Opportunities Abound for Computer Science Majors

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High-tech Shortage

Computer science majors have many career paths available. As graduates, they may be employed in a variety of positions. In addition to working in "traditional" computer science positions, graduates work in chemical, petroleum, medical, auto, publishing, telecommunications, and consulting industries. Computer science graduates also often work in areas such as software engineering, hardware design, system analysis and design, network and communications engineering, database design and development, artificial intelligence, graphics and image processing, and technical consulting and marketing.

Well prepared graduates of computer science and information technology (especially those with undergraduate degrees) are finding a windfall of opportunities. Even during their college years, qualified computer science students are being wooed by companies to accept high-paying part time jobs (e.g., $50-$60 per hour). Howard University, for example, reports such wooing as being common among its information technology and computer science majors. According to federal government reports from the Commerce and Labor Departments plus the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an estimate of 200,000 jobs are going unfilled. Additionally, the Labor Department projects that between now and 2005, an average of 95,000 new computer scientists, system analysts, and programmers will be needed every year. The shortage of high-tech workers is real, as the number of U.S. students who earn bachelor's degrees in computer science has fallen 43% from 1986 to 1994, according to the National Center for Education Stat istics. Clearly we have a supply and demand problem, with only about 25,000 B.S. degrees in computer science awarded annually. Barring a recession, there is no end in sight to the demand for more computers and networks. And there is no reason to think that the U.S. workforce will catch up with this expanding demand easily.

Under study are some initiatives that address this problem over the long-run. For example, an Arlington, VA-based industry group working with the Commerce and Education departments has established task forces to focus on issues such as recruiting underrepresented minority groups into technology careers, improving math and science education in primary and secondary schools, spicing up the image of information-technology jobs and upgrading skills of people already in the workforce. Specific recommendations from these task forces are forthcoming.

This high-tech job shortage is not just local to a specific region; it is widespread. For example, the Silicon Valley projections of the shortage severity vary, but experts and studies have pegged the figures to be at more than 50,000 jobs. In the Washington D.C. area alone, industry groups estimate that 25,000 technology jobs are going unfilled. Other areas of the country where the job shortage is very visible include tech centers such as Austin, Seattle, Denver and Raleigh-Durham.

When a given region's economic health is considered, the high-tech industry is a major player. Although technology jobs account for only about 5% of the nation's employment, they make up a much higher portion of the country's net growth in jobs. Indeed, many business leaders say the shortage has reached near-crisis proportions and is costing billions of dollars each year in lost wages. There is an ongoing debate about how much growth is welcomed in the years ahead, and whether the economy is too dependent on high-tech job creation.

Industries often look for candidates with specific qualifications. Craig Walker, who heads Intel's Technical College Recruiting Program, says, "The person we're looking for should display abilities in problem-solving and leadership along with the ability to work on a team and communicate well." Greg Porter, a program manager with IBM's National Recruiting Organization, remarks, "We look for graduates with a background in computer science, computer information systems and/or engineering disciplines. …