Computer Science in Virginia
The first British colony and the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents, Virginia, a.k.a. the Old Dominion, is noteworthy for many reasons. The state contains a wide variety of geographic features, including coastal plains, estuaries, mountains and forests. Popularly known for jobs in local and federal government and the military, a large segment of Virginia's economy is devoted to farming and business. According to Cyberstates 2015: The Definitive State-by-State Analysis of the U.S. Tech Industry published by CompTIA, Virginia had the second-highest concentration of workers in the tech industry in 2014, accounting for 9.4 percent of private sector employment in the state.
The same study states that Virginia is home to a business cluster in computer systems design, which is a major component of IT services. The Dulles Technology Corridor is home to the national or regional headquarters of dozens of technology companies, including Cisco Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Google, among others. This means the state is not only rich in natural resources, but also opportunities for those interested in careers in computer science and related fields.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 34 percent of residents of Virginia have attained at least a bachelor's degree. In fact, the state ranks in the top 5 in the nation in the percentage of people 25+ with bachelor's degrees. Given the economic weight attributable to IT/tech specialties, pursuing a degree in computer science may pay lifelong career dividends.
Computer Science Education in Virginia
The U.S. News & World Report has repeatedly identified computer science as one of the top-paying university majors. For those interested in working for one of the technology companies in Virginia, earning a degree in computer science or closely-related area may help get one's foot in the door. Virginia has a diverse selection of post-secondary institutions with IT-related programs, including:
- 15 public four-year colleges
- 18 private nonprofit four-year colleges
- 11 private for-profit two-year colleges
- 21 private for-profit four-year colleges
Whether a prospective student is interested in a public research university like the University of Virginia; a private college like University of Richmond or Randolph-Macon College; or a two-year degree from a school like American National University, there are many options in Virginia for those who desire a career in computer programming or a related information technology field.
Highlighted Computer Science Schools in Virginia
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia, or UVA, is a public four-year institution with a computer science department that has highly ranked undergraduate, graduate, and research programs. In fact, the U.S. News & World Report ranks UVA as the 23rd best national university; 2nd best in the "top public school" category; 27th for best value schools; and 29th best in the nation for computer science. According to the department's website, the computer science department at the University of Virginia attracts external research funding of more than $7 million each year. Faculty members have received awards from professional and academic organizations including IEEE, National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Engineering and National Academies Computer Science and Telecommunications Board.
George Mason University
George Mason University (GMU) is ranked no. 138 among national universities, #70 among public schools, and #67 in computer science, according to U.S. News & World Report. The institution's computer science department is housed in the Volgenau School of Engineering. In 2012-2013 the department awarded 86 bachelor of science, 183 master of science, and 16 doctoral degrees. According to the department website, faculty have research interests in networking, architecture, parallel and distributed computing, performance evaluation, software engineering, multimedia, graphics and visualization, databases, software engineering, data mining, security, information systems, artificial intelligence, computer vision and robotics. The department also hosts a distinguished lecture series.
Virginia Tech is ranked no. 71 among national universities and no. 27 in the "top public schools" category by the U.S. News & World Report. Its computer science program is ranked no. 40 by the same agency. The computer science department is housed in the college of engineering, and computer science research areas at Virginia Tech include bioinformatics, cyberarts and visualization, digital education, high end computing and computational science, human computer interaction, mathematical foundations of computer science, software engineering, and systems and cyber security, among others.
When considering computer science or other IT-related programs at colleges and universities, the ABET Computing Accreditation Commission is the accreditation body of choice. There's a caveat when it comes to accreditation, however. When a field evolves as quickly as computer programming and information technology is, accreditation criteria for all computer programming and related specialties have not yet been developed.
Additionally, accreditation criteria may be outdated even for established subfields. As a result, a degree or department can be outstanding even if it lacks program-level accreditation. This means that prospective students should be critical thinkers when considering computer science degrees and request job placement rates for alumni, among other data, to ensure the program they select will adequately prepare them for their career goals.
Tech Industries and Careers in Virginia
Government, the military, and business are all major contributors to Virginia's economy, and all these types of companies depend on computer programmers and other IT specialists in order to operate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) for 2014, individuals in Virginia employed in computer and mathematical occupations earn an annual mean wage of $94,700.
According to the BLS, regions within Virginia that employ a significant percentage of workers in this broad occupational category include:
- The Washington, DC, metro area
- Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News
Most employers of IT-related careers are located in northern Virginia and the DC metropolitan area. According to the BLS, as of February 2015, the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is estimated at 4.8 percent.
Here's a table of some of the top-paying tech fields in Virginia as of 2014:
|Occupation||2014 Average Salary|
|Software Developers (Systems Software)||$109,240|
|Applications Software Developers||$104,170|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$97,590|
|Network and Computer Systems Administrators||$89,930|
|Computer User Support Specialists||$54,120|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia Occupational and Wage Estimates, May 2014
Some jobs in this category, such as computer user support specialists, may require only an associate's degree. The more lucrative career specialties, such as applications software developer, may require at least a bachelor's degree and possibly a master's degree or other certifications.
Keeping up-to-date on the latest technologies is vital throughout one's career today. It's especially important if that career is in a field that changes as quickly as IT and computer science does. Whether an individual chooses a university or a vocational school when initially earning their degree or certification, it is important to make long-term career plans that include seeking out additional certs. This may help enable one to keep pace with system upgrades and other improvements and innovations.
Top Metro Employment Centers for Computer Programmers in Virginia
Here's a list of the top metropolitan employment hubs for computer programmers according to recent data from the BLS:
|Metropolitan Area||Total Employed|
|Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News||880|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014
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