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On the Decline of American Computer Science Students (Tuesday, September 27, 2005)

Well this is new. I managed to make the school newspaper. The Broadside ran an article on Monday about the diminishing number of computer science students in the United States. As usual, I feel that my quotes were taken mildly out of context to achieve the goal of reporting the news. My full "analysis" follows...

I have two perspectives on this -- one, as a veteran software engineer, and two as a computer science student.

I chose computer science because it seemed to make sense, given my job as a software engineer. However, many years of interviewing and hiring have shown me that a computer science degree is not necessarily going to be of any use to a software engineer. The position "software engineer" could mean any number of things. At my company, it requires a wide domain knowledge of different applications, almost none of which are addressed in GMU's computer science program. The computer science program teaches programming at the most rudimentary level, and is not even remotely adequate for a job that requires programming. However, a computer science degree does introduce important concepts that are necessary for understanding the underlying principles of working with computers (even if it isn't presented that way), and also teaches logic and problem solving, which are fundamental to any technical job.

As far as students not choosing computer science, I think there are a number of reasons. At GMU (and my previous university) I used to hear all the time, "oh, there's too much math required for a degree in computer science, I'm switching to a degree in information technology or business information systems, because there's not as much math." Also, when the Internet "bubble" burst, I think a stigma developed, where people don't think they'll be able to find a job in the computer industry when they graduate, or that they won't be able to get the kind of pay that they would like, or have job security.

I think it's a sweeping generalization to say that the US is lacking computer science students. What the US is lacking is individuals who are sincerely interested in developing their technical skills and solving interesting problems for their own sake, rather than people who are trying to find the easiest way into a high paying position that they care very little about -- having worked with both, I'd choose a British Literature major who does programming on her own, just for fun, over a Computer Science major who hates computers, but just wants a high paying job.

—Brian (9/27/2005 10:18 AM)
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