AOL's Dulles, VA campus hosted a field trip on May 24th for local students involved in Microsoft's TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) program. Dan Kasun, Sr. Director, Public Sector Evangelism for Microsoft, and I teamed up for the opening address and welcomed the students. We spoke to over 200 kids who were wrapping up their year of learning a computer science course, taught by high tech professionals who volunteer as part-time teachers.
No other subject will open as many doors in the 21st Century, regardless of a student’s ultimate field of study or occupation, as computer science.
After the introduction, the students were able to pick three 30 minute sessions to attend to hear from seven field experts about the jobs they do, technology trends, and emerging fields. I sat in on several of these sessions and found the students engagement, enthusiasm, and curiosity to be very high. For those in the program, they seemed to be capitalizing on the chance to interact and explore the numerous possibilities that computer science offers.
Few states have computer science education standards and those that do generally treat CS as an elective rather than part of the the core education. Not only is it important that more states drive higher engagement with computer science programs and make CS a requirement, but we need to move students capabilities from "skills" to "concepts". It is no longer possible to opt out of "technology", you will either be part of the technology creative or you will consume it.
Computer science missing from the curriculum is rather appalling when you consider the projected gap in unfilled jobs in the Unites States that require these talents is expected to be 1M by 2018. We are simply not graduating enough computer scientists for the demand. "Computer Science and Computer Engineer graduates consistently top the lists in job placement and starting salaries", writes Dan in his post field trip summary.
While it is an overall problem, even worse, girls and minorities are very underrepresented in the CS field. There is hope, of course. Programs like TEALS are a great way to partner with industries that will directly benefit from a larger pool of talent pursuing computer science degrees and education. Organizations like the National Center for Women & Information Technology and The National Girls Collaborative Project are examples of organizations tackling these challenges head on.
At the end of the day we gathered for group pictures before the students boarded their buses back to their home schools. One ambitions young man asked me what I did at AOL and then confidently told me "Someday, I'm going to be your boss!". I'm pulling for him to make that statement come true.