Dear Ethix – Issue 49

Lack of IT Workers

I read your article, which I found very interesting. One assertion is odd. You cite S&E [Science and Engineering] Indicators 2006 saying CS enrollment decline has been due to a 5 percent decline in foreign undergrads. This is quite dubious.

Here is an excerpt from the S&E Indicators on foreign enrollment:

“Students in the United States on temporary visas earned a small share (4%) of S&E bachelor’s degrees in 2002. The decline in Computer Science degrees is from U.S. students. Foreign students have a real impact on graduate technical programs but play a much smaller role at the undergraduate level.”

Ron Hira
Research Associate
Economic Policy Institute
Williamsburg, Va.

You make a valid point. We were suggesting the decline in foreign students is only one of many factors in the declining enrollments.

The application of computing and information technology to the continued advancement of science and technology and to meet the needs and desires of man is the key to the future role of the U.S. in the global economy and in meeting the needs of its citizenry. We must produce the students and the workforce with the skill, knowledge, creativity, and vision to be the leaders and the innovators of the Information Age.

What is keeping students away? Computer science is a “stealth” profession; no one knows what we do. We need to get the message out on what computer science is to children, parents, teachers, the media, basically, to everyone who can make a difference.

K-12 students do not see opportunity in computer science even though everything around them that is “cool” comes from computing and information technology. We need to put the pizzazz into computer science with an emphasis on its ever-increasing role and impact on societal needs. We need to get computer science into the high schools. We need to resolve any real or perceived impediments for making this a reality. We need to rethink the AP computer science exam that is considered problematic for enticing high school students into computing. We need to try to get kids engaged and excited via competitions. We need to explore multiple entry points into computer science; there are a number of successful examples including multimedia and game computing. Finally, in today’s world, we might ask the question if the definition of an “educated person” should include the ability to think computationally.

The future leaders and opportunities will be with those who have the skill, knowledge, creativity, and vision to be “Innovators of the Information Age” (or are we now in the Computing Age?). The future is truly exciting! We need to get people onboard before the U.S. loses its competitiveness and quality jobs in the Information Age and the global economy.

Footnote: An article worth reading is Vannevar Bush’s 1945 article, “As We May Think,” a prophecy of the computer age.

Richard Sincovec
Henson Professor and Chair, Computer Science and Engineering, University of Nebraska
Lincoln, Lincoln, Neb.

I read your recent article in Ethix magazine. I just wish there were more people in IT that understood the concepts you have addressed. To fill in a few statistics from our perspective, we have noted that the IT industry has lost some 200,000 plus people over the last four to five years. Many were newbies just getting into the industry, only to find out that jobs were disappearing left and right. They chose to move to greener pastures. As you stated, the dot-com crash, Y2K, 9/11, and constant progress in technology have all contributed to this huge and growing void.

The colleges’ and universities’ IT programs are typically three to five years behind the technology, they provide almost no hands-on lab work or require any kind of internship or residency standards, and yet give these students a degree in computer science with almost no real-world skills. Keep in mind that our clients don’t understand this problem.

If the truth were known why so many IT crashes occur on a daily basis, it would typically point to the IT staff and its lack of skills and or training in certain areas. Because IT is so highly technical, CIOs and tech managers have become masters at avoiding the “Fault” bullet and passing the blame to the hardware guys, the software guys, or the infamous GFS “Genie of Faulty Systems.” All of the blame, of course, cannot be put on IT management. Those who do care are undermined by limited corporate budgets and unrealistic hiring and headcount practices and policies. They would like to be more competent as a group, but do not get the funding or managements support to get there.

The technology race is not a race the U.S. can afford to lose. Unless we get off our collective butts, the U.S. could face some tough, competitive technology issues in the next few decades.

We also believe that ethics and integrity must be a core issue in IT training and education. Maybe more than any other corporate department, IT workers are faced almost daily, with access to highly personal or secret information with regards to the company. If anyone needs to understand these concepts, it is IT. The IT department should be held to the highest standards.

Bob Kile
Executive Director
NACSE (National Association of Communication Systems Engineers)
Boulder, Colo.