Are computer scientists using mathematics?

Recently, a student named "James" asked if he could work in the computer field, even if he did not like mathematics and he says he is not good at it.

Short answer: Yes. The longest answer? Yes and no.

There is a great opportunity to develop all kinds of programs and hardware that don't require math, per se. Areas such as software / application design and UX quality assurance (user experience) require an understanding of the language in question and how the program interacts with the overall hardware, but not deep mathematics.

Hence, James can definitely do a good job working with computers without knowing Abelson and Delta.

But will mathematics be useful?

Some regions – like some formulas that we keep in the calculus category – will not be useful. But others, like discrete mathematics – will prove to be useful to James: they will teach him concrete concepts that he can use in his work, and it will also help him develop an analytical mind that will be useful.

Consider this: If James wants to analyze a program he or his team is writing, and see if he can improve it in any way – for example: changing the program’s structure so that it runs more effectively – this is essentially mathematics. The question, the so-called "algorithms": James can examine the program and find redundant parts or can do better, then review the program.

He doesn't have to think rigorously about mathematics, though, the kind of thinking he's doing, about the structures inside the program, and how they relate to each other, is very similar to what some mathematicians do. Good programming, at least in many types of programming, is very similar to mathematical reasoning, and the type of thinking used in problems in separate math lessons.

The only field he can go with with computers that really require a deep understanding of a wide range of mathematics is theoretical computer science – like what university computer scientists do. The work they do is intense in mathematics, and requires an understanding of calculus, analysis, which is like a more formal version of calculus, logic, statistics, and linear algebra.

Then again, perhaps theoretical computer science is not what interests James first. If he wants to work with computers and use them to solve amazing real-world problems, he would probably be fine even if he got a C in the calculus.


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