Mathematics forms the foundation of computer science and technology. According to the University of Oxford, Mathematics is a fundamental intellectual tool in computing, but computing is increasingly used as a key component in mathematical problem-solving. Indeed, in the early decades of technology growth, the word computer was often used to refer to people capable of quickly, accurately, and repeatedly tackling large mathematical equations.
Today, more math majors work in industry than in academic research. Take a look at some job sites and you will come across ads for different IT roles that specify a mathematics degree, preferably a master's or a PhD, as one of the qualifications. Major tech companies, such as Google, Qualcomm, and Intel hire math majors in significant numbers.
The IT industry offers plenty of challenging work for mathematicians who have a passion for technology. More than theoretical mathematicians, the industry requires people who can apply mathematical concepts in order to develop efficient solutions to real-world problems.
With the growth of AI, machine learning, and data science, the demand for skilled math graduates is increasing. More and more businesses and government departments are hiring mathematicians.
The intersection of math and IT
Certain branches of mathematics provide the foundations of computer science, software development and engineering, machine learning, and AI. Discrete mathematics and logic are applicable in computer logic, algorithm engineering, game development, and cryptography, as well as in other areas of IT security.
Areas of discrete mathematics relevant to computing include boolean algebra, prime numbers, and probability. Number theory is applicable in cryptography and certain areas of information security. Calculus, trigonometry, linear algebra, and geometry are all required for video game design and development, and for AI work. AI also requires a foundation in probability.
Information technology spans a number of domains and myriad job roles. Key fields are computer science, computer or hardware engineering, Management Information Systems (MIS), and Computer Information Systems (CIS). Major IT employment sectors include hardware, semiconductors, and software and services.
While many job roles in the information technology industry need an understanding of arithmetic and basic mathematics, some occupations require advanced mathematics ability in fields, such as statistics, calculus, and complex algebra. The level of math required depends on the type of function.
Mathematics graduates with relevant specializations are needed for jobs in AI, machine learning, computer games, advanced graphics, cryptography and security systems, software engineering, software development, hardware design, and semiconductor engineering.
Math knowledge supports IT learning
Training in mathematics provides a solid foundation for understanding fundamental concepts of computer science and information systems. Mathematicians are logical thinkers who have developed skill in critical thinking, logic, problem solving, and decision making.
Recruiters in the IT industry value professionals who have an organized approach to solving problems. Math majors are trained to see the big picture, analyze a problem part by part, and apply mathematical concepts to devise an effective solution.
Math graduates make good data scientists because they are skilled in analyzing data, identifying patterns, applying quantitative skills to develop solutions, and constructing models to derive useful business insights. Core concepts that data scientists apply in their day-to-day work include statistical analysis, computer science, programming, machine learning, and data visualization.
Game developer, software engineer, cryptographer, and application and system developer are other IT occupations that require in-depth understanding of relevant mathematical concepts.
Math majors have the knowledge and skills to build promising careers in the IT industry. A math graduate, however, will need to complement his or her math degree with a minor in computer science or some level of tech training in order to qualify for most IT roles that need a solid grasp of mathematics.
For example, cryptographers need knowledge of computer science; programmers and software developers need to know different programming languages; systems engineers need a foundation in electronics technology; software testers need to be familiar with a range of testing applications, and possess an advantage if they are certified; and data scientists benefit from a foundation in computer science and proficiency in languages, including Python and R.
There are plenty of opportunities in the IT industry for mathematicians with applicable computer science specializations. Key areas of employment for skilled math majors include:
Cryptography — Cryptographers specialize in writing and cracking code and encryptions, with the purpose of developing more robust ways to secure sensitive information from hackers. Intelligence gathering personnel, security firms, law enforcement agencies, and financial entities are some of the institutions that employ cryptographers. One needs to be well versed in number theory.
Data Science — The role of data scientist is currently one of the most rewarding jobs for mathematicians with advanced skills in quantitative analysis. Most companies prefer candidates with at least a master's degree in math and statistics. For some positions, recruiters look for PhDs.
Data scientists basically help companies make sense of ever-increasing amounts of disparate data. They derive actionable insights from data, thereby enabling commercial and government organizations to solve problems and make the right decisions.
According to employment services firm Glassdoor, data scientist is still one of the best compensated and most fulfilling jobs in the United States, and LinkedIn reports that data scientist is the most promising job of 2019. While the number of entry-level data scientists has increased, experienced and highly skilled data scientists are in demand.
Computer Animation and Video Game Development — Video game developers and animation professionals need to know advanced mathematics, particularly trigonometry and calculus. Usually, companies prefer hiring someone with at least a master's degree in mathematics and a minor in computer science.
Programming and Software Testing — A math major with knowledge of relevant current programming languages can work as a programmer, software tester, or programmer analyst. These roles involve modifying applications to suit the needs of employees or clients, updating existing programs, checking code and resolving errors, and addressing performance issues.
Software Development — Software developers develop applications and systems. They first evaluate user needs, then design, develop, and test applications. Developers apply mathematical logic and need to know boolean algebra.
The level of mathematical expertise required depends on the type of software development. Financial and statistical applications, as well as games, require advanced mathematics. Many businesses hire math majors for software development roles.
Algorithm Engineering — Algorithm engineers design and evaluate algorithms, help to implement the same at work, and optimize real-world outcomes. They are involved in promoting and improving practical application of algorithms in industry, thereby compensating for the inadequacies of traditional algorithm theory. Those with advanced math and technological skills, including in-depth knowledge of a number of programming languages can work as algorithm engineers.
A head for numbers
Math graduates looking to grow in the dynamic IT industry would do well to apply for a role in the area that is not just most interesting but one that offers maximum scope for application of their knowledge and expertise. The more that you mesh your mathematical acumen into practical applications in the technology realm, the better off you will be.