I am working full time currently as a programmer in a summer internship. In the fall I will be continuing school and working part-time as a programmer.

I believe that I want to be a professional programmer and someday a software engineer.

However, I am very interested in all the areas of computer science that I have been studying. I hear occasionally about how some computer science majors end up being "just programmers" and not "computer scientists." There seems to be a common thought that becoming a programmer means that you give up the field as a whole and the possibility of contributing to the field.

I would like to be a professional programmer, but also a lifelong learner in the field of computer science. Am I naive to think this is possible?

  • It depends what you mean by "active". Again, many CS content is easily available on the Internet (e.g., arXiv, technical reports), and there is no major reason why you can't learn from them. Whether you'll have time for that depends on your job, and the way you organise yourself. Do you mean also contributing to the field?
    – user102
    Aug 14, 2014 at 14:47
  • Potentially. The thought I'm getting at is that there seems to be an idea carried by some that you are giving something up if you decide to focus on programming.
    – Thomas
    Aug 14, 2014 at 14:50
  • 12
    When you choose a career, you give up some things that another career would have given you. If you decide to be programmer instead of a baker, you might give up on the possible craft of making amazing bread. But you can still bake some bread at your place. Pretty much the same for an academic.
    – user102
    Aug 14, 2014 at 14:54
  • 1
    So you might want to narrow down your question: You don't need to be an academic to publish, but you might not be able to apply for some kind of grants, or supervise a PhD student, or design a teaching module, etc, if you don't work at an university (or equivalent). So it depends what you mean by active.
    – user102
    Aug 14, 2014 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


I am a professional programmer with a PhD.

I have had a colleague, who was working as a programmer and continued even publishing in his unrelated field (chemical engineering/textiles), so if you are dedicated, it is even easier for you to do, since your area might be related, but still it is not a light undertaking. But if you can find a more research heavy R&D position in the industry, of course that would make it easier.

I am personally planning to teach adjunct classes, to keep me fresh about theoretical basis.

Hope my two cents helps.


I was discussing your question with a software developer and here is what came out:

Software development require some specific skills you will develop in the job, and you will surely not be able to be an expert in development as well as, algorithmic, cryptography, network, AI etc... But if you want to keep working on some other computer science subject, it depends where and which project you decide to work as software developer.

If you develop an authentication server or an anti-virus you will still have to keep up in computer security, if you develop a network layer for a game you will have to know about how a network work etc... of course you should probably avoid to go to a company that design web sites or implement yet another client data base...

And as always: what ever you are interested in you can continue to be interested outside of your work.

  • I think you meant "surely not" (rather than surly).
    – msanford
    Dec 13, 2017 at 18:51

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