Staying relevant with a Computer Science degree

Dr Simon Egerton - School of Information Technology
Dr Simon Egerton - School of Information Technology

The Bachelor of Computer Science may have been in existence for many decades but it is still a relevant program, equipping students with one of the most highly sought after job skills in the world.

With technologies so seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, Dr Simon Egerton from Monash University Malaysia’s School of Information Technology said computer science is considered as a profession “that would never run out of jobs.”

Dr Egerton, who is the School’s Associate Head of School (Research), said some of the world’s largest companies, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, rely heavily on technology to drive the economy.

“All these companies need to design new algorithms to create software and products that will solve new problems. If you are a good computer scientist, you will be in high demand,” he explained.

An algorithm is a procedure or formula designed to solve a problem which can then be implemented as software to run a computer system.

Dr Egerton said the School’s key focus was to provide its students the most solid foundation for a lifelong career.

“Computer science is a highly dynamic discipline, landscapes can change almost overnight, technologies and programming languages can come and go. Students graduating with a degree in computer science could very well be faced with a very different technological world than when they first started. A good example is how Apple transformed the world of mobile computing almost over-night back in 2007, not very long ago.”

“That is why we need to give students a solid foundation, a big toolbox for their future career in becoming good computer scientists.”

“I often get asked by our students what makes a good computer scientist. If I look back at my peers who have been successful they all have a common set of key skills, the ability to break complex problems down into simpler smaller problems, in computer science we call this decomposition. Other key skills they share are an ability to think critically and creatively and the ability to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively in a team setting. Lastly, they all have an unfailing enthusiasm and passion for technology; I think this is the key driver for all of their other skills.” he said.

One of the unique features of the program at Monash Malaysia is the offering of the Introduction to Algorithms in Problem Solving subject.

“This unit is quite a unique offering for a computer science degree. It separates out problem design from problem implementation and makes a clear distinction between algorithms and software, computers run algorithms, implemented in software by some programming language. In this unit we teach students how to think algorithmically and to solve problems algorithmically, we build up their tool box of strategies which will serve them well for a life-long career in this very dynamic subject. “

“It doesn’t matter what programming language is used, in fact once the algorithm has been designed choosing the right language for implementation is just another problem to solve, which may include languages that haven’t been invented yet. This is decomposition at work again and is a very powerful concept that runs throughout the discipline.” he said.

Students learn other foundational skills, in subsequent units, such as analyzing algorithms for correctness and optimality and how to implement their algorithms as programs.

Students will also build on these core skills and learn how to develop and build complex software and computer systems from these programs.

Dr Egerton recommended the program for those who enjoy solving puzzles and problems, and have a passion for technology. “Having a passion for technology is a key aspect because it will drive you to be more inquisitive and be more curious to learn around the subject,” he shared.

On the key challenges facing the new generation of Computer Science students, Dr Egerton said it would be solving problems around parallel processing and big data.

“The majority of our algorithms that we have today are designed for single processor implementations. Technology platforms have taken huge leaps forwards in the past few years giving cheap and affordable massively parallel processing architectures. One of the biggest challenge in computer science is how do we write algorithms that can harness the power of these massively parallel systems? This requires a new way of thinking and we still don’t have all the answers, but when we do figure it out, it will open up new ways for us to solve problems, and who knows, it may open the way for significant leaps forwards for my other passion, strong artificial intelligences.” he explained.

Career opportunities are aplenty for good computer scientists and graduates would have no trouble finding jobs in their areas of interest. “Computer Science is everywhere, and our students can apply their passion into many different sectors, form finance to healthcare to aviation and more. One of the hottest sectors at the moment is in the area of network security,” he said.

The School of IT is launching its Industry Based Learning program later this year in semester 2. This program provides students the opportunity to undertake a 22-week fulltime placement at companies at the leading edge of technology. For this first offering a select group of top performing students will selected for placement with two of our industry partners F-Secure and Configura.

“They will gain invaluable real-world experience through this program and will have the opportunity to apply their passion for technology and new ideas to real-world problems. It’s a win-win all round and we’re all very happy to be offering this program in collaboration with our industry partners,” he said.

The school also runs a 26 week industrial experience program, where students form small consultancy teams to help companies solve real issues.