If your Facebook and Twitter feeds are anything like mine, you’re no doubt already aware of the rather unfortunate August 27th column in the Washington Post penned by small-business owner Casey Ark headlined “I studied computer science, not English. I still can’t find a job.” In it, Ark laments that the degree he received at Penn State failed to prepare him for employment in the real world.
Despite diligent studying, the only real-world business skills I’d learned at college were how to write a résumé and operate three-fifths of the Microsoft Office suite.
As someone fairly well-immersed in the world of academic computer science*, Ark’s piece didn’t seem to reflect any of the things I know about that community. And, as evidenced by my Facebook feed, I wasn’t alone. The piece spawned a lengthy comment thread on the Post site in which it was noted that Ark’s degree isn’t actually in computer science but rather in Information Systems (a business degree), as well as other responses including a Reddit thread and a blog post by UMass Amherst CS Professor Emery Berger featuring comments from a number of other CS colleagues and urging the Post to remove the column because of the inaccuracies it contains.
And that seems a reasonable request.
But I can see why the Post ran the piece in the first place. From the Post’s perspective, it’s a great contrarian anecdote (if it were accurate) to the prevailing narrative that STEM education ought to be a national priority for policymakers — a case CRA has played a role in making. And Ark could have made it a bit more compelling if he cited economists and labor analysts, as the Post did in this Sept 1st article, who argue that the data show no need for additional graduates in many STEM-related fields.
Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, says there is no shortage of STEM workers. He says that technology companies profess a need for STEM employees, allowing them to push for lower-paid workers and to reform education policies to help their corporate goals.
This is, I think, the angle the Post was really shooting for in running Ark’s column. In fact, their original headline called out “engineering” instead of “computer science” — computer science was offered as a “correction” after commenters pointed out Ark didn’t actually study engineering at Penn State. (Nor did he really study computer science, either,
but changing the headline further would probably completely neuter the piece’s relevance and timeliness in the Post’s view.) Update! (9/3/14 – 9 pm): The Post has changed “computer science” to “business and programming” in the headline, and edited the text a bit to clarify his major.)
So it’s worth trying to delineate a response to this case as well, I think.
The confusion, I believe, comes from conflating “computer science” or “computer engineering” with STEM overall. The demand for STEM workers is not uniform across all disciplines. Code.org Founder Hadi Partovi has a fairly detailed post on this subject, but the upshot is that computer science (broadly defined) drives 60 percent of all new jobs in the STEM fields. Indeed, computer science is the only STEM field in which there are more jobs than students.
As Partovi points out, “Across all fields (not only STEM), computer science occupations are at the very top of the highest demand list, with the lowest unemployment rate across all fields.”
So Salzman and others may be right that, in total, STEM disciplines may be oversubscribed, but that’s not the case in computing. That’s what really made the inaccuracies in Ark’s column jump out to those of us in the community. Graduates in CS, especially graduates at the tops of their classes, are in high-demand — not just in the tech sector, but across the economy, across every industry from banking to to defense to health care to manufacturing. And it’s not just because they know how to use the other two-fifths of the Microsoft Office suite….
*and also an English major — double-whammy!
We are proud to announce the launch of a new brand for CRA and its committees. As the impact of CRA’s activities are becoming more widely recognized and valued across our industry, we decided to develop a new brand identity that reinforces and amplifies our mission, objectives and programs. Our new brand is part of our larger effort to create a comprehensive communications strategy for CRA and its many activities. After updating our mission statement, last fall we began developing a brand that positions CRA as dynamic and collaborative, while preserving the unique identities of CRA’s distinct committees.
The new CRA symbol is designed to represent great minds coming together. The symbol was created by combining many ovals of different sizes into one symbol to illustrate dynamic collaboration. Each committee’s logo is a different color to both strengthen its individual identity and connect it to the organization as a whole.
Attendees at the 2014 CRA Conference at Snowbird were among the first to view the new brand. We are excited to debut our new visual identity for all of CRA’s committees and programs.
Did you know that CRA has an advocacy network, where you can get updates about what’s happening in the science policy world of Washington? Or that we are regularly looking for volunteers to participate in Congressional Visit Days in Washington? Have you wanted to learn how you can break into the exciting world of science policy? CRA has tools for all of these and a little bit more.
First, let’s talk about CRAN, or the Computing Research Advocacy Network. This is the Association’s e-mailing list; it’s where our members can get timely information and alerts about key advocacy opportunities. We’re also very careful to not waste your time; we try to keep the alerts to about 7 to 10 a year (ie: less than an email a month). And it’s not a discussion list; only CRA staff will use the mailing list and only for the purposes of informing our members about policy related matters that will impact the CS community. It’s definitely worth signing up for!
Our Congressional Visit Days held here in Washington DC. This is a chance for our membership to meet with the staffs of their Representatives and Senators in Washington, DC, and to make the case for computer science research directly. CRA provides the materials, the arguments, and the training; volunteers provide the flesh and blood example of the importance of federal research funding to their members of Congress. It’s a great way to be a Citizen Scientist and to take part in your government. This is a very important activity that the community can do to make sure federal support of CS research continues.
The Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI) is part of CRA’s mission, in partnership with CRA’s Computing Community Consortium (link) to develop the next generation of leaders in the computing research community. It is intended to educate computing researchers on how science policy in the U.S. is formulated and how our government works. It’s a two-day workshop, which features presentations and discussions with science policy experts, current and former Hill staff, and relevant agency and Administration personnel. The goal is to walk CS researchers through the basics about the mechanics of the legislative process, interacting with agencies, advisory committees, and the federal case for computing. The hope is that this will make more people from the CS community consider taking a job, temporary or permanent, in the policy world of Washington. LiSPI isn’t open to everyone; you have to be nominated by a chair or department head and then go through an application process. It’s all explained on the LiSPI website, so click through and find out if you’re interested.
Finally, we have the nuts and bolts of keeping our members informed: the Computing Research Policy Blog (which you’re reading) and Computing Research News (CRN). The Blog is our home for up-to-date information about advocacy and policy analysis for the computing research community. CRN is for more general computing science news in academia, government, and industry. Of particular importance are the job announcements, which are posted regularly. But both are useful for staying informed as to what’s going on.
So there you have it: all of the useful tools that CRA provides, right at your digital fingertips! We’d recommend you check them all out and get involved.