Many people are interested in entering the world of tech, but aren’t sure if computer science is the right career choice for them. Hesitations about entering the field often stem from misconceptions about computer science and what the typical technology professional should be like. The truth is that anyone can get started in computer science, regardless of the stereotypes or perceived barriers that exist.
Below, Tiffani Williams, PhD, former director of computer science programs for Northeastern University–Charlotte, dispels some of the most common myths about the field that might be holding you back. Once you break through these misconceptions, you can begin to think critically about whether or not a career in computer science is the right path for you.
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4 Common Myths & Misconceptions about Computer Science
Although there are a number of rewarding career opportunities in computer science, many potential career changers are hesitant about transitioning into the field. Oftentimes, the issue results from misconceptions about computer science. Here are the top four misconceptions of those who want to break into the field and are considering earning their master’s degree in computer science.
1. You need to have studied computer science to break into the tech field.
There are several ways you can enter the tech field, from coding bootcamps and online courses to an undergraduate computer science program. There are additional opportunities, however, for those who don’t have a computer science background but want to break into tech.
At Northeastern, we offer Align—a program for professionals who studied something other than computer science as an undergraduate. The program takes two and a half years to complete and is tailored to students with diverse backgrounds by creating a unique pathway to an experiential master’s program, which combines classroom study with hands-on, real-world experience.
The Align program starts with two semesters of preparatory courses and is followed by a wide variety of master’s courses, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and information retrieval. After completing two semesters of graduate-level courses, we place students into a six-month, full-time paid co-op, in which they work with an employer and gain experience they can add to their resumé.
Students in Align come to the program with diverse undergraduate majors, such as English, business, marketing, political science, biology, and aerospace engineering. Align students bring a unique perspective to the field since they are able to couple an additional area of expertise with computer science. Employers find the combination of skills that Align students bring to the job attractive. Moreover, technological innovations constructed from diverse experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds benefit everyone.
2. You have to be good at math.
Computer science does require math, but you don’t have to be a math whiz to be successful in the field. The math you learn in a computer science program has a specific purpose: To support the design and analysis of algorithms. Studying computer science teaches you how to solve computational problems. Those solutions are then encoded as algorithms—or a list of steps—which is one of the fundamental building blocks of computer science.
We experience algorithms every day when we engage in activities that have instructions. Games, recipes, and crafts all become physical representations of algorithms. What’s more, algorithms are at the heart of every piece of code.
When designing an algorithm, the computational problem being solved determines the level of mathematics that needs to be used. Designing algorithms for many computational problems requires no more than high school algebra. Other problems, such as those in machine learning or computer graphics and image processing, require knowledge of probability and statistics, linear algebra, and calculus.
Since computational problems can have many solutions, or algorithms, we need an objective way to evaluate them. Here, mathematics plays a critical role since it provides an unbiased approach to analyze algorithms and select the best one that solves our problem. Discrete math is of particular interest here since it teaches you how to prove things mathematically and gives you the fundamentals for analyzing algorithms.
If you are proficient in high school algebra, then you can succeed in computer science. You can learn the required higher-level mathematics as needed.
3. You’ll have to sit in a cubicle and code all day.
Tech careers come in all shapes and sizes—and only a few of them require sitting at a desk and coding all day. Regardless of whether you work at a startup or large organization, you will be an integral member of a team. Any computer science role is likely to involve the following, adapted from O*Net Online:
- Analyzing problems to develop efficient solutions involving computer hardware and software
- Assigning or scheduling tasks to meet work priorities and goals
- Evaluating project plans and proposals to assess feasibility issues
- Consulting with users, management, vendors, and technicians to determine computing needs and system requirements
The job responsibilities for those interested in computer science have a much wider breadth than just writing computer code.
4. Computer Science is only for men, geeks, nerds, and hackers.
Computer science attracts all kinds of people: women, men, geeks, non-geeks, hackers, non-hackers, nerds, non-nerds, short people, tall people, young, old, middle-aged, “soft” college majors, and “hard” college majors.
Computer science is for everyone—including you.
How to Know if Computer Science is Right for You
Once you put these misconceptions about the field aside, you can begin to consider whether or not computer science is the right career path for you. In order to make this decision, you’ll need to consider both your personal and professional goals.
First, consider your interests. What kind of role do you envision yourself being successful in? What skills do you already have, and what skills are you looking to develop? If you’re interested in putting your coding skills to use, for example, this could be a natural path for you to explore.
However, computer science is much more than just coding, as Williams points out. The field encompasses a wide array of functions that could appeal to your unique interests. In fact, many training options, such as Northeastern’s Align program, offer specializations in areas like artificial intelligence, computer-human interface, data science, game design, software engineering, and more.
In addition to considering whether computer science aligns with your interests and will position you to meet your personal goals, it’s also important to evaluate your career goals.
It’s no surprise that the tech industry is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, offering professionals job security and competitive compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of computer and information technology professionals is projected to grow 11 percent from 2019 to 2029—much faster than the average for all occupations.
Some of the most highly sought-after positions in the field offer impressive earning potential as well. The top computer science careers include:
- Computer and information systems manager: $146,360 average salary
- Software development engineer: $109,012 average salary
- Software developer: $107,510 average salary
- Information security analyst: $99,730 average salary
- Web developer: $73,760 average salary
Getting Started in Computer Science
If after exploring your personal and professional goals you find that computer science interests you, it might be time to let go of the myths and misconceptions that were holding you back and start working toward breaking into the field. For those looking to transition from another career into the tech industry, one of the best ways of doing so is to complete a master’s degree in computer science.
As Williams points out, it’s possible to earn your degree even if you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree in another field entirely. Programs like Northeastern’s Master of Science in Computer Science— Align allow students without prior computer science training to quickly build the foundational skills they need to enter the field, as well as the advanced knowledge and hands-on experience that will give them a competitive edge in the workforce.
To learn more about advancing your computer science career, download our free guide below.