Inspired by the late Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University where he shared how auditing a calligraphy class in college inspired him years later to add diverse fonts to Apple computers, we set out to visit classes around campus that make us think differently about what it means to be educated. This is one in a series of drop-ins.
Philosophy major Sasha Brigante had zero knowledge of anything in computer science when a friend encouraged her to take Computer Science for Everyone, or IDC 1000.
Brigante, who graduated this summer, wanted to get involved in one of the fastest growing fields.
“I had… this sort of vague picture of people coding complex programs, but the course is designed to show you it’s so much more than that,” said Brigante in a testimonial for the class.
IDC 1000 is an online course designed for students who want to learn about computing, but don’t have a math or science background, or may simply feel intimidated by the subject matter.
When students log in, they find the course is broken up into three main modules. The first two modules make up the first half of the course, and gives students an appreciation of how computing is a creative process that enables innovation, how it uses data and information to create knowledge, and how it has impacted society, particularly through the internet.
The second half of the course – the third module – teaches students how to make abstractions from patterns, create algorithms to solve problems, and then learn and apply basic programming knowledge to write simple programs and create mobile apps.
“It forces you think logically,” explained Brigante, who added that the course has many options for office hours throughout the week, which helped her to be successful in the class.
“This online course came about as a way to provide broad knowledge to students who are not majoring in computer science or information technology, but who still need to possess computational knowledge to perform their 21st century jobs,” said Maria “Cristy” Charters, course instructor and part of the School of Computing and Information Sciences within the College of Engineering and Computing.
“Computer science permeates vast fields of work, such as the medical field with digital medical records, the entertainment industry with animation graphics, and the stock market with automated trading systems,” she added.
Last year, there were more than 600,000 high-paying tech jobs in the United States and not enough people to fill them. By 2018, it’s projected that 51 percent of all STEM jobs will be in computer science-related fields. According to Charters, there will be 1.4 million new jobs using computing by the year 2020 (Bureau of Labor Statistics), but only 400,000 computer science graduates, permeating the existing problem of unfilled jobs.
“There is a huge gap between the supply and demand for jobs in computing, and a course like IDC 1000 – Computer Science for Everyone, is the beginning of an attempt to try and close that gap,” Charters said.
In fact, President Obama recently launched an initiative, Computer Science for All, designed to empower students in the U.S. to develop the computer science skills required to thrive in the digital economy. The initiative calls for $4 billion in funding for states, and $100 million directly for school districts to expand K-12 computer science by training teachers, expanding access to high-quality instructional materials, and building effective regional partnerships.
Additionally, it calls for $135 million in computer science funding to become available starting this year from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Corporation for National And Community Service (CNCS).
The president’s initiative is the first step to reverse stereotypes and media portrayals that discourage students from pursuing computer science, mostly girls and minority students (African-American and Hispanic). “One of the stereotypes of computer science is that it is a field for “geeks” who are anti-social and prefer working with a computer instead of a human being. Another stereotype is that it is a field mostly for white men,” Charters said. “This course helps to break these stereotypes … in a non-threatening, clear and practical manner.”
As for employment in computer science, traditional jobs range from software developer and database administrator to network systems administrator. Some of the more modern, and probably less known jobs include data scientist, robotics software engineer, game developer, virtual reality developer and cybersecurity analyst.
As an online course, Computer Science for Everyone is offered both in the fall and spring semesters.