistical analysis of information. As the article stated, many other sciences use computer science.

Social scientists use computer science to gather and analyze data. For example, scientists can use computer science to study human development, or investigate the inner workings of the brain works.

Natural scientists also use computer science to model geography, compute mathematical calculations, and collect astronomical information.

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