Thursday, April 19, 2012

A new era in Computer Science?

A few good articles have showed up recently in my two favorite publications about the future of Computer Science.

First, the New York Times ran an article a few weeks ago about the president of Harvey Mudd College (where my mother applied, got rejected, and was invited instead to be a part of the inaugural class at a new women's college in the Claremont system, Pitzer). Central to Dr. Maria Klawe's success at Harvey Mudd in increasing the proportion of female graduates in the Computer Science department was changing the standard curriculum to emphasize the cross-disciplinary applications of Computer Science. As the article put it, the introductory CS class was divided into two separate classes: a "hard-core programming" version in Java, and a version where "the focus of the course changed to computational approaches to solving problems across science."

Second, the Atlantic Monthly ran an article this week about how innovation in the tech start-up industry is stalling...we are recycling old ideas and, worse, exporting the best minds in CS to work toward increasing online advertising revenue.

It seems like these problems are interrelated. As the Atlantic article puts it, "[Developers] keep tossing out products that look pretty much like what you'd get if you took a homogenous group of young guys in any other endeavor: Cheap, fun, and about as worldchanging as creating a new variation on beer pong." Maybe if industry and academia can continue to reform both the stereotypes and the very definition of Computer Science, we can move beyond increasing revenue, to using our computational resources to improve our quality of life and our understanding of the world around us.