Friday, June 2, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Why Do So Few People Major in Computer Science?

Dan Wang (via Tyler Cowen, Hacker News):

That means that the share of people majoring in computer science has decreased, from 3.76% of the all majors in 2005 to 3.14% of all majors in 2015. Meanwhile, other STEM majors have grown over the same period: “engineering” plus “engineering technologies” went from 79,544 to 115,096, a gain of 45%; “mathematics and statistics” from 14,351 to 21,853, a gain of 52%; “physical sciences and science technologies” from 19,104 to 30,038, a gain of 57%; “biological and biomedical sciences” from 65,915 to 109,896, a gain of 67%. “Computer sciences and information technologies?” From 54,111 in 2005 to 59,581 in 2015, a paltry 10.1%.


It might be true that being a software developer is the field that least requires a bachelor’s degree with its associated major. Still: Shouldn’t we expect some correlation between study and employment here? That is, shouldn’t having a CS major be considered a helpful path into the industry? It seems to me that most tech recruiters look on CS majors with favor.


Wow, the number of people graduating with CS degrees is really cyclical. The first peak in 1985 corresponds to the release of the IBM Personal Computer. The second peak corresponds to the 2001 dotcom bubble. I agree now that the ’01 bubble explains a lot of the decline afterwards; people graduated into a bad job market and that scared many students away. That year, however, may have been the worst of it; by 2005, Google had IPO’d, Facebook was spreading on campuses, the iPod was a success, and the iPhone would be released two years later. Those companies drew students back into studying CS, and we can see that from the rise again in 2009.

This is a neat story, but still I have to confess some surprise. Should it take 15 years before the popping of the bubble before we see that college students are graduating with the same degrees again?

I found studying computer science to be very helpful and greatly enjoyed it. However, lots of people, including people who knew at the time that they liked tech and programming, seem to dislike it and perceive it as unnecessary or not relevant.


1. It's full of toxic dysfunctional nerds who've made it all about them. Seriously, what human being wants to put up with their insecure ego shit every day for four long years?

2. It's mostly degenerated from Computer Science to Software Engineering to Java Diploma Mill to Computer Religion anyway. About as empowering and enlightening as pulling teeth.

(See also.)

I think there are a lot of factors here. Two that particularly come to mind are (1) the massive number of software jobs that involve data analytics, and the move to "data science "degrees, and (2) the move to higher-level programming languages and libraries for everything, for which there's perhaps a perception that there is less value in understanding computer hardware and software internals and principles.

> people graduated into a bad job market

What? When has there ever been a time when CS graduates couldn't find a job literally within days of sending out applications? I got the first job I applied for after graduating, and I get weekly calls and emails and LInkedIn messages from headhunters, and that has been steady since I graduated, which was like 15 years ago. Our company can't hire enough software engineers; our company's growth is hindered by the fact that there aren't enough CS graduates. In some cases, particularly for JS coding jobs, we have to hire people without degrees appropriate for their position, because there simply isn't anyone we can find who has a CS degree *and* deigns to write JS code.

> It's full of toxic dysfunctional nerds

Yep. When I started studying, we had about 20% women. When I finished, there were (I think) three or four women remaining. I happened to share a flat with one of them, and the kinds of stories she told me about how *professors* treated her (one of them just outright told her that he didn't think women should be studying CS) would probably be literally unbelievable to somebody coming from the outside.

A CS degree is a fantastic degree to get for anyone. It's an interesting topic, it empowers you in many different ways, it allows you to start your own company much more easily than most other degrees, and it's very easy to find a job. It's just that it also means spending four years in the most toxic environment you're likely to ever encounter, and then, if you're unlucky, that crap just continues at your workplace.

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