To Take or Not to Take: Computer Science and Programming


Valerie Diep, Staffer

Our school has a couple of programming and computer science classes. If you have to choose a new class next year, it may be worth considering these courses. 

Computer science is “the study of computers and computational systems,” and to utilize computer science, you need to be able to program. There is a difference between computer science and computer engineering, and people often get these two fields mixed up. Computer science is more theory-based, while computer engineering is more practical, using the knowledge gained from computer science to program and make computers function a certain way. 

Careers focusing in these fields are rising in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job outlook for computer and information research scientists in the next ten years is 16 percent, compared to 5 percent found in other careers. The median pay in 2018 is $118,370 per year. Software developers, who focus on engineering, have a projected job outlook of 21 percent and a median income of $195,590 in 2018.

Not everyone wants to become a computer scientist or a computer engineer, and that’s okay. Even if you are not interested in programming or computers, computing technology is found almost everywhere you go. By understanding computer science, you’re gaining a head start in other fields outside of computer science, such as biology. In biology and genetics, computer science skills are used to learn how specific gene or protein sequences cause diseases. These fields are called computational biology and bioinformatics, and they’re changing the way biologists and medical professionals think about curing illnesses. 

“There is a misconception… students think, ‘Oh if I get into computer science, that means I have to be a computer geek, and then I have to go get a job in computer science,’” Colby Soule, Mariner’s computer science and programming teacher, said. “And maybe that was true in the 1980s, but that’s not true today. Computers are virtually in every industry and application, whether you are at a gas station, or Nordstroms, or shopping at Fred Meyer, there is some computer that you interact with. So I think it’s an essential skill for students to have.” 

Soule has taught computer science for about five years, but was an instructor in the navy and “taught courses on how to repair computers and electronics on airplanes”  from 1997 to 1999.

In relation to other classes, not many Mariner students take a computer-related course. According to Soule,  few students are aware of the programming and computer science opportunities that Mariner offers. However, “we have tripled the number of students taking computer science in the last three years. There’s quite a bit of growth. We have about 80 students taking it this year, and that’s out of 2,500 students… I have room for two more [classes], so if we got 60 more students, we could have two more classes. Computer science is growing; it’s not shrinking.”

Soule teaches three computer science courses: AP Computer Science Java, AP Computer Science Principles, and Intro to Programming. And despite being called “AP Computer Science Java,” you will be gaining much practice with programming, as it’s one of the more challenging classes. AP Computer Science Principles gives students information on how the internet works and does not focus on the coding language of Java.

If you’re unsure about whether you’re interested in computers, “then come to Computer Club, Wednesdays 2:00 PM, E171, and see what it’s all about.” Soule advises. “And when you get a chance, enroll in a computer science course.” If you’re interested but are nervous about your lack of skill in programming, try starting with Intro to Programming.

“You don’t have to know anything about computers to take Intro to Programing, you can know nothing and be very successful in that class,” Soule says. Even if you’re not a master programmer, learning computer science or programming is still helpful because “even just the mental exercise of working through problems and seeing a new way to solve problems that are unique to computers” assists with cognitive functions. 

“I think it’s just amazing to see the spirit that Mariner students bring to the class and the way they think about solving problems,” Soule reflects. “It’s clever, it’s fun, and we have a lot of fun doing it. Maybe you don’t think computers are fun, but you just have to experience it and try. It’s hard work, but we enjoy doing it.”