Is Computer Science Hard? What to Expect and How to Succeed

Is computer science hard? The short answer is “yes.” Search any list of majors to study, and you’ll likely find that computer science tops the list as one of the most challenging disciplines to learn.

Compared to other fields of study, pursuing a career in computer science requires both technical and analytical skill sets. What’s more, you’ll need to hone strong advanced math skills in order to learn the computer programming languages, systems, and algorithms required to succeed in this career field.

But, if you’re willing to put in the work and spend time learning, computer science can be a fulfilling, lucrative career path. Plus, there are plenty of coding boot camp options to help you acquire the skills you’ll need for your future computer science career.

How hard is computer science?

Computer science is the study of computers and computer systems. As a computer scientist, you may develop new ways to apply computing systems or solve business problems utilizing computers. Computer scientists do this by implementing new computing technologies, assessing algorithms, and writing new computer programs based on their knowledge of computer languages.

There are also many subfields within computer science to study when pursuing a career in this field. These subfields include artificial intelligence, evolving internet technology, software design, and database management, as well as computer programming.

While computer science is a complex subject and can be challenging, the good news is that your success depends on how much time and dedication you’re willing to devote to it. While mastering essential computer science concepts takes time and effort, it’s absolutely possible for anyone to learn. Those who excel at computer science tend to be passionately curious about how things work, and enjoy trial-and-error solutioning to understand the many complexities computer science can pose.

Computer science will undoubtedly be easier if you come into the field with some programming experience. The good news? Coding boot camps make it easy to gain entry into the world of coding so you can approach your computer science studies with an added advantage. However, if you have no programming experience, it’s still possible to pursue computer science — you’ll just need to be prepared to learn programming skills simultaneously with your core computer science curriculum.

It’s no secret that knowledge of advanced mathematics is required to pursue a career in computer science. If math isn’t your favorite subject, you’ll be relieved to hear that many roles in computer science rarely employ advanced math on a daily basis. However, you will need to deal with a fair amount of advanced math during your computer science studies, including calculus, algebra, discrete mathematics, and statistics.

How to learn computer science

If you’re interested in learning computer science, there are two routes you can take to get there. You can either enroll in a traditional computer science major, or pursue a new pathway through a coding boot camp.

Pursuing a computer science degree

Depending on which career path you’re interested in, you can choose to pursue either a two-year associate degree, or a four-year bachelor’s degree in computer science. If you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to decide whether you’d like to obtain your computer science degree as a Bachelor of Science (BS) or a Bachelor of Arts (BA). A BS in computer science is considered a science track, and a BA in computer science is considered a humanities track. What this means is:

  • A BS in computer science requires more math and engineering credit hours than a BA in computer science.
  • Those who obtain a BS in computer science often are simultaneously accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET), whereas those in the BA computer science program are not.
  • BS in computer science learners often plan to work in STEM fields after graduation.
  • BA in computer science learners often pursue a double major, with their primary field falling outside of sciences and engineering fields (e.g., finance, accounting, business administration).

When deciding on the university or college where you’ll pursue your computer science studies, pay attention to the networking opportunities they offer that can help place you in a role after graduation. Internships, career fairs, alumni groups, job seminars, and opportunities to meet with employers are all key to landing a role once you’ve completed your degree. Also, don’t be shy about reaching out to program graduates of the school you’re considering. Prospective learners often want to ask alumni about their learning experience and post-graduation job search. In fact, many alumni associations are happy to put you in touch with graduates in your field.

Enrolling in a coding boot camp

Coding boot camps offer an accelerated, cost-effective way to pursue a career in computer science. On average, boot camps last between three to nine months, offering both full-time and part-time options that fit with most schedules. Virtual formats are also an option for those looking to study during off-hours, from the comfort of home.

If you decide to pursue a coding boot camp, it’s important to first determine what type of coding you want to learn, and what your future goals are for the knowledge you’ll gain in a coding boot camp. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in computer science, a coding boot camp can provide the foundation for languages and tools used in day-to-day roles and responsibilities. However, additional training may be necessary to pursue a career in certain specialized fields.

Coding boot camps offer an array of options for those looking to pursue web development — or the creation and optimization of web-based applications. For individuals looking to pursue a career in web development through a coding boot camp, front end, back end, and full stack coding options are available to learn.

If you decide to enroll in a full-time coding program, a typical workload includes 20 hours of class time, along with 25 hours of assignments and projects to be completed outside of class. While this may sound rigorous, it’s a time-efficient option for those who want to make a quick career pivot. Part-time coding boot camp options typically include two classes per week — along with 25 hours of work outside of class weekly.

Pricing for coding boot camps is substantially more competitive than pursuing a degree. According to data collected by Best Colleges, the average cost for a coding boot camp was around $13,000 in 2021.

Computer science languages

One of the exciting things about pursuing a career in computer science is that the field is constantly growing and changing. While there are foundational programming languages that you’ll learn as part of your computer science studies, the demand for specific computer languages evolves rapidly. So, if you want to put yourself ahead of the game, familiarity with more than one language is key. Here are a few of the top programming languages you may learn as part of your computer science training.

Consistently ranked as one of the top programming languages to know, Python is generally considered a beginner-friendly language to learn — and most courses begin with it. The beauty of Python is that, in addition to being a text-based language which makes it easier to learn, it also has an active community of users who are willing to share their knowledge and findings. This comes in handy if you end up hitting a wall and need help troubleshooting your Python code.

In addition, Python is considered a “general purpose language,” which means it wasn’t designed to perform specific types of tasks. Rather, Python can be used to build a variety of programs, solve a variety of problems, and can do so effectively across most industries. And, given the sheer number of Python libraries available, oftentimes the code needed for a specific task has already been written and is retrievable in an open-source environment. This can help computer scientists complete their tasks more quickly and efficiently.

Finally, Python is an interpreted programming language — which means that each line of code can be run and checked, rather than having to wait until the end of the program to debug.

Many fields, including computer science, heavily use Python, including data science, web development, and app development. And, just because it’s the easiest programming language to learn doesn’t make it any less lucrative. If you needed one more reason to learn Python, salary data reported by PayScale shows that Python developers earn around $80,000 per year.

If you’re pursuing a career in computer science, chances are high that JavaScript will be part of your role. In fact, it ranks as the most popular programming language globally.

JavaScript is what makes a website dynamic; this language allows website visitors to click on galleries, play videos, and have movement populate throughout a page. JavaScript works alongside HTML and CSS coding to bring a website to life. Interactive experiences and online games rely on JavaScript to work. JavaScript is also key for mobile application development.

The average salary of programmers who know JavaScript falls around $86,000, according to Payscale.com.

Gain the skills you need to succeed in these coding professions with The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin. Learn more and begin preparing for a new career today.

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Is computer science worth it?

Pursuing a career in computer science certainly comes with its challenges. You’ll need to learn new programming languages, spend time mastering foundations and algorithms, and learn through trial and error much of the time. However, if you’re willing to devote the time and effort necessary to obtain the knowledge you need, computer science opens doors for many diverse, lucrative careers in the technology field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the tech field is growing faster than average. This means honing foundational computer science skills now will enable more job options — and job security — for your future. The BLS also found that the median salary for computer and information technology occupations was $91,250 per year as of May 2020.

Here are a few of the top careers that require a background in computer science:

Median annual salary: $89,910
Computer programming is a dynamic field — one that can support businesses in many different capacities. Computer programmers may work with IT teams to upgrade and manage programs, write and test code, or bring designs to life with software developers.

Median annual salary: $110,140
Software developers work in many fields — from gaming to automotive and more. As a software developer, you will oversee building, designing, and analyzing software that achieves business goals and objectives.

Median annual salary: $77,200
Web designers are an essential part of projecting a business’s brand to its customers. These professionals apply their creative and technical skills to craft compelling websites, graphics, and other electronic content that engages users and while helping maintain an optimized user experience. While there is no shortage of full-time, in-house roles available for web designers, this discipline is also lucrative from a freelance perspective for those who desire more work flexibility.

Median annual salary: $103,590
One of the fastest-growing jobs in tech, information security analysts guard businesses against cyberthreats through the enhancement of an organization’s cybersecurity posture and risk mitigation strategies. According to the BLS, information security analyst jobs are on track to grow by 31 percent in the next 10 years.

A chart that highlights the median annual salaries for computer science careers.

Is computer science for me?

The computer science field may be worth it from an earnings and job security standpoint. However, just because it can be pursued with hard work and effort doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right path for everyone. If you’re still on the fence, here is a list of qualities you should have to pursue a career path in computer science.

You’re not afraid of math

You don’t need to be a mathematician in order to succeed in computer science. However, you will need to have a comfort level and aptitude for numbers, algorithms, and formulas — which are a core part of any career path within computer science.

You’re an avid problem-solver

Whether you’re writing code, evaluating an algorithm, or working with an IT team to identify issues, problem-solving is key in computer science. If working through solutions excites you rather than frustrates you, you’ll likely enjoy a career in computer science.

You’re creative

Computer science involves both analytical and creative thinking. If you’re someone who thinks outside the box when it comes to creating solutions to complex problems, there’s no shortage of opportunities for you to do so within this field.

How to succeed in computer science

Computer science is constantly growing and evolving — which means even after you’ve completed training, there will always be more to learn. To succeed in computer science, consider the following:

Attend meetups and seminars

Whether you’re looking to strengthen your skill set in a specific programming language, learn more about the latest cybersecurity trends, or just meet like-minded individuals in your field, continuing your learning journey through peer-led communities will set you apart, give you an edge, and help grow your network.

Grow and evolve your network

If you’re interested in learning about a particular career within computer science, don’t be afraid to reach out on platforms like LinkedIn to those working in a desired field. Chances are they were once in a similar position — curious about pursuing a new line of work, but not sure where to start. Many professionals in the computer science field are willing to pay it forward.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Learning by doing can often mean learning by failing — and that’s okay. Trial and error are part of the journey in computer science. The best mentors and managers know this, so don’t be afraid to lean on them for support if you get stuck.

Enjoy the journey

No matter how difficult it gets, finding the joy in learning and discovering more about the intricacies of computer science is key to success. If you can’t find enjoyment in the pursuit of knowledge, you’re less likely to enjoy your chosen computer science career once you’ve graduated or completed your coding boot camp.

A graphic highlighting 4 ways to succeed in computer science.

Learn computer science today

Computer science is hard, but it is worth the effort. With the right mindset, tools, and experience under your belt, it’s possible to enjoy a career in computer science that’s fulfilling and rewarding. Computer science professionals are in demand — which means there’s never been a better time to get started and pursue the computer science role that’s right for you.

If you’re interested in learning more about computer science, be sure to conduct your due diligence in exploring more about the field. Speak to those in the roles you’re interested in, assess the learning options you have available, and consider enrolling in a coding boot camp to help jump-start your computer science career.

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