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## Do Computer Scientists Use Math?

Recently a student, “James”, asked if it was possible for him to work in the field of computer science, even if he does not like maths and says that he is not good at it.

The short answer: yes. The longest answer? Yes and no.

There is a huge opportunity for the development of all kinds of software and hardware that don’t require math per se. Areas such as software/application design and UX (user experience) quality assurance require an understanding of the language involved and how the software interacts with the overall hardware, but not deep math.

So, James can certainly make a good career out of working with computers without knowing his epsilons and deltas.

But will the math be useful?

Some areas – like some of the formulas we memorize while calculating – won’t be useful. But others, like discrete mathematics, will prove very useful to James: they will teach him concrete concepts which he can use in his work, and will also help him to develop an analytical mind which will be useful to him.

Consider this: if James wants to analyze a program that he or his team has written, and see if he can improve it in any way – i.e.: change the structure of the program so that it runs more efficiently – it’s basically a mathematical question, what are called “algorithms”: James can examine the program and find parts that are redundant or can be done better, then revise the program.

It doesn’t need to think strictly in terms of math, however, to do this: the kind of thinking it does, about the structures inside the program and how they relate to each other , is very similar to what some mathematicians do. . So good programming, at least in many types of programming, is very similar to mathematical thinking and the type of thinking used in problems in discrete math classes.

The only area he could go into with computers that really requires a deep understanding of a wide variety of mathematics would be theoretical computer science – like what academic computer scientists work in. The work they do is math intensive and requires an understanding of calculus, analysis, which is like a more formalized version of calculus, logic, statistics, and linear algebra.

Again, theoretical computer science is probably not what interests James initially. If he wants to work with computers and use them to solve cool real-world problems, he’ll probably do well even if he gets a C in calculus.

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