Named after George Washington, the Evergreen State is noteworthy for many reasons. It's the second most populous state in the West. It also contains a wide variety of climate types, including temperate rainforests, mountainous regions and high deserts. Popularly known for lumber production and agriculture, a large segment of Washington's economy is focused on computer software development. Large tech-related companies headquartered there include Microsoft, Amazon, and Nintendo, 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.
In addition to software development, Washington is home to several aircraft and automobile manufacturers and hydroelectric power plants. According to US census data, 31 percent of residents of Washington have attained at least a bachelor's degree. In fact, the state ranks 11th in the nation in the percentage of people 25+ with bachelor's degrees. Given the economic weight attributable to IT specialties, pursuing a degree in computer science may pay lifelong career dividends.
Computer science education in Washington
Not surprisingly, the US 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 giants in the state of Washington, earning a degree in computer science or closely-related area may help get one's foot in the door. Washington has a diverse selection of post-secondary institutions with IT-related programs, including:
- 35 public two-year colleges
- 22 public four-year colleges
- 10 private nonprofit four-year colleges
- 4 private for-profit two-year colleges
- 8 private for-profit four-year colleges
- 2 technical and vocational schools offering programs that take less than two years to complete
Whether a prospective student is interested in a public research university like the University of Washington; a state college like Central Washington University; a community college like Big Bend Community College or Highline College; a private college like Gonzaga University or Seattle Pacific University; a two-year degree from a school like Interface College; or just wants to brush up on technical skills by earning an IT certification from a technical or vocational school like the Academy of Interactive Entertainment or the Seattle Vocational Institute, there are many options in Washington for those who want to pursue a potential career in computer programming or a related information technology field.
Highlighted computer science schools in Washington
University of Washington
The University of Washington, also referred to as UDub, is a public four-year institution with one of the top ten programs in computer science & engineering in the nation. UDub's CS program ranked #26 in our list of the 30 best computer science schools in America.
Additionally, US News & World Report ranks UDub 48th best national university; 14th best in the "top public school" category; 2nd best for veterans; and 6th best in the nation for computer science. In fact, the University of Washington's computer science program is ranked in the subcategories of artificial intelligence (#5), programming language (#13), systems (#5), and theory (#9). According to the department website, in 2013-14 UDub awarded 205 bachelor's, 84 master's, and 28 doctoral degrees in computer science and engineering. The institution also taught 4,500 students in its introductory computer science courses. Literally dozens of employers are members of the university's Industry Affiliates Program.
Gonzaga University came in #11 on our ranking of the top 20 online computer science schools in the US. The school is ranked #3 regional universities in the west and #2 in the "best value" category by the US News & World Report. GU's school of engineering & applied science has programs in computer engineering and computer science. According to the university website, "computer engineering combines the disciplines of electrical engineering and computer science," and includes hardware, software, and systems design. Computer science, on the other hand, focuses on software and may include applications for everything from video games, to air traffic control, to cell phone apps and operating systems, to artificial intelligence. Many Gonzaga alumni go on to graduate study in the field and/or work in a variety of academic, private sector, and government settings.
When it comes to computer science or other IT-related programs in higher education, 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 doing, accreditation criteria for all computer programming and related programs have not yet been developed. Additionally, academic accreditation criteria may be outdated even for established subfields. As a result, a program can be outstanding even if it lacks program-level accreditation. This means that prospective students should be critical thinkers when considering computer science programs and ask for job placement rates for alumni, among other data, to ensure the program they select will adequately prepare them for their career goals. Additionally, while program-level accreditation for many IT majors may not always exist, the institution itself should be regionally accredited.
Central Washington University
Central Washington University (CWU) ranked 51st best regional college in the west and 13th in the category of top public schools according to US News & World Report. The institution's computer science department is housed in the college of the sciences. CWU's computer science degrees not only provide its graduates with the skills to contribute to technological advancement in their field, but also to address the ethical and social impact computing has had, and will continue to have, on society. All computer science courses in the department are taught by faculty (rather than teaching assistants or adjuncts), and students can specialize in such areas as software engineering, information systems, computer systems, scientific computing and artificial intelligence.
Tech industries and careers in Washington
The automobile industry, information technology, aerospace and hydroelectric power are all major contributors to Washington's economy, and all these types of companies depend on computer programmers and other IT specialists in order to operate. According to BLS data for 2014, individuals in Washington employed in computer and mathematical occupations earn an annual median annual wage of $99,780.
According to the BLS, cities within Washington that employ a significant percentage of workers in this broad occupational category include:
Most employers of IT-related careers are located in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area, which as of the 2010 U.S. census, was home to approximately half the state's total population. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of February 2015, the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is estimated at 6.3 percent. Another factor that makes Washington a desirable place to live and work is the fact that it is among the seven states to not have a state-level personal income tax.
In Washington, by far the top specialty within the larger occupational category of computer and mathematical occupations is software developers (applications), earning a median annual wage of $115,370. Trailing this, other top categories include computer systems analysts, with a median annual wage of $95,550; computer user support specialists, earning a mean annual wage of $56,310; computer programmers, earning a median annual wage of $115,430; and finally software developers (systems software), earning a median annual wage of $113,610. Some jobs in this category, such as computer user support specialists, may require only an associate 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 almost any career in today's increasingly tech-saturated world. It's especially important, however, in a field that evolves as quickly as IT and computer science. Whether an individual chooses a university or a vocational school when initially earning their degree or certification, it is important for individuals 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.
Fortunately, if one attends a school with a strong program initially, then finding employment may be easier in the future. Once an individual has a job, employers, such as Washington-based Microsoft, may cover the cost of additional trainings or certifications wholly or partially, particularly if the employee is seeking trainings in the company's own products. Selecting an employer known for being supportive of its employees' professional development may facilitate an individual's career advancement.
Obviously wages can vary a great deal, not only because of one's job specialization, but also due to other factors, such as an individual's educational attainment and professional experience or the metropolitan area in which a position is located. Individuals seeking an IT-related program in Washington should consider their career goals carefully. This means taking into account which institution, major, and specialization are a good fit for one's needs. Personal (non-professional) life plans after earning a credential should be considered as well. If you plan to live in a particular area, for example, knowing whether there is a demand for one's chosen career in that city or region is important.
"Educational attainment in the United States: 2009," U.S. Census, 22 May 2015, http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p20-566.pdf
"College majors with the best return on investment," U.S. News & World Report, 25 April 2015, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/09/12/college-majors-with-the-best-return-on-investment
"College Navigator," National Center for Education Statistics, 17 May 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
"University of Washington," U.S. News & World Report, 22 May 2015, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-washington-seattle-campus-236948/overall-rankings
"Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington," University of Washington, 22 May 2015, https://www.cs.washington.edu/
"Central Washington University," U.S. News & World Report, 22 May 2015, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/central-washington-university-234827/overall-rankings
"Computer Science," Central Washington University, 22 May 2015, http://www.cwu.edu/computer-science/about
"Gonzaga University," U.S. News & World Report, 22 May 2015, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/gonzaga-university-235316/overall-rankings
"Computer Engineering," Gonzaga University, 22 May 2015, http://www.gonzaga.edu/Academics/Colleges-and-Schools/School-of-Engineering-and-Applied-Science/Majors-Programs/Computer-Engineering/default.asp
"Computer Science," Gonzaga University, 22 May 2015, http://www.gonzaga.edu/Academics/Colleges-and-Schools/School-of-Engineering-and-Applied-Science/Majors-Programs/Computer-Science/default.asp
"Computing Accreditation Commission," ABET.org, 22 May 2015, http://www.abet.org/about-abet/governance/accreditation-commissions/computing-accreditation-commission/
"May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Washington," Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22 May 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wa.htm