Saad Farooq

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    © 2014. Saad Farooq All rights reserved.

    Is Computer Science Really in Danger?

    06 Jan 2014

    I consider myself a qualitative CSEd researcher (in as far as I consider myself a researcher, there is little evidence to support that claim). To me this means I am more worried about the quality of computer science we are teaching than the number of students that are enrolling in Computer Science programs. Partly, this has to do with my background as a citizen of a developing country where people will flock to any technology that hints at a reasonable income (this was the main reason I didn't do CS as my undergrad degree, too many people trying to get in, turned me off).

    Having said that, I do see the value in the research being done to improve enrollments and frankly, it's a better sell. Apparantly, that research seems to be paying off. On a University of Berkeley site, Professor David Patterson (with co-author Ed Lazowska of the University of Washington) did a post titled Why are English majors studying computer science?. They talk about how over the past decade, enrollments in introductory CS courses have seem significant rise.

    Mark Guzial echoed similar sentiments about Georgia Tech, Rose Hulman and Harvey Mudd on his blog.

    The news is exciting but I wonder if this was bound of occur. Times have been tough and people see computer science as a lucrative field. I can't say I feel the view of the field has changed. My own view of the field has worsened since I started the Phd program but not in the same way that most people see it. I actually didn't mind the nerd culture or the image crisis the Richard Rashid talked about with programmers being seen as people who "sit in front of a computer all day" (Rashid, 2008), I've been doing that anyway for years. No... that's not it. What gets me is the "nerd jockiness". The field is mean. There is a certain pride taken in the pain of overworking oneself. I'm sure this is true for most fields but it seems more prominent in CS.

    Having said that, I don't think the field discriminates in it's punishment. All are treated equally badly. It's only a certain demographic that makes it through that pain and it just so happens that it ends up being a white male dominated demographic.

    So maybe there is more significance to this good news. Maybe the increasing enrollments will have a positive affect on the culture. Maybe what we really need is not good programmers but good people and this will get us some. Advocates of diversity would claim that that is almost certainly going to be the case. I have my doubts. There is only so much sitting in a front of computer screen all day that sane person can take. Which is why we need "better" computer science; where solving problems matters more than implementations. And that is why "that" is my crusade.

    References:

    1. Rashid, R. (2008). Image Crisis: Inspiring a New Generation of Computer Scientists. Commun. ACM, 51(7), 33–34. doi:10.1145/1364782.1364793

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