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Computer Science Careers: Your Guide to Today’s Top Fields

Author: Quinn Dannies

Editor: Kim Zaski

Turning your tech skills into a computer science (CS) career can open the door to rising salaries and growth potential. Keep reading to explore top fields today!

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An African American man with glasses controls a robotic arm while holding a tablet in a scientific lab.

Are you wondering what the future holds for your computer science career? While a bachelor’s can get you started in the CS field, earning a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) allows you to specialize in different areas, so you can demand more pay and unlock better opportunities.

To help you determine whether an MS in computer science is a good career move, we’re breaking down the computer science industry into 10 top fields and exploring an in-demand career in each. Learn about the different MSCS degrees offered and find the one that matches your interests and career goals.

As you’ll see in this section, a graduate degree in computer science can prepare you to fight hackers, build robots, or reimagine computing from the ground up. The world of computer science is a large one, so before you jump into a graduate program, it is a good idea to chart your course.

It can be helpful to work backward here, and start by thinking about the types of jobs you want after you earn your MS. To help you with that, we’ve broken down the 10 most popular computer science fields and explored some jobs within each.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

It goes without saying that AI professionals are in high demand. New technologies are emerging across nearly every industry, including technology development, financial services, healthcare, government, and business. Once you graduate, you can put your AI skills to work on projects that match your interests and goals. If you’re a natural problem-solver with strong analytical skills, a master’s degree in AI can set you up to work in high paying jobs developing cutting edge technology.

Career Spotlight: Computer Information and Research Scientist

Admittedly, computer information and research scientist positions cover a huge range of jobs and research specialties. However, because the AI field is growing so quickly, there are tons of new roles for AI specialists. In an AI research role, you’ll focus on applying your expertise to new technology, analyzing data, and troubleshooting issues that emerge in AI applications.

Because research roles require a high level of theoretical knowledge, a master’s degree is a requirement for most of these jobs. During your program, you can take advantage of internships or research assistantships to develop real-world experience in the field and strengthen your qualifications.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industries

Computer Information & Research Scientist

$145,080

9%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Government

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing services are rapidly becoming the standard for data storage and resource delivery. Experts predict that by 2025, over 85% of businesses will follow a “cloud-first principle” for managing their data. As more and more organizations turn to the cloud for cost, security, and efficiency reasons, there is an increasing demand for cloud computing specialists to design and manage these systems. With a master’s in cloud computing, you can work with cloud systems as a product developer or within a business’ IT to set up individualized networks.

Career Spotlight: Systems Architect

Cloud systems architects typically work within an organization to decide what technologies to use and how they should be applied, then develop systems for managing the network. Depending on the role, responsibilities could include developing user interfaces or managing remote storage procedures.

Cloud architect roles are an excellent fit if you are a business-minded systems thinker who is interested in both efficiency and data security. Although there are some systems architect roles that only require a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree prepares you to take on more complex projects and higher-paying leadership roles.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industries

Systems Architect

$104,920

9%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Government

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

Computational Finance

If you’re torn between an MBA and an MS in computer science, computational finance might be the track for you. This field is all about using technology to develop economic models, assess risk, and increase profits. Typically, folks with advanced degrees in computational finance find themselves working in banking, business, government, or research positions. Although you can pick up some computational finance skills on the job or during undergrad, this specialization is typically only offered at a graduate level, and you’ll need at least a master’s to be qualified for jobs in this field.

Career Spotlight: Market Intelligence Analyst

Market intelligence analysts take existing financial, market, or product data and use it to forecast future performance and risk. Business executives use these models to inform their decision-making process. As a market intelligence analyst, you have a lot of power when it comes to helping your organization grow and protecting it from financial risk.

Most often, market intelligence refers to financial markets or the insurance industry. You can also apply your analytical prowess to product development, marketing, and a host of other fields that benefit from financial predictions.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industry

Market Intelligence Analyst

$108,020

9%

Finance and Insurance

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

Computer Engineering

If you love tinkering, optimizing, and working with physical objects, you may find a graduate program in computer engineering to be right up your alley. Computer engineers are the lynchpin for the entire computer science industry. Without them, we wouldn’t have laptops, phones, highspeed processors, graphics cards, and much more.

Computer engineers combine their computer science expertise with electrical engineering and industrial design skills to develop the technological hardware we rely on every day. It’s not all chips and hard drives — there are opportunities for computer engineers in robotics and automation industries.

Career Spotlight: Hardware Engineer

A hardware engineer position is exactly what it sounds like: you design and build the physical components of computers, phones, and other computing devices. In these roles, you have the chance to combine your computer engineering expertise with a range of skills like creative problem solving, production design, programming, and system development.

If you have a BS in electrical engineering, you may be able to jump right into some entry-level hardware engineering positions. However, your responsibilities and opportunities for growth will be limited. An MS in computer engineering prepares you to take on better-paid, more interesting projects with advancement potential.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industries

Hardware Engineer

$138,080

5-8%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Manufacturing

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

Human-Computer Interaction

No matter how technically perfect a product is, it is worthless if people can’t use it. That is where human-computer interaction specialists come in. These specialists focus on product usability and safety. This means thinking about how a computer, software, or system might be experienced by different types of people with a diverse array of needs, experience levels, and backgrounds.

In many cases, graduates of a human-computer interaction grad program go on to work in positions like user-interface or user-centered design. There are also opportunities to apply this degree to academic research, universal design, or disability access.

Career Spotlight: UX Designer

User Experience (UX) designers engage in every step of a product’s development to ensure the end result is accessible and useful to consumers. This role includes everything from software testing to front-end development to packaging design and product support. As a UX designer, you may find your position focuses on certain development stages or specific types of products, so there are a variety of job options.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industry

UX Designer

$98,540

9%

Information

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

Machine Learning

Machine learning is the underlying technology that makes AI work. Machine learning specialists develop, evaluate, and optimize predictive algorithms that can generate text, images, models, and many other outputs. As AI and automation continue to expand, computer scientists with an MS in machine learning are valued highly. Some of the top focuses for machine learning specialists include customer service technology, computer vision, recommendation algorithms, automation, economic forecasting, and fraud detection.

Career Spotlight: Data Scientist

Data scientists generally deal with the processing of large information sets to identify patterns, make predictions, and draw conclusions. With a background in machine learning, you can find roles in business, government or academic sectors depending on your location, interests, and background. As a data scientist working for a single organization, your background in machine learning will help you automate and test modeling algorithms. Alternatively, you can put your expertise to work in a role developing software or services that rely on machine learning.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industries

Data Scientist

$108,020

9%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Finance and Insurance

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

Robotics

The important thing to know about pursuing a graduate degree in robotics is that it can be your job to make robots. If you are excited about making things, happy to spend a lot of time troubleshooting, and ready to mix hardware and software design skills, robotics might be a perfect fit. A career in robotics can take you in many directions since robots are used for a huge range of tasks. With a graduate degree in robotics, you might find yourself working on consumer products, healthcare, exploration technology, or conducting academic research.

Career Spotlight: Automation Engineer

Unsurprisingly, automation engineers automate things. In some cases, automation engineers might be working with software or programing, and with a graduate degree in robotics, you can also find yourself designing, developing, programming, and troubleshooting actual robots that will be used for all sorts of tasks.

It is possible to get your foot in the door with a BS in engineering, however, to rise to the design-level roles where real innovation happens, a master’s degree (and the experience that comes with it) is a must.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industry

Automation Engineer

$111,970

2-4%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

Systems Engineering

Any organization that plans on using computers needs a systems engineer. Systems engineers are the ones who figure out how to set up hardware and software to store data securely, ensure all software works, and keep everything up to date and optimized.

With your bachelor’s degree, you can get an entry-level job related to systems engineering, typically working as IT support in a smaller organization. When you earn your MS in systems engineering you have the opportunity to specialize in different stages of system development for a variety of industries. You’ll be able to pursue specialized roles that match your interests and your desired income.

Career Spotlight: Network Security Engineer

Network security engineers keep organizations safe by ensuring that their tech infrastructure is protected from viruses and hackers. As cybercriminals are constantly coming up with new tactics, a big component of this job is to consistently reconsider your organization’s setup and address potential weak points. In smaller organizations, network security may be just a part of one or two IT people’s job duties. With a master’s, you can focus 100% of your energy on security in higher stakes settings like government, education, or healthcare.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industry

Network Security Engineer

$116,803

2-4%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

Sources: Indeed, 2024; O*Net Online

Software Engineering

Broadly speaking, software engineering careers fall into two buckets: application development and system development. Application developers work on things like apps, games, point-of-sale systems and other consumer or commercial products. System developers develop the underlying programming required to run software, or build the operating systems in cars, cell phones or other computer-adjacent technology.

Although the end-products are very different, both buckets offer similar job titles and roles like systems developer, database administrator or programmer. If you feel drawn to a particular kind of development, many software engineering master’s programs give you the option to focus on systems or application development in order to prepare for your desired career-track.

Career Spotlight: Software Development Engineer

Software development engineers turn ideas into reality. Using various programming languages, system architectures, and platforms, software engineers design and build applications and systems from the ground up. During the initial stages of a project, plan on writing and testing a lot of code. Other job responsibilities include consulting with clients or consumers, managing a team, and designing program updates.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industries

Software Development Engineer

$132,270

9%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Information

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is on the cutting edge of computer science and requires a specific skill set best developed in a graduate program. Right now, there is a particularly strong demand for quantum computing specialists in research, software development, and hardware engineering. Many quantum specialists will also find jobs at promising tech startups. Since this technology is so revolutionary, you can expect to have career options in nearly every industry.

Career Spotlight: Quantum Computing Research Scientist

As we’ve already mentioned, quantum computing is incredibly new and incredibly promising, so those with quantum skills are highly valued in research roles. These positions may be in universities, government, or with tech companies. Depending on your employer, you may be tasked with applying quantum technology to a specific problem or exploring its potential more broadly.

Career Median Salary Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industries

Quantum Computing Research Scientist

$155,680

5-8%

Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Government

Source: O*Net Online, 2023

FAQs About Computer Science Careers & Degrees

Is it worthwhile to earn a master’s degree in the computer science field?

The choice to earn a master’s degree is a very personal one that is closely linked with your individual interests and goals. There are some very good reasons to consider earning your MS in computer science, particularly if you are passionate about a certain sub-field. Earning your master’s lets you develop the in-depth knowledge required to specialize in the field, leading to higher pay and career growth.

Of course, you do need to factor in the costs. First, there is the opportunity-cost. Will pursuing a degree put you in a better position career-wise compared to working extra-hard at your job for a few years? There is also the actual cost. Will the price of your tuition pay off in the long run? The first question is entirely your call. But, as far as the second question goes, there are some excellent, affordable computer science programs that can help you make the math work.

Can I earn a master’s in computer science if my undergrad degree is in another field?

Yes, there are plenty of excellent CS master’s programs designed with you in mind. These MSCS bridge programs recognize that your non-CS undergraduate prepared you well for many aspects of a computer science career. Curriculum is designed to fill in the gaps on technical knowledge you may have missed. Another route to consider is taking any missing pre-req classes online or at a local community college before applying to a traditional MSCS program.

Do you have tips on finding and choosing online computer science master’s degree programs?

Absolutely! In fact, we have more tips on finding the best online computer science master’s degree then we could fit into this article. The short answer, though, is to pick an ABET-accredited program that you can afford and that offers concentrations that align with your goals. It’s also wise to consider your learning style and schedule constraints to make sure that you’re in a virtual classroom that meets your needs.

For example, some students prefer to study on their own schedule and just worry about deadlines. Other students prefer the accountability that comes with set meeting times for virtual real-time classes. Once you have a short-list of options, you can also consider reaching out to graduates of the program to learn about their experience or talk to current faculty if you have specific questions.

What scholarships or financial aid resources are available to help offset the cost of my computer science degree?

Scholarships and financial aid are so important when it comes to making your tuition budget work. Fortunately, we’ve done some pretty extensive research on funding resources for CS students. First, see what different programs have to offer in terms of financial aid packages or scholarships. This will probably involve filling out a FAFSA application, but it’s worth doing the paperwork, and FAFSA is also a great resource for loans and grants.

Next, you can look around for funding from professional organizations and tech companies. Finally, check with your HR department — many employers offer full or partial tuition reimbursement as part of their benefits package.

Who are some major employers in the computer science field?

Not surprisingly, the biggest names in tech are also some of the biggest computer science employers like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Adobe. There’s more to computer science than big brands, though, and you’ll also find plenty of job openings in government and military organizations.

And of course, there are financial or healthcare institutions that require CS professionals for security and data analysis. Really, the field is so big that the list of major players is quite long. To get more specific information, look at hiring websites to see what companies have jobs available. Some sites even offer insight into company hiring trends and how workers rate their experience.