Financial Crisis May Be Boost for Computer Science/IT Education

By Randy Guthrie, Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist

Since the .com crash in the year 2001, many students with quantitative skills decided (with a lot of urging from their parents and teachers) against pursuing their heart’s dream of working in the computer field.  According to an article in ComputerWorld by Patrick Thibodeaux and Todd Weiss (citing William Daly, Computer Science Chair at Stanford University) many students left computer science majors because they thought they could make more money in the financial markets.  There was also a lot of press about outsourcing and the potential loss of programming jobs to lower cost labor markets in India, China and Indonesia, that many thought would be the end of lucrative IT jobs in the US.  With the current market crisis, computer science educators and practitioners alike speculate that with the tarnish now on jobs in the finance sector, that some of these students with good quantitative skills and a passion for technology will return to the IT workforce.  The reason is two-fold: One, the demand for skilled IT workers in the United States has never been greater, and exceeds the demand before the .com crash.  The expectation that most IT jobs would be outsourced has never materialized, and in fact, Microsoft recently closed a call center in India and brought it back to the US because of better service and it was less costly to operate in the US.  Two, IT careers are rated as some of the best jobs in the world in terms of the total package of pay, job satisfaction, benefits and quality of life (think flexible hours, work from home, and hours per week).

What does the Wall Street crisis mean in terms of IT jobs?  No one really knows, but as large and small investors pull their money out of the capital markets, even firms that are not involved in real estate will have less real dollars to spend on infrastructure, so it is reasonable to expect that the pace of system upgrades will be reduced somewhat, particularly for firms that don’t have a lot of cash laying around. However, more than ever computer technologies are considered strategic assets, and very few businesses can afford not to invest in IT, so while the demand for IT workers will probably slow down a little, there will still be growth in overall IT jobs, but not at the rate projected by the US Department of Labor last year. Likewise, it remains to be seen what exactly the impact to college enrollments in computer science will be in terms of numbers, but many agree that the current situation in Wall Street will level the playing field in terms of career choice for students with good quantitative skills, which is good news for computer science programs on campus, industry, and the US economy as well.

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