Code.org’s Computer Science Education Week kicks off Dec. 9 to encourage young people to get into STEM careers. But as the hype around the event builds, some question whether the efforts to get computer science classes into every U.S. school — with the help of volunteers such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and VC powerhouse John Doerr — are using up financial resources that would be better spent elsewhere.
Though they say there’s real value to the program, they argue that it may make more sense for employers to concentrate on computer science and engineering graduates who are having trouble landing a job after college. For example, offering free boot camp training to new graduates may have a higher success rate, suggests Kim Berry, president of the Programmers Guild. That differs from Code.org’s missions of filling the pipeline by training kindergarteners through high school students in the art of writing code.
The Graduate’s Conundrum
Despite the industry’s lament that there aren’t enough qualified engineers, software developers, network administrators and the like, a Georgetown Public Policy Institute report found that in 2010-2011 the IT industry had a large population of unemployed recent graduates. For example:
- 14.7 percent unemployment rate for information systems grads.
- 8.7 percent unemployment rate for computer science grads.
- 5.9 percent unemployment rate for mathematics grads.
“We have students with computer science degrees who are working at Best Buy or other stores because they can’t find work,” Berry notes. He contends that IT boot camps may fill in the gap between what graduates gleaned in the classroom and what’s required for the job. Some boot camps offer a service that is paid for either partially or in full by employers, while others offer living stipends or will refund the cost if the participant doesn’t find employment within a designated time.
Code.Org Pipeline Filler
Although Berry believes boot camps are a better use of the industry’s resources and support, he doesn’t cast the Code.org effort as a “bad thing” to pursue. Ban Cheah, a research professor and senior economist with Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, expressed a similar sentiment.
“Learning programming is a plus, regardless of where and when they are trying to teach it,” says Cheah, who previously worked as a programmer and systems analyst. He notes that exposing kids to programming at an early age may be more beneficial than having them learn it in a quick and condensed program. “If you take a long view, you want to start (kids) early and get them interested in something new,” he says. “Coding is an art form and it takes a lot of work to figure things out.”