Inspiring a New Generation
of Computer Scientists
Consider what you can do to encourage young people to
pursue technology-related career paths.
IS COMPUTER SCIENCE a dying
profession? That may seem
like an odd question. After all,
computers are omnipresent
in our day-to-day lives. Their
importance to the way we run our
businesses, communicate, and use
information has never been greater.
Computing is an essential tool for
discovery and advancement in virtually every field of science. And as we
move forward, computing holds the
key to progress in almost every human endeavor.
And yet the fact remains that, in the
U.S. at least, computer science as a profession is beginning to wither away.
There is ample evidence to support
this conclusion. A recent UCLA survey
found that in 2006, barely 1% of incoming freshman planned to major in computer science, compared with nearly
5% 25 years ago. According to the most
recent version of the Computer Research Association’s annual Taulbee
report, just 12,498 computer science
and computer engineering degrees
were awarded last year, a one-year drop
of almost 20%. Even more alarming, total undergraduate enrollment in computer science and computer engineering has fallen 50% during the past five
years, to just 46,000 students.
All this comes at a time when demand for computer scientists is stronger than it has been for many years.
Today, IT employment is 17% higher
than it was at the height of the dot-com bubble. According to the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, we will
add an annual average of 100,000 new
computer-related jobs through 2014,
with careers in computer science the
fastest-growing of all “professional
and related occupations.”
These numbers actually understate
the severity of the problem. Enrollment in computer science and computer engineering programs in the U.S.
consists of a disproportionate number
of foreign-born students, particularly
at the graduate level: last year, more
than half of master’s and doctoral degrees granted by U.S. universities were
awarded to non-U. S. citizens. Thanks to
a combination of security restrictions
here and increasing job opportunities
in their home countries, fewer numbers of these students are choosing to
remain in the U.S. to work.
Left unchecked, these trends will
inevitably undermine our ability to
compete in the global economy. For
decades, the ability of U.S. companies
to transform innovations into successful businesses has been the foundation for our economic growth. Technologies such as the microprocessor,
the Internet, and fiber optics that were
developed by scientists and engineers
trained in U.S. universities laid the
foundation for new industries that generated millions of high-paying jobs.
But if the number of young people
in the U.S. who study computer science continues to decline, the center
of gravity for innovation will shift to
countries where students flock to uni-
versities to pursue degrees in the technical fields that will enable tomorrow’s
As head of Microsoft Research, I am
acutely aware of the impact that the
shortage of computer professionals
can have. Although the majority of our
researchers are based in the U.S. and
these facilities continue to grow, we
are expanding our research facilities in
other parts of the world, in part because
we recognize that this may be the only
way we can continue to find and hire
the world’s top computer scientists. I
also see the increasing difficulty that
Microsoft has in filling positions that
require a high level of training and skill
in computer science and engineering.
And, as co-chair of the Image of
Computing Task Force with Jim Foley
of Georgia Tech, I am committed to
working with colleagues from industry, academia, and government to understand why interest in computer science is declining in the U.S. and learn
what we can do to encourage young
people to pursue technology-related
careers. Founded by Foley, and based
at the University of Colorado in Boulder, the Image of Computing Task
Force is spearheading a national effort
to help young people recognize the vital role that computing plays in almost
every field and see the opportunities
that come with a solid background in
Through my work with Jill Ross, director of the Image of Computing Task
Force, I’ve spoken with high school