Computer Scientist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Oct 01, 2019

Computer scientists help advance the field of computer science and technology. Here we discuss their job in more detail, as well as computer scientist requirements, which generally consist of a master's degree in the field.

What Do Computer Scientists Do?

As computer scientists invent new technologies and capabilities in the field, they often apply these advances to real problems in a wide range of other fields, such as science or business. This may require them to work closely with other kinds of specialists, like engineers. Some of these scientists may specialize in a particular area, including programming or data science. In general, computer scientists may:

  • Develop and/or simplify algorithms
  • Create new computing languages
  • Determine new methods for working with computers
  • Test new systems and designs
  • Develop models and theories to address issues in the field
  • Present findings to the scientific community
  • Improve computer hardware performance
  • Increase the efficiency of computer software and/or hardware

What Degree Do You Need for Computer Science?

Education in computer science is widely available, from free online computer technology courses and associate's degrees in computer programming to doctoral degree programs in the field. Students wondering how to become a computer scientist should know that you typically need a master's degree in computer science or a related field, like computer programming, but some jobs may only require a bachelor's degree. Here we provide a brief overview of the different degree levels for computer science.

Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science

Bachelor's degree programs in computer science are commonly offered as Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees. These programs can be taken on-campus or online and traditionally take 4 years to complete. Students may take courses in subjects like:

  • Programming
  • Data structures
  • Algorithms
  • Mathematics
  • Software security
  • Operating systems


Master's degree programs in computer science usually award Master of Science (MS) degrees. These programs are available in online formats and can usually be completed in 2 years, but part-time students may take 3 to 5 years to complete. Students may be able to choose from a thesis or final project option and take coursework in areas like:

  • Software engineering
  • Experimental design
  • Algorithms
  • Databases
  • Modeling

PhD-Level Programs in Computer Science

Students may also choose to pursue their Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Computer Science. Most of these degree programs are on-campus and may have additional research and/or teaching requirements. Students typically complete a dissertation and may be able to focus their studies in specific areas of the field such as robotics, human-computer interaction, or theory.

How Much Do Computer Scientists Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that computer and information research scientists made an average annual salary of $123,850 in 2018. The federal executive branch had one of the highest numbers of employment for these scientists, and they made an average salary of $108,930. The highest-paid computer and information research scientists worked in navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing and made an average salary of $170,350.

What is the Job Outlook for Computer Scientists?

The BLS also reported a 'much faster than average' job outlook of 16% from 2018 to 2028 for computer and information research scientists. This outlook may be attributed to the demand for new technology and advances in cybersecurity.

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