How To Choose a Computer Science Specialization (Plus Jobs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 4, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Specialization is an important element of becoming a career professional, with many occupations either encouraging or requiring prospective and current employees to gather additional knowledge and training within specific topics. Computer science is a vast field with a variety of subcategories, giving professionals plenty of options when choosing a subject on which to specialize. If you're interested in learning more about the computer science field and the roles within it, it can be helpful to understand the purpose of specialization and how you can benefit from it when deciding if the career is right for you.

In this article, we define what computer science is, describe some of the field's main specializations, explain why people choose to specialize, offer steps for choosing the right specialization and provide a list of jobs you can apply for within specific areas of computer science.

What is computer science?

Computer science is the study of computers and computational systems. The main focuses of computer science include the study and application of computational theory, algorithms, hardware and software design and the interactions between humans and computers. Because computer science is so vast, there are many specializations within the field that allow professionals to focus on a specific line of work. For example, a software engineer and a video game designer are technically both computer science professionals, but their training and work duties vary significantly. With specialization, these individuals can choose a topic that interests them and then become experts in it.

Related: FAQ: Computer Science Degree vs. Computer Information Systems Degree

What are computer science specializations?

Here's some of the most common specializations within the field of computer science:

  • Artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a growing field in the world of technology that involves using algorithms and robotics to automate systems. As more companies and organizations turn to computer automation for various work tasks, the qualifications and expertise of AI professionals will continue to grow.

  • Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity is a field that focuses on designing and implementing systems and programs intending to prevent cyber attacks. Cybersecurity is an important field in the technology age, with most corporations looking to keep their data, finances and communications private from unauthorized individuals.

  • Data science: Data science is another growing field in computer science that involves gathering, analyzing and making conclusions about data. Data scientists and analysts are in high demand, as they help corporations and organizations make crucial decisions by making forecasts about finances, expansion and industry trends.

  • Software engineering: Software engineering is a career that involves studying, designing, testing, implementing and upkeeping software systems intending to improve or optimize operations. This career may be a worthwhile specialization for those interested in coding, programming and developing software programs either independently or as internal engineers at a corporation.

  • Digital media: For those interested in exploring the creative side of computer science, specializing in digital and interactive media can be the right career fit. Digital media designers work on creating computer games, applications, mapping services, educational programs and any other software that strays from the technical focus of traditional computer science.

Related: 20 Computer Scientist Degree Jobs That Pay Well

Why choose a computer science specialization?

When deciding whether to commit to a specific topic in computer science, it's important to understand why people choose to specialize in the first place. Here are some of the primary reasons that computer science professionals often specialize in a particular subject:

Employment opportunities

One of the main reasons people choose to specialize in computer science is the availability of employment opportunities within the subject and its subcategories. Computer science is a very in-demand field, with jobs in specializations like cybersecurity, data science and artificial intelligence increasing in relevance by the day. When you specialize in one of these topics, you're showing to employers that you have knowledge and training in a particular field, which can make them more confident selecting you. Having a specialization can also lead to promotions or advanced positions.

Higher salary

Salary is another common reason people choose a computer science specialty, as many employers search for individuals with specific experience and training backgrounds. These employers may incentivize applicants with promises of substantial salaries, making it worthwhile for computer scientists to specialize in a particular topic so they can become more valuable as employees. For example, if a tech company was looking to hire a computer science specialist to run their new cybersecurity department, they may feel more comfortable hiring someone with cybersecurity training and experience as opposed to someone with a background in coding or AI.

Career interest

When pursuing a profession, it's important that you remain challenged and motivated throughout your career . Because computer science is such a vast field, those who enter the profession as part of their college education may find that some elements of the career don't appeal to them as much as others. For example, someone with a bachelor's degree in computer science may find that they preferred their classes on digital media over programming or software development. Specializing in digital media allows an individual to focus on what they enjoy and keep them interested in their career.

Related: How To Write a Good Computer Science Resume (With Template and Example)

How to choose a computer science specialization

Here are some steps you can follow when deciding on a computer science specialization:

1. Learn the foundations of computer science

The first step when choosing a computer science specialization is to understand the basics of computer science. If you plan on specializing later in your academic journey, consider pursuing a bachelor's degree in computer science and getting a postgraduate education in your specialty. If you want to specialize at the start of your career journey, consider taking an introductory computer science course at your university or online. This can provide you with the background knowledge you need to understand the profession and decide if it's the right career category for you.

2. Research different specializations

After you've gathered foundational computer science knowledge, the next step is to research the different specializations within the computer science field. You can use online search engines to read different explanations of computer science specializations. Some of the most common specializations in the field include:

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Cybersecurity

  • Data science

  • Software engineering

  • Digital media

  • Biocomputation

  • Human-computer interaction

  • Information management

  • Software theory

  • Cloud computing

  • Machine learning

Each of these specializations involves different day-to-day activities and responsibilities that can make a significant impact on the individual's propensity to enjoy their career. Understanding the qualifications and expectations of each specialization can provide you with important insight into whether that field is the right choice for you.

3. Determine which specializations interest you

The next step is to determine which specialization is the one you want to pursue. Try to learn a little about each one and make a list of what you like and dislike about them. This can help you narrow down which specializations are of the most interest to you and decide the ones in which you want to do more in-depth research. When conducting your additional research, something to consider is the exact qualifications for the positions available in your prospective specialization.

For example, if you're considering a career as a data scientist, it's important to know the typical academic and experience requirements for finding an entry-level position in that field.

4. Explore academic options for your specialization

The academic options for each specialization are also important to consider when choosing a computer science profession. Different careers may require specific academic credentials, such as a master's or doctoral degree. Others may prefer applicants with an undergraduate education in their specialization as opposed to a more general computer science degree. Some specializations may view internship or work experience as the most important indicator of proficiency, so regardless, it's important to know the general academic expectations associated with careers in your specialization.

5. Consider career options for your specialization

The final step when deciding on a computer science specialization is to consider your career options once you commit to a particular topic. Using the information you gathered, determine what your ideal computer science career is and why. Once you decide on your career, research the specialization it belongs to and explore other careers within that subject. This can provide insight into other careers within your specialty that you can switch to based on your qualifications and experience.

Related: How To Get a Computer Science Degree While Working Full Time

Jobs within computer science specializations

Computer science is one of the most in-demand fields, meaning there are plenty of career opportunities available for this involved in the profession. Here are four popular jobs that function as part of a computer science specialization :

1. IT security specialist

National average salary: $57,002 per year

Primary duties: An IT security specialist is a cybersecurity professional whose primary duties involve designing, monitoring and implementing systems intending to protect private information from unauthorized personnel. IT security specialists are responsible for maintaining these systems to ensure that sensitive information belonging to companies or organizations remains safe. IT security specialists have a variety of responsibilities, including training other employees on handling sensitive information, creating security reports to present to executives and keeping track of data security trends.

2. Web developer

National average salary: $67,551 per year

Primary duties: A web developer is a professional whose day-to-day work responsibilities are to create websites and applications using development software like HTML and CSS. Web developer play an important role in various industries, as corporations and organizations both need web developers to design and optimize their personal websites and software programs. Web developers use various skills in their everyday operations, including customer service when speaking with clients, attention to detail when following client directions and literacy with program coding and programming languages.

3. Machine learning engineer

National average salary: $132,651 per year

Primary duties: A machine learning engineer is a computer science professional who primarily works with data scientists, software developers and engineers to create machines that use artificial intelligence. Machine learning uses elements of artificial intelligence but is its own field, as it focuses more on the actual machine functions as opposed to the intelligence aspects of the computer software. They use elements of data science and statistics to create algorithms that make automated machines and systems operate.

4. Software architect

National average salary: $132,454 per year

Primary duties: A software architect is a professional whose primary work duties involve the designing, management and maintaining of software programs. They often work as freelancers, where clients can hire them to create custom software programs for their businesses or organizations. It's also common for software architects to work as part of the internal staff at a corporation, where they design systems for their employer, intending to optimize workplace operations.

Explore more articles