Why study computer science?
Our modern world would be inconceivable without computer science. From engineering to business management, medicine to biology, and language processing through to psychology, sociology and archaeology – all the sciences today need computer science for the evaluation of their data. At the same time the science of processing information by means of computer programs provides the basis for the internet and mobile telephony, for airlines and financial transactions, for DVD players, televisions and cars that work – in short: for a functioning world. This creates a strong practical relevance, which is exactly what makes the subject so exciting and is opening up ever more employment opportunities for computer scientists. Computer Science, therefore, is a foward-looking discipline that offers excellent prospects for graduates.
First year students should be inquisitive, enjoy analytical thinking, solving difficult problems, thinking outside the box and working as part of a team. Because mental flexibility and creativity are indispensable in order to keep developing new analytical concepts for changing areas of application. Anyone that has practiced, and enjoyed, abstract thinking - for instance in math or physics lessons - will certainly enjoy Computer Science too. After all, Computer Science is not about mere programming, but always about the practical implementation of solutions that have been developed with the help of computers.
Even so, computer scientists are often seen as living in their own world of complex calculations and computational models. The mathematician Albrecht Beutelspacher describes this in an amusing dialog between a mathematician and his new female acquaintance: "Mathematics is full of beauty", I say excitedly, "it encompasses cultural achievements of the highest order and has many practical applications." "Be that as it may", comes the reply, "but no-one knows this. Not a soul knows what mathematicians actually get up to, what mathematics is and in what way it is useful to us. (...) You mathematicians have an obligation to explain what you do. Not everything, but enough for the rest of us to get a bit of an understanding. Surely it can’t be that difficult." (Albrecht Beutelspacher: "In Mathe war ich immer schlecht ..."; Vieweg Verlag 2001, p. vi) And it isn’t that difficult:
Computer Science enables scenarios that are beyond the scope of physical experiments to be simulated in a virtual laboratory: landings on other planets, sections through living creatures for diagnosis or surgical preparation, population growth under different conditions, the impact of technical or natural disasters, the failure of controls in energy systems, earthquakes or tanker disasters. Some people are euphoric about the possibilities while others caution against having too much blind faith in the technology. In any case, computer scientists play an important and responsible role in these simulation processes.
Now that we have eliminated the prejudice that Computer Science consists of nothing but programming, let’s do away with another common misconception: computer scientists are very rarely lonely hackers with poor social skills who prefer to spend their nights in front of the computer. Unfortunately this myth seems to be one of the reasons why so few women are attracted to this subject area. In fact, Computer Science is equally suited to both men and women - and women are urgently needed be become involved in the development of technologies and applications. The fact that women can be successful in Computer Science is demonstrated by the example of Monika Henzinger, who was Research Director at Google for a long time before accepting a professorship at EPFL in Lausanne in 2004.