Computer Scientist Careers

A computer scientist is a person who has acquired knowledge of computer science. It is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and their application. They're the ones that develop software for various sites and programs that we use daily.

To become an accomplished computer scientist, some of the essential skills required include excellent mathematical skills, excellent computer and technology knowledge and skills, the ability to analyze problems, trace them to their core, and a systematic approach to work and problem-solving. Other requirements include a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, math, or a related subject.

A master's degree in software engineering may be necessary for advancement into lead engineering and management positions. A computer science student may only start off with $60,000 a year, but they can work their way up to $100,000 or $120,000 a year within four to five years. Computer scientists' employment is projected to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Job prospects are expected to be excellent.

What Does a Computer Scientist Do

Computer and information research scientists invent and design new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, science, medicine, and other fields.

Duties

Computer and information research scientists typically do the following:

  • Explore fundamental issues in computing and develop theories and models to address those issues
  • Help scientists and engineers solve complex computing problems
  • Invent new computing languages, tools, and methods to improve the way in which people work with computers
  • Develop and improve the software systems that form the basis of the modern computing experience
  • Design experiments to test the operation of these software systems 
  • Analyze the results of their experiments
  • Publish their findings in academic journals and present their findings at conferences

Computer and information research scientists create and improve computer software and hardware.

Creating and improving software involves working with algorithms, which are sets of instructions that tell a computer what to do. Some computer tasks are very difficult and require complex algorithms. Computer and information research scientists try to simplify these algorithms to make computer systems as efficient as possible. The algorithms allow advancements in many types of technology, such as machine learning systems and cloud computing.

Computer and information research scientists design new computer architecture that improves the performance and efficiency of computer hardware. Their work often leads to technological advancements and efficiencies, such as better networking technology, faster computing speeds, and improved information security. In general, computer and information research scientists work at a more theoretical level than do other computer professionals.  

Many people with a computer and information research science background become postsecondary teachers. In general, researchers in an academic setting focus on computer theory, although those working for businesses or scientific organizations usually focus on projects that may produce profits.

Some computer scientists work with electrical engineers, computer hardware engineers, and other specialists on multidisciplinary projects. The following are examples of types of specialties for computer and information research scientists:

Data mining. Computer and information research scientists write algorithms that are used to detect and analyze patterns in very large datasets. They improve ways to sort, manage, and display data. Computer scientists build algorithms into software packages that make the data easier for analysts to use. For example, they may create an algorithm to analyze a very large set of medical data in order to find new ways to treat diseases. They may also look for patterns in traffic data to help clear accidents faster.

Robotics. Some computer and information research scientists study how to improve robots. Robotics explores how a machine can interact with the physical world. Computer and information research scientists create the programs that control the robots. They work closely with engineers who focus on the hardware design of robots. Together, these workers test how well the robots do the tasks they were created to do, such as assemble cars and collect data on other planets.

Programming. Computer and information research scientists design new programming languages that are used to write software. The new languages make software writing more efficient by improving an existing language, such as Java, or by making a specific aspect of programming, such as image processing, easier.

How To Become a Computer Scientist

Most jobs for computer and information research scientists require a Ph.D. in computer science or a related field. In the federal government, a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some jobs.

Education

Most computer and information research scientists need a Ph.D. in computer science or a related field, such as computer engineering. A Ph.D. usually requires 4 to 5 years of study after earning a bachelor’s degree, typically in a computer-related field, such as computer science or information systems. During their first 2 years in a Ph.D. program, students take a variety of computer science classes. They then choose a specialty and spend the remaining years in the program doing research within that specialty.

Computer scientists who work in a specialized field may need knowledge of that field. For example, those working on biomedical applications may have to take some biology classes.

Advancement

Some computer scientists may become computer and information systems managers.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Computer and information research scientists must be organized in their thinking and analyze the results of their research to formulate conclusions.

Communication skills. Computer and information research scientists must communicate well with programmers and managers and be able to clearly explain their conclusions to people with no technical background. They often present their research at conferences.

Critical-thinking skills. Computer and information research scientists work on many complex problems.

Detail oriented. Computer and information research scientists must pay close attention to their work, because a small programming error can cause an entire project to fail.

Ingenuity. Computer and information research scientists must continually come up with innovative ways to solve problems, particularly when their ideas do not initially work as intended.

Logical thinking. Computer algorithms rely on logic. Computer and information research scientists must have a talent for reasoning.

Math skills. Computer and information research scientists must have knowledge of advanced math and other technical topics that are critical in computing.

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Average Salary
$105,194
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
16%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
37,462
Job Openings

Computer Scientist Career Paths

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Average Salary for a Computer Scientist

Computer Scientists in America make an average salary of $105,194 per year or $51 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $143,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $76,000 per year.
Average Salary
$105,194
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Best Paying Cities For Computer Scientists

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Seattle, WA
Salary Range99k - 158k$125k$125,193
San Francisco, CA
Salary Range85k - 147k$112k$112,024
Washington, DC
Salary Range70k - 119k$92k$92,210
New York, NY
Salary Range70k - 117k$91k$90,808
Arlington, VA
Salary Range67k - 114k$88k$87,988
Houston, TX
Salary Range64k - 115k$86k$86,461
Saint Paul, MN
Salary Range64k - 112k$85k$85,458
Boston, MA
Salary Range65k - 108k$84k$84,468
Chicago, IL
Salary Range63k - 111k$84k$83,978
Farmington, CT
Salary Range64k - 107k$83k$82,821
Lehi, UT
Salary Range61k - 111k$83k$82,638
Oak Ridge, TN
Salary Range61k - 110k$82k$82,455
Rockville, MD
Salary Range63k - 107k$82k$82,255
Pittsburgh, PA
Salary Range59k - 101k$78k$77,532
Ann Arbor, MI
Salary Range55k - 94k$72k$72,063
Kansas City, MO
Salary Range52k - 97k$72k$71,786
Phoenix, AZ
Salary Range52k - 96k$71k$71,285
Atlanta, GA
Salary Range52k - 95k$71k$70,923
$52k
$158k

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Computer Scientist Demographics

Gender

male

73.1 %

female

22.0 %

unknown

4.8 %

Ethnicity

White

70.6 %

Asian

18.0 %

Black or African American

5.8 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

18.5 %

German

14.8 %

Chinese

11.1 %
Show More Computer Scientist Demographics

Computer Scientist Education

Degrees

Bachelors

66.1 %

Masters

19.2 %

Associate

6.7 %

Top Colleges for Computer Scientists

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,832
Enrollment
4,550

2. Stanford University

Stanford, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,354
Enrollment
7,083

3. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$50,420
Enrollment
7,582

4. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

5. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

6. Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, GA • Private

In-State Tuition
$12,424
Enrollment
15,201

7. Cornell University

Ithaca, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,188
Enrollment
15,105

8. Georgetown University

Washington, DC • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,104
Enrollment
7,089

9. Dartmouth College

Hanover, NH • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,453
Enrollment
4,312

10. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451
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Top Skills For a Computer Scientist

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 12.1% of computer scientists listed clearance on their resume, but soft skills such as logical thinking and math skills are important as well.

Best States For a Computer Scientist

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a computer scientist. The best states for people in this position are Washington, Maine, Idaho, and California. Computer scientists make the most in Washington with an average salary of $123,458. Whereas in Maine and Idaho, they would average $115,891 and $105,156, respectively. While computer scientists would only make an average of $100,889 in California, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Washington

Total Computer Scientist Jobs:
846
Highest 10% Earn:
$190,000
Location Quotient:
1.44
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. New Mexico

Total Computer Scientist Jobs:
209
Highest 10% Earn:
$164,000
Location Quotient:
1.33
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Wyoming

Total Computer Scientist Jobs:
68
Highest 10% Earn:
$160,000
Location Quotient:
1.41
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
Full List Of Best States For Computer Scientists

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Top Computer Scientist Employers

1. Adobe
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$132,711
Computer Scientists Hired: 
477+
2. SRI International
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$98,109
Computer Scientists Hired: 
98+
3. Oak Ridge National Laboratory
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$97,894
Computer Scientists Hired: 
81+
4. UChicago Argonne
3.7
Avg. Salary: 
$87,269
Computer Scientists Hired: 
79+
5. CSC Holdings
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$107,437
Computer Scientists Hired: 
55+
6. General Electric
4.7
Avg. Salary: 
$130,791
Computer Scientists Hired: 
33+

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Updated August 18, 2021