9 Best Computer Science Specializations

Computer science (CS) covers a vast field of study that’s ever-expanding, thanks to all the recent innovations and technological progress. As such, colleges and universities offer tons of specialization courses on dozens of CS subjects. But which of these offer the best value in terms of job availability, salary, and growth potential? 

Here are the 9 best computer science specializations:

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  2. Machine Learning (ML)
  3. Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)
  4. Cybersecurity
  5. Software Engineering
  6. Computer Graphics
  7. Information System (IS)
  8. Data Science
  9. Networking

In this article, I’ve covered all of these specializations in-depth, including what they’re about, what you’ll learn, whether or not they’re right for you, the available jobs, and also the average salaries. By the end, you should have a thorough understanding of all these specializations and get to pick the perfect option for you.

I already talked about the best minors that complement the computer science degree, but this time I will focus on the best CS specializations.

A List of the best computer science specializations
Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Cyber Security are just a few of the best-paid computer science (CS) specializations. To be completely honest, there are not many bad specializations in CS, and with most, you will earn a comfortable salary and have a nice office job.

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI or artificial intelligence is one of the most popular computer science specialization programs because of its vast applications and promising future. Using the technology, you can program a computer/machine to perform “intelligent” tasks like pattern recognition, decision making, recognizing images, audio, voice, and much more.

In your AI specialization program, you’ll learn how AI systems work as well as how to build one yourself.

Why It’s Right for You

AI is a highly math-heavy field of study. It’s ideal for an analytical person who enjoys creating abstract models and working with algorithms.

To build a solid foundation of how AI systems work, you’ll need to know advanced mathematics like linear algebra, probability, and calculus. 

As such, if you tend to shy away from maths, then this is probably not the specialization for you. However, if you want to study AI and are willing to work hard to learn these math concepts, you can consider taking up this specialization.

Now, for more information on the topic, I’d recommend that you check out this excellent article interviewing 3 AI professionals on the current state of the AI industry, career prospects, which colleges are better, and much more.

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

Completing this program will put you on the path of becoming any of the following:

  • AI research scientist
  • AI engineer
  • AI data analyst

Here’s a list of various career opportunities in artificial intelligence.

According to PayScale, the average salary of a CS Master’s degree holder with AI specialization is $111k/year.

Video: Artificial Intelligence vs Machine Learning

2. Machine Learning (ML)

Machine learning (ML) is a branch of AI that focuses on computer algorithms that can learn from a given dataset. 

Although ML is taught in almost every AI course, you can also opt for an ML specialization if you want to gain expertise in this particular subject.

In your ML specialization, your learning will focus on how to create self-improving computer algorithms that can analyze large datasets, derive conclusions from it, and then make predictions based on that.

Why It’s Right for You

If you like programming, algorithms, and working with massive datasets, then ML is right up your alley.

That said, it does require some basic understanding of high-level mathematics like linear algebra, probability, and statistics. As such, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with these concepts if you aren’t already.

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

A specialization in machine learning will help you land a job as an ML researcher, MLOps (Machine Learning Operations) Engineer, data scientist, or ML analyst. Currently, most of the ML-based jobs are in the medical industries and finance sectors, with some focusing particularly on image and speech recognition.

Here’s an in-depth Medium post going over the various careers in ML, present and future.

As for the salary, the average pay for ML jobs is around $108k/year, according to PayScale.

I love watching different videos of machine learning used to play video games. It is amazing to see what OpenAI learns by playing against itself. I am sure you heard about the recent win by a computer in a very complicated game of Go against the very best players.

Video: Machine Learning Basics | What Is Machine Learning?

3. Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is the study and research of how computers and humans engage/interact with one another. It’s a multidisciplinary field that brings together the world of computer science, behavioral science, design, physical ergonomics, and many more.

In your computer science HCI specialization, you’ll learn how users interact with computer systems, including software and websites. Based on this practical knowledge, you’ll learn how to create better and more intuitive interfaces for seamless interaction between man and machine.

Why It’s Right for You

When you notice someone is having difficulty operating any given technology, do you consider that it’s the technology’s fault and not the person’s? Are you interested in learning how humans intuitively take to a particular technology without prior education? 

If you answered yes to these questions, then you’ll love studying HCI. 

The program will give you the necessary skillset to spot incompetent design and develop better and more intuitive solutions to help build the UIs (User Interfaces) of the future.

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

An HCI specialization in computer science will help you get a job as any of the following:

  • UX designer
  • UX researcher
  • Usability engineer
  • Product designer 

Also, the emerging world of VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) promises a bright future for HCI specialists.

Looking at salaries, you can expect an average pay of around $91k/year with your HCI specialization, as per PayScale.

4. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity deals with protecting digital systems, software, networks, and data from bad actors and cyber threats. The field focuses on tools, techniques, processes, and various controls used to prevent hacking, malware attacks, and other forms of exploitation. 

In your Cybersecurity specialization, you’ll learn about the following:

  • Various security tools
  • Different types of cyberattacks
  • Computer networks
  • Concepts on system administrations
  • Various OS and database vulnerabilities
  • Cryptography
  • Digital forensics

Why It’s Right for You

Are you interested in learning how computers work at a fundamental level? Do you enjoy looking for loopholes and bugs when using software? 

If you always wanted to develop the skills of a hacker, then cybersecurity will teach you everything you need to know. Just use it to stop hackers instead of becoming one.

Cybersecurity will come naturally to people who live and breathe technology, love puzzles, have an eye for detail, can predict instances of what might go wrong, and have a systematic approach to solving problems.

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

Some of the most common job titles that come with a cybersecurity specialization include the following:

  • Cybersecurity analyst
  • Penetration tester
  • Cryptographer
  • Security consultant
  • Other digital security-focused job roles

Here’s a great article about the 10 cybersecurity jobs based on salary.

And speaking of salary, your pay will vary depending on your particular job role, but you can expect an average annual remuneration of $89k/year, as per PayScale.

Video: Cyber Security Explained In 7 Minutes

5. Software Engineering

Software engineering refers to taking an engineering approach to developing software. In software engineering, you’ll learn how to plan, design, develop, test, deploy, and maintain software to achieve the best possible quality.

In this course, you’ll gain in-depth knowledge of various programming languages, including the best practices to enhance software security, scalability, and optimize overall performance. You’ll also learn essential skills to help you properly debug and test the code you’re writing.

Why It’s Right for You

As a software engineer, your job revolves around understanding problems, coming up with potential solutions, and translating these solutions into algorithms or programs that you’ll then have to code.

Also, software engineers generally need to collaborate in teams because coding an entire program alone is not practical. 

As such, if you love coding and enjoy working with other people, then software engineering is a great specialization and career option.

That said, if you’re still feeling unsure, you can take this quiz on should you become a software engineer?

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

The most straightforward career option with a software engineering specialization is becoming a software engineer. Other than this, you can also try for job profiles like software developer, full-stack web developer, game developer, mobile app developer, and so on.

Here’s a list of the 22 best jobs for software engineers, including their average salaries and responsibilities.

As per PayScale, the average salary with a software engineering specialization is $104k/year.

6. Computer Graphics 

Computer graphics deals with computer-generated imagery and has broad applications in the field of digital photography, generating video game characters and worlds, film and visual effects, and the likes.

In a computer graphics specialization course, you’ll learn about various tools, techniques, and best practices on how to create digital images—still or animated, in 2D or 3D. 

On top of that, you’ll also learn how to display these graphics when faced with different limitations like the size of the screen, screen resolution, low bandwidth, insufficient system memory, and so on.

Why It’s Right for You

Computer graphics blend the creative with the technical. As such, you need to be comfortable with technology to the point that you can use it to express your creative side.

Other than this, learning computer graphics requires attention to visual detail and an artistic sense.

It’s also one of the most less coding-intensive computer specializations to the point that you can often become job-ready without developing any coding skills.

Overall, if you love creating artwork and want the necessary skills to create digital artwork, then computer graphics is the perfect specialization for you.

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

Having a computer graphics specialization can help you land a job as a graphics designer, 3D model designer, motion graphics designer, animator, etc.

Here’s a detailed article about the salary and career info for computer graphics technology professionals.

Now, in terms of salary, PayScale reports an average annual remuneration of $104k/year.

7. Information System (IS)

Information systems (IS) is a sociotechnical system used in organizations to collect data, process it to generate relevant business information, properly store it, and then distribute it if and when necessary.

In your information systems specialization, you’ll learn the ins and outs of business IT, including how information is generated, stored, managed, and communicated within a business organization. 

You’ll also gain knowledge on how to understand different information systems and how to design and maintain them.

Video: Information Systems What is it? What does it mean?

Why It’s Right for You

Information systems is more vocational than technical. You’re not required to deal with technology as much as you’re required to communicate the technology to other people in your organization properly.

If you want to learn how to help people to achieve maximum output from using technology, you’ll enjoy learning IS.

Other than this, IS is also more business-centric and geared towards people who want to contribute to the core business development and management rather than product development or maintenance.

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

Some of the most popular jobs you can get with an information systems specialization include the following:

  • System analyst
  • Application analyst
  • Information system manager
  • Computer network architect

Here’s a great article on the 9 information systems jobs to consider. 

According to PayScale, the average expected salary of an IS specialization holder is around $100k/year.

8. Data Science

Data science is a field of study concerned with extrapolating meaningful information from a set of structured or unstructured datasets, also known as “big data.” 

In data science, multiple scientific methods, algorithms, mathematical models, and technology are utilized to gain insight from a collection of data that’s overwise too noisy and apparently meaningless.

In your data science specialization, you’ll learn about the various tools and techniques used to find hidden patterns from a collection of data and draw insights to make business-critical decisions.

Why It’s Right for You

Data science is a multidisciplinary field that includes numerous subjects such as the following: 

  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Domain knowledge
  • Programming
  • Information science

Overall, if you have a knack for statistics and an inclination towards using hi-fi technologies, then data science is a suitable choice.

That said, here’s a list of 14 self-examination questions to help you see if data science is right for you. Or you can also check the video topic about of one of my favorite Data Science related YouTubers:

Video: Is Data Science Right For You?

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

Knowledge in data science can land you a role as a data analyst, data engineer, data scientist, analytics manager, and so on. 

Here’s a list of the 11 data science careers shaping our future.

Depending on which job role you take, your salary can vary greatly. That said, according to PayScale, the average salary of a data scientist is $97k/year.

I am actually learning data science in my free time as a sort of a hobby and to widen my software engineering skillset. Udemy has a few good courses on Data Science. I am following this one.

9. Networking

Networking or computer networking refers to a configuration of multiple interconnected computers that can share data and resources between one another. 

The computers are connected using telecommunication networks, whereas data sharing is handled and managed using communication protocols.

In your computer networking systems specialization, you’ll learn the following:

  • How to set up computer networks
  • Different networking protocols
  • Different types of networks and how they work
  • Troubleshooting and securing networks

Why It’s Right for You

If your love for technology is more geared towards hardware than software, you should consider learning computer networking. It’s a more hands-on job profile where you’ll have to tinker with physical hardware rather than abstract and intangible software.

The subject has very little to do with coding, although you might be required to know some basics. The course will mainly revolve around understanding (theoretical) different networking systems and teaching you how to work with various tools necessary to test (practical) these networks.

Here’s an excellent animated YouTube video going over whether you should learn programming or networking:

Jobs Available With Expected Salaries

With a specialization in networking, you can expect to be hired as a network architect, network security manager, system engineer, network programmer, telecommunications specialist, and the like.

Here’s an article from Indeed going over the top 14 jobs in computer networking that you can consider.
The average salary of a computer networking systems specialization holder is around $79k/year, as per PayScale.