What is computer science?

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The definition of computer science can differ depending on who is answering the question. I have studied computer science for over 2 years, and i think i am getting closer to understanding what it’s all about. Here is the thing computer science gets confused with the regular sciences for example chemistry, biology or astronomy. In this sciences we can look a specific item and study it and learn from it, for example in chemistry we can study the natural elements, in biology we can study the organs and in astronomy we can look at the stars. But in none of this sciences do we try to change any of them to do something else besides what they do already.

In computer science it’s different and here is the reason for this being so because we deal with what is called an “artificial artifact”  and that’s just a fancy way of saying that we deal with man created ideas, that’s right man created ideas! What are some of those ideas? well in short in simple think about how people communicate, we use symbols and letters to express certain ideas, same thing for computers they need symbols and some of the simplest symbols that we have are numbers, then the more abstract ones include letters. Those ideas expressed then need to create or do something this is where the Latin root of the English word compute is computare—meaning, calculating, figuring out. Thus, according to etymology, computation refers to the idea and the act of calculating.

The programmer, in the modern world of computer science here is where the ideas hit the floor. To be exact here is where taking a mathematical concept and putting it to the test to see of those “ideas” really do what you expect them to do, here is where the programmer comes into play. The programmer the shear creator of the “artificial artifacts” will be the one that dictates how he or she perceives the world and that is how the system will act.

That’s all great but what’s computer science? That’s the thing that question is one of the most difficult to answer, for example if i was to ask you what is a laptop computer? More then likely the answer will be, well it has a screen and a keyboard etc. All those items follow the laws of the physical world and that answer could be the right one, but the answer starts breaking down when some of the complexities of what the machine actually is doing for example playing a game, opening a web browser , chatting with a friend online, watching Eli the computer guy etc. None of this things can you hold in your physical world and say “look here grab that Firefox”. What that means in computer science is that we deal with what is artificial. The true answer is to study and learn more about computer science, grow and help refine the field of computer science and maybe one day we will have a definition of computer science.

Now the fun part, now that you have a better idea of what computer science is. Look at some of the definitions that people try to give it, as a computer scientist i am disgusted about some of the definitions.




Rick H

Rick H - Responsible for evaluating business requests to determine feasibility, identifying options, and recommending solutions for software development and enhancements. Assist with interpreting customer requirements into conceptual design specifications. Developing interfaces/prototypes and maintaining/testing solutions, conducting root-cause analysis of system, and recommending solutions based upon findings.

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  1. Nick Powers February 14, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    I have a Masters degree in computer science. In most, likely all, undergraduate degrees in CS it is all about programming. But at the graduate level it gets to more of the root of what CS is. To me that is best described as applied mathematics but most people get caught up on the programming side. Programming is certainly a tool in the computer scientists’s pocket but certainly not their only one.

    If someone is a programmer and that’s all they do I wouldn’t consider them a computer scientist. Rather a practicing computer scientist would be contributing to the world of computer science as a whole. By, for example, designing a new new way of computing (quantum, bio, etc), inventing a new programming language, etc. Someone who pushes the boundaries.

    I do not consider myself a practicing computer scientist. I work as a network security engineer. But, that’s my humble opinion on what compute science is.

    • Rick February 16, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      Depends on the school that one attends, my first year as an undergraduate was more focused towards programming but my second year, more topics have been covered, discrete mathematics, algorithms and design, cryptography, and this semester compilers.

      As far as declaring a computer scientist i would say anyone that is in any shape or form putting out there “artificial artifact” is a computer scientist in mind. Will this change? more than likely as my education continues.

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