What is HCI?
As the name implies, it is the study of the relationship and interaction between computers and humans. The science applies to many industry sectors, including nuclear plants, offices, computer gaming, air traffic control, mobile phones, and more. Any device reliant on a computer chip to function in a human’s hands involves the interface between the animate and the inanimate. In this endeavor, the device should be easy to use or learn to use, perform proficiently, be reliable, and meet the operator or user’s needs.
Apple has excelled at HCI with its iPod, iPad, iPhone, MacPro, and Mac desktops. Steve Jobs recognized a need and then created a product to satisfy the human experience and enjoyment. Instead of bulky portable CD players and radios, why not invent a device that stores music, fits in a pocket, and provides the joy of music? Enter the iPod in 2001. In a sense, Mr. Jobs applied the principles of human-computer interaction. The handheld computer-like device (iPod) supplied pleasure for the person listening to their music library.
The HCI study plan involves knowledge of software, computer systems, programming languages, algorithms, psychology, graphics, user experience (UX) in varying degrees. Students without an aptitude for computer science will likely struggle in an undergraduate program. The Bachelor of Science at Carnegie Mellon University, for example, covers programming, mathematical foundations, algorithms, and digital technologies. UI (user interface) software, machine learning, research methods, interaction design, artificial intelligence, and data science are other courses.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) offers a Bachelor of Arts in Business Technology Administration that combines business elements with computer systems. The former includes classes in Management, Macroeconomics, Accounting, Business Communication Systems, Systems Analysis Methods, and Business Applications. The last three subjects are computer-oriented; for example, business applications explore business problems using advanced database and spreadsheet software.
AT UMBC, any of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs require these preparatory classes from an accredited high school:
- English: four years
- Mathematics: four years
- Social science/history: three years
- Science: three years
- Foreign language: two years
Students enrolling in a computer science degree (as above) are encouraged to have high school classes in trigonometry, pre-calculus, or calculus during the four math years. As you search for schools offering a baccalaureate in HCI, there are typical admission requirements that do not pertain to computer sciences. Core prerequisites may go beyond your chosen major, such as a foreign language. Why do I need three or four years of a foreign language to major in HCI, computer graphics, or computer engineering? The answer is that colleges and universities want to see that you’ve completed a challenging array of high school subjects.
Prestigious institutions known collectively as Ivy League schools might not have specific admission demands, but these schools consider your high school academics’ difficulty level. Yale University doesn’t have a foreign language requirement, but it does look at your high school courses each year in science, English, Math, social sciences, and foreign language. Admissions focus on whether the applicant took a “rigorous” set of classes.
The above example mirrors those of many schools. California State Polytechnic University (CSU) has undergraduate programs in computer science with similar requirements to Yale. Admissions require two years of history, one year in performing arts, and one year of college-preparatory electives, in addition to the standard English, math, science, and a foreign language. Noteworthy is that California residents should have a high school GPA of 2.5 (minimum), whereas non-residents need 3.0 (exceptions apply).
Besides one’s affinity for all things associated with computers, applicants must meet the standard admission requirements. Regardless of the undergraduate major, your competency and fulfillment of four years of taking math, sciences, English, and a foreign language (usually two years) are paramount. Therefore, evidence of mastery in these subjects is critical to any college and any program’s application process. A Bachelor of Science in Biology at Arizona State University (ASU) requires one year of fine arts and American history. It is not enough to be a genius with computer software and hardware or laboratory sciences (ASU example) if you cannot meet post-secondary school learning institutions’ admission conditions. The reason for classes unrelated to your major is that colleges want students to have a well-rounded education.