‘Computer Science is Future-Proof’

In the end I chose to put quotes around the title of this post. Initially I didn’t, but I gave in to my reluctance of stating that anything, even my beloved profession, is future-proof.

U.S. News & World report didn’t use the quotes, but they had a subtitle to put a little more context to such a bold claim:

Computer Science is Future-Proof

No matter how technology transforms the jobs market, computer science expertise will be crucial.

Lisette Partelow, theauthor of the above article used a quote (below) which was said to her recently by an educator to exemplify skepticism surrounding all of the attention that CS has been getting lately:

uncertainty about the future job market means that giving students opportunities to learn computer science, while trendy, is essentially pointless. Whatever students learn now will be as out of date as MS-DOS and car phones by the time they can put it to use

Of course Lisette went on to back up her headline, but before I go over that, I would like to put forward two responses to the educator quoted above.

1. A quote from this article in Forbes should do to begin:

 Just because computer languages have a way of becoming obsolete, that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to know how to code. There is an underlying logic to the digital world and we must be capable of operating within that logic in order to function in it.

2. I learned to navigate the MS DOS command prompt around 25 years ago. This included basic commands, navigating the file system, and using system files like autoexec.bat and config.sys. This experience served me well. When I started learning linux, I moved straight in. In fact autoexec.bat and config.sys are very similar to .bashrc and other startup scripts, which I occasionally still use today. This is a great example of a technology becoming outdated, but the skill not, and reflects Lisette’s position below. 

So, back to Lisette, who notes that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported an estimate that there will be three jobs available for every new college graduate from a computer science program in 2016. She also states that “the programming languages my classmates learned in high school and college are probably defunct by now. Yet those who pursued computer science back in those dark ages still managed to get jobs at Google and other prestigious tech firms and kept these jobs as technology changed. Like the rest of us, they learned to adapt on the job as their field shifted.”

I would argue that almost all people who work in or with technology, are not working with the same tools or languages that they first learned. However, they did learn technology. Isn’t this how it is: Learn a technology (then abandon), learn another (then abandon), etc. Nothing puts you in a good position to learn in a fast-paced, constantly changing environment like learning something fast-paced, and constantly changing. In fact, the College Board has found that If a student takes AP computer science in high school, that student is eight times more likely to major in computer science in college.

The above makes the point that exposure is the key here. Exposing students to technology, even fast-paced, constantly-changing, going-to-be-obsolete-tomorrow technology.

I just love how Lisette wraps up her article. This is almost priceless:

Maybe the naysayers are right that the jobs of the future will be super-strange and that many of them won’t require coding skills that look anything like what we are teaching students now. However, computers and computing are taking over nearly every aspect of our lives – Americans look at their smartphones an average of 46 times per day, for example – so it’s likely that some basic understanding of how these systems work and can be leveraged will be an asset, even for intergalactic pilots and teleporter engineers.

I’ll have a go at my own wrap-up:

Technologies (almost by definition) become obsolete. People who can learn, cope, and change with these inevitable obsolescences don’t.




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