Unravelling the Landscape of Computer Science Education

The roles of the computing scientist decide the core knowledge that characterises the discipline

Teres George and Vineeth Paleri Department of Computer Science and Engineering, National Institute of Technology Calicut

From supercomputers to our intimate smartphones, computing technology has had an immense influence on human life as never any other modern-day technology has. An aspiring student will be perplexed by multiple branches and a great variety of options to choose from. This article is a broad survey of a convenient classification of disciplines under the computing domain for aspiring students and educators in the field.

Though this article derives its basic concept from Computing Curricula 2005, the report by the professional bodies, including the Association for Computing Machinery (, the views expressed by the authors in this article are their own.

Need for Classification

Unlike many other disciplines, computing disciplines encompass a broad area cutting across science, engineering, and application in every conceivable field of knowledge. The computing disciplines are so vast that it is impossible for a person to master all the knowledge falling under them. Hence, it is essential to classify the related knowledge and skills into different disciplines to enable an individual to be an expert in the chosen field.

The Domain of the Computing Disciplines

We give a graphical representation of the domain for the computing disciplines in the figure for easy understanding. The vertical axis looks at the domain in terms of software and hardware aspects. The software is further divided into application software and system software. System software acts as an interface between the hardware and the application software, enabling convenient and efficient use of the computing resources. System software includes essential supports such as Operating Systems, Compilers, and Database Management Systems. Application software is the software for application in a specific area.

The horizontal axis divides the domain into Theory, Design & Development, and Maintenance. The theory part refers to the theoretical aspects of computers and computing, which comprises creating new knowledge and identifying new methods for development. The design and development aspect refers to developing software or hardware using the established theory and methods. The maintenance part refers to keeping the computer system, i.e., both hardware and software, functional and updated.

The professional names scientist and engineer correspond to theory and design respectively on the horizontal axis. It is difficult to draw a hard line between the roles of a scientist and an engineer. A rule of thumb to differentiate the roles of a scientist and an engineer is: a scientist builds to learn, whereas an engineer learns to build.

Let us now see the graphical representation of the knowledge and skills that characterise each discipline. Overlaps between disciplines suggest that a professional will do good to understand a little bit from other disciplines while focussing on their domain.

Note that the area marked for each discipline indicates an ideal scenario. For example, the time and cost involved in maintenance is a significant part of software today, which should reduce considerably as the software engineering discipline matures.

Computer Engineering

This discipline addresses the theory, design, and development of computers. A computer engineer fundamentally focuses on the hardware. The computer engineer may specify the interface between the hardware and software of a device so that a software engineer can develop software for that device independently.

Computing Science

This discipline is more widely known, even in academic circles, by the name Computer Science, which is a misnomer. Since the discipline of Computer Engineering addresses the hardware of a computer system, it would be more appropriate to name the discipline Computing Science rather than Computer Science. The Computing Scientist has to develop the theory, i.e. the principles and methods, on all aspects of computing, mainly the reliability and efficiency of software. One may classify the significant roles of a computing scientist based on different aspects of computing:

Reliability: Creating the necessary theory and methods to develop reliable software that meets the requirements specified by the user.

Efficiency: Finding efficient solutions to problems. They should assess the efficiency of each solution and decide the best solution among them.

New ways of computing: Striving for innovation to make computing more user-friendly. Distributed computing opened a new area of study on Computer Networks & Security.

The roles of the computing scientist decide the core knowledge that characterises the discipline. The reliability aspect demands knowledge including, Logic & Proof, Principles of Programming, Programming Language Concepts, and Type Systems. The efficiency aspect of the solution to a problem requires knowledge in the Theory of Computation, Data Structures, and Algorithms & Complexity. Search for new ways of computing, led to conceptualisation, realisation, and development of Operating Systems, Compilers, Data Base Management Systems, Computer Architecture, and Computer Networks.

Software Engineering

Software engineering is the discipline for developing reliable and efficient software, is affordable to build and maintain, and satisfies all the requirements that customers have specified for them. Software engineers usually work in the development of large software. A software engineer needs to develop software products with a guarantee as in other engineering disciplines. The discipline is yet to mature in this respect.

Information Technology

Information technology (IT) specialists should be able to assess an organisation’s hardware and software requirements, select them based on the requirements, deploy them, and finally maintain them; see figure. An IT specialist should be well versed in the current trends in both hardware and software.

The Way Forward

New computing areas like Information Systems and Bioinformatics keep evolving as we realise the benefit of applying computers to new fields.

Knowledge about the domain of the computing-related disciplines is an absolute necessity for educators designing the curricula and syllabi for any of the degree programmes in the area. Educational programmes without the necessary coherent body of knowledge can mislead the scholar regarding the programme’s intent, causing harm to the society in terms of the poor service delivered, viz., the software engineers of the day producing software without the expected guarantee.

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