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Taking The "Science" Out Of Computer Science

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Studying Computer Science in college is unusually difficult. I say unusual, because 80% of all that science concepts taught will probably only be used by 2% of the resulting workforce. In my 4 years of college, I never once took a class in web development, which is ironic as that has been my official title for the past 9 years, along with everyone else that I had the pleasure of graduating with. And it leaves me wondering what happened to all of that wonderful science that I spent countless days dreaming over. So today I'll be talking about science, where it's gone and where it's headed, and whether it has a place in modern society anymore, in this age of smartphones and app development.

The Cool Sciency Job

There are 2 possible career paths when it comes to earning a degree in "Computer Science". One is the more scientific one. Working for a research company perhaps or building scientific equipment. Maybe you'll end up writing software for simulations at NASA or JPL. Those are more reminiscent of the jobs that you think you'll get when you're in college, as you're constantly learning and doing new things. And ones that will probably make good use of all of that science that you picked up in college.

And let me reiterate again, a college Computer Science curriculum is difficult and ready at every corner to just make you drop everything and travel the country in your old beat up Honda. In order to receive my degree I had to take pretty much every Calculus course taught in the university. I also had to take Physics classes, classes on algorithms, assembly language, electrical engineering and most dreadful of all, circuit design classes. And not just entry level classes, but advanced level circuit design. So that's alot of science and for sure I'm glad that I got to experience that, if only just to blog about it a decade later.

And The Other 90%

Now back to the other type of possible career path. Working for a private company, which is where well over 90% of the countries workforce spends a third of their day, and where the "case of the Monday's" hides its ugly head. You'll see the job listing, you apply, you do your thing and boom, you're sitting at your cubicle a week later taking an online video course on appropriate behavior in the workplace. Do you need to know about modus ponens? Or about assembly language? Or obsolete data structures from 1930? More than likely, nope. You do need to know about your company however. How they work, where things are located, and what's expected of you.

Do We Still Need The Science?

We've taken a once prestigious accolade, a Bachelors of Science In Computer Science, and pretty much turned it into an almost 100% utilitarian title. Everywhere I look there are online courses, and for the low low price of 39.99, you too can learn to code in 3 weeks. This is the future, is what everyone is saying. Learning Python, and learning Swift. To do what, I'm not too sure yet.

Personally, I've forgotten most of the science. It's been a long 9 years making products inactive and styling headers for A/B tests. And there just isn't enough room for differential equations and red black trees. And that's kind of sad. But while I do miss that aspect of the discipline, there's no real time left for it in my day to day programming job. A decade ago, I used a RAZR flip phone when I was in college, and I navigated to job interviews with a paper and a pencil. There was no YouTube just yet, and a distraction online was reading a news article. There was less noise to get in the way of of learning. That made the science, that much more real. Now when we talk about Computer Science, what everyone hears is phones and app development.

So the short answer is yes, and also no. We will always need the science because out of those thousands of people that graduate with a degree in Computer Science each year, a tiny handful will help make a difference and will help advance technology using those basic principles that we call science. And no, because many many more people will never deal with anything remotely scientific after college. And in fact, many of those people will be less prepared out in the real world. So while I love the science, and I'm glad I got to experience it, I sometimes wonder why I spent hundreds of hours trying to understand it

Walter Guevara is a Computer Scientist, software engineer, startup founder and currently mentors for a coding bootcamp. He has been creating software for the past 15 years.

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