If you fast-forward 25 years, the perception and the opportunities have changed. In terms of opportunities, computing is a field that’s gotten much larger. There are many more sub-areas of computer science like graphics and human-computer interaction and computational biology that we want students to get exposure to. The undergraduate program there now, instead of having one set of requirements for everyone, has a set of tracks by area of concentration. There’s a core that all students share, but depending on which track they’re in, they work in different areas. That casts a broader net for students. There may be some students who have a serious interest in a particular area of computing and want to focus on that, so having this flexibility in the program brings in people who might be interested in film and computer-animated movies that wouldn’t necessarily see computer science as the path to there before. Now they can concentrate in graphics, and not only get a rigorous computer science education, but learn about how to do graphics and animations.
So the idea of what is possible has expanded.
It’s expanded, and we also have multi-disciplinary options where there are classes from other fields that can count towards computer science when we think they make sense. For example, we have a track in bio-computation where we actually count a fair amount of chemistry and biology towards a computer science degree. We think that the people who will be leaders in computational biology need not just an understanding of computation, but also need to understand the biology.
In your Tedx Talk at Gunn High School you mention that from 2000 to 2005 the number of students enrolling in computer science dropped significantly. What happened?
The clear factor for this was the dot-com bubble bursting. If you look at the high-tech economy up until that point, starting in 1995 when Netscape has its initial public offering, there is this frenzy around the Internet. The stock market goes crazy, lots of people are doing start-ups, and as a result, a large number of students begin to think of computing as not just something to do because you’re interested in technology, but as something you potentially do to get rich. In mid-2000, the dot-com bubble bursts, the high-tech economy crashes, a lot of the start-ups go out of business, and not only do the students who thought this was the way to get rich leave computing, but even the ones who were interested in technology think that maybe there aren’t any career opportunities. So you couple this economic downfall with the news coming out about the tech jobs moving offshore to China and India, and that further creates this perception in the United States, at least, that there aren’t going to be as many high-tech jobs in the future. That’s a deterrent for students who may have been interested in going into computing.