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 Board
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
Annual Degrees and Job Openings in Broad S&E Fields
160,000
140,000
PhD
Master's
120,000
Bachelor's
Projected Job Openings
100,000
80,000
60,000
40,000
20,000
Engineering
Physical Sciences
Mathematical/
Computer Sciences
SOURCES: Tabulated by National Science Foundation/Division of Science Resources Statistics; degree data from Department of Education/National Center for Education Statistics: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Completions Survey; and NSF/S
Earned Doctorates; Projected Annual Average Job Openings derived from Department of Commerce (Office of Technology Policy) analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics 2002-2012 projections
Biological/
Agricultural Sciences
RS: Survey of
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.
• 14% of graduates with degrees in the life
sciences work in those fields.
SOURCE: National Science Foundation/Division of Science Resources Statistics, SESTAT (Scientists
and Engineers Statistical Data System), 1999, as presented by Caroline Wardle at Snowbird 2002
Economic Utility of Disciplinary Degrees
In computing, the pattern of degree production vs. employment is
reversed.
• 39% of workers in computing have
degrees in computing.
• 71% of students with degrees
computing remain in the field.
in
These data suggest a significant underproduction of students with
computing degrees at the university level.
Why Other Sciences Should Be Concerned
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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 discussion.
• Increase public awareness of the range of opportunities.
• Press government and industry to support computing education.
• Expand efforts to increase diversity.
• Encourage experimentation in curricular strategies.
• 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
1. Students are insecure about the dot-com bust and offshoring.
2. CS curricula are seen as unexciting and lacking in flexibility.
3. Images of computing work—and workers—are often negative.
4. Students have changed in ways that decrease the appeal of CS.
5. Teaching computing in high school faces growing challenges.
6. Introductory courses have become more difficult to teach.
Changes in Student Attitudes
or
Why Students No Longer Like Programming
For much of our field’s 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
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it’s because that’s their outlet for being
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From Dan Garcia’s “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 years.
Dot-Com Boom Echoed in Deal to Buy YouTube
By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN
Published: October 10, 2006
A profitless Web site started by three 20-somethings after a late-night dinner party
is sold for more than a billion dollars, instantly turning dozens of its employees
into paper millionaires. It sounds like a tale from the late 1990’s dot-com bubble,
but it happened yesterday.
Google, the online search behemoth, agreed yesterday to pay $1.65 billion in
stock for the Web site that came out of that party—YouTube, the video-sharing
phenomenon that is the darling of an Internet resurgence known as Web 2.0. . . .
The purchase price has also invited comparisons to the mind-boggling valuations
that were once given to dozens of Silicon Valley companies a decade ago. Like
YouTube, those companies were once the Next Big Thing, but some soon folded.
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 chances.
• 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 concepts.
• 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.
If I had had to learn C++, I would have majored in music.
—Don Knuth, October 11, 2006
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 helpful:
–
–
–
–
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 Guzdial’s “media computation” strategy at Georgia Tech
Stuart Reges’s “back to basics” strategy at the University of Washington
Jeannette Wing’s “computational thinking” concepts
Interdisciplinary curricula at a variety of schools
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 selfdefeating 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
I’ve spoken is horrified by the prospect of reducing the
emphasis on programming in the undergraduate curriculum.
• 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.
The End
The Pace of Change
• The pace of change—particularly in terms of its effect on the
languages, libraries, and tools on which introductory computer
science education depends—has increased in recent years.
• Individual universities and colleges can’t keep up.
• In a survey by the Computer Science Teachers Association,
high-school teachers cited the rapid pace of change as the most
significant barrier.
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