Skip to main content

Why There are So Many Computer Science Careers

October 24, 2022

Computer science, the scientific discipline, is concerned with hardware, software, and the theory behind them. Researchers in computing study the processes that allow us to create and use computer programs—and the theories underlying those processes. They’re less concerned with the applications of specific digital technologies. Michael Fellows, a well-known computer science researcher, once famously said “computer science is not about machines, in the same way that astronomy is not about telescopes. There is an essential unity of mathematics and computer science.”

Most definitions of computer science differentiate between theoretical and applied computer science, which includes programming, IT, and analytics. Applied computer science puts theory into practice to power digital technologies and solve problems using computer systems, information technology, and automation. Most careers in technology fall under the umbrella of applied computer science, which has become a vast landscape encompassing careers as different as programmer and product manager. Only a small percentage of computer science careers involve the study of computational theory or new technologies. 

The best academic programs acknowledge that computer science graduates go on to work in myriad roles in practical subfields of the discipline, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, software engineering, and data science. The online Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) from Tufts School of Engineering, for example, prepares graduates to excel in many computer science jobs, from hands-on roles such as database engineer to scientific positions such as computational researcher.

Why are Computer Science Degrees So Versatile?

Nearly everything humans do in the developed world is powered by computer science, and modern computer systems are complex, so professional specialization has become the norm. It takes large teams of skilled contributors to design, build, maintain, and upgrade digital systems, so people with academic and professional computer science backgrounds have many career paths open to them.

Some people who study computer science create or employ technology to solve business challenges. Others work with technology in pursuit of humanitarian goals, to streamline processes, or to entertain. Some computer science graduates focus on back-end development while others focus on front-end concerns. Still others develop expertise in databases or networks, or leverage their technical competencies and knowledge in project management and leadership roles. 

Demand is enormous for leading-edge technology skills in:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Computer architecture
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data communications
  • Databases and information retrieval
  • Distributed systems
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Information systems analysis
  • Mobile application development
  • Network architecture
  • Operating systems
  • Parallel and distributed systems
  • Performance analysis
  • Software engineering
  • Visualization and graphics

Programs such as Tufts’ online MSCS take a broad view of the discipline and develop adaptable professionals with in-demand transferable technical skills and soft skills (e.g., problem-solving) that are useful in various computer science jobs. Computer science skills are also in demand—and carry a wage premium—in less-technical and non-technical fields.

Computer Science Jobs You Can Get With an MSCS

diverse range of job titles fall under the computer science umbrella. There are entry-level computer science roles—which typically have junior in the title and require certifications or bachelor’s degrees—and advanced specialist roles requiring graduate degrees and extensive work experience. The following jobs for computer science master’s program graduates take technologists beyond software development and engineering.

Artificial Intelligence Specialist

Artificial intelligence is an incredibly robust and flexible tool, which helps professionals across industries solve problems through data analysis and automation. AI specialists may use existing artificial intelligence and machine learning resources or create new ones as necessary. They are typically comfortable working with cutting-edge technologies such as computer vision and natural language processing (NLP) neuro-linguistic programming and routinely use Python and other programming languages in their work. Online MSCS candidates at Tufts begin their advanced programming journeys in CS 105 Programming Languages, in which they study the ideas and techniques most relevant to practitioners. The typical AI specialist earns an annual salary of about $125,000, though AI specialists with specific domain expertise often earn more.

Computer and Information Research Scientist

Computer and information research scientists study fundamental problems in computation. Their work is usually more theoretical in nature than other computer science professionals, but their findings impact practical computer science applications. Computer and information research scientists need a deep understanding of computation theory and mathematics. Tufts online MSCS candidates study models of computation that include Turing machines, pushdown automata, and finite automata, as well as grammars and formal languages, in CS 170 Computation Theory. Computer and information research scientists often earn about $131,000 but can earn more depending on their specializations.

Computer Science Professor

Computer science professors must have a strong understanding of computer science fundamentals and the soft skills necessary to share that knowledge with others in the computer science courses they teach. They often work on cutting-edge research in one or more specialization areas with sponsorship from their universities. Computer science professors’ salaries vary widely depending on location, seniority, and whether they work at a public or private university, but the average computer science professor’s pay is about $118,000.

Database Engineer

Database engineers design and develop databases and must have the relevant software development skills to build information storage systems. The responsibilities associated with this role can include capacity planning; database design installation, and configuration; database migration; performance monitoring; and troubleshooting. Dome database engineers additionally handle system security and data recovery. In the course CS 115 Database Systems, Tufts MSCS candidates study database management systems, including data models, SQL query language, implementation techniques, the management of unstructured and semi-structured data, and scientific data collection. Mid-career database engineers earn about $92,000, and more experienced professionals in this role earn more.

Information Security Manager

Information security managers monitor computer networks for security breaches, anticipating potential security threats and developing and implementing measures to protect against them. To do this, they must have a thorough grasp of the hardware and software systems that comprise computer networks. They also understand the principles of computer security and their real-world applications. Tufts online MSCS course CS 116 Introduction to Security teaches the fundamentals of cybersecurity and information security. Students study network attacks and defense, vulnerability detection, cryptography, web security, static and dynamic analysis, malware, and digital forensics in classes, projects, and hands-on labs. Most full-time information security managers earn about $112,000. Managers who oversee large teams of information security analysts can earn more.

IT Manager

IT managers are a bridge between the technical workers they manage and non-technical stakeholders. They pair strong computer science expertise with leadership and communication skills. IT managers must understand topics across computer science well enough to make leadership decisions about the systems they manage and explain technical details to non-technical workers. Tufts prepares students for careers in information technology management with challenging interdisciplinary courses that build confidence in computer science concepts and leadership. IT managers generally earn about $151,000 annually.

Machine Learning Engineer

Machine learning engineers design, develop, and implement AI systems that comb through large data sets to make predictions. Their work can solve problems in predictive analytics that use too much data for a human analyst to parse. Machine learning engineers must understand advanced mathematics, computer programming, and the theory behind artificial intelligence. Tufts’ online computer science master’s curriculum includes a dedicated course in machine learning. Students in CS 135 Introduction to Machine Learning investigate the methods computers use to learn from data or experience and make decisions and the applications of machine learning in science, engineering, and medicine. Machine learning engineers earn about $113,000, and machine learning skills can carry a wage premium in other roles.

Software Architect

Software architects make high-level design choices for software projects. They often work with developer teams to design, develop, and implement complex software applications. In addition to skills related to advanced computer programming, operating systems, and the principles of software design, these professionals also use skills such as leadership and technical communication to manage projects. Preparing for a career in this functional area involves building technical and non-technical skills. Tufts prepares graduate students to excel in this role with the online MSCS Capstone Project. The two-course, hands-on, culminating project involves project planning, design, implementation, testing, and a presentation. Software architects earn about $129,000 on average, but even lower-earning professionals with this title tend to earn much more than the national median wage. 

Senior Embedded Software Engineer

Devices such as smart appliances, medical trackers, and many cars run on embedded software, which is the first layer of software that runs on a device. Embedded software engineers develop programs for specific computer hardware, so they need advanced programming skills as well as a deep understanding of the hardware itself. Most embedded software engineers are comfortable working with the underlying operating systems, such as embedded Linux, that many devices run. Online MSCS candidates at Tufts take CS 111 Operating Systems, which explores the relevant hardware properties of uniprocessor and multiprocessor computer systems. Embedded software engineers in more senior roles earn about $119,000 annually.

Senior Systems Engineer

Systems engineers leverage their interdisciplinary skillsets to develop complex digital systems. Their responsibilities include ensuring that all the components of a complex system work together, so the system functions as expected. Computer networking, cloud computing, and programming are helpful competencies for systems engineers. In addition to providing expert oversight of an organization’s networks and digital systems, senior systems engineers may manage technology implementation, system design, and mentoring junior engineers. Many senior systems engineers earn about $110,000 annually. Senior systems engineers with additional skills, degrees, or certifications may earn more. 

Leadership Roles

The highest-paying computer science jobs tend to involve project oversight and people management, not hands-on technical responsibilities. Technologists who move into project management and leadership roles must have advanced computer science skills and well-developed soft skills. Some of the highest-paying jobs for computer science master’s program graduates include Chief Technology Officer ($166,000), vice president of engineering ($181,000), and senior engineering manager ($151,000).

How a Master of Science in Computer Science from Tufts Prepares You for a Range of Computer Science Jobs

Computer science professionals are best-positioned to succeed when they have diverse skills they can apply in different professional environments plus advanced credentials. Top computer science master’s programs teach in-demand technical and soft competencies that are transferable between computer science jobs. That may be why more than 20 percent of tech workers and close to 25 percent of developers have master’s degrees.

The interdisciplinary curriculum in Tufts MSCS program covers a range of skills that are useful in most computer science careers. Courses in the online MSCS curriculum evolve along with the real-world technological challenges organizations face across industries. Small class sizes let students dive deep into the material with their peers and develop relationships with renowned computer scientists engaged in innovative research in various functional and theoretical areas of technology.

While specialization has become the norm in computer science, there are specific advanced skills that contribute to career mobility for technologists. Prospective MSCS applicants should be sure that the programs they choose prioritize the important foundational competencies that are in demand in and out of technology. That way, they can maximize the returns of this master’s degree whether they advance along one career pathway or move between disciplines.

Apply today to earn your Master of Science in Computer Science in as little as two years, or attend an upcoming admissions event to learn more about how Tufts’ online computer science program can advance your career in any field.