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Why Computer Science?


You're considering pursuing a college degree ... possibly a degree in Computer Science ... possibly a degree in Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. Pursuing a college degree, whether undergraduate or graduate, in any field at any university involves a considerable amount of time, effort and usually money. So it's certainly a good idea to choose a discipline and degree program carefully.

CU Engineering Center
    CU Engineering Center
  • While many people are at least somewhat familiar with computers (usually a personal computer), most people don't have a very good understanding of what the discipline of "computer science" is really all about.

  • Similarly, while many people have "heard something" about the job market for computer scientists, most are really unaware that the current and projected outlook for computer science job opportunities is quite good.

  • Finally, while many people may have some vague idea of the computer science degree programs offered at the University of Colorado Boulder, most would not really have a real understanding of them until they actually investigated these offerings.

Understanding these first two aspects of computer science -- the discipline and the job market -- are very important when considering a computer science degree at any university. The third aspect -- the nature of the computer science degree programs available at the University of Colorado Boulder -- is certainly important if considering a computer science degree at CU. We'd like to provide a little information on these three issues to help you in making an informed decision.

Computer Science ... The Discipline

So what is computer science? There are a number of definitions of computer science. Here's a simple one: sci.ence n : The study of computer technology, both hardware and software.

Well ... that sure sounds kind of broad ... computer science is the study of almost anything to do with computer technology! That's right, but how about some concrete examples? Fortunately, there are many, many sub-areas within the broader discipline of computer science, and new areas are continuously being created as the discipline advances. Let's look at just a few of these sub-areas of computer science:

That's quite a few sub-areas ... and we haven't really even listed all of them. Also, each of these sub-areas of computer science is actually a huge discipline in its own right.

Computer science has certainly become a core discipline -- a discipline of study in itself -- and one that continues to grow. However, a rather unique aspect of computer science is that it's not only a very broad discipline, but that it has exceptionally broad application to nearly every other discipline imaginable:

  • Medicine
    • medical imaging
    • patient monitoring
    • record keeping
    • surgery
    • diagnostics
    • pharmaceuticals
    • prosthetics
    • remote care
    • nanotechnology
  • Art
    • digital art
    • virtual reality
    • photography
  • Biology
    • genomic research
    • genetic engineering
  • Aviation
    • aircraft design
    • flight control
    • air traffic control
    • baggage tracking
  • Communications
    • data networks
    • voice communications
    • cell phones
    • instant messaging
    • multi-media messaging
    • email
  • Education
    • course instruction
    • class scheduling
    • remote learning
  • Entertainment
    • movie production
    • digital music
    • animation
    • media distribution
    • media playback
    • computer games
  • Hospitality
    • hotel management
    • restaurant management
    • reservations
    • ticketing
    • theme park rides
  • Finance
    • stock trading
    • banking transactions
    • actuarial analysis
  • Manufacturing
    • product production
    • inventory management
  • Defense
    • weapons design
    • weapons control
    • battlefield management
    • communications
    • intelligence
    • code breaking
  • Security
    • surveillance
    • access control
    • intrusion detection
  • Archaeology
    • mapping
    • analysis
    • record keeping
  • Transportation
    • scheduling
    • reservations
    • ticketing
    • tracking
    • mapping
  • Home Management
    • personal finance
    • security
    • communication
    • web
  • Automotive
    • design
    • manufacturing
    • location detection
    • repair and maintenance
  • Agriculture
    • financial management
    • crop management
    • crop planning
  • Recreation
    • lift tickets
  • Energy
    • exploration
    • generation
  • News
    • weather forecasting
    • weather measurement
    • newspaper publication
  • Publishing
    • subscription services
    • book production
  • Retail
    • point of sales
    • inventory control
    • advertising
    • shipping
    • customer service
  • Environment
    • energy efficiency
    • water quality
    • air quality
    • animal management
    • environmental monitoring
  • Sports
    • scheduling
    • scoreboards
    • scorekeeping
    • training
    • film management
    • statistics
    • race timing
  • Government
    • voting
    • legislation
    • regulation
    • taxation
    • licensing
  • Fashion
    • design
    • manufacturing
    • smart clothing
  • Law
    • law enforcement
    • contracts
    • billing

OK ... you get the picture. These are just a very few of the disciplines to which computer science may be readily applied. And it's very easy to find many, many more. In fact, the more difficult task is to find a discipline to which computer science can't be (and isn't being) readily applied. (If you think of one, please let us know!) As you can see, our lives are touched almost continuously by computers (and therefore by computer scientists!) every day in a huge variety of ways.

Computer Science ... The Job Market

It's clear that computer science is a huge discipline with extremely broad application. But what about the job market for computer science graduates? A degree isn't terribly useful unless it's possible to use that degree to launch a career.

The general public often perceives the job market for computer scientists as rather bleak indeed. Certainly, there was a huge downturn in the market several years ago; however, there has been steady and considerable improvement since that time, to the point that shortages of qualified computer scientists are projected over the coming decade. Here are a few interesting items related to the computer science job market:

  • Money Magazine recently published "Best Jobs in America". Leading the list ... "Software engineer". Here are the Top 10:

    Best Jobs in America
    1. Software engineer
    2. College professor
    3. Financial advisor
    4. Human resources manager
    5. Physician assistant
    6. Market research analyst
    7. Computer/IT analyst
    8. Real estate appraiser
    9. Pharmacist
    10. Psychologist

    Money Magazine also more recently (November 2010) published another list of the "100 Best Jobs in America". Leading the list ... "Software Architect". In fact, more than 1 in 4 of the top 100 jobs are in information technology:

    Best Jobs in America
    1 Software Architect
    7 Database Administrator
    17 Information Systems Security Engineer
    18 Software Engineering / Development Director
    20 Information Technology Manager
    21 Telecommunications Network Engineer
    24 Network Operations Project Manager
    26 Information Technology Business Analyst
    28 Information Technology Consultant
    30 Test Software Development Engineer
    31 Information Technology Network Engineer
    33 Information Technology Program Manager
    35 Computer and Information Scientist
    37 Programmer Analyst
    38 Applications Engineer
    49 Systems Engineer
    60 Information Technology Specialist
    66 Systems Administrator
    67 Web Developer
    70 Technical Services Manager
    77 Information Technology Systems Manager
    79 Information Technology Training Specialist
    88 Technical Writer
    95 Information Technology Project Coordinator
    96 Web Project Manager
    97 Geographic Information Systems Analyst
  • (the SAT people) published "Occupations with the Most New Jobs: Bachelor's Degrees", compiled from U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for 2002-2012. Six of the 10 occupations with the most new jobs were computer science-related occupations.

    Occupations with the Most New Jobs: Bachelor's Degrees
    1. Elementary school teachers, except special education
    2. Accountants and auditors
    3. Computer systems analysts
    4. Secondary school teachers, except special and vocational education
    5. Computer software engineers, applications
    6. Special education teachers
    7. Computer software engineers, systems software
    8. Network systems and data communications analysts
    9. Network and computer systems administrators
    10. Computer programmers

    The same organization has also published "Ten Fastest Growing Occupations for College Grads". Again, 5 of the top 10 jobs are computer science related.

    Ten Fastest Growing Occupations for College Grads
    1. Network systems and data communications analysts
    2. Physician assistants
    3. Computer software engineers, applications
    4. Physical therapist assistants
    5. Dental hygienists
    6. Computer software engineers, systems software
    7. Network and computer systems administrators
    8. Database administrators
    9. Physical therapists
    10. Forensic science technicians
  • Fortune magazine recently published a list of the "Fastest-Growing Professional Jobs", also based on U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for 2002-2012. Seven of the 19 fastest growing jobs were computer science-related positions.

    Fastest-Growing Professional Jobs
    1. Environmental engineers
    2. Network systems and datacom analysts
    3. Personal financial advisors
    4. Database administrators
    5. Software engineers
    6. Emergency management specialists
    7. Biomedical engineers
    8. PR specialists
    9. Computer and infosystems managers
    10. Comp, benefits, and job analysts
    11. Systems analysts
    12. Network and systems administrators
    13. Training and development specialists
    14. Medical scientists
    15. Marketing and sales managers
    16. Computer specialists
    17. Media and communications specialists
    18. Counselors, social workers
    19. Lawyers
  • The National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) published a list of the "Top-Paid Majors Among College Class of 2010". Four of the top ten were computer science-related majors.

    Top-Paid Majors
    Among College Class of 2010
    1. Petroleum Engineering
    2. Chemical Engineering
    3. Mining and Mineral Engineering
    4. Computer Science
    5. Computer Engineering
    6. Electrical/Electronics and Communications Engineering
    7. Mechanical Engineering
    8. Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering
    9. Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering
    10. Information Sciences and Systems
  • The Association for Computing Machinery has produced an excellent brochure called Computing Degrees & Careers: Today's High-Tech Growth Is Tomorrow's High-Tech Boom!:

    The need for computing professionals and executives right here in the U.S. is growing as companies become more global. Almost every major challenge facing our world is turning to computing for a solution, from conquering disease to eliminating hunger, from improving education to protecting the environment ...

    Want in? A college degree in a computing major will make it happen. Although you typically don't need prior training in computing, your high school may have classes that can help you get a head start. Talk with your guidance counselor and your school's computer science teachers to learn more about the opportunities available to you now and in the future, or visit our Computing Degrees & Careers website.

    In particular, you may be interested in the following from the site:

  • On the local scene, the Boulder Daily Camera recently published an article focusing on undergraduate enrollment in Computer Science. "Computer study powers down: But educators, employers say demand remains for hiring" describes how decreased enrollment in Computer Science at CU mirrors that across the country. The main points of the article are

    Elizabeth Bradley photo
    • Trend analysts attribute the decline to the widespread perception that the tech industry has become unprofitable.

    • Department of Labor statistics project employment in the information technology industry to grow at an annual rate double that of overall job growth.

    • Computing is pervasive ... there is a growing and persistent need for people with information technology skills.

    • A considerable shortage of new graduates to fill these jobs is predicted.

    • Local companies are hiring, particularly people with backgrounds in computer science combined with expertise in other fields.

    • CU's Computer Science Department has revised its program to allow more interdisciplinary study.

    In the article former Department Chair Elizabeth Bradley says, "fewer students -- both locally and nationally -- are pursuing computer science majors because of misguided fears about the technology industry, even though projections show increased hiring in the sector in years to come."

  • In another article, Not adding up: Schools faced with an enrollment drop in computer-science students, the Daily Camera describes how enrollment in Computer Science is dropping, while demand for graduates is increasing. The article also includes photographs from the CU Computer Science class "Things That Think".

  • In CU student gets his 'dream' job: Engineering graduate will start at DreamWorks next month, the Daily Camera describes how Computer Science major Jacob Melvin "customized" his degree program and landed the perfect job.

  • The Computer Science Department maintains a Computer Science Jobs Mailing List, to which anyone who wants to receive job-related postings may subscribe. As further anecdotal evidence of the improving job market for computer science graduates, it's interesting to look at the average number of postings per month to the jobs list over the past several years. The number of postings has increased from a very minimal 1 posting/week in 2002 to on the order of 1 posting/day over the last 5 years.

    CS-Jobs Postings per Month
  • Other items of interest:

    • Computer and Mathematical Science Occupations Expected to Grow Quickest Over the Next Decade

      Peter Harsha, Director of Government Affairs for the Computing Research Association, says that "The new Bureau of Labor Statistics labor projections are out for the 2006-2016 period, and once again, despite concerns over the impact of globalization, computing-related occupations are still projected to grow the quickest among all 'professional and related occupations.' According to BLS projections, computer and mathematical science occupations are expected to grow by about 24 percent over the next decade, a rate that would add 822,000 new jobs to the field. Those 822,000 new jobs are third only to 'Health care practitioners and technical occupations' ... and 'Education, training and library' occupations ..."

      The report projects that, of the six occupations that will be among the fastest growing and register the largest numerical growth, three will be computing related occupations:

      • computer software engineers, application
      • computer systems analysts
      • network systems and data communication analysts
    • The Myth of High-Tech Outsourcing

      Yahoo! News reports that

      • High-tech employees are back in demand.

      • Unemployment for engineers, computer programmers, software developers, and other IT professionals is at the lowest rate in years.

      • ... there is so much global demand for employees proficient in programming languages, engineering, and other skills demanding higher level technology knowledge that outsourcing can't meet all U.S. needs.

      • Many of the available jobs are for companies that have proven returns -- not ideas that have yet to pan out.

    • BLS Projects IT Workforce to Add a Million New Jobs between 2004 and 2014

      The Computing Research Association says that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the professional-level IT workforce will grow at more than twice the rate of the overall workforce between 2004 and 2014, creating 1 in 19 new jobs. In addition, many of these jobs will pay well.

    • Tech Tuesday: Computer Science as a Major   Tech Tuesday: Computer Science as a Major

      A WAMU radio talk show host Kojo Nnamdi looks at how colleges teach Computer Science and its vitality today. Featured guests are

      • Joanne Cohoon, Sociologist and Professor of Science, Technology, and Society, University of Virginia
      • Stuart Zweben, Chair, Computer Science and Engineering Department, Ohio State University

      Topics discussed include the recent decline in students (particularly women) majoring in computer science, projected job growth and the shortage of qualified workers in the field, preparation provided by a computer science degree, computer science stereotypes, the expanding discipline of computer science, the role of a university education vs. job training, programming vs. computer science, coursework vs. practical experience, and the current job market.

    • Need a Job? Good News -- Prospects and Paychecks Increase

      In the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) Spring 2005 Salary Survey, decision-makers from human resource departments across the country weighed in on the top ten jobs most offered to bachelor's degree candidates this year. "Software Design & Development" was one of these top ten job functions. The job function paying the highest average salary of the top ten ... "Software Design & Development".

    • Bachelor's Degrees In Computer Engineering Continue to Rise

      The American Association of Engineering Societies Engineering Workforce Commission reports that computer engineering continues to be the most popular engineering discipline.

    • Computer science fighting for time: Advocates clamor for more courses in public schools

      The Computer Science Teachers Association, which says that the nation needs students who are prepared to develop software, design hardware, program languages and manage databases, is promoting a model curriculum that integrates computer science through every grade.

    • A Techie, Absolutely, and More

      The New York Times reports that Computer Science graduates are doing much more than software development with their degrees.

    • IT jobs call stateside, but who's answering?

      The Seattle Times interviews University of Washington Department of Computer Science Chair David Notkin. Notkin discusses the shortage of skilled computer science graduates.

    • A Conversation with Bill Gates at the 2005 Microsoft Faculty Summit

      Princeton University Dean of Engineering Maria Klawe discusses important topics in Computer Science with Chairman and Chief Software Architect of Microsoft, Bill Gates, at a gathering of computer science faculty in Redmond. A few quotes:

      Bill Gates photo
      • Microsoft is trying to hire every great college graduate who has basic computer science skills and we think is highly talented. When I sit down and review projects here inside the company, the topic that always comes up is how is the hiring going, we've got open headcount, these are super well-paying jobs ...

      • Some people say, well, doesn't this mean there will just be a shift to Asia of a lot of this activity, and there will be some, but you take a company like ours, we're going to always have the vast majority of our development taking place in this location. We like to do things in a unified way, and so even though India and China are going to grow quite a bit, it's a big problem for us that we can't get these great students.

      • We have this interesting paradox where in China and India we can get lots of engineers but getting people who have sort of what we call program management type skills or general management type skills, it's very hard to find enough of those, whereas here in the United States we do pretty well at getting people with those skill sets, but then it's just the engineering we're very short of what we'd like to get. And so the competition for somebody who's got the right background is just phenomenal.

      • All of the issues around natural interface, you know, vision, speech, ink, modeling, those are areas where the economic value of getting those things right, whether it's Microsoft or anybody else, it's the next ten years that it's interesting. I think if I'd written down in the late '60s, early '70s the interesting problems in computer science, if anybody had, that we could say that a small percentage have been solved right now, but that a very high percentage will be solved in these next 10 to 15 years.

      • ... the nature of these jobs is not just closing your door and doing coding ... in fact, the greatest missing skill is somebody who's both good at understanding the engineering and has good relationships with the hard-core engineers, and bridges that to working with the customers and the marketing and things like that. And so that sort of engineering management career track, even amongst all the people we have, we still fall short of finding people who want to do that ... And so I'd love to have people who come to these jobs wanting to think of it as a lot and exercise in people management and people dynamics, as well as the basic engineering skills. That would be absolutely amazing. And we can promise those people within two years of starting that career most of what they're doing won't be coding ...

      • ... this is a field that's taken a very high-volume, low-price approach. It's driven breakthroughs, driven the prices down. And so it's very gratifying, and it's not just for the richest 2 billion people on the planet, although there are some neat things happening there, it's for the world at large.

    • New Gallup Survey Finds Restaurant Industry Is the Most Highly Regarded in America

      ... and the computer industry is second! The Gallup Poll conducts an annual poll on the images of various business and industry sectors across the country. The poll asks Americans to rate business and industry sectors on a five-point scale ranging from "very positive" to "very negative." The computer industry was ranked second, trailing only the restaurant industry as the industry most positively viewed by the public.

    • Computing Research Association Bulletin

      The Computing Research Association publishes an online bulletin to provide pointers to reports and other information that might be of interest to computing researchers, students and administrators. Topics covered include Computer Science/Computer Engineering student and faculty demographics, salaries, R&D, and the IT workforce.

    • Sloan Career Cornerstone Center

      The Sloan Career Cornerstone Center is a resource center for those interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Their comprehensive education, networking, job hunting, and career planning resources revolve around personal interviews with over 400 individuals who offer candid insight into their career paths.

    • CU tries to win back IT fervor

      The Boulder Daily Camera recently reported on "The Future Potential in IT" program held on the CU campus. A few quotes from the article are of interest:

      • ... IT job openings appear to be on the rebound, according to experts in the field. The result: a shortage of qualified candidates for Colorado technology jobs.

      • "The Future Potential in IT" program will attempt to dispel the myth that IT jobs are scarce, organizers say, and to encourage undecided students to consider an IT major -- or consider adding a technical element to another major.

      • Local technology companies are growing increasingly concerned about the shortage of qualified candidates coming out of Colorado high schools and universities ...

      • The prospects are looking up for current information systems majors. The diverse skills acquired in an IS degree uniquely qualify graduating students for high-paying jobs in a market projected to grow rapidly during the next six years ...

    • 2020 -- Future of Computing provides an in-depth look at the direction of the computing field and its relationship to science:

      "In the last two decades advances in computing technology, from processing speed to network capacity and the internet, have revolutionized the way scientists work. From sequencing genomes to monitoring the Earth's climate, many recent scientific advances would not have been possible without a parallel increase in computing power -- and with revolutionary technologies such as the quantum computer edging towards reality, what will the relationship between computing and science bring us over the next 15 years?"

The outlook for computer science jobs in the coming years is quite good. This is obviously promising from the standpoint of simply finding a job. But the nature of computer science is that there are a huge variety of jobs in the discipline -- jobs addressing a huge variety of problems, jobs performing a huge variety of types of work, jobs with a huge variety of companies, and jobs in a huge variety of geographic locations. This provides tremendous opportunity for graduates not only to find a job, but to find the right job for them: a job addressing interesting problems, a job performing appropriate types of work, a job with a well-matched company, and a job in a desirable geographic location.

Computer Science ... at the University of Colorado Boulder

The computer science discipline is very broad ... the job possibilities for computer science graduates are excellent ... what kind of computer science degrees are being offered at the University of Colorado Boulder? We offer two undergraduate and three graduate Computer Science degrees. While not a separate degree program, there is also the possibility to earn concurrent BS and MS degrees in Computer Science, significantly reducing the time necessary to obtain the graduate degree.

CU-Boulder Campus
   CU-Boulder Campus

A considerable amount of information about the department and each of its degree programs is available on this website, which we encourage you to explore. However, we would like to note a few specific facts:

  • Nearly all Computer Science courses, including undergraduate courses, are taught by regular, rostered Computer Science faculty, rather than by graduate student assistants.

  • The undergraduate curriculum offers considerable flexibility in selecting specific coursework to meet individual student needs, while preparing graduates for careers in any area of computer science.

  • There are many opportunities for students to gain practical experience through industry co-op and internship programs.

  • Computer Science faculty are performing world-class research, and there are many opportunities for both undergraduates and graduate students to become involved.

  • There are currently 432 undergraduate Computer Science majors, 46 minors, 24 ME students, 93 MS students and 96 PhD students.

  • There are currently 3184 Computer Science alumni working in a wide variety of jobs, in a wide variety of companies and in a wide variety of locations all over the world.

  • The University of Colorado Boulder was recently ranked the 67th best university in the World in Times Higher Education's 2010-2011 World University Rankings.

The University of Colorado Boulder Department of Computer Science is located in Boulder, Colorado on one of the most beautiful college campuses in the world. Boulder has one of the highest per capita concentrations of highly-educated workers and high-tech companies to be found anywhere. It's a great place to to study, to work and to live. We hope you have an interest in joining us.

More Information

There's considerably more information available for anyone considering a degree in Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. A good place to begin further exploration is one of the following:

How to Apply

You can begin the online application process by selecting the appropriate link below:


Finally ... sometimes you may just want to talk to a real person about computer science and the degree programs available at the University of Colorado Boulder. Our undergraduate and graduate program advisors are exactly the people to see:

Undergraduate Program Advisor

Lesley McDowell

University of Colorado Boulder
Department of Computer Science
430 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0430

Engineering Center ECOT 727
hours: MTWRF 9:30am-12:00pm, MTWR 1:00pm-4:30pm ... majors; F 1:00pm-4:30pm ... minors, non-majors, prospective students
email: email
phone: +1-303-492-6362
Lesley McDowell photo Graduate Program Advisor

Jacqueline (Jackie) DeBoard

University of Colorado Boulder
Department of Computer Science
430 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0430

Engineering Center ECOT 725
hours: MTRF 7:30am-4:00pm
email: email
phone: +1-303-492-6361
Jacqueline (Jackie) DeBoard photo

They'll be glad to help you find answers to any questions you may have.

We hope this has been helpful in your decision making process.
The University of Colorado Boulder Department of Computer Science
wishes you the best of luck with whatever decision you make!

See also:
Department of Computer Science
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
Send email to

Engineering Center Office Tower
ECOT 717
FAX +1-303-492-2844
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