Denise C. George
Los Alamos National Laboratory
What is a computer scientist/engineer?
Computers are made up of hardware and software. The physical parts of the computer, for example, the keyboard, printer, connectors, and chips, are hardware. The software part of the computer is the collection of programs that make the computers useful. A program is a set of instructions that tells the computer how to perform a task such as how to play solitaire or how to check the spelling of a story you write. Computer engineers design and build computer hardware. Computer scientists (or software engineers) write computer programs.
What makes a good computer scientist/engineer?
If you like to solve problems, you might become a successful computer scientist or computer engineer. It is important to think logically and to be able to break a problem up into its parts and to assemble a solution from these parts. It is also important to pay attention to details; in this field a small oversight can have disastrous consequences. These careers also require good communication skills, which are used to define the problem and to document your solutions.
What is life as a computer scientist/engineer like?
Both computer scientists and engineers work primarily in groups that work together to define the problem, establish schedules, brainstorm the solution, and document the results. An individual group member will be responsible for one aspect of the problem. Computer engineers often spend some part of their time in laboratories building and testing prototype hardware devices. They may be responsible for overseeing manufacturing of the actual devices. A computer scientist will do most of her programming in an office using a computer workstation.
How do I become a computer scientist/engineer?
In high school take a broad selection of challenging courses that make you think. If possible, take mathematics classes including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. High school physics gives a good introduction to electricity, which is the power behind computers. Don’t forget to take courses that emphasize communication, both writing and public speaking. After high school, some two-year programs are available in computer electronics and computer technology. Most colleges and universities offer four-year programs leading to a degree in computer science and four- or five-year programs leading to a degree in electrical engineering or computer engineering. These programs require classes in mathematics, physics, and programming. Advanced degrees are available for those interested in careers in advanced research or college teaching.