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9.2: What Is Computer Science?

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    One of the most interesting aspects of writing programs is deciding how to solve a particular problem, especially when there are multiple solutions. For example, there are numerous ways to sort a list of numbers, and each way has its advantages. In order to determine which way is best for a given situation, we need techniques for describing and analyzing solutions formally.

    Computer science is the science of algorithms, including their discovery and analysis. An algorithm is a sequence of steps that specifies how to solve a problem. Some algorithms are faster than others, and some use less space in computer memory. As you learn to develop algorithms for problems you haven’t solved before, you also learn to think like a computer scientist.

    Designing algorithms and writing code is difficult and error-prone. For historical reasons, programming errors are called bugs, and the process of tracking them down and correcting them is called debugging. As you learn to debug your programs, you will develop new problem solving skills. You will need to think creatively when unexpected errors happen.

    Although it can be frustrating, debugging is an intellectually rich, challenging, and interesting part of computer programming. In some ways, debugging is like detective work. You are confronted with clues, and you have to infer the processes and events that led to the results you see. Thinking about how to correct programs and improve their performance sometimes even leads to the discovery of new algorithms.

    This page titled 9.2: What Is Computer Science? is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Allen B. Downey (Green Tea Press) .

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