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Careers of the future: when computer science and engineering meet

Now more than ever we are seeing an increase in differing fields integrating to work together. Two such professions are computer science and engineering. While the two fields have always been linked to some extent, the rise of more advanced technology means they’re becoming much more closely intertwined.

As the world embarks on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also dubbed Industry 4.0, Associate Professor Ben Horan, of Deakin’s School of Engineering believes there’ll be a greater need for experts from both fields to work together.

‘I think there has never been more importance on not just the two disciplines but on combining both skill sets to solve some of society’s most complex problems,’ Assoc. Prof. Horan says.

He points to two exciting examples, robots and self-driving cars. ‘In order for these technologies to see mass adoption there are some fundamental challenges straddling engineering and computer science,’ he says. Futuristic technology is everywhere, from automated warfare operations, to virtual reality and even intelligent toasters linked to an array of other household devices.

And as the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence continues to grow, so do the potential opportunities for engineers and computer scientists of the future. We take a look at a few of them.

Autonomous cars                                    

We’re seeing a rise of technologically advanced cars that are increasingly intuitive to drive and respond merely to the sound of our voices. While car advancements traditionally sat in the realm of engineers, the latest changes are a direct result of the continued advancement of computer systems.

Associate Professor Tim Wilkin, of Deakin’s School of Information Technology, says self-driving cars are a perfect example of the crossover between computer science and engineering.

‘When they started out it was an engineering problem, and they created an engineering solution, which worked, but no one ever thought about the software engineering side and the computer science side,’ he says.

‘How do we create systems that are reusable, that the component solutions we put together to engineer this whole big solution, how they can be reused in later productions?’

'I think there has never been more importance on not just the two disciplines but on combining both skill sets to solve some of society’s most complex problems.'

Assoc. Prof. Ben Horan,
School of Engineering, Deakin University

Rise of the robots

Likewise, millions (probably trillions) of dollars have been spent on developing robotic technology over more than half a century. ‘If we think of robots, engineers typically design the robots, while computer scientists arguably develop more of the software,’ Assoc. Prof. Horan says.

He says for every robot designed, there are thousands of potential uses. It will likely be up to engineers to overcome some of the hardware challenges, while computer scientists figure out how to apply the technology in different ways.

Assoc. Prof. Wilkin says it’s only been in the past decade that robotic hardware has begun to be produced reliably and cheaply. ‘What we’re not really good at doing is enabling this hardware to operate robustly in the real world,’ he adds.

Bringing robotic technology to the world at a price where it becomes a household item is also an ongoing mission for both engineers and scientists, he says. Then there’s the challenge of getting a robot to successfully walk down the stairs – or understand a meaningful conversation.

Augmented reality

Another exciting development on the way is consumer grade augmented reality headwear, Assoc. Prof. Horan says. Perhaps the most well known example of augmented reality, Google Glass, was ditched under widespread criticism and reinvented for business use only.

However Assoc. Prof. Horan believes similar technology will eventually be adopted en masse. ‘We’re all already using digital data; most of us have smartphones and use GPS, Google Maps,’ he says. ‘To me it makes sense that once we have wearable devices that are not intrusive that give us that information – it means we don’t have to look down at our phone.’

Assoc. Prof. Horan believes once this technology is developed for the mass market – with the expertise of both engineers and computer scientists – it will change the way many tasks are completed. ‘Once they (the headsets) reach maturity we might be able to walk around and have live feeds showing us where to find a car park, catch public transport, and get a good coffee.’

So what should you study?

Whether you opt to study computer science or engineering, you’ll get a taste of both fields. From an engineering perspective, Assoc. Prof. Ben Horan says a degree in computer science or engineering can prepare you for a career in many different roles. He says generally speaking, engineering is more about designing physical things, while computer science is more based around programming.

However there’s plenty of crossover, says Assoc. Prof. Wilkin. ‘For example, our software engineering course at Deakin is actually an accredited engineering course,’ he says. ‘So you’ll come out as an engineer, but you’ve learnt software engineering. We’re not the only place to do that. ‘But our computer science students are also doing robotics and Internet of Things and data science in their core program. ‘That recognises that the sorts of problems that computer scientists will have to solve in the coming years and decades, are very much around computing in the real world.’

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Assoc. Prof. Tim Wilkin
Assoc. Prof. Tim Wilkin

Associate Professor, School of Information Technology, Deakin University
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Assoc. Prof. Ben Horan
Assoc. Prof. Ben Horan

Associate Professor, School of Engineering, Deakin University

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