What was true 10 years ago is still true today: computer science and information technology are good fields to enter. What has changed is why people enter these fields and what they can do within the field has greatly expanded.
Matthew Bauer, senior lecturer of Computer Science and Computer Science Director of Undergraduate Programs at Illinois Institute of Technology, says a smaller percentage of students today — it used to be close to 75 percent — say they want to program video games. "More are interested in broader issues such as technology enabled problem solving."
Bauer adds that IIT still believes in the broad based degrees. "But we are introducing more specializations, grouping of four to five (computer science) electives to allow for depth in a particular area," he says. "We believe in a strong software engineering curriculum for all students, and a strong background in our required courses: Databases, Algorithms, Program Language Theory, and Operating Systems."
With information systems, Ray Trygstad, IIT associate director, Information Technology and Management degree programs, says the thinking is similar.
"There is a movement in two directions: broader in the sense that a degree in information technology has an intentionally broad skill set, which includes areas such as information technology fundamentals, programming, networking, human/computer interface, databases, web systems, and information assurance and security," he says.
"And then narrower in the sense that students can then elect to specialize in a very specific area with those skills, such as web development, business application development, security or databases. IT students also get a clear understanding of how their roles facilitate and enable businesses in the modern world, and how critical knowledge of how businesses work is to their success in the profession."
Gone are the stereotypes of nerdy students in the field. Both technology fields are attracting students with varied backgrounds.
"I have one student minoring in music and another who is a competitive bicycle racer," says Trygstad. "Another owned his own business making cupcakes. Our students are very involved in campus life, sponsoring events for the entire student body."
There is definitely more variety among students interested in computer science along virtually any dimension you care to name, agrees Shlomo Engelson Argamon, associate professor of Computer Science at IIT.
"There is increasing recognition today that one does not have to be a stereotypical 'geek' to go into computer science — rather that learning computer science can be a gateway to all kinds of creative activity. Really, computer science is a new kind of literacy, and we see this realization spreading."
Linda Krause, associate professor, Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, Master Computer Information Systems program director, says she would like to reverse a trend she is seeing — fewer women, especially Latina women, entering the field.
"Since 1984, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, and today only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female, with the smallest percentage going to Latinas," she says.
She does see more adult students pursuing technology degrees.
"The field is generating more interest from adult, or nontraditional students, in part because of the economy — and people looking to change careers or upgrade skills in their current careers — but also probably because of a recognition that knowledge gained in this field is useful in so many others, " she says.
With the growing list of "apps for that," the demand for application developers grows along with it.
"There is a growing trend toward software systems that are not stand-alone, but rather provide specific functionality within a larger environment, such as mobile apps," says Argamon.
Starting in 2013, Elmhurst College will offer a certificate in Mobile Application Development. The program will take six months to complete.
"Students can choose the iOS track, Android track or Windows Phone track," says Krause.
She adds that this fairly new field has recently seen a 32 percent growth rate.
"Mobile application developer is one of the world's most in demand and fastest growing IT careers," she says. "As smart phones and tablets continue to change the way we do business, communicate, and access news and entertainment, the demand for new and innovative mobile applications is growing at breakneck speeds. This increased demand translates to one of the largest IT skills gaps ever realized — there are simply more mobile development jobs than skilled developers to fill them."
As far as predictions where technology will take us, Trygstad calls it "a mug's game," or fruitless endeavor.
"There are two things in technology that are certain," he says. "First there's Moore's Law, which says that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. This has allowed the huge strides forward in technology that we have seen in our lifetime and shows no prospect of slowing in the near term. Second, no one knows where the next major breakthrough in hardware, software or applications will come from.
"Who would ever have guessed that software created in a dorm room at Harvard would enable everyone to be in touch with, well, everyone, or that Apple, which appeared to be on a terminal downward slide 15 years ago, would have the largest market cap in the world today? But the point is that these breakthroughs come with almost alarming rapidity, and everyone of them requires increasing numbers of better educated professionals to support them. This is our job, to educate these professionals, and I see their opportunities as pretty much boundless."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun