The title "computer scientist" encompasses a variety of jobs in which people work to design computers and to discover new applications for them. Their work often involves using theory, research, and scientific concepts to solve problems. A strong background in computer science, mathematics, or a similar scientific area is necessary to work in the field.
Computer usage has expanded dramatically due to the development of the Internet, faster processors, cheaper prices, and better user interfaces. As a result, computers can be found in homes, companies, and educational institutions. They are used for business, scientific, and artistic applications. These applications have become increasingly complex, requiring sophisticated software and very fast processors. Computer scientists create the software and hardware products and concepts that fuel this technological progress.
Some computer scientists choose to work with hardware and explore new chip designs or design and build internal components that make computers work faster and more efficiently. Other computer scientists may specialize in creating new programming languages and writing software that expands the way people use computers. Because the process of creating software has become more complex, there is also a need for computer scientists to create better software development tools to assist programmers in writing error free computer code.
Today, computers are linked so that they can communicate with each other. These networks of computers may be small and occupy an office building, or they may be very large, as the Internet is. Computer scientists develop and test new methods for designing networks and improving the speed of transmitting data, voice, images, and video. Wireless networks similar to the ones used to provide cellular telephone communication have increased in popularity; their widespread use presents many technical challenges for computer scientists.
As computers become more powerful, computer scientists look for ways to help people interact with them more easily. Research is being done to increase the ability of computers to respond to voice commands as well as keyboard commands. This is a demanding task for computers and the effort requires computer scientists with specialized backgrounds in mathematics, software engineering, linguistics, and hardware design.
Robotics is another area in which computer scientists conduct research. Robots have a variety of uses in industrial, manufacturing, and medical areas. Robots present special challenges since they integrate computer technology with mechanical movement. Computer scientists specializing in robotics usually work in teams with professionals who have expertise in engineering and physics.
Knowledgeable professionals are also needed to help computer users learn to operate and work effectively with various hardware and software, and also to help workers solve problems that arise. In this consulting capacity, computer scientists play an important role.
There are many other areas, including database design, information retrieval, simulation, and modeling, in which computer scientists perform research and develop their ideas into product prototypes.
Education, Skills, and Job Outlook
Computer research scientists generally need to have a college degree and in most cases they also need an advanced degree due to the complexity of their work. They need to think logically and apply scientific theory to real world problems. Hardware and software designers who work on discovering new ways to use computers must be creative and possess an innovative style of thinking. Computer scientists often work as part of a team, so they need good communication skills. Because the field of computer science changes rapidly, computer scientists are always updating their skills and staying abreast of new developments. They read scientific journals, attend conferences, and enroll in professional development classes.
A strong demand exists for computer scientists because computer usage is now so common at home, at work, and at school. Computer scientists can work at universities, companies, or research centers. They spend a large amount of time working with the computer and may work in an office or a laboratory. Because they need to stay current with changes in technology, they may find their jobs require some travel to attend conferences, trade shows, and training seminars.
see also Association of Computing Machinery; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Robotics.
Robert R. Perkoski
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