Beyond your studies, the course programme aims to prepare you for a career. Here we have brought together answers to several frequently asked questions.
Information technology is everywhere. We use it every day, sometimes without even realising. To design, develop, adapt and maintain all this software, society needs more and more IT specialists who have integrated all the scientific, technical and human dimensions necessary to manage projects successfully. The programmes offered by EPL in this field,
- bachelor's/master's in computer engineering
- bachelor's/master's in computer science,
aim to train professionals able to design innovative software that draws on advanced technology.
Information technology is everywhere
Nowadays, everyone has used a computer. This was not the case only 30 years ago. This gives an idea of the importance today of information technology, or information and communication technology more broadly. But have you ever thought about all the everyday activities that require the involvement of a computer? Here is a brief list (incomplete, of course).
Let's start with the most obvious: Internet, GSM, home banking, e-commerce, smartphones, games.
- Managing a company or a hospital, including both financial and human resources.
- Production is of course increasingly automated, and it is computers that control the robots.
- Similarly, the home is being filled with more and more computercontrolled automation devices that control lights, doors, alarms and even the fridge.
- Road and rail safety also involve information technology: traffic management, points on railway lines…
- In the performing arts, information technology is used to manage tickets and venues.
- In the field of energy, power generation, plant safety and grid management are heavily dependent on computer assistance.
- In the medical world, scanners and many other technologies rely on information technology to manage the huge quantities of data collected. Computers process the data and provide a preanalysed "image" that is easier for humans to interpret.
The list goes on and on. Look around you, and if you think carefully I am sure that information technology was involved at some point in the production or use of almost every object you see.
But what is computer science anyway?
Let's attempt a definition. Computer science is a discipline with scientific, technical and human dimensions that encompasses all the knowledge required to design, produce and deploy useful, effective and often complex tools using computers and software.
Let's look at a few of those points in more detail.
- It is a technical discipline, because it targets the effective construction of complex systems based on elements that may exist already or may need to be built, depending on the requirements.
- It is a scientific discipline, because it is based on rigorous mathematical foundations rather than intuition, technique or experience handed down by craftsmen who cannot always explain it.
- It is a human discipline, because information technology is primarily designed and created by people for use by other people.
Computer science is focused between the work of electronic engineers, who work directly on the hardware, and the users of IT systems. The work of computer scientists thus oscillates between:
- aspects more directly linked to the hardware (telecommunications, networks, computer systems architecture, operating systems etc.). This involves working with electronic engineers and understanding the basics of their discipline.
- aspects more closely related to the user interface (data management, graphics systems, application software etc.). This involves communicating with users: listening to their needs and being able to interpret computer jargon for nonspecialists.
These are the main areas covered during the study programme (some will be given more or less attention depending on the student's chosen pathway):
- Algorithms and data structures
- Programming languages
- Software engineering
- Computer networks
- Computer operating systems
- Computer systems architecture
- Artificial intelligence
- Databases and information systems
You can also find out more via the research themes covered at the ICTEAM research institute.
Our society will need more and more highly qualified computer scientists, i.e. specialists able to…
- understand and analyse society's complex needs
- design IT systems that meet these needs ("architects")
- master constantly evolving technological resources
- oversee the implementation of solutions once they have been designed
- ensure the quality of products and development processes.
This is the basis of the teaching we offer at UCL (see the skills reference for an idea of what you will have learned by the end of your studies).
Individual IT specialists do not perform all their tasks on their own. Computer systems are increasingly complex, meaning that work is almost always done as a team. This adds an even richer dimension to IT careers.
Naturally, you have not yet acquired all these skills, which will come over the course of your studies. But here is a brief outline of the qualities you will need to succeed.
- a taste for problem solving
- creativity and imagination
- a capacity for abstraction, analytical detail and seeing the whole picture
- a methodical mind and rigorous reasoning
- a sense of efficiency
- interpersonal and organisational skills
What are the opportunities?
The career opportunities are endless and the need for IT specialists is huge. This is good news, because everyone is different and thrives on different tasks.
The shortage of computer scientists is not new, and will only intensify – all of Europe is crying out for qualified IT specialists. Even in these difficult economic times, the demand for well-trained IT graduates remains high. Enter a phrase such as "ICT skills shortage" into your favourite search engine and you will find many articles on the subject. This deficit has lasted for years and affects all of Europe. Graduates certainly have no trouble finding work.
We can identify five main profiles between which IT specialists tend to move over the course of their careers.
- Designers identify the needs of future users and determine the technical resources needed to meet them. They can speak the client's language and are sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to communicate successfully with experts in nonIT subjects.
- Analysts can translate the information and instructions produced by designers into IT components. They analyse certain components of the required IT system in detail.
- Developers bring the IT system conceived by the designer and specified by the analyst into existence. They program, validate, implement and integrate the system. They thus need highly specialised technical skills.
- Project managers oversee IT development projects and/or the IT systems resulting from such projects. They are responsible for the successful completion of the missions associated with these systems, their security and the planning of their future development. They thus need skills in human contact, a very good general education and solid technical abilities.
- Researchers try to establish new concepts and new computer systems that will subsequently become the tools available to IT specialists in their work.
The results of successive surveys of graduates (conducted in 2010 and 2016) show that 73% of graduates had an employment contract in their hands even before graduating. 92% were in work less than three months after the end of their course. Clearly, the job market in this field is very buoyant. 92% of graduates from the last five years are working in the IT field. There is no need for them to move quickly towards other sectors – they can easily begin their careers in a job linked to their field of study.
A few widespread – and unfounded – prejudices
- You can learn about computers on the job. It is true that applications can be learned without training, though some will nevertheless require some explanation. But to go further, you need to learn to program. The basics of coding can be learned, with effort, in a few dozen hours. But to truly exploit all the resources that information technology provides (the power of the machine, using the most appropriate programming language), ensure the quality of the software being written, develop or contribute fully to the development of complex software involving thousands of lines of code… it makes sense to take a proper computer science course.
- Computer science = spending all day in front of a screen. As you can see in the previous section about opportunities, that is not what it's about. Naturally, computer science graduates are likely to spend time with computers… but they will not spend all their time as a slave to the machines. Computers are just one work tool among others.
- Computer science is just for hackers. A computer science course will show you that the opposite is true. Professional IT work leaves little scope for hacking.
- Studies require prior computer knowledge. Not at all, introductory courses are provided in all study programmes leading to a computer science degree. All you need is an interest in the field.
- Computer science is not for women. And yet, they have all the necessary qualities:
- scientific skills: women can be just as logical as men;
- analysis and design ability: women are often very good at organising things, imposing order, foreseeing details and demonstrating creativity to solve problems;
- ability to listen, get on with people and work as part of a team: no doubts here…
If you are interested in the field, find out more about the two study pathways in the subject organised at UCL. Also, look at the research conducted by our ICTEAM teams. Then all that remains is to get started…
You can also view a presentation describing these studies.