When he was 14 years old, Lawrence Birnbaum taught himself how to program, but he had trouble even finding a computer to work on. Still, he knew computers were going to be the future.
That was in the late 1960s. When Birnbaum — today a computer science professor at Northwestern — was in college, there were relatively few computer science majors, and his professors had graduated from schools of math or electrical engineering. The field was still new.
Fast forward to now. New computer science graduates often have their pick of opportunities as recruiters struggle to fill positions in the industry.
The big question is: Why? Are too few students majoring in fields with the best employment and growth potential?
First of all, it’s clear that computer science is a good career bet.
According to a new study by CareerCast.com, jobs in computer science for roles like data scientists and software engineers show the best growth potential in the next seven years. Healthcare is another big area for career growth, the study found.
Statistics from rjmetrics.com show were about 11,400 and 19,400 data scientists worldwide in 2015, 52% of of whom earned that position in the last six years. On LinkedIn this month, there were 8,916 open positions for data scientists, 72,800 open positions for software engineers and 74,900 open positions for physical therapists.
Just last June, two computing organizations published an open letter announcing there were 500,000 open computer positions in every sector such as manufacturing or banking — but only 50,000 computer science graduates a year. And according to Computer Science Zone, there will be 1 million more computing jobs than employees to fill them in the next 10 years.
“I think the demand is because there is so much that can be done right now. This is a field which has been in a revolutionary state almost since its inception,” Birnbaum said.
So, where are all the computer science majors to fill those jobs? They’re there — they just haven’t graduated yet.
“It takes a while to get people through the pipeline,” said Birnbaum, who in addition to his teaching duties is a co-founder of a tech company, Narrative Science. “Once people decide they want to do this, it still is going to take a while to have the supply catch up. We’re getting there, and it is going to continue to improve.”
In 2016, 16,870 students graduated with a major in computer science and 26,200 students graduated in computer information systems, according to College Factual.
And across the country, computer programs are growing:
– Introductory classes at Northwestern have increased from 40 students to over 400, and the university plans to increase the number of faculty members by 20 in the next five years.
– At the University of Washington, according to GeekWire.com, Microsoft, Amazon, Zillow and other companies recently Google made donations to fund a $90 million engineering and computer science building.
– At U.C. Berkeley, one of the top ranked universities for computer science majors, the number of undergraduates in the electrical engineering and computer science program has increased from 1,133 students to 2,546. Computer science majors increased by 95% from 2011 to 2015, according to Fortune.
“Every university in the country has seen a tremendous explosion of student demand for computer science,” Birnbaum said.
John Scholz, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, said there could be other reasons that some openings are tough to fill, such as starting salaries.
“I don’t really ascribe that there is a growth mismatch between the skills that students are graduating with and the needs of the labor market,” Scholz told USA TODAY College. “These are markets. Take computer scientists, there is a market. If there is a scarcity, the demand exceeds the supply. Computer scientists wages adjust, and the market clears.”
Jobs in the tech and health care industry are in demand right now because the industries are growing and expanding, confirmed Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster. Many job candidates can and do receive multiple job offers, and it is up to companies to offer competitive packages as well as incentives for employees to stay, she said.
“There are hard-to-fill jobs. There is a labor shortage,” Salemi told USA TODAY College. “The demand to hire data scientists and software engineers and healthcare is particularly high right now. There is not enough qualified people to fill them, which is good for people who are really qualified. They’ll probably get multiple job offers.”
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