6 Computing your future

It’s difficult to think of any aspect of our lives that hasn’t been changed by the invention of the digital computer, just 70 short years ago. Consequently, computing is a crucial skill in a wide range of careers across every sector of business and society. You don’t have to have studied Computer Science at University to take advantage of all the exciting opportunities provided by computing. This chapter looks at why computing is a subject for everyone. If you’re studying computing, this chapter isn’t aimed at you, unless you are struggling to stay motivated with your subject! 👨🏿‍💻👨‍💻👩🏽‍💻👩‍💻👨🏿‍💻

Computing is much more than coding, this chapter looks at what computing can do for your future. CV work sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

Figure 6.1: Computing is much more than coding, this chapter looks at what computing can do for your future. CV work sketch by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND

6.1 What you will learn

Reading this chapter and doing the activities will help you to:

  • Identify where you can get started with computing, if you’re not studying computer science as a major part of your degree
  • Describe why NOT studying computer science doesn’t necessarily “lock you out” of computing as a career

But why should everyone be studying computing? There are social and economic arguments:

6.2 Computing is for everybody

At school, everyone learns to read, write and do maths. These are sometimes known as the three Rs but:

  • Why did you learn to read and write? Was it so that you could become a professional writer?
  • Why did you study mathematics? Was it so that you could become a professional mathematician?

Of course not, that would be ludicrous! You learned to read and write because they are fundamental tools for expressing yourself and communicating with other people. You studied maths so that you could develop numeracy, reason about the world around you, analyse data and solve problems.

So why should everyone learn about computing? Is it so that everyone can become software engineers? Again, this is patently ludicrous.

Everyone should study computing for the same reasons everyone studies maths and english at school. Like writing, computing is one of the most creative tools for expression and communication that we have today. Just like mathematics, studying computing will also help you to solve important problems too. Sam Aaron, creator of Sonic Pi, puts exactly this case for creative computing in his TEDx talk (Aaron 2016) shown in figure 6.2.

Sam Aaron puts the creative case for computing by discussing programming as performance in his TEDx talk. (Aaron 2016) The image in this figure is a screenshot, watch the 18 minute video on programming as performance here.

Figure 6.2: Sam Aaron puts the creative case for computing by discussing programming as performance in his TEDx talk. (Aaron 2016) The image in this figure is a screenshot, watch the 18 minute video on programming as performance here.

Computing is also an intellectually stimulating and challenging subject to study in its own right. If you don’t believe me, I’m not going to make the case here. Have a look at Silvio Peroni’s free computational thinking and programming book at comp-think.github.io which is written for people with a background in the humanities. (Peroni 2021)

6.3 Software is eating your future

Whatever future world you enter into after you graduate, there’s a good chance it has already been eaten by software. In 2011, the software engineer and billionaire investor Marc Andreesen outlined why (in his opinion, figure 6.3) software is eating the world, in The Wall Street Journal (Andreessen 2011).

Whatever world you enter after you graduate, software has either eaten it, currently eating it or working out how to do so. Andreessen explains why software is eating the world and your future with it. Portrait of Marc Andreesen by JD Lasica on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3V48 adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 6.3: Whatever world you enter after you graduate, software has either eaten it, currently eating it or working out how to do so. Andreessen explains why software is eating the world and your future with it. Portrait of Marc Andreesen by JD Lasica on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3V48 adapted using the Wikipedia app

Unfortunately, many people lack the digital skills required to take advantage of all the opportunities provided by software. Robert Sedgwick at Princeton University has, like many others, argued that Computer Science should be required of all undergraduate students. (Sedgwick 2019) We’re not there yet because computing is a subject that has historically been siloed in Computer Science Departments, but this is changing as we’ll see in this chapter. It’s not that everyone should jump ship to Computer Science, but that:

Whatever subject you are currently studying, adding some computing to your education will empower you with the computational thinking skills you need to be an active producer, not just a passive consumer in modern society. Computing can open up new opportunities for you and improve your social mobility.

6.4 Computing is eating the world

Besides the social arguments, there are also strong economic reasons for studying computing. It’s not just software that’s eating the world, but its combination with hardware that dominates the list of the world’s largest corporations by market capitalisation, shown in figure 6.4. What use is software without hardware?

If stock markets are anything to go by, computing is eating the world. It would be impossible for Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook to exist without computing. The economic weight of Big Tech graphic by YBSLE on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3KEU

Figure 6.4: If stock markets are anything to go by, computing is eating the world. It would be impossible for Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook to exist without computing. The economic weight of Big Tech graphic by YBSLE on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3KEU

Even if you don’t want to work for any of these global monopolies, their success is good news for all students of computing because it shows how important computation is to society, both commercially and otherwise. Another visualisation of data in figure 6.4 is shown in figure 6.5.

The Biggest Companies in the World based on market capitalisation data from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), as well as the countries and sectors they are from. Again, note the dominance of software and hardware: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (that’s Google), Facebook and Amazon. Visualisation from The Biggest Companies in the World in 2021 (Ross 2021)

Figure 6.5: The Biggest Companies in the World based on market capitalisation data from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), as well as the countries and sectors they are from. Again, note the dominance of software and hardware: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (that’s Google), Facebook and Amazon. Visualisation from The Biggest Companies in the World in 2021 (Ross 2021)

What figure 6.4 and figure 6.5 show is that computing is eating the stock market. This means that commercial demand for software developers is high, comparable to teaching and nursing in terms of raw numbers. In the UK, the most common jobs for graduates from 2017-18 are shown in Figure 6.6, based on data taken from an article on the graduate labour market in 2021 (Ball 2020)

The most common jobs for graduates in the UK in 2017-18, demand for software developers is high according to data published by Charlie Ball (Ball 2020)

Figure 6.6: The most common jobs for graduates in the UK in 2017-18, demand for software developers is high according to data published by Charlie Ball (Ball 2020)

So there’s lots of choice and lots on offer, wherever you are in the world.

6.5 Passive consumer or active producer?

All this choice is a great thing but what sort of role do you want computing to play in your career? You can either be a passive consumer of computing or you can be an active producer, shaping the world of computing to get want you want from it, rather than what it wants from you. Going back to Andreesen’s eating analogy in section 6.3, the choice is to be an eater or be eaten. Or to use a games analogy, play or be played.

6.6 Play your joker: Computational joker

Because of its social and economic importance, computing also gives you flexible career options. If academic disciplines are playing card suits, then Computer Science is the joker in the pack shown in figure 6.7. A versatile card, the computational joker can be played with (and without) any of the traditional four suits: diamonds, clubs, hearts and spades. That’s because computing is a science and an art. It allows us to study human society and culture, so it’s part of the humanities too (see digital humanities and computational social science for example). Last but not least, computing is also an engineering discipline and a branch of mathematics too. What all this means is that the computational joker is a wild card that can be played whenever and wherever you like, making it an incredibly powerful but dangerous card, depending on the game you are playing (see chapter 9). ♣♥♠♦🃏

If academic disciplines are playing card suits then Computer Science is the joker in the pack. Public domain image of the Jolly Joker, a vintage Masenghini Italian playing card via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/35EW adapted from the joker playing card using the Wikipedia app.

Figure 6.7: If academic disciplines are playing card suits then Computer Science is the joker in the pack. Public domain image of the Jolly Joker, a vintage Masenghini Italian playing card via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/35EW adapted from the joker playing card using the Wikipedia app.

The flexibility of computing as a career means you have a broad range of options on where you can apply your computational skills. You don’t have to be studying Computer Science to take advantage of these opportunities, but it helps.

6.7 Summarising computing your future

Too long, didn’t read (TL;DR)? Here’s a summary:

This chapter is under construction because I’m using agile book development methods, see figure 6.8.

Just like the Death Star, this galactic superweapon chapter is under construction. Image of agile weapon engineering in Star Wars via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/32PB adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 6.8: Just like the Death Star, this galactic superweapon chapter is under construction. Image of agile weapon engineering in Star Wars via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/32PB adapted using the Wikipedia app