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Computing Careers: the future is bright

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Joel Adams, a professor of computer science at Calvin College in Michigan, recently released a report The Market for Computing Careers that suggests a bright future for anyone choosing a computing career. Three major "surprises" are noted in this report:

  1. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS) is projecting more than four times as many new jobs in computing as in all the other areas of engineering combined.
  2. The number of new jobs per year is double number of computing graduates each year, creating a stupendous shortage.
  3. Computing is the only STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) discipline in which demand for graduates exceeds supply.

The report also notes that salaries are climbing as the supply of prepared graduates continues to fall short of the demand.


The USBLS predicts that computing will be one of the fastest growing professions for the foreseeable future with nearly 3/4 of the new science or engineering jobs being computing related. Of those jobs, 27% will be software engineering, 21% in computer networking and administration, and 10% in systems analysis.

Despite the obvious demand for graduates, the number of students choosing a computer science degree has dropped - from roughly 60,000 undergraduate majors in 1998 to 30,000 in 2007. There has been a slight increase in enrollments in the past two years. Students are usually quite perceptive when it comes to choosing a college major most likely to lead to lucrative careers. This has not been true in computing, most likely due to a number of prevailing myths; for example:

  • "All the good jobs are going to India." In fact, only commodity jobs are being off-shored (and some statistics suggest as many jobs are coming back to the U.S. as are leaving each year).
  • "It's a guy thing." It is definitely true that computer science classes are overwhelmingly comprised of male students - but the actual workforce, while still unbalanced, is not as skewed in terms of gender. In part, because a lot of people enter the computing profession with alternative preparation, in business for example, where gender differences are not as pronounced.
  • "Computing means programming and programming means staring at a screen all day, isolated in a cubicle." Programming is important, but you will spend far more of your time working with others in order to understand and resolve complex problems than you will in implementing your solutions (which is where the programming comes in).
  • "It is too hard." The emphasis on mathematics, theory, hardware, compilers, and programming that is the hallmark of computer science programs at research universities is, without question, a challenging curriculum. But more and more programs are recognizing the importance of alternative curricula that stress knowledge and skills more appropriate for that "27% of jobs in software engineering and 21% in computer networking, and 10% in systems analysis" - almost 60% of all jobs in computing. These alternative curricula are not necessarily "easier" but they are certainly less 'esoteric' as it is far easier to link what you are learning with its importance, relevance, and application.

Peter Demming convened a conference and founded an organization (Rebooting Computing) that is attempting to address these an other myths and attract more students to a computing education.


Like most myths, there is an element of truth in the idea that a college education in computer science will not lead to a great career. There is an obvious disjunction between what academia thinks is important and what employers want and expect in a graduate. Large consulting companies, like Accenture, use "boot camps" to screen graduates and introduce them to the kind of post-graduate education and training (provided in house and on the job) that will make graduates "billable." Smaller organizations or companies using direct hires consistently report that it takes a year of on-the-job experience and "re-education" before a typical graduate becomes a full contributor.

The combination of job projection statistics with the dissatisfaction of students for computer science programs and of employers with graduates from such programs, suggests that there are some critical issues that need examination and resolution if the critical need for computing professionals is to be resolved.

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