Do we have to make computer science cool again?

I have been told that once upon a time the ISTE conference (back when it was still called NECC) had a lot of computer science education content. That’s before my time though and while there is some good CS content you do have to go looking for it. So I tried to start a conversation about this on Twitter.The conversation (on Twitter) went something like this:

@AlfredTwo (That’s me) What would it take to get a bit more computer science at ISTE? People tell me that once there was a lot of it there
@KenRoyal (Ken Royal from Scholastic Administrator and the Educators Royal Treatment) Do we have to make computer science cool again?
@AlfredTwo When did it stop being cool? Need to show kids its cool though.
@ximplosionx (a high school student) @alfredtwo Start with the stigma attached to the words programmer and geek. Should be a good start

As you can see my snap back was that computer science was cool, always had been cool, always will be cool. Well that is undeniably true from where I sit the slightest bit of reflection suggest not everyone sees it my way. OK hardly anyone does. For me learning computer science and programming was a life altering experience. It was and remains very cool to me. But in the real world that’s not so much the case.

As my young friend points out there is a stigma attached to the words programmer and geek. The image of a computer scientist is not that of the most exiting career or people in the world. Yeah, it’s a crazy world we live in. For a while, during the big Dot Com Boom it was pretty cool to be a computer scientist. Companies were bribing students to leave college and create the next big web application. There was huge money to be made. Alas this coolness was short lived and we’ve fallen back to the Dilbert stereotype. This is not good.

But how do we make computer science appear cool (again?) How do we convince young people that computer science is a life changing career, a world changing career even? I talk to students all the time. I really try to promote the field and I give examples of people doing cool things, of making a difference in the environment, in medicine, in agriculture, and in other fields. I push hard. But does this sort of one shot event make a lasting difference? Studies show – not very often. Oh one student may be inspired but you’re lucky if that happens. The odds are not good.

We need more than one shot events. We need to over and over show students that there are cool things they can do with computer science. We need to show them cool people in the role. We need them to understand that it is not all cubicle and never talking to people when in fact the opposite is true. The question is how? And that is where I struggle. Any one have any suggestions?

Comments (2)

  1. indigo196 says:

    We should start by requiring at least one computer science course in K-12 curriculum. Currently it is not required and many districts do no offer any CompSci courses.

  2. It seems to me that I am hearing a lot these days about the "need" to disassociate computer science from the "stigma attached to the words programmer and geek". I have to ask, why? I am convinced doing so would only alienate the "core market" of computer scientists that thirst for the kind of life/atmosphere those "stigma[s]" conjure up. There are plenty of other professions that have these sorts of stigmas attached to them. Take accounting for example. It is a profession full of nerdy, number people, not really, but that is what you might think of when you first think of accountants. However, accounting doesn't seem to be faced with such a shortage, at least I don't think it does. People get pulled into accounting not because it is necessarily cool, they get pulled in because they can take accounting courses at many levels in college and in high school and they are fully aware of the fact that accountants tend to be well paid.

    Instead of trying to think of ways to label Computer Science as "hip" and "cool" we should just focus on getting people into it. Once people actually have a chance to sit down and program away a problem and have that bliss of solving something that seemed quite impossible, those that find it enjoyable will continue on, and those that do not wont. All they need is to get their foot in the door.

    At least that is what I think :)…

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