What is computer science, really? Here’s a quick guide on the basics of computer science, plus how to get started learning more!
What are the basics of computer science? Computer science is the study of what computers can do, and the processes that make them function. Computer science is extremely relevant in our daily lives, at school, work, and in our free time. Computers and computer programs are everywhere in our everyday lives. Whether you just want to learn more about something that affects your life, or if you’re thinking of going further into the field, we’ve provided a quick overview of some important computer science principles.
It’s a good idea to start with the basics of how computers and networks work, then find areas of study you may be further interested in. It is also recommended for anyone interested in coding to get a handle on the basics of computer science before diving into coding. If you’re thinking of entering into the computer science field, good choice! Check out why computer science jobs matter, and read on for more computer science basics.
Here’s Our Brief Introduction to Computer Science:
What’s in a Computer?
A computer consists of four major parts: the input, output, CPU (central processing unit), and memory. Input consists of anything you will add into the computer (microphone, keyboard, mouse, scanner), and output is how the computer gives back to you (think screen, speakers, etc.). The CPU or central processing unit is located on the motherboard and is the part of the computer where all that input/output information gets sent to the proper place. Memory, commonly referred to as RAM (random access memory), as you may already know, is where the information is stored.
There are three major pieces of hardware in a computer. The motherboard is the most important part of a computer and contains many subsystems such as the central processor (CPU), input/output chips as well as memory and application controllers. An Expansion Card fits into the expansion slot in a computer and is where you can add additional capabilities such as for video or graphic performance. Finally, and very importantly, is the power supply which supplies electric power to the electrical load of a computer.
Types of Computers
There are four types of computers.
A supercomputer is a computer that performs at the highest possible computing power. These are used for areas that require massive computation such as weather forecasting, quantum physics, or oil and gas exploration.
2. Server Computer:
A server computer can run a server operating system that manages and is dedicated solely to all network resources.
3. PC (personal computer):
The PC is exactly what is sounds like; a computer typically used for personal use. Laptops and Macs are also considered to be PCs. Families, individuals, and small businesses all typically use personal computers.
A small circuit designed to operate a very specific task of an electronic device. You will find microcontrollers inside cars, appliances, and telephones.
Software, as opposed to hardware, are the parts of the computer that you can’t really see but know are there. There are two types of software: Software applications and operating systems. Examples of operating systems (OS) include Windows, Mac, and Linux. This type of software manages computer hardware and other software resources. Software applications, on the other hand, are programs designed to perform a function for the user and can include web browsers, word processors, and database programs.
You’ve probably heard of binary code, and know that it is made of 1s and 0s, but what exactly is it and how to computers use it? Binary is used by computers as the building blocks of complicated codes. Binary is basically a translation between what you want the computer to do, and how it how it knows how to complete the action.
What is the difference between a bit and byte? A bit is that binary 1 or 0. And a byte is a collection of 8 bits. Both are tiny sets of data. Everything is expressed in bytes — numbers, letters, and symbols They are ordered by size (many of which you’ve heard of), and basically describes how many bits or bytes are in each set of data.
- KB: kilobyte
- MG: megabyte
- GB: gigabyte
- TB: terabyte
- PB: petabyte
A data network is a digital telecommunications network that allows shared information between nodes or devices. There are three main types: LAN, WAN, and VPN.
A local area network is a group of computers that share a common line or link. Examples might include several computers within one company.
Wide area networks are similar, but connect more than one group of computers across a large geographical area. Examples include school district networks.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and includes links across shared networks. This network is how two computers are able to share data across the internet.
Let’s start with your IP address: IP stands for internet protocol, and is determined based on location. Each item in the network system has its’ own IP address (by the way, this is how location services work!), and tells the info where to go.
Content Delivery Network (CDN): A CDN or content delivery network delivers faster, direct content to users. Certain sites will develop their own CDNs, or hire these networks to deliver optimal performance.
Routers and Packets: Routers could be best described as a local information distributor, while packets are the sections of information which are delivered through routers.
What is an Algorithm?
These days, you’ve surely come across the word algorithm. Whether you’re a bit familiar with machine learning, or have just heard the term used to describe your Google results or Instagram post likes, algorithms are on everyone’s minds. Algorithms are tasks that computers execute. In other words, a procedure for computers to solve a problem, the recipe for programming. These will help computers to get users the right information, sort information, or find the shortest path to something.
Want to Learn More About Foundations of Computer Science?
If you’re ready to learn more, but not sure if you want to dive right into a degree, check out a few online intro classes. Great resources for online introduction to computer science courses include Khan Academy, Udemy, and Udacity. Some colleges offer classes through EdX as well.
Degrees in Computer Science
Ready for a career in computer science? The best way is through a degree. Study options include associate degree, bachelor’s degree (BS), master’s degree (MS), and PhD.
The most common course is the Bachelor’s of Science option, but if you have limited time, an associate degree will earn you entry level in the field as well. If you plan to continue on in your career, some jobs may eventually require a Master’s of Science.
Keep costs in mind when choosing a degree in computer science. The average yearly cost for a graduate program is $40,000. University of the People’s Associate and Bachelor’s program, on the other hand, are tuition-free. You just pay the application fee and assessment fees. Besides being tuition-free, UoPeople’s computer science degrees are also offered fully online, which means more flexibility to work around you schedule. Learn more about these tuition-free, flexible and accredited programs here!
Check out more here on exactly what you will learn with a degree in computer science and what you can do after.
Blogs & Newsletters
Read online blogs and subscribe to computer science newsletters to familiarize yourself with the field, and find topics you find yourself gravitating towards. Learn more about the computer science behind those topics. Some great resources for further learning and news are Wired and Science Daily.
After reading these basic computer science concepts and learning about how to get started, time to check out information about jobs in computer science. Read on for more info on career options, job opportunities, and salary information in computer science!