Computing is a natural science?

Peter Denning, one of the big idea people in computer science, has an interesting article in the July Communications of the ACM, entitled ‘Computing is a Natural Science.’ Quoting from that article: ‘Information processes and computation continue to be found abundantly in the deep structures of many fields. Computing is not—in fact, never was—a science only of the artificial.’ He goes on to describe the evolution of computing, from a tool to do things faster that I already know how to do (e.g., analyze data, manage business processes), to a new approach which allows me to do new things I hadn’t considered before (e.g., computational science, data mining), to a fundamental idea or model used to understand other fields (e.g., biology, social science).

Good stuff. And yet another reason to study computer science today! Deep ideas about algorithms and information representation and processing are being used to study a wide variety of natural and societal systems. It’s an easy guess that new insights from computing will continue to emerge in even more fields.

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Cool companies

I visited a cool company yesterday. Apologies for using the term ‘cool,’ but most people know it when the see it. And this place definitely looks like a cool place to work. It wouldn’t be for everyone mind you, since the location and the very clear company culture wouldn’t be to everyone’s liking. But this company is an example of one of the great things about the computer science field: there are a lot of really cool companies that hire our graduates.

This particular cool company is in the Fortune 500 and is very well-known in its market. Very few people would think of it as a software company. It is. Their success depends completely on their ability to innovate and create in the software sphere. A majority of the technical people they hire have computer science degrees. They like computer scientists’ problem solving skills and their ability to approach problems from different angles (which is why diversity is so important, by the way); they like the energetic can-do attitude of CS graduates. ‘There ought to be a way to do this better.’ ‘What new things can we do that meet customer needs in this rapidly changing field?’ ‘How can we push technology to do things better, faster, cheaper?’ This is how CS graduates think and employees at this company get to operate in this mode most of the time. The people we spoke with clearly like the idea of getting up in the morning and going to work!

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