Expanding CS Career Paths

Life PhilosophyMike Zamansky is someone I’ve been following in the CS world for a while.  He has really smart things to say about CS Education.  Last week he wrote about the difference (and perceived difference in value of) a BA versus a BS in Computer Science.  I agree with him that we need to educate students more about how to follow a CS career path and what you really should be looking for in a program.

There are a lot of people out there who think that the best CS programs are not only BS programs but BS programs housed within Engineering Schools (as opposed to within Arts and Sciences).  I face this misperception all the time.  My students will shy away from pursuing CS because of this idea, or I’ll have students who insist on the engineering route when they’re interested in other areas of CS that are more in the realm of social sciences or even humanities. Very few of my students are interested in pursuing CS as a standalone thing.  They often want to pair it with another discipline like Psychology or Economics.  An engineering school isn’t necessarily going to allow a student the flexibility to do that (depends on the program, of course) and CS in Engineering is often focused on Software Engineering (or hardware-based things like robotics, etc.). As Mike says, we need to do a better job of letting people know that this is just one pathway–a viable one, but just one.

What seems to fit many of my students needs and interests are programs at small liberal arts colleges where CS is part of a larger program, and students can focus on different aspects of CS.  Or programs that focus on interdisciplinary approaches to CS, encouraging students to pair CS with another field or study CS through the lens of a particular area.  One large school that I know of that’s done this is Indiana University where CS is housed within a School of Informatics and there’s lots of cross-pollination in terms of both courses and research in a wide range of fields.

And some students may choose to make CS a minor rather than a major, and truly focus on the some other field but use their computing expertise to enhance their work in that field.  As Mike points out, going down any of these paths–BA, BS, Engineering, major, minor, etc.–can lead to success in a Computing field.  But too many of our students (and their parents) think that if they don’t go down the BS/Engineering path, they will fail.

This is somewhat related to my PISA post from earlier, the idea that the concept of what the any STEM field entails should be broadened beyond its stereotype in order to attract the widest possible interest. It’s our role is as teachers to help dispel those stereotypes, starting with college expectations.  I would say we need to dispel the notion that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to any career.  If there’s any expectation that might be true, it’s that things will change, even careers.

4 Replies to “Expanding CS Career Paths”

  1. Most universities are not currently creating new CS paths, because they are having a hard time handling the load on the existing paths. Teaching resources at universities generally lag demand by about 10 years, and the defunding/privatization of state universities has made it particularly hard to create new programs.

  2. Indeed, you’re right. I know how long it takes for a faculty spot to open and curriculum often follows faculty expertise. I wonder what the impact of this, dare I say, outdated model has on student job expectations and/or job vacancies. In other words, are students not able to find work because their skills don’t match the openings and therefore there remain more openings, creating the current “crisis in technology jobs.”

  3. Thanks for the shoutout. On the flip side, I very much enjoy and learn from lurking over here.

    As Kevin said, higher education changes at a glacial pace so for the time being a lot of value can be quickly added by better informing those at the high school level.

    Following up on the college side, there has been some movement — we’ve seen concentrations starting to pop up. Bioinformatics a bunch of years ago, data science more recently – even some alternative majors.

    On the other hand, something like a CS minor would be ideal for many students but after poking around a bit, many CS minor requirements are more “partial CS major” rather than CS+X which it could be.

    I’d love to see the community colleges get on board as well – if they just pivoted a bit we could get rid of all the code school nonsense.

  4. Yes, the code school nonsense is filling a gap that could, it seems, be a revenue stream for a good community college.

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