InternetNews.com has coverage of the opening of Microsoft Research’s sixth annual Faculty Summit, a “a unique opportunity for faculty members and Microsoft researchers, architects, and executives to collectively discuss a vision for the future of computing.” Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates had some interesting comments to open the event (along with ACM past-President Maria Klawe). Here’s a sample:
But today, Gates and Klawe focused on the present; specifically, how to encourage more students to enroll in computer-science programs so that the industry will have enough qualified engineers to work on those future innovations.
Klawe presented some grim figures: The popularity of computer science as a major has fallen more than 60 percent between 2000 and 2004, she said, even though the software engineering and several related jobs will be among the fastest growing through 2012.
Some of that slack might be taken up by girls if they didn’t have such a seeming aversion to the field. Klawe said participation of women in computing has gone down over the past 25 years, with only around 15 percent of computer-science Ph.D.s going to women.
When Klawe asked Gates what could be done, he seemed to flounder. When he responded, “There’s no magic answer. Maybe get women in the field to be more visible?” Klawe hooted him down.
“No, that’s not the answer,” she said. “We all do it, but we’re not getting anywhere with it.”
“You lose them at about five stages,” Gates agreed. “And, if there aren’t enough women in field, it makes it less attractive, even if everything else is good. There’s a critical-mass element to this.”
The decline in federal funding for academic research and graduate education doesn’t help, the two agreed. Money from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) dropped by half last year.
“The biggest payoff for federal funding or research is in computer science,” Gates said, pointing to the economic and technology boom of the 1990s. “Department of Defense money was one of the elements that allowed us to turn this into one of the greatest success periods the U.S. has ever had.”
Computer science could fuel another such boom in the next 10 years, according to Gates.
“Computer science is becoming the toolkit for all the sciences,” he said. As all disciplines become more data-driven, they’re turning to computer science to make sense of the huge amounts of data. “Computer science helps model the world,” he added.
Speaking to hundreds of university professors, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said Monday that he’s baffled more students don’t go into computer science.
Gates said that even if young people don’t know that salaries and job openings in computer science are on the rise, they’re hooked on so much technology _ cell phones, digital music players, instant messaging, Internet browsing _ that it’s puzzling why more don’t want to grow up to be programmers.
“It’s such a paradox,” Gates said. “If you say to a kid, ‘Yeah, what are the 10 coolest products you use that your parents are clueless about, that you’re good at using,’ I don’t think they’re going to say, ‘Oh, you know, it’s this new breakfast cereal. And I want to go work in agriculture and invent new cereals or something.’ … I think 10 out of 10 would be things that are software-driven.”
Gates said computer scientists need to do a better job of dispelling that myth and conveying that it’s an exciting field.
“How many fields can you get right out of college and define substantial aspects of a product that’s going to go out and over 100 million people are going to use it?” Gates said. “We promise people when they come here to do programming … they’re going to have that opportunity, and yet we can’t hire as many people as we’d like.”
Both pieces are chock full of interesting quotes and worth reading. We’ll have more on how the computing research community is organizing to take on these issues soon, so watch this space….
Update: Here’s the transcript from Gates and Klawe’s opening remarks. And here’s a video.