by Duncan Buell
The computer is all around us , in online commerce (Amazon, iTunes,eBay), in constant access and connections on smart phones that text, browse the web, play music, and display photos and video clips. And yet, surprisingly, enrollments in university computer science programs are down substantially from a few years ago. Our nation is at risk, because we have become completely dependent on computers and their software applications, and yet we do not have enough people starting careers in computer science.
Consider this: the growth rate for jobs in computer science is projected at 2-1/2 times the national average, the best of any job category. Nearly two-thirds of jobs forecast in all of science and technology are in computer science. Starting salaries are near the top, and long-term earnings are better than any job category other than law and higher management; and computing and software management and development consistently rank in the top ten for job satisfaction.
Why, then, are students not attracted to computer science? What can we do to attract more students into computer science? How can we attract students into a discipline that currently forecasts three job openings for every college graduate?
Students should understand that computer science is much more than just programming. Although many jobs may start with programming, good people should rise from being those who write code under direction into management positions directing others to write code, and eventually into design and management of data center and software operations. For people with talent, this is not a career limited to staring at a computer screen.
Computer science is also not just a job that deals with the computer. In the end, the goal is to get a software package to fill a need, but the really hard part involves working with the nontechnical person to understand exactly what is wanted. Beyond technical skills, people skills and writing and presentation skills are crucial to getting the software to perform needed tasks. Computer scientists who really stand out are those who not only know technical material, but who also have strong interpersonal skills. Finally, the computer is everywhere, and thus careers exist in virtually every job sector. A student who likes to work with computers and who has second interests in fields such as music, politics, journalism, business,science, or media and animation, can find career paths that combine both passions with a major and minor in computer science and a second area. The world of computing is also one of the last places where startup businesses can flourish. There is no need for a manufacturing plant, or government approval of a new drug. Many computing companies start with only a good idea and people willing to work to create a success.
Make no mistake, computer science requires hard work; salaries are high because it isn't a career for everyone. But it is a career with limitless opportunity and a continuous influx of new ideas and new toys with which to play.
Duncan Buell is a professor with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of South Carolina.