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Date Wed 21 March 2007

So, I’m a computer science major at Rutgers. What is computer science? And WHY is it my major?

I was recently reading an excellent article online, by Neil McBride, a principal lecturer in the School of Computing, De Montfort University, UK. The Death of Computing essentially speaks to the fact that the IT industry is different now than it ever was in the past - IT is no longer a programingdiscipline. Just look at job listings in IT, whether as upper-level managers or summer interns. How many of them demand the degree of skills in, say, Java, that are taught in CS classes? Most of them ask for Python, Ruby, PHP, maybe some Java. But more importantly, the jobs aren’t programming-centric. As many have said, all of the software that’s needed is already out there. The modern emphasis in IT is on providing a service - on SLAs, uptime, optimization, security, and incident response. Not on developing new systems in low-level languages, but in synthesizing many assets into a coherent, high-availability system with as much transparency to the user as possible.

Just have a look at the Rutgers CS course catalog: Data structures, Discreet structures, numerical methods, design and analysis of algorithms, compilers, operating systems design, artificial intelligence. Sure, that’s nice. Where is something that will prepare me for a career?

Not one course in an overview of Information Technology. Where’s networking? Where’s systems management/administration? How about a course in embedded systems design, or internet/intranet security? There’s not even an intro course to Unix.

Yes, these courses provide lots of information so I can know what my computer is doing at every step of the way. But why do I need a semester of algorithm design when there’s a world of open-source software at my fingertips? Why should I know operating system design, when 99% of it is done by a relatively small group of people?

It seems to be just what Mr. McBride mentioned in his article - at least here at Rutgers, they are trying to haul up the drawbridge, to educate a small minority of elite programmers. Where are the skills that myself, and people my age, need when looking for a job? Internet applications, firewall/router design, embedded systems, languages like Python, Ruby, Perl, and other scripting languages that allow me to quickly and efficiently accomplish a task? Is it really true that a degree in CS is actually just “a degree”, a prerequisite for a job, and everything else should be learned on our own?

My data structures class is a perfect example. One of our projects was using Java and Linked Lists to implement a crude example of string comparison in a security application. Why would I do that when I can store the data in a MySQL database and write a simple script to perform comparisons? There’s not even an introductory systems course. Are we really aiming to educate programmers who have never seen a tape drive, who have never had an introduction to scripting languages, how to perform a good system backup, or how to secure their workstations?


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