The beginnings of the modern computer date back to the 1600's when Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and scientist, developed one of the first mechanical calculating devices. It is only within the past decade, however, that computer technology has become essential in the work environment. Almost every profession is deeply affected by the computer revolution: physicians consult computer- based expert systems to help diagnose illnesses; musicians compose and perform music using computers, and students and professionals in every field use electronic mail to communicate with both colleagues and strangers. With so many applications for computer technology, it is not surprising that the demand for computer professionals has been steadily rising.
Computer science is a broad discipline that involves the study of the structure, functions, and applications of computers and related technologies. At the advanced level, computer science can involve the study of highly specialized subfields such as knowledge engineering, cognitive science, or management information systems.
Students interested in pursuing careers in computer and related fields will find that many educational opportunities exist. Depending on one's professional goals, training for various computer careers can range from vocational education programs in such areas as data processing technology and computer maintenance; to bachelor's degree programs that prepare programmers, database managers, and systems analysts; to graduate programs focusing on cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence, robotics, or software engineering.
The emphasis of a computer science program can sometimes be determined from the title of the program: those with titles such as data processing, management information systems, or information science are usually business- oriented; computer science, software engineering, or engineering and computer science programs tend to be oriented toward science and engineering, and those titled computer and information science usually provide a mixture of orientations.
Advising students about computer science study can be difficult because many gray areas exist where computer science and other disciplines such as engineering, business, mathematics, philosophy, linguistics, and psychology overlap. For example, artificial intelligence has close ties with cognitive psychology and linguistics; computer graphics is tightly linked with fine arts and industrial design, and the student of robotics must understand basic engineering concepts.
Significant overlap also exists among the various computer science specializations themselves, with differences measurable only in level of emphasis. Knowledge engineering, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence, often considered separate areas of study, are all involved in the effort to understand and recreate human intelligence and reasoning. Likewise, computer information systems, management information systems, and information science all focus on the nature and efficient flow of information within organizations. Even the well-established division between hardware and software begins to blur when one considers specializations such as systems analysis, robotics, computer engineering, and other subfields that require in-depth knowledge of all major aspects of computer science.
Because the computing field is so broad and complex and because it always changing, it is advisable for students to obtain a broad ease of knowledge that includes training in both hardware and software before pursuing specialized study. While the specializations offered by universities will no doubt change as technological advancements are made, computer professionals with a comprehensive background in computer science will always be in demand.