One of the saddest trends I've observed in recent years is the growing proclivity of IT professionals to discourage their children from pursuing a career in a computer-related field. Layoffs, offshore outsourcing and tough working conditions have soured so many people on the profession that kids are being steered away from studying computer science by many of the very people who have nurtured the growth of the IT industry in this country.
I had an exchange on this topic last week with a couple of readers who commented on a blog post I'd written about the unfortunate way that some disgruntled IT workers vent their anger. It went like this:
Reader 1: Don, would you encourage your children (if you have [any]) [to] pursue a STEM career? ...
Me: I have four children, and two of the three that are out of college have pursued STEM careers. I encouraged them in that pursuit, but then again I would have encouraged them regardless of the career field they chose.
Reader 2: When you say "pursued STEM careers," are they currently employed? If so, I'm interested to know where all these jobs in STEM are. Cheap labor advocates like yourself have had free rein for several years now with the promise that "more H-1B visas will equal more jobs for Americans." Where are these jobs that have been created?
Me: Yes they are. One is a U.S. naval officer, and the other is working at MIT Lincoln Labs.
The inference was that no one in his right mind would encourage his kids to go into a computer-related career field, or, one might surmise, to take computer science and other courses to prepare for such a career. If that's the case, then at least we know that our school systems are growing more sane by the day.
An article on washingtonpost.com yesterday drew some attention to the fact that fewer and fewer high schools are even offering computer science courses. Here's an excerpt:
Nationally, the portion of schools that offer an introductory computer science course has dropped from 78 percent in 2005 to 65 percent this year, and the corresponding decline in AP [advanced placement] courses went from 40 to 27 percent, according to a survey by the Computer Science Teachers Association.
In the spring, the College Board, citing declining enrollment, canceled its AP computer science AB class, the more rigorous of its two courses in the subject.
The result of sporadic or skimpy computer science training is that a generation of teenagers great at using computers will be unlikely to play a role in the way computer technology shapes lives in the future, said Chris Stephenson, executive director of the New York-based Computer Science Teachers Association.
"Their knowledge of technology is very broad but very shallow," she said.
That has economic implications. "If you look at history, the nations with economic superiority are building the tools the rest of the world is using," Stephenson said.
Especially troubling is that, according to the article, "Computer science is not considered a core subject by the No Child Left Behind law, which influences school priorities and budgets."
Parents who are IT professionals, and who by the nature of their work understand how critical the field is, should be at the forefront of encouraging school systems and their own children to make computer science an academic and professional priority. That so many of them have opted to distance themselves from that responsibility will only serve to further weaken our competitiveness.