What I Wish I Knew Before Getting a Computer Science Degree

by Evan Thompson

Updated May 23, 2023 • 5 min read

Computer science is what makes the tech world tick. Everything from the applications on your phone to hospitals' electronic health records depends on computer scientists.

Some of the most sought-after workers in the U.S. are computer scientists, who are part of the STEM workforce. Computer science jobs are booming because all kinds of industries need experts who know their way around computers and how they work.

A computer science degree can be a good fit for people who enjoy mathematics, engineering, problem-solving, and programming. Others enjoy computer science because they get to work with software and software systems.

Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering

Computer science is the study of computers and computation, while computer engineering focuses on electronic engineering. Computer scientists mostly deal with the programming, coding, and algorithms that make computers functional. Computer engineers build computers and the components that make them work.

The good news is that computer science is a very versatile degree — whatever your preference is, there's probably a career path for you. One graduate may end up as a video game designer, while another can land a job as an IT professional. Jobs you can get with a computer science degree include:

A bachelor of computer science degree will put you on track for some of the fastest-growing and best-paying careers in the workforce. A job forecast by the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that computer and information technology jobs would grow by 11% from 2019-2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.

However, it's best to know what you're getting into before you embark down that path. We asked computer science graduates and employers who work with computer scientists about what it's like to get a degree in computer science and what they wish they knew before getting one.

Focus on Mastering the Basics

Make sure you learn the basics such as understanding classes, inheritance, and polymorphism. These are typically taught in your first couple of courses and form the foundation for everything you will learn subsequently. Mastering these core principles is essential for a successful career in CS, whatever direction you take."

Arthur Iinuma, President of ISBX

Be Comfortable With Being Social

I noticed early on that the computer science field is extremely social. This goes against what many novices believe, thinking they'll be huddled in front of a laptop or computer working and isolated … you'll participate in meetings, you'll discuss what you're working on with others, you'll collaborate to complete various projects and tasks, and you may even need to approach experienced professionals for help more often than you'd like. … Computer science majors focus on the technical aspects of the job, but it's imperative to improve and learn proper communication as well."

Karl Hughes, Founder of Draft.dev

Build as Many Projects as You Can

When you appear in job interviews, the interviewers are more interested in the projects you have made. So, don't waste your time. Start building your projects from the beginning. The more projects you have done, the better it is. Otherwise, you'll have to face the burden of creating all the projects during your final year of college, and that'll be too stressful and tiring for you. I made the mistake of not working on projects from the beginning and I wish my former self had known the importance of projects."

Jessica Robinson, Senior Content Manager at The Speaking Polymath

Develop a Rapport With Professors and Peers

Having a close relationship with your professors helps you with potential references for employment, letters of reference for graduate school, and even introductions to employers. Keeping close with your classmates is similar, mostly because they might be able to recommend job opportunities when they get hired. They may also know about useful conferences, webinars, and other programs and will then be in a position to let you know."

Matthew Emerick, Owner of Cross Trained Mind

Don't Overlook the Importance of Certifications

If I were getting my degree all over again, I wish someone would have explained to me the value of having certifications … it's a game-changer when job searching. If you find you take an interest in networking, get a CCNA. If you do well learning Java, get a certification in that. If you find you have an interest in cybersecurity, go for Security+ (Plus).

The situation you'll find yourself in is: You're equally qualified for a job alongside hundreds of other applicants with a BS and no experience. The certification cements your qualifications among the sea of resumes. Even if the certification isn't directly tied to the job to which you're applying, you can use it as an example of how you can be a self-starter and learn new skills."

–Aaron Bossig, Founder of Hungry Trilobyte Podcast

Portrait of Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.

Header Image Credit: Staras, Wat'hna Racha / EyeEm | Getty Images

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