Why Computer Scientists are Essential to App Development

Why-computer scientists-are-essential-to-app-development

Every day, millions of apps on phones, desktop PCs and mobile devices fulfill countless functions in the modern world. In our busy, digitally enabled lives, applications, or apps, are everywhere. Whatever you want to do – there is almost certainly an app for it. They may be free, or you may need to pay for them, they may be pre-installed on your device, or they may need to be downloaded separately, but one thing that all apps have in common is that they are all software programs.

As software programs, they will have been developed following the core principles of computer science. Computer scientists are software specialists, as opposed to computer engineers who deal with the hardware side. A computer scientist studies, designs, develops, and programs software and software systems. They may have expertise in a wide range of disciplines including database management, numerical analysis and programming languages. This article offers a more in-depth look at how computer scientists contribute to the development of new apps.

Increasing demand

Computer scientists play a crucial role in app development and are in great demand throughout the entire technology sector. Those considering entering the field might be trying to choose between a coding bootcamp or computer science degree as the best path to becoming a qualified computer scientist. For those who already have a bachelor’s degree in a related subject (mathematics, engineering, etc.), Baylor University offers an Online Masters in Computer Science that can be completed in as little as 18 months. The program also includes class projects with immediate job applications, as well as continuous 1:1 student support, allowing students to acquire all the fundamental skills and knowledge needed for app development and creation.

Conceptualization and planning

Every successful app is designed to solve a specific problem, and the initial conceptualization phase involves defining that problem and working out how your app will solve it. You don’t need to be a computer scientist to identify a problem, but you do need insight and education in computer science to work out an effective solution. Planning an app’s features and functionalities, designing the user experience, and figuring out how the app will do its job smoothly and effectively, are all computer science tasks.

Once the problem and how it can be solved have been defined, computer scientists will be involved in wireframing the app: creating an outline of how it can be structured as a minimum viable product (MVP). This blueprint will include all the key elements of the app and can be edited and refined until a prototype can be constructed for further testing.  

Choice of technologies

Computer scientists are needed to select the various technologies (the ‘tech stack’) that will allow the app to function on the intended platform(s). This involves deciding which programming language to use, as well as the tools and technologies needed to build and run the app. All options, including the ones eventually selected, will have pros and cons, including risks and challenges which must be assessed and countered if possible. Potential performance and compatibility issues, vulnerabilities and other weaknesses may come with the choice of technologies and must be considered.

Coding and implementation

Coding is the process of creating a working version of the app, where the wish list of features and functions becomes a practical reality. Once an appropriate programming language has been selected, computer scientists will write the code, select data, and control structures, and begin the process of testing, debugging and optimizing the results.

Algorithm design and optimization

As a series of instructions to solve a problem or perform a task, you could say that an algorithm is an app reduced to its essence, though in fact, most apps incorporate multiple algorithms for different functions and at different stages. A computer scientist will decide which types of algorithms best suit their purpose. Examples include brute-force algorithms (which check all possible outcomes to comprehensively solve a problem) and divide-and-conquer algorithms (which break a problem into smaller subproblems that can be solved one by one).

Optimizing an algorithm involves ensuring the best possible level of functionality, performance, speed, and reliability as well as its ability to be maintained. Algorithm design is part of the coding and implementation process and is arguably the most important aspect of app development in that it turns a basic concept into a usable tool. 

Database design and management

An app broadly consists of two parts: the front end, or client side, which is what the user sees and experiences; and the back end, or server side, which controls functionality behind the scenes. Both are created using computer science, but it is the back end where technical software design is most essential.

One of the key features of the back end is the database. This provides dynamic content that is affected by user inputs, user authentication details (in encrypted form) and other vital information. In designing and managing the database, computer scientists must ensure it is scalable, secure, and consistent, so that the app continues to run smoothly. 

Security implementation

The security of an app is paramount, and users should always feel confident that their personal information and passwords cannot be obtained by hackers or other cybercriminals. Many apps connect the user to third-party payment gateways, passing on their financial details. A computer scientist specializing in data security will make sure that all this can be achieved safely and seamlessly.

Testing and quality assurance

Quality assurance (QA) involves identifying and resolving any negative issues with the app before it is released to the public. Comprehensive testing is necessary to ensure the user experience is exactly as hoped and that no unexpected glitches occur. Fixing problems after the app is launched can be expensive and the damage to the brand’s reputation has already been done.  

Debugging and troubleshooting

Computer scientists are needed for debugging and troubleshooting, plus support and maintenance throughout the app’s lifetime. Even the best-designed app may develop issues once it is being used and, as operating systems are updated, apps may need to be upgraded to remain compatible. Users expect to be able to access technical support from experts for as long as the app is available.

A diverse role

It is clear that the role of computer scientists doesn’t end after an app goes live. They may also be called upon to create upgrades, add new features, or make other improvements to the app to keep it fresh and relevant. In this way, computer scientists are needed at every stage of app development.

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