Is computer science the one smart major in a recession?

Is computer science the one smart major in a recession?

Summary: A number of outlets are reporting on the rise in computer science majors at American universities. For years, the number of graduates with a computer science degree has been falling as the comp sci boom of the 90s left some pretty poor job prospects for graduates.

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TOPICS: Hardware, CXO
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A number of outlets are reporting on the rise in computer science majors at American universities. For years, the number of graduates with a computer science degree has been falling as the comp sci boom of the 90s left some pretty poor job prospects for graduates.

Now, however, the recession has made one thing clear. No matter how much the economy stinks, we need computers and we need them to work better, more efficiently, and in ways that make people more productive. There is no doubt that the tech sector is getting hit by the recession. Everyone from Sun to Microsoft seems to be laying off workers are avoiding contract renewals.

On the other hand, as an article on VNUNet points out,

Figures released by the US Department of Labor predict that IT jobs will see some of the strongest growth of any profession in the US by 2010. Demand for applications programmers is expected to grow by more than 100 per cent, and overall the IT sector is forecast to expand by over a third.

Essentially, once the recovery begins, IT will be the first to flourish and computer science grads will be the first to benefit.

"Competitive advantage, driven by innovation, has never been more important, " said Daniel Reed, current chairman of the CRA [Computing Research Association].

Topics: Hardware, CXO

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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18 comments
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  • Healthcare

    But, be careful about not acquiring excessive debt while getting the
    education. The more I think I about it, as long as there's money,
    accountancy.

    So, competitive advantage, driven by innovation (and not price or service
    or proximity), has never been more important. I'd love to see Mr. Reed's
    graph so I may seek the point when competitive advantage, no matter
    how driven, was least important. Durn it, I don't think the CRA will ever
    invite me to join now.


    DannyO_0x98
  • Hopefully some companies read this

    Because last I heard IT departments were being laid off like crazy.

    When revenue goes down, companies look at cutting costs to keep profitability up.

    Even if a department is helping the company reduce costs or increase sales, they slash headcount and budgets for non-revenue generating departments. (IT, finance, HR)
    Halotron
  • RE: Is computer science the one smart major in a recession?

    Bull. Has anyone heard of off shoring? India is not stupid. They continue to train very skilled IT people, American English is becoming a primary language, management and processes are becoming world class, and major companies likes IBM and Microsoft are building huge development centers there. IT people may decry the "quality" of what comes from India, but in reality it is as good as anything an American can turn out. Why would it not be, are our educational systems so great, or people smarter? Nah.

    The BLS has been shoving this load since the crash of tech. It's not going to come true. Management is not going to pay $100k for developers, when they can get 5 just like them in India for the same cost.

    Sorry.
    jerea3000@...
  • no way!

    anybody relying on US Department of Labor data is smoking something.
    The only reason they saw an increase is because of the grants and other finacial incentives to get there.
    There are fewer developers in US now than were in 2000, mostly because of offshoring.
    The wages have been stagnant or worse.
    Also better tools for development means better productivity and fewer jobs.
    More IT does not mean more jobs.
    It is more likely more offshoring, more H1B, L1 visas.
    Linux Geek
    • Here's how to keep jobs in US

      Stop screwing coporates w/ hyper-tax, minimum wage, unions and other silly welfare demands. Once they cut all these craps, the big corp will come back home and hire domestic people.
      LBiege
      • you must be living outside US

        if you think that corporations get screwed in US you must be ignorant or smoking something
        Linux Geek
      • And America will be the new India

        ...because the American people will be paid as
        much or less.

        Yes, what a wonderful idea it is to push the
        impoverished American lower class further into
        poverty by reducing their pay as much as we
        can.

        Take a look at the other 'socialist' countries
        around the world, and ask yourself: how is it
        possible that these 'socialist' countries are
        doing BETTER in the economic crisis than the
        US? Capitalism isn't going to save you.
        Caggles
  • Mixed Bag

    IT is certainly not immune to the recession, but it is
    not as hard hit as other domains. As already
    mentioned, most companies that are slashing staff
    don't care about what that staff can do for them, just
    how much that staff costs them, and some IT staff is
    well paid compared to other staff (it is not uncommon
    for people like me, a senior dev, to make six figure
    salaries, or close to it).

    That said, for many companies that have non-trivial IT
    needs, they need to hold on to some IT staff and will
    eventually have to hire some staff later when their
    revenues start returning. At that point they will be
    competing with all the other orgs wanting to hire IT
    staff and the old demand/supply thing will get going
    again. That is when some will probably wish they could
    get their old IT staff back because you can't get up
    to speed on a domain or infrastructure and company
    processes overnight - it can take months to years to
    become really productive. Those companies that could
    hold onto their core IT people will have an advantage.

    In Seattle we are still in the black when it comes to
    IT jobs - other areas (Calif., Nevada for example) not
    so much. I have seen some significant cuts though, and
    some machinations to get people to quit. Layoffs and
    machinations cause attrition of other staff that orgs
    have no control over, cause poor morale and destroy
    loyalty - but hey, if some VP gets their bonus and/or
    brings their stock options out of the red, it's all
    worth it to them - right? Who cares about long term
    revenue/profit?
    DeveloperDude
  • Good news

    We need better geeks.

    Seriously, we need more people who understand computers, regardless of whether they end up working as computer professionals or doing something else (I've long thought CS was a good pre-law degree). Such people will know what to expect and what not to expect from computers, they'll make better consumers of computer software and services (for both themselves and their employers), and better informed voters on tech issues, which are becoming more and more important.

    All in all, a good thing. After all, college is about a lot more than job training.

    John L. Ries
    • AGREED!!

      It would be hilarious how little some people
      know about computers if it wasn't so
      frustrating sometimes. EVERYONE should know how
      a computer thinks to a basic degree because
      then they can know what to expect from a
      computer (meaning, nothing but complex yes/no
      answers).

      I'm not sure what the curriculum is like in
      American elementary and high schools, but in
      Canada, we learn the same chunk of 300 years of
      history upwards of 3 times. I can understand
      why, because we start history lessons from a
      young age -- too young to actually appreciate
      the lessons we are supposed to learn from
      history. So here's what I propose: cut the
      useless crap and replace at least some of it
      with technical skills. Not just computer
      skills, either: everyone should know how to
      work a computer, replace a tire, use a
      screwdriver/hammer properly, and avoid food
      safety issues in the kitchen. School is great
      for job training, but job training should play
      as much of a part of life training (which is
      what school SHOULD provide) as a job plays in
      one's life.
      Caggles
  • Absolutely NOT

    India has a bigger and cheaper IT labor pool prepared to compete globally. The culture simply lends itself to turning out a harder working and more compliant employee. Those who are particularly gifted and innovative will be worth a premium, but they are still competing in a global market that will pressure wages lower.

    Healthcare is where the money is going to be during and after the recession. The boomers are aging and their bodies are beginning to show the results of their numerous consumptive excesses. While even some of that industry is going overseas, it's a lot more difficult to outsource broken hips than broken chips.
    MrDage
    • Culture?

      [i]The culture simply lends itself to turning out a harder working and more compliant employee.[/i]

      That's a pretty broad statement about an entire culture of over a billion people!

      I've had to work with lots of Indian IT workers in the last decade, some were immigrants from different areas of India, others were offshored contractors, others were 2nd generation immigrants that grew up on MTV and McDonald's.

      The one thing I can say that they all had in common?

      Nothing.

      I worked with some offshore contractors that were great, others that were complete idiots or jerks. Same goes for each of the demographics I listed.

      I'd say the culture lends itself to diversity, just like ours does.
      Halotron
  • RE: Is computer science the one smart major in a recession?

    That's kinda like buying gold after it hits a grand an ounce - even it you were starting college today the chances that 4 years from now IT is going to be still hiring if everyone else is still in the breadline are pretty slim. Do what you like and get good at it - you will always have a job.
    Zippereye125
  • Basic needs

    No matter what happens, we will still have a need for the basics: everyone eats, we all need shelter, etc. Labor focused on basic needs (like healthcare or medicines, and others alike) will always rise beyond the ruins...
    travellingpolander
  • RE: Is computer science the one smart major in a recession?

    Credibility check! Chris Dawson's quote from VNUNET is based on a document that was written in 2001!

    mymlbx@...
    • Reference links

      VNUNET article: http://www.vnunet.com/vnunet/news/2238681/recession-sees-rise-computer

      US Department of Labor document:
      http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2001/11/art4full.pdf
      mymlbx@...
  • RE: Is computer science the one smart major in a recession?

    Kinda of a double edged question.
    "Is computer science the one smart major in a recession?" Sure it is! Computer support, be it hardware, software, or networking support is always needed to support communication and business.

    Just like people in the medical field, if the job is needed.. you'll be around. Can you get still laid off because of "downsizing" ? Sure you can.
    sys6656
  • RE: Is computer science the one smart major in a recession?

    Yes it is, we need to be able to compete with the world. America is made up of strong hardworking people. If anything, this is an opportunity for us to grow.
    MLOVESIT