Monday, December 30, 2013

2014: Historic Opportunities for Computer Science

Sun Set; Sun Rise
At the end of the year it is natural to think back about the past year and forward to the coming year. 2013 has been a huge year for computer science and 2014 looks like it could be even more important. After years of effort by many people, that seemed at times to fall on deaf ears, suddenly it seems everyone is talking about one important aspect of computing: coding. Who would have thought?

Coding is not all there is to Computer Science obviously, but it is central to a computing education and the fact that coding has become a subject of widespread conversation is nothing short of fantastic. Not only that, the conversations about coding are putting computer science into a very good light and people are getting enthusiastic about it.

What really excites me about that is the positive fallout of this enthusiasm. I am seeing more and more attention placed on what computing technology can do for people. For society. For the environment. As attention is paid to computing at the level of introductory coding, attention is also being paid to what people who persist in coding, then further computing studies, can do in the world with these skills. That is where the big picture rubber hits the road. Today you code a few lines; a few years from now you can... your imagination is your only limit. 

For example, "entrepreneurial thinking" has taken on the status of buzzword. Every other advertisement for something seems to find a way to toss in "entrepreneurial". As with commercials in general, some use of the word is more plausible than others. Such is the nature of the media. But you know, we have the opportunity to leverage the moment, and the media attention, to make the clearest connection possible between computer science education, computing workforce opportunities and the positive opportunities stemming from technology entrepreneurship.

In the past year we have begun to see widespread STEM education conversations more often recognizing the ubiquity of computing and the opportunities for mutual gain from working together across disciplines. More people have been talking about the goals shared by STEM educators. I have been reading more papers and proposals advocating for, and conducting, cross-disciplinary computing research. Systemic challenges in the K-12 and post-secondary arenas are being examined and we are increasing horizontal and vertical bridges within computing education. I am seeing more and more fascinating uses of computing in support of important issues such as disaster relief, disaster prevention, ecological prediction, and raising global standards of living.

Another area that is receiving (finally!) increased media attention, is the very real economic impact of computing jobs and the need for increasing the number of highly skilled computer science graduates. We are also starting to hear a lot more outside of traditional computing education communities about the need for students with deep knowledge of computing in all sorts of fields. These include the humanities, the arts, the social sciences. The conversations in the so-called "soft fields" about the role of computing are just starting to happen, but they are starting. This conversation is long overdue and it is exciting to see it begin.

Much of what I just touched on wasn't happening a year ago. We are on a roll.

2014 is going to be a critical year for computer science education and computing jobs. We have work to do in all arenas: K-12, community colleges, 4 year colleges and universities, broadening participation and addressing pervasive equity challenges. All is not roses and light. We have our work cut out for us.

In fact, one of the results of all the attention on computer science has been a resurgence of attention paid to some of the pervasive sexist behavior that takes place in areas of the technology industry. Some of what I have read is truly horrible and disgusting. It would be hard to believe that this stuff happens in the 21st Century, except that with social media providing instant and precise transcriptions of people's words, this stuff comes out in the open. The good news? More and more people are recognizing just how destructive, on all fronts (personal, professional, educational, economic, you name it), discriminatory words and behavior are. We have before us an unprecedented opportunity - and obligation - to institute cultural change where it is needed.

I am excited about the opportunities for computer science, and computing in general,  in 2014. We made giant leaps forward in 2013.  Enthusiasm is growing for computer science, computing, computational thinking. Many more people are sticking their toes in the waters of coding and discovering it can be fun! We are talking about curricular opportunities all through K-12 and up through graduate school. New connections and collaborations are being formed between academia and industry in support of increasing the numbers and diversity of highly successful, well prepared computer science graduates. People who never thought about computer science, or who didn't think they had a reason to think about computer science, are checking it out.

What are we going to do with all of this enthusiasm and opportunity? Big ideas are brewing; creative minds are pondering; entrepreneurial spirits are breaking new ground.The onus is on all of us to take part in this historic opportunity. There are so many ways you can help keep up, speed up, the roll we are racing along on, set the direction.

Whatever you are already doing to improve the planet through computing: 
keep at it in 2014. 
Whatever ideas you are percolating on to improve the planet through computing: 
resolve to put them into action in 2014. 

Have a Safe and Happy New Year

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