What does Computer Science really mean?

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We want to start the week by defining computer science. It’s a foundational skill, and although we celebrate with the Hour of Code, it is much, much more than coding. In simple, digestible language, Pat Yongpradit, Director of Education at Code.org, tweeted this definition of computer science:

Yongpradit went on to suggest coding is only one of computer science’s several principles, along with Internet, data, algorithms, societal impact, creativity, and abstraction—a perspective echoed by College Board’s latest AP CS Principles course. Our students must understand that many computer science careers do not involve coding at all. The stereotype of a computer scientist sitting behind a desk all day hacking away at code is no longer relevant in today’s digital economy.

hourOfCode

A succinct and informative definition of computer science proves difficult because the discipline dovetails so freely into other fields. Conversations about "What is computer science?" almost always turn into "look at all the amazing applications of this field!" But this is exactly the point! It is a foundational skill that is relevant to almost every profession, with more "cool applications" than we could possibly name.

Let's compare computer science to another, similarly basic skill: writing. People who know how to write can be novelists or television broadcasters or museum curators or doctors. Indeed, you can’t be a doctor if you can’t write proficiently. Similarly, people who know how to code can be computer scientists or doctors or museum curators or… You get the picture. Coding and a basic understanding of computer science are huge stars on your resume since computing touches almost every discipline today. And as the world grows more digital, computer science skills are becoming an absolute necessity.

That skill set starts with knowing how a computer works—the languages it understands and the way it processes information. Learning how to code is, in essence, understanding how to “speak” the same language as a computer. This then leads to understanding how to leverage computers to solve problems—applying data mining techniques to criminal justice data, generating computer models of genetic structures, or developing artificial intelligence techniques to simulate one-on-one tutoring for education, just to name a few. The video below highlights the breath of the field, and as you can see, computer science, despite its name, is much broader than computers and science.


Next time you're asked, “I’m not a nerd, so why should I be interested in computer science?” respond with this follow-up question: “What is your passion?” In most cases, the answer will have a significant computing application, and if it doesn't, you'll have discovered an untapped opportunity! Stay tuned for more inspiration about computer science this week on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter as we continue to take part in #CSEdWeek14 and the #HourOfCode!

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About Author

Jamie McQuiggan

SAS Technical Writer and Author

Jamie McQuiggan is a Technical Writer specializing in education topics. She recently published Implement, Improve and Expand your Statewide Longitudinal Data System: Creating a Culture of Data in Education. McQuiggan is currently working on a new book, to be published in early 2015: Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Developers, Educators and Learners.

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