Computer science majors work as software developers, security analysts, and web developers. And all those top careers in computer science offer high demand and strong earning potential. But what if you want something different?
The toughest jobs in computer science will push the boundaries of the field and challenge you. Consider specializing in offensive cyberspace operations or virtual reality. Or think about making a difference by using computer science to tackle climate change.
Whether you’re a thrill seeker or looking for high-paying jobs, our list of tough computer science jobs has something for everyone.
What’s a cool computer science career?
The best computer science jobs are software engineering, web development, and network architecture. But what are the coolest careers in computer science?
For some, working in a cutting-edge field like artificial intelligence or virtual reality is badass. Others want jobs that make a difference, such as teaching computer science to children or researching solutions to climate change. And some may think that the highest paying jobs in computer science are the best.
Whether you want flexibility, the opportunity to work in unique fields, or a fast-paced, cutting-edge career, you can find great jobs in computer science.
11 great careers in computer science
What are the toughest careers in computer science? You already know that computer science is in high demand and computer science salaries are higher than many other industries. But what if you want a cool, unique job in computer science?
Our list includes some of the toughest career paths in computer science.
Computer Forensic Investigator
What they do: Computer forensic investigators investigate cybercrime to collect digital evidence for criminal cases. They work for law enforcement agencies and private companies.
Advantages: Computer forensic investigators work at the intersection of computer science and law enforcement and play an important role in investigating crimes.
cons: As part of your job, you have to testify in court, which can be a disadvantage for the more introverted computer scientists.
Fine print: Want to work for a government agency like the FBI? You must pass a strict background check.
What they do: Climate researchers use computer science techniques to investigate climate change. They help climate scientists better understand climate change through supercomputing data analysis, modeling and simulations.
Advantages: It is a meaningful career path that requires sharp machine learning skills.
cons: Your model can recommend the best recovery steps, but getting people to listen is another issue.
Fine print: Many of the computer scientists working in climate research have PhDs and work at academic research institutions.
What they do: Cryptographers create unbreakable codes – and decipher codes. As a sub-area of information security, they are also benefiting from strong demand.
Advantages: Cryptographers have more career options than you might think. Financial institutions, the military and technology companies rely on their skills.
cons: Career advancement often means earning a graduate degree.
Fine print: Interested in breaking into cryptology? Look for internships focused on computer science majors.
Software engineer for drones
What they do: Software engineers for drones/unmanned aerial vehicles develop the software that controls and guides drones. You can even program autonomous drones to avoid collisions and perform tasks without human intervention.
Advantages: You will learn drones to navigate 3D obstacle courses at high speeds and participate in testing your software.
cons: If you are employed by the military or a defense contractor, the drones that use your software can lead to direct or indirect loss of life.
Fine print: In addition to strong computer programming skills—particularly in C/C++—you may need experience in flight testing and remote pilot certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Artificial Intelligence Engineer
What they do: AI engineers create speech recognition programs, design data mining algorithms and use artificial intelligence to solve complex problems.
Advantages: Artificial intelligence is a hot field in computer science. And it is also one of the best careers in computer science for salary.
cons: You need sharp algorithms and machine learning skills, and some careers require a graduate degree.
Fine print: AI training can steer your career in many directions – and PayScale reports an average salary of $125,000 for AI careers as of April 2022.
Computer science teacher
What they do: Teaching may not be the first job that comes to mind when you envision a tough computer science career. But computer science teachers in K-12 help young students code their first program and learn about STEM careers.
Advantages: Computer science teachers work on the academic calendar, which means long summer vacations. They may also receive tutoring to increase their earning potential.
cons: Public school teachers generally require a state license, which can mean specialized training. Computer science teachers may need a career and technical education license.
Fine print: On average, computer science teachers earn $61,209, according to PayScale data as of April 2022. Many other computer science jobs offer higher salaries.
What they do: Virtual reality developers are creating new worlds. They design and test VR software. Developers also work closely with programmers and software engineers.
Advantages: VR is a trailblazing field in computer science — and certain companies (ahem, Meta) are going all-in on virtual reality.
cons: You’ll need a comprehensive tech stack for these roles: multiple programming languages, 3D programming experience, and VR software training.
Fine print: VR developers have an average salary of over $150k, according to Hired.
Operations Officer in Cyberspace
What they do: Cyberspace operations officers lead missions in cyberspace. That could be cyber weapons, intelligence work or communication work.
Advantages: You will be in high demand in the Space Force or any other military branch.
cons: Military career means attending cyberspace training and mission qualification training, plus officer training school.
Fine print: To join the military as a cyberspace operations officer, you often have to relocate. And the military only accepts officer candidates under the age of 39.
What they do: Game developers create the code needed to run video games. They specialize in everything from simple mobile games to complex world-class console games.
Advantages: Game developers can spend their days thinking about video games.
cons: The programming side of gaming is less exciting than playing the game.
Fine print: Because it is a tough job, the competition for jobs as a game developer and game designer can be fierce. Give yourself a leg up by learning how to make a video game – then give it a try.
white hat hacker
What they do: White-hat hackers, also known as exploitation analysts or ethical hackers, examine computer networks to identify weaknesses. They perform penetration testing to help organizations secure their systems.
Advantages: Your job options include technology companies, government agencies, and the military. For example, the Air Force hires cybersecurity specialists.
cons: If you are interested in a military career, you need basic training. But cybersecurity jobs come with a signing bonus.
Fine print: Concerned about the ethics of hacking? Exploitation analysts qualify as ethical hackers.
What they do: Computer consultants recommend computer strategies, security upgrades, and technology needs. They advise clients on the best approach to computer problems.
Advantages: Computer consultants benefit from flexibility and an ever-changing work environment.
cons: Many consultants work on a contract basis, which can lead to gaps between job openings and time spent looking for clients.
Fine print: While the average computer consultant salary is over $100k, contract work often means inconsistent earnings.
This article has been reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico
In 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with her bachelor’s degree in computer science, which gave her the foundation she needed to excel in roles as data engineer, front-end developer, UX designer and computer science instructor.
Monali is currently a data engineer at Mission Lane. As a data analytics captain at a non-profit called COOP Careers, Monali helps graduates and young professionals overcome the job gap by teaching them data analytics tools and guiding them through their professional development journey.
Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocacy for mental health, empowering women and educating young people. Monali’s goal is to gain more experience in her field, expand her skills and do meaningful work that will positively impact the world.
Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Last reviewed on March 18, 2022.