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“Computer Science’s ‘Sputnik Moment'”

Following up on an excellent article this past Saturday about rising enrollments in computer science, The New York Times has just published a fabulous “Room for Debate” essay series titled “Computer Science’s ‘Sputnik Moment’?”:

“Computer science is a hot major again. It had been in the doldrums after the dot-com bust a decade ago, but with the social media gold rush and the success of ‘The Social Network,’ computer science departments are transforming themselves to meet the demand.”

The series features eight short opinions (they’re quick reads!) including pieces by UW CSE’s Ed Lazowska and CMU’s Jeannette Wing, as well as a sociologist, entrepreneur, lawyer, and tech editor.

Under the heading “Software as Self-Expression,” Wing writes:

“Today’s students have grown-up tech savvy. They live in a world of exploring the Web and of personalizing their devices. Cyberspace is the anytime, anywhere laboratory where you can design and run your own experiments by writing just a little software. It’s affordable by anyone with access to the Internet. And each piece of software is an individual’s expression of creativity, much like poetry or music. Computer science can be fun and empowering …

“When people talk about the smart grid, smart vehicles, and smart buildings — what makes them ‘smart’? Computer science. When people talk about personalized medicine and personalized learning, how do you think personalization is possible? Computer science. We’re not there yet, but the next generation of computer scientists can help us realize these visions — with immeasurable benefits to society and the economy.”

Under the heading “A Key to Critical Thinking,” Lazowska writes:

“As more fields become information fields… “computational thinking” is necessary for success in just about any endeavor …

“Computer science is a superb preparation for just about anything. And within technology industries, there are plentiful jobs. Those who choose to work in the computing field find it characterized by highly interactive teams that are focused on solving real life problems. The Dilbert stereotype is surely dead …

“For students who want to change the world, there is no field with greater impact or leverage than computer science. Just take a look at the 2010 report by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, which characterized computer science as ‘arguably unique among all fields of science and engineering in the breadth of its impact’ …

“Despite all of this good news, we need a national re-commitment to education, innovation, science and engineering. All the facts suggest that we are losing our edge.”

Read all the essays here.

June 15, 2011