Restoring the popularity of Computer Science

Restoring the popularity of Computer Science

Summary: Over the past five years, the number of student's majoring in CS has declined precipitously. Data suggests that this is an overreaction and that CS is still a fine career choice.

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TOPICS: IT Employment
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David Patterson, is president of the ACM and respected Computer Science researcher.  Among many other things, his research was the foundation for Sun's SPARC processor. As ACM president, he writes a monthly letter in Communications of the ACM.  They are usually worth reading, but unfortunately hard to get online.  It seems odd to me that an organization that wants to be influential should go to such great lengths to make it's material hard to find.  But, that's a different story...

This story is about Dr. Patterson's latest missive on restoring the popularity of Computer Science (CS).  The letter starts out by acknowledging that the number of students studying or wanting to study CS is down over the past 6 years.  For women it's at an all time low.  The conventional wisdom is that after the dot-com bubble there are fewer jobs in IT and that most of those are being outsourced.  Patterson is trying to dispel that myth.  Here's one quote from the article:

Does anyone besides me know that U.S. IT employment was 17% higher [in 2004] than in 1999--5% higher than the bubble in 2000 and showing an 8% growth in the most recent year--and that the compound annual growth rate of IT wages has been about 4% since 1999 while inflation has been just 2% per year?  Such growth rates swamp predictions of the outsourcing job loss in the U.S., which most studies estimate to be 2% to 3% per year for the next decade. 

The general feel of gloom and doom that has pervaded the IT industry over the last 5 years has made a lot of people wonder about their future.  I've always been optimistic.  So, tell your sons, and especially your daughters, that CS is alive and kicking and that it's not only a lucrative career choice, but that's it's fun and interesting as well.  I'm confident that they won't be sorry for their choice of major, regardless of where their career takes them.

Topic: IT Employment

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  • I think Patterson is "the only one"

    I think things are improving, definitely, in the IT job front. I've seen it. When Patterson cites his figures though, I wish he'd be more specific about what jobs he's talking about. In reading articles and discussing it with others I've discovered that "I.T." has such a broad meaning. I mean, call center jobs have been lumped in with "I.T." in some articles talking about the job situation. So is Patterson talking about programmers? Is he talking about system administrators? Is he talking about database administrators? You get the idea. This can be important because CS isn't necessarily the best major for learning to be a system administrator (though I have seen sysadmin courses be offered as part of the CS department at some universities).

    His pronouncement about the growth rate is surprising. If it's true, and not just spin, then it's good news.

    I had an unexpected experience recently. An IT recruiter called me and asked if I'd consider a development position in my area. I've been working as an application development consultant, and I was going on a planned vacation soon. Assuming that he'd want to find someone ASAP for the position, I told him about it, saying that I wouldn't be available. I expected that that was the end of it. The recruiter had other prospects and he would politely end the call. What surprised me is he had the attitude that he wouldn't take no for an answer. He asked if I could tell him when I'd be back from my trip, because it's possible the position would still be open by then. I had heard of some headhunter scams in the past, so I didn't feel comfortable discussing that with someone I didn't know. Even after I said that, he still didn't seem willing to end the conversation. I knew of a former co-worker who was doing consulting in my area, so I offered to forward the information about the position to him. This seemed to satisfy the recruiter, and we ended the call.

    This was striking. I hadn't seen an IT recruiter act like this since 2000. It used to annoy the heck out of me, but I liked being treated this way this time. It's been so long. Over the last 4 years I had gotten used to recruiters NOT wanting to talk to me, like I was the one bothering them. I had gotten used to the general attitude of "you can send me your resume, but don't hold your breath." But now it looks like the IT labor pool may be tightening up again.

    I don't think it's quite like the 90s though. Even though Patterson says that we have more growth now than in 1999, the atmosphere is not quite the same. You still need to have the skills employers are looking for. I haven't gotten the sense that many employers are willing to have developers do on-the-job training for skills they don't have. I think they're willing to be a little more flexible than they used to be. I'm getting the sense that they don't require you to have 100% of the skills and experience they're asking for, like they did just a couple years ago, but I think they want people to have around 90% of it (that may be optimistic).

    Anyway, hope it continues. I've been hearing fears that the destruction from Hurricane Katrina is going to have some negative economic impacts, maybe even leading to another recession due to the combination with higher gas prices. I hope the doomsayers are wrong.
    Mark Miller