All computer specialist associate's programs take roughly two years of full-time study to complete, and cover foundational computer science and IT topics through lectures and computer lab sessions. Admission requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Specific prior computer knowledge or prerequisite courses may also be necessary.
An associate's in computer science is one of the most basic, entry-level programs available. Such programs are designed to provide students with an overview of computing theory, as well as an introduction to computer operating systems, networks and applications. Depending on the institution, students may transfer credits to 4-year degree programs in network administration, software development, computer programming or similar programs.
Information technology (IT) programs are designed to provide students with an introduction to computer hardware, such as networking equipment, computer systems and telecommunications equipment. Programs also introduce students to the basics of computer software and computer applications. Concentrations in computer programming or networking are also offered.
Associate's programs in computer programming include more specialized coursework in programming languages, like C++. Relevant certifications are available to those who fulfill educational and experience requirements set forth by third-party computing organizations, like CompTIA.
Associate of Science in Computer Science
Students in these programs learn first-hand how to write source code, develop web pages, troubleshoot basic computer issues and more. In addition to offering introductory-level courses in computer technology, students will take units related to mathematics, science and general education. Other courses students may take include:
- Basic computer programming
- Database applications
- Data structures
- Web development
- Discrete mathematics and linear algebra
Associate of Science in Information Technology
In addition to completing core courses in information technology and computer science fundamentals, students choose from a series of IT electives. Examples of core courses and electives include:
- Microsoft Office Suite
- Introduction to programming
- Visual Basic
- Website and database development
Associate of Science in Computer Programming
While associate's degree programs in computer science and information technology can provide students with the educational background necessary to specialize in any aspect of the IT field, an associate's degree program in computer programming prepares students to become programming specialists.
Students learn how to develop computer applications and programs using programming languages and source code. Many associate's programs in the field also include elective courses related to software support, computer-aided design, mathematics and networking. Students also learn how to design, write, implement and test their own computer programs by investigating the following topics:
- Introduction to computer science and computer programming
- Systems analysis and design
- C++ programming
- Object-oriented programming
- Project management
- Database development
Most associate degrees in computer science are designed to allow graduates to transfer to a bachelor's program in computer science. However, there are many entry-level positions available to graduates working for hospitals, banks, insurance companies, manufacturing firms or consulting services. Possible positions include:
- Computer maintenance technician
- Computer systems specialist
- Computer programmer
The term 'computer specialist' can actually be representative of several potential career titles, as it is possible to specialize in several different fields of the computer industry. Career paths available to graduates of an associate's degree program in information technology include:
- Computer programmer
- Network manager
- Computer support specialist
- Information technology manager
- Database administrator
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), computer programmers held about 289,420 positions in 2015. Computer programmers made a median annual salary of $79,530 in that year.
Continuing Education Information
Various certification options exist mainly from companies who create and distribute computer software for profit. For example, computer programming specialists can gain certification from a company offering software related to a specific computer language, such as Java (Sun Systems) or Visual Basic (Microsoft).
Associate of Science programs in computer science provide students with an overview of computer systems, while those in IT focus on hardware and equipment. Programs in computer programming concentrate on programming languages and source coding.