Is Computer Science Dying

Well that is a pretty dramatic title. I didn't think it up myself though. I'm not so pessimistic. It is the title of a post I read recently though. There does seem to be a lot of bad news in the field of Computer Science these days. I also read recently that Cambridge University in England is having trouble attracting as many computer science students as they would like.  One quote from the article is interesting.

Cambridge professors blame the dwindling enrollment figures on their field’s ongoing image problem

Image problem? Well yes. Would you want to be many of the computer geeks you see on TV and the movies? And worse still there is the image of all the jobs going away. Scary stuff. And in fact there is a lot of evidence that the actual need for computer scientists is going up. Bill Gates who regularly laments on a looming shortage recently also brought up a desire to see more African-Americans and other minorities in the field. Now even if you see that as some sort of politically correct purely social goal or see real value in a diverse workforce I think most would agree that computer science offers a good career path for many people. It should be open to all regardless of race, gender or other attribute.

But if I can come back to the article that started me off on this thread - the one called "Is Computer Science Dying" - one of the things I really like about it is that it addresses the famous quote by Edsger Dijkstra who claimed, "Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." It's worth the read just for that discussion.

My answer to the title question is that computer science is not dying. It is changing and the perceptions of it are changing. I think it is also rapidly becoming ingrained in more and more disciplines. It is like math in that even people who don't major in it are increasingly finding themselves in a position where they have to study it more than perhaps they originally thought. Rather than moving more into the hard sciences as an engineering it is becoming more and more a true "liberal art."

Comments (13)

  1. mjwalshe says:

    it has more to do with the low status of techies and engineers In th UK

    The fiasco at HMRC and the records of every parent in the country is one outcome o fthis.

  2. danieldsmith says:

    When I was in my final year at high school, I was the *only* person in my Computer Studies class!  Needless to say, I was top of the class 🙂

    Seriously though, the steady drop in CS students is pretty worrying.

  3. Corvida says:

    Oh it’s definitely changing and a lot of students at my university are taking it in their majors too, even though the classes may not be directly related to their field.

    For me, I switched out of Computer Science because Math isn’t my strongest suit and everytime I drop a Math class, I become an entire semester behind in my major. Too many math requirements and the teachers really turned me off as far as their teaching skills.

  4. Tim says:

    Hey, I like your blog. I found it when I use to to think of pursuing compsci, still read it today and I thought I might give some input into this. In gr10 when I was thinking about what I wanted to do as a career , the main thing that really made compsci totally unattractive was the thought of 1000’s of other kids in china and india that want to be programmers too. I used to pursue compsci even though I was aware of this image from my parents

    which compsci they looked down on but eventually I became convinced after reading about many unhappy programmers, other people’s opinions including the book the world is flat. Being a compsci teacher sounds nice though, it’s one of my options.

    To be Short What I don’t like about Compsci

    – outsourcing scares me, bad job security

    – thousands of other kids in india and china

    – low pay ( unless you’re a genius programmer)

    – to become a good/great programmer takes lots of time and practice (10 years) and afraid of burnout

    – there are lots of other more capable kids online/offline, some who start at 4 and younger

    – it’s even worse if you’re a mediocre programmer

    – on all of the compsci contests lots of patels, and chens, basically fierce competition

    -how much can you stand sitting in front of a computer?

    I love compsci. Compsci is fun. It’s fun problem solving but compsci is too competitive especially if you live in developed country.

  5. Ben Chun says:

    This is definitely a topic on a lot of minds:

    Note especially the presentations in the panel called "Addressing enrollment declines and increasing participation by underrepresented groups in CS"

  6. Kris Brixon says:

    Computer Science degrees are down, but interest in computers is not. 20 years ago, a degree with computers required a CS degree. Today, a degree with computers can mean CS or CIS or MIS or SE or various other flavors. The computer field is so broad that one degree does not fit all.

  7. Clinton says:

    China and India have you covered.  I’ve worked with teams of both, and have had fun in each case.  Some of the best developers I’ve worked with are Chinese and Indian.

    If my fellow "white people" are too proud to do it, and too afraid to risk being a "nerd", then so be it.  More work for our Asian friends.

    As for the image problem, I disagree.  I would not have minded being either of the lead characters in Hackers or Antitrust.


  8. Petey says:

    To the guy above thinking about CompSci as a Major.

    Dude trust me when I say this: your evaluation of the current situation in outsourcing is seriously flawed. Yes there are programmers in different parts of the world. But this is not something you should be worried about.

    I think companies are starting to learn that you lose quality and time when you outsource a project. Not everything can be outsourced!

    There are many, MANY skilled people who make a good living working in CompSci related jobs. I can attest to this: I’ve been out of college for four years and I’m in the ballpark of 90K + benefits. The promise of CompSci was that you could make more in terms of salary when you graduated. It was the promise when I first started college back in 2000, and it has come through for me.

    Besides, when choosing college degrees, your main focus should be whether you love the course. It seems that you do, so go with it.

    Finally, less compsci grads means less competition for me. That’s how I look at it. The future looks great!

  9. Mehrdad says:

    I think one reason computer science enrollment is down because it is a very fast moving filed and usually the education in the universities for computer is really screwed up! You have outdated instructors who themselves do not know about the real needs of computer industry. Unfortunately the main trend in universities is to hire pure academic people. But the fact is computer science also involves a lot of engineering, and to teach that, there should be more emphasize in universities for getting help from active industry people to transfer the engineering knowledge. If you look at the current status, big companies are mostly doing their research not through universities, but rather through smaller companies and startups. With this trend, the same will go for training and education. So, I agree it is an image problem, but it is also an education problem. When I compare what I was taught 10 years ago and what are the new kids being taught in the university, I see the new education system is pathetic!

  10. November was an interesting month in some ways. It seems that when I really lay out an opinion piece

  11. John Larson says:

    Let me assure computer science is alive and well.  As an embedded systems programmer I can see no end to career development opportunities for anyone wishing to invest the time.  Micro processors exist in everything today from cars to rockets, from every form of entertainment device from IPOD’s to PS3s, everday boring things like air conditioners, elevators, CD, DVD players, cell phones, TVs, refrigerators and micro wave ovens have a little tiny "brain" – that needs software. BTW I graduated in 1979 with a BSEE degree because I hated "programming" – my first real job was writing software for a company that made machines to make glass containers.  My boss told me that BSEE is OK but software is what makes the world go round – he was right.

  12. Well I must confess that I am struggling to get back into the whole "doing work" thing after taking the

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