In many fields, an associate's degree is often viewed as a transition degree, or a career switch vehicle. While this may be true in some fields, this is not the case in computer science. Since so many of the specializations required for advanced responsibilities in the field require work experience and technical certifications, an associate's degree is a valid way to begin that process. Also, advanced certifications are available to anyone at any time, so the required certifications can often be obtained while pursuing an associate’s, just as they would with a bachelor's degree.
Since most associate's degrees are designed to be obtained over a two year period or with night classes, the structure of the associate's degree is usually 60 credit hours. This would allow the student to receive junior level standing at a university if they were to transfer their credits.
These 60 credit hours are spread over a variety of areas. General computer science specific coursework often includes approximately 30 credit hours, and involves introduction courses, data courses, analytic mathematics, and a specialized programming language of the student's choice.
The remaining credit hours are in the general disciplines, and are used to satisfy the core curriculum requirements at universities. These requirements often call for English classes, science coursework, and a number of credit hours in the humanities.
Along with an introduction to the field of computer science, students will learn the basics of computing organizational structures, data and network management, programming, and the history of computing. This knowledge will serve the student as a foundation for specific learning required to obtain certifications related to employment or to continue their coursework at the university level.
Since so much of the employment landscape in computer science requires students to have external certifications, this degree is simply a vehicle to substitute for work experience and to give the student background for their future learning. As a result, most of the entry level jobs in computer science that can be held with a bachelor's degree are available with an associate's.