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Computer Science Skills: Developing Real-World Competencies Through Coursework

June 3, 2021

“Computer science is like engineering,” Nobel physicist Richard Feynman once observed. “It is all about getting something to do something.” In sectors as diverse as healthcare and entertainment, employers are looking for ways to leverage technological advancements in computing to “make things happen.” As a result, computer science skills jobs are growing much faster than average across occupations in almost every industry.

Whether your goals involve designing operating systems, making robots or studying neural networks, taking advantage of the surging demand for computer science professionals is a matter of having the right skills. The most efficient way to gain those skills? Earning a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) in a program where the computer science curriculum aligns closely with industry demand. Stevens Institute of Technology understands that there’s no such thing as a “typical” MSCS student, which is why the university’s approach to this degree is as broad as it is deep.


Students enrolled in Stevens’ 100 percent online MSCS program may or may not have been computer science majors as undergraduates but have become passionate computer scientists and computer engineers in the years since (a critical prerequisite). Most MSCS students have experience related to programming languages like Java, data structures, computer organization and software development and want to enhance their understanding of these and other areas of computer science to fulfill professional and personal ambitions.

Stevens’ future-forward computer science curriculum prepares graduates to switch gears as technology evolves.

Some want to transition into innovative fields like machine learning or game development. Others dream of joining the ranks of management. Still, others see having a master’s degree as one way to get a foot in the door at the Big Five tech companies. In short, their goals are as varied as the students themselves.


Stevens’ future-forward computer science curriculum supports a wide variety of computer science careers so graduates can switch gears as technology evolves. The MS in Computer Science program’s required courses build upon advanced skills useful in diverse computer science subfields and across multiple industries. Beyond developing their technical expertise, Stevens’ MSCS interactive coursework helps students refine the soft skills—like problem-solving, critical thinking and written and verbal communication—required to thrive in the real world. At the graduate level, StevensOnline computer science courses cover the following subjects.


Java is an object-oriented programming language created in the 1990s for embedded network applications. However, its relative simplicity led to long-term popularity, and it’s still used widely for internet and general-purpose applications today. This class in the Traditional MSCS course sequence introduces students with little or no programming experience to concepts like program structure in general and Java syntax, data types, flow control, classes, methods and objects, arrays, exception handling, APIs and recursion. Passing this first-year computer programming course prepares students for what’s to come — both in the program and in their computer science careers. Java is one of the most famous programming languages globally, used for everything from server-side development, mobile game development, application development and enterprise web development.


Data structures are tools developers use to group and organize data values based on how they relate to each other and the functions allowed to operate on that data. Without them, it’s impossible to design efficient algorithms. The second foundational class in the Traditional course sequence, it covers elementary data structures like lists, stacks, queues and maps, their uses in application frameworks and asymptotic complexity analysis. Students can call upon what they learn in this class throughout their careers any time they need to enhance a program’s performance.


Computer science professionals must understand how computers function at the machine language level and how hardware drives software decisions. This intensive introductory course looks at the structure of stored-program computers, linking and loading, assembly language programming, data representation and arithmetic algorithms, plus the basics of logic design and processor design. After this course, students will have a clearer picture of how low-level CPU architecture works and skills that help them formulate data structures and debug programs more effectively.


Distributed and cloud computing skills are useful in networking, software engineering, computer architecture and information systems. Distributed memory systems distribute computation among networked computers, while cloud computer systems are remote networked servers that provide on-demand computational services. This course teaches students to work in these environments and covers topics like RPC and RMI, Web Services, application servers, transactions, protocol design and models of distributed computer systems. Students develop custom fault-tolerant distributed applications. This hands-on coursework is essential because developing applications for distributed and cloud systems is often more involved than writing programs for sequential devices. After taking this course, students can create robust applications for distributed environments (which are becoming more common) or convert sequential programs into distributed message programs.


Algorithms help programmers get the maximum performance out of hardware using minimal resources. Developers don’t necessarily need to know the theory behind those algorithms, but computer scientists do. This course covers algorithmic design and analysis and more complex data structures. Algorithm design techniques and “classic” algorithms illustrate why algorithms work the way they do. Students might not use those exact algorithms in their careers, but they will learn from the patterns they study, so they have resources to draw upon when designing new ones.


People commonly point to UNIX as an example of what a robust system includes. In this class, students develop system-level software in C while studying the fundamental concepts of the UNIX family of operating systems and their programming environments. Coursework covers the user/kernel interface, fundamental concepts of UNIX, user authentication, basic and advanced I/O, file systems, signals, process relationships and interprocess communication, software development and maintenance on UNIX systems. Why UNIX? Because UNIX systems are standard and what students learn about UNIX specifications is often applicable in other systems.


Operating systems are computer programs that manage all the applications on a device. Computer scientist professionals don’t need to know how to build operating systems from scratch, but they do have to be comfortable optimizing those systems for research and specific projects. This course focuses on the use and internals of modern operating systems. Students complete hands-on programming assignments designed to teach them about process concepts, concurrency, programming with threads, memory management techniques, file system data structures and I/O. Even computer science professionals focusing primarily on hardware need to understand operating systems to work effectively.


Databases are tools used in every area of computing, so computer science professionals have to be comfortable working with database management systems. This course introduces students to the design and querying of relational databases. It covers relational schemas, keys and foreign key references, relational algebra, SQL, Entity-Relationship (ER) database design, functional dependencies and normalization. These concepts are essential in nearly every subfield of computer science because most projects that don’t involve near-the-machine work involve databases in some capacity.


The applications of mobile computing are expanding, as are the challenges inherent in disconnected mobile computing. Computer science professionals have to understand how systems for mobile devices are designed and implemented and how issues of trust, privacy, and cybersecurity come into play when location-aware or context-aware systems are on the cloud. This course reviews the fundamentals of mobile systems and applications and how they relate to services in the cloud—both of which are important considering how quickly mobile and cloud-based systems are replacing traditional networked systems.


Web programming falls under the computer science umbrella because it involves protocols, data structures, logic, algorithms and software paradigms. In this course, students learn the basics of HTML, create advanced websites using script languages and work on teams to develop complex global sites via individual working modules. Some debate where web programming falls in the computer science hierarchy, but increasingly, computer scientists in professional roles (as opposed to research) know the basics of back-end and front-end web development.

Student outcomes may be the most compelling proof of the value of a Stevens’ MSCS.


Agile is an approach to software engineering made up of different methodologies focused on iterative development. In agile, both requirements and solutions evolve out of the collaborative efforts of self-organizing, cross-functional teams and end-users. This Advanced sequence course explores agile methods like Extreme Programming, Scrum, Lean, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method, Feature-Driven Development and end-to-end agile development principles and techniques. While many students in Stevens’ online MS in Computer Science program pursue computer science careers that don’t involve development, it’s still helpful to know how to successfully manage agile software and consulting projects.


Human-computer interaction (HCI) is an interdisciplinary field of study in computer science focused on how people interact with computational devices (including information systems). Students in this Advanced course sequence class learn about HCI principles, models of interactive systems and HCI design methodologies while working on hands-on projects involving interface design and development. Computer science professionals need to understand human-computer interactions because so many devices are only beneficial when humans are at the helm. Additionally, HCI drives research in areas like affective computing, brain-computer interfaces and artificial intelligence.


Program content and career support are the most important metrics to consider when assessing master’s degree programs, but they’re not the only metrics. Ranking, faculty prestige, flexibility and the student experience also matter.

U.S. News & World Report ranks Stevens’ 10-course, 30-credit online MSCS program #8 in the nation for Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs. Students study under National Science Foundation CAREER winners, distinguished researchers who work with top industry firms and experts in computer science subfields like machine learning and AI.

The MS in Computer Science program for distance learners covers the same ground as the on-campus program, delivered in a flexible mix of synchronous live classes and asynchronous self-paced sessions. The online experience at Stevens includes anytime access to all class materials, lecture notes and assignments via the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering & Science online course platform. StevensOnline students also receive pre-enrollment and post-admission support from the Continuing and Professional Student Care Center and benefit from education opportunities beyond the classroom.

Student outcomes may be the most compelling proof of the value of a Stevens’ MSCS. After graduation, the university’s MSCS graduates work for high-profile technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and IBM; launch careers in specialty areas of computer science such as AI and robotics; and transition into senior-level roles in technology. Stevens’ grads enter the job market with the real-world skills needed to compete, and regardless of where their new proficiencies take them, they earn more, too.