What’s a Computer Scientist? And How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about the career of a computer scientist. This article introduces you to the field of computer science and the required skills and education, as well as the salary, job outlook, and benefits of being a computer scientist.

[Featured image] A computer scientist is working on their computer.

Across almost every industry, computer scientists use programming and technical skills to develop and build upon computer software and hardware programs. Computer science jobs are typically high paying and have a reputation for high job satisfaction, with work-life balance often considered a benefit of these positions. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a 23 percent growth in computer science positions from 2022 to 2032, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations [1].

What is a computer scientist?

A computer scientist is a highly skilled individual who creates solutions related to computer programs by combining technology, technical skills, and analytical thinking. They ensure that a company’s computer systems continue to function by troubleshooting for potential issues. Computer scientists often gather analytical insights to drive business decisions. Whatever the company’s needs, computer scientists will use their programming and network management skills to create solutions for them.

What do computer scientists do?

The responsibilities of computer scientists will vary depending on their position. Generally speaking, a computer scientist’s responsibilities include: 

  • Developing and designing software, hardware, and networks

  • Writing new programming languages or code

  • Analyzing and understanding computer algorithms

  • Conducting research experiments to test new theories

  • Upgrading or updating computer systems or programs 

  • Collaborating with software developers and computer engineers to create new technology 

Computer science careers

Thanks to a computer scientist’s wide skill set, they aren’t limited to positions solely with computer science in the job title. Common computer science careers include:

Computer scientist salaries

One of the main attractions of computer science positions is the high salaries. Let’s look at some common computer science positions in the US and their reported median salaries as of December 2023:

  • Computer and information research scientist: $136,620 [1]

  • Computer network architect: $126,900 [3]

  • Computer programmers: $97,800 [4

  • Computer systems analyst: $102,240 [5

  • Software developer: $124,200 [6

Keep in mind that salaries may be influenced by location, years of experience, and industry. 

Job outlook

Across the computer science field, the job outlook is very strong and outpaces the national job growth rate of 5.3 percent for all other occupations from 2021 to 2031 [7]. Here are the projected growth numbers from 2021 to 2031 for various computer science careers:

  • Computer and information research scientist: 23 percent [1]

  • Computer network architect: 4 percent [3]

  • Computer systems analyst: 10 percent [5

  • Information security analyst: 32 percent [8]

  • Database administrators and architects: 8 percent [9]

Important skills for a computer scientist to have

Computer scientists are highly skilled individuals with a diverse range of abilities. With constant advancements being made in tech, it’s critical for you to constantly develop your computer science skills to keep up with the latest technologies and techniques. A blend of technical skills and workplace skills is necessary to find success in this field.

Technical skills

Computer scientists have technical skills that involve specialized knowledge to complete specific tasks. Some necessary technical skills include:  

  • Computer programming is a fundamental part of computer science. Aim to have a functional working knowledge of multiple languages to maximize the number of opportunities available to you based on your abilities. Popular languages include Python, C++, PHP, SQL, and more. 

  • Data analysis and interpretation are key parts of computer science. Insights gained from data analysis allow companies to make informed decisions. 

  • Technical writing is an important skill because you’ll need to write documents explaining and detailing your work and findings. Oftentimes, these documents are for those with less technical experience than computer scientists. Therefore information is best presented in a manner that can be understood by audiences without the same expertise. 

Workplace skills

Workplace skills represent how you approach your work. As a computer scientist, here are some important workplace skills to have: 

  • Attention to detail allows computer scientists to spot programming errors that may arise when writing code. Being able to identify and correct these issues quickly can be a tremendous time saver and allow for projects to be completed more efficiently. 

  • Communication is a valuable skill as a computer scientist because you will often be part of a team. This means you’ll be discussing your work and thought processes with team members to ensure everyone is aware of the objective and working towards the same goal. 

  • Time management is crucial when balancing multiple projects at the same time. Computer scientists must be able to prioritize important tasks to complete everything in a timely manner.

Computer scientist education options

When it comes to developing the qualifications needed for a career in computer science, you have multiple options. While some may opt for a college degree, there are other ways you can acquire the necessary skills while still being able to land a highly sought-after position. Because these positions are highly technical, the skills and abilities you possess are most critical. 

Let’s take a look at some of the different computer science education options you have for obtaining the required skill set.


Of the computer scientists who hold degrees, here is a breakdown of the different percentages of education levels.

  • Bachelor’s degree: 66 percent

  • Master’s degree: 19 percent

  • Associate degree: 7 percent

  • Doctorate: 6 percent [2

Relevant majors to become a computer scientist include computer science, mathematics, electrical engineering, and physics. 

Linked image with text "See how your Coursera Learning can turn into bachelor's degree credit at University of London"


Depending on the role you want, coding bootcamps provide students the opportunity to develop their computer science skills in a more concentrated and accelerated setting. Compared to college programs, bootcamps offer more project-based instruction rather than theoretical concepts. It also focuses on helping you gain job-ready skills used throughout the industry in a shorter time span than a college degree.

Read more: Coding Bootcamps: Options, Benefits, Requirements, and More


Having a computer science certification can be an effective way to demonstrate to employers that you have the specific skills they are looking for. Certifications tend to be more specialized in comparison to bootcamps and a college degree as they usually focus on a specific skill. With many different computer science certifications available, they are a great option to supplement your resume.

Industries that hire computer scientists

Computer scientists provide value in a variety of industries. Throughout the technology space, specialized industries hiring computer scientists to fill positions include:

Keep learning about computer science with Coursera

If you’re interested in starting a career as a computer scientist, consider Princeton University's Computer Science: Programming With a Purpose on Coursera. This course is designed for beginners with no experience to help grow their computer science skills. Topics that are covered include basic programming elements, algorithms, and more. 

If you already have some experience, intermediate-level courses include Accelerated Computer Science Fundamentals Specialization from the University of Illinois, where you can prepare for the Online Master of Computer Science entrance exam. 

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Computer Information and Research Scientists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm.” Accessed January 4, 2024.

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