Bachelor's degree programs in computer science give students a foundational knowledge of information technology (IT), systems administration and systems development. Most programs require applicants to possess some knowledge or experience in IT. Students learn about operating systems, computer systems architecture, secure code writing and programming.
In a master's program, students take advanced classes in cryptography, the theory of computer language and algorithm complexity. Students also learn to detect, defend, and prevent internal and external attacks on a computer system. Some programs call for a thesis, but most are course-based. Prerequisites for master's degree programs include preparatory coursework with a minimum GPA.
Certificate programs in software security are aimed at experienced IT professionals. Some programs focus on certain software, while others focus on operating systems or network security. Many courses are offered online. Software security certificate programs are available for initial certification and at the continuing education level for computer security specialists. Most certificate programs require different levels of experience and education prior to entry, often including a resume, personal statement, interview and GRE scores. Many are considered post-graduate certificates for individuals with a master's degree or higher in computer science.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science
Bachelor's degree programs in computer science include topics in security, as well as overall computer skills in IT, systems administration, and systems development. These programs take approximately 4-5 years to complete, or 24-30 months for students possessing an associate's degree. Graduates are awarded a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in computer science or IT. Some programs also qualify students to take exams for software and hardware-specific certification upon graduation.
Some schools require students complete an associate's degree program or pre-entry computer science coursework with a minimum grade point average (GPA). Students need to submit a resume including past education, employment or certifications, and some schools require an interview for consideration.
Bachelor's degree programs include specific credit requirements in the specialty, as well as support courses in areas such as math, writing, and communications. Elective credit hours are also required, and students choose from a variety of computer topics. Some choices include:
- Operating system foundations
- Technical writing
- Computer security architecture and organization
- Programming languages
- Secure code writing
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Master's Degree in Computer Science
Students of master's degree programs in computer science choose from a concentration of security or information security at many schools. These programs take approximately 1-2 years to complete. A thesis or project is required, but some schools offer entirely course-based curriculum. Also, some schools award certificates in information technology specializations, and all graduates are awarded a Master of Science (M.S.) degree.
Minimum score requirements from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are a prerequisite; however, some schools waive this requirement for students possessing a master's degree in engineering, physics, or math. A personal statement and resume are also requirements with a formal application for entry.
When choosing a security specialty in master's degree programs, schools require a specific number of hours in concentrated electives. The core curriculum also includes advanced computer science classes. Topics covered include:
- Algorithm complexity and analysis
- Theory of computer language
- Database, network and computer security
- Internal and hacker attacks
Software Security Certificate
Certificate programs in software security are designed for IT professionals with years of experience and education. Some certificates focus on specific software products or general security principles, while others offer areas of concentration such as network or operating system security. All certificate programs add to a student's knowledge in preventing computer system viruses, incidents, worms, attacks and threats. On-site training and distance education options are available to companies and students at some schools. At the program's culmination, students receive a certificate of completion, and additional software-specific certifications are available through vendors and testing.
The coursework in certificate programs is specific to the area of study and offered in several classes or in one comprehensive course. Some options available include:
- Techniques for secure programming
- Risk management
- Insider threats
- Web security
- Detecting intrusions
Popular Career Options
A bachelor's degree in computer science offers many choices for entry-level employment in software security-related positions. Some popular career choices include:
- Computer programmer
- Security computer systems analyst
- System administrator
- Software engineer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
In May 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that although most computer positions required at least a bachelor's degree, employers were increasingly hiring employees who already possessed a master's degree in computer science or business administration with an IT concentration (www.bls.gov). The BLS also stated that experience, leadership ability and good business skills could provide more advancement opportunities in companies or as an independent consultant.
As of May 2014, the BLS reported that the median annual wage was $77,810 for network and computer systems administrators, $79,530 for computer programmers, $85,800 for computer systems analysts and $105,570 for systems computer software developers. In addition, the BLS stated employers preferred applicants with broad experience and knowledge in different technologies and systems (www.bls.gov).
Individuals seeking a career in software security can complete a bachelor's or master's program in computer science, or a certificate program in software security. These programs are designed to educate students in systems security, systems administration and systems development.