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The Pipeline Crisis in Computing


... and groups in other disciplines to bring new voices into the discussion. ... Dangers on the Horizon. Walt Kelly. We have met the enemy and he is us. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Pipeline Crisis in Computing

The Pipeline Crisis in Computing
Taking the Initiative
SIGCSE 2007 Symposium Covington, Kentucky March
9, 2007
Eric Roberts Professor of Computer Science,
Stanford University Co-chair of the ACM Education
Reframing the Issue
  • All too often, those of us who teach computing
    have looked at the declining interest in the
    discipline as an enrollment crisis.
  • This characterization is self-defeating and makes
    it harder to attract allies to our cause.
  • In a typical university, every department wants
    to increase its enrollment, and we become merely
    another player in a parochial game of resources.
  • The real concern is that we have a pipeline
    crisis in that we are producing far too few
    graduates to fill the growing number of positions
    that require computing skills. Judging by
    demand, we were producing too few graduates even
    at the top of the boom.
  • Failure to respond to the pipeline crisis will
    place significant constraints on the computing
    industry and compromise national competitiveness.

The Looming Pipeline Crisis
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects much
    faster growth in computing employment than in
    other science/engineering areas.

A Graphic Indicator of the Shortage
Graphic created by Greg Lavender at the
University of Texas.
Economic Utility of Disciplinary Degrees
Working in the life sciences typically requires a
degree in biology or some closely related field,
but relatively few biology majors actually end up
working in the field.
  • 80 of workers in the life sciences have degrees
    in the life sciences.

Economic Utility of Disciplinary Degrees
In computing, the pattern of degree production
vs. employment is reversed.
  • 39 of workers in computing have degrees in

These data suggest a significant underproduction
of students with computing degrees at the
university level.
Why Other Sciences Should Be Concerned
Though the information technology-powered
revolution is accelerating, this country has not
yet awakened to the central role played by
computational science and high-end computing in
advanced scientific, social science, biomedical,
and engineering research defense and national
security and industrial innovation. Together
with theory and experimentation, computational
science now constitutes the third pillar of
scientific inquiry, enabling researchers to build
and test models of complex phenomenasuch as
multi-century climate shifts, multidimensional
flight stresses on aircraft, and stellar
explosionsthat cannot be replicated in the
laboratory, and to manage huge volumes of data
rapidly and economically. . . .
What We Need To Do
  • Develop greater understanding of the reasons
    behind the decline in student interest in
    computing disciplines.
  • Forge alliances with individuals and groups in
    other disciplines to bring new voices into the
  • Increase public awareness of the range of
  • Press government and industry to support
    computing education.
  • Expand efforts to increase diversity.
  • Encourage experimentation in curricular
  • Develop tools and materials that can be used off
    the shelf.
  • Improve distribution channels for best practices.
  • Promote interdisciplinary curricular connections.
  • As Grady Booch encouraged us this morning, help
    students rediscover the passion, beauty, joy,
    and awe of software

Reasons for the Decline
Changes in Student AttitudesorWhy Students No
Longer Like Programming
For much of our fields history, programming was
the most popular aspect of the major. That seems
to have changed.
  • Students have adopted over time an increasingly
    instrumental attitude toward education.
  • For many students, opportunities for wealth are
    more attractive than simply having good prospects
    for a high-paying job.
  • A factor analysis by my colleague Mehran Sahami
    revealed an 88 correlation between the number of
    CS majors at Stanford and the average level of
    the NASDAQ the year before.
  • Students are primarily choosing careers that they
    perceive to fall on the capital side of the
    capital/labor divide. Despite the fact that
    software development is highly paid, it is
    generally viewed as labor.

Some Encouraging Signs
Matt Jacobsen, Senior, UC Berkeley
A common misconception is that many people think
CS means sitting in front of a computer all day
long. This may often be the case for programming,
but CS is a large field. There are many
applications that require CS skills that involve
little or no programming. . . .
From Dan Garcias Faces of CS web site.
More Encouraging Signs
  • Many large universities have reported significant
    increases in enrollments this year. Some have
    recovered much of the loss from the past five

The Growing Challenge of High School CS
  • People who have software development skills
    command high salaries and tend not to teach in
    high schools for very long.
  • In many schools, computing courses are seen as
    vocational rather than academic. The NCAA, for
    example, no longer accepts computer science
    courses for academic eligibility.
  • Students who are heading toward top universities
    are often advised to take courses other than
    computer science to bolster their admissions
  • Because schools are evaluated on how well their
    students perform in math and science, many
    schools are shifting teachers away from computer
    science toward these disciplines.
  • Teachers have very few resources to keep abreast
    of changes in the field.

CS is Losing Ground in the AP Exam
  • The Computer Science exam is the only Advanced
    Placement exam that has shown declining student
    numbers in recent years.

CS Is Tiny Compared with Other Sciences
Computing Is Getting Harder
Many faculty in our discipline believe that
teaching computing has become more difficult.
The contributing factors include
  • Complexity. The number of programming details
    that students must master has grown much faster
    than the corresponding number of high-level
  • Instability. The rapid evolution of the field
    creates problems for computing education that are
    qualitatively different from those in most fields.

Concern over these has sparked several
initiatives including the ACM Java Task Force.
Positive Initiatives
  • The National Science Foundation sponsored four
    regional conferences on Integrated Computing and
    Research (ICER) and launched the new Computing
    Pathways (C-PATH) initiative.
  • Several ACM Education Board projects are proving
  • A brochure for high-school students
  • The CC2001 series of curriculum reports
  • The Computer Science Teachers Association
  • A community effort to develop Java tools (the ACM
    Java Task Force)
  • There are many interesting ideas in the community
    that are showing promise
  • Mark Guzdials media computation strategy at
    Georgia Tech
  • Stuart Regess back to basics strategy at the
    University of Washington
  • Jeannette Wings computational thinking
  • Interdisciplinary curricula at a variety of
  • The many efforts to enhance diversity from so
    many people
  • All the good ideas that come out here at SIGCSE

Dangers on the Horizon
We have met the enemy and he is us.

Walt Kelly
Unfortunately, the sense of crisis in recent
years carries with it the risk that our community
will adopt desperate measures that are
self-defeating in the long run
  • Engaging in resource competition with fields that
    should be our allies in seeking to increase
    support of science and technology.
  • Changing our curricula in ways that might
    increase the number of students but will not meet
    the needs of their eventual employers. Every
    technical person in the industry with whom Ive
    spoken is horrified by the prospect of reducing
    the emphasis on programming in the undergraduate
  • Losing hope in the darkness before the dawn.
    Enrollments are already recovering in many
    institutions. This too shall pass, but only if
    we keep the faith and make it happen.

A Thought Experiment about Offshoring
  • Suppose that you are Microsoft and that you can
    hire a software developer from Stanford whose
    loaded costs will be 200,000 per year. Over in
    Bangalore, however, you can hire a software
    developer for 75,000 per year. Both are equally
    talented and will create 1,000,000 annually in
    value. What do you do?
  • Although the developer in Bangalore has a higher
    return, the optimal strategy is to hire them
    both. After all, why throw away 800,000 a year?
  • Any elementary economics textbook will explain
    that one hires as long as the marginal value of
    the new employee is greater than the marginal
    cost. The essential point is that companies seek
    to maximize return, and not simply to minimize

The End