The 21st Century 'Sputnik Moment'

Our fascination with computer science as a field peaked in 2000 and was quickly followed by the dot-com debacle the following year. Ten years later, 'The New York Times' published an article about the ebb and flow of interest in the field and ponders what could spark a renewed interest in the once-dominant field.

What Is a 'Sputnik Moment'?

The now-famous idiom 'Sputnik moment' refers to the decades-old Soviet launch of the world's first orbiting satellite. The launch drove the U.S. to increase their efforts in research and development and eventually led to the development of NASA. At his 2011 State of the Union speech, President Obama also used the phrase 'Sputnik moment,' in regard to his desire to renew education and innovation in the U.S. Similarly, The New York Times article questioned if this would be the era for computer science to emerge once again, if this could be the time for a 'Sputnik moment.'

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Computer Science in Universities

Computer science majors have become popular again. As of fall 2009, the most popular major at the University of California - Berkeley, for instance, was electrical engineering and computer science, accounting for over 1,500 enrollees. According to The New York Times article, as of 2011, computer science majors were expected to account for over 11,000 conferred degrees. With the increased interest and demand, several universities throughout the country have begun revamping their methods of teaching. A trending focus is on the practical and modern applications of computer science principles. While educators are still examining theories, students are also learning how to connect the dots to offer computational solutions in nontraditional areas, such as graphic arts, video games design, animation or artificial intelligence.

Who Employs Computer Science Professionals?

In early 2011, the National Association of Colleges and Employers polled more than 20,000 graduating seniors. The organization found that computer science majors comprised the largest sector of students who were offered positions of employment. Specifically, more than half of 2011 computer science graduates who began their job search received an offer of employment. This was an increase of over 13% from the previous year. Individuals trained in computer science can find opportunities with government agencies, colleges, engineering companies, computer system design companies, software publishers, telecommunications agencies or businesses.

Anticipated Openings in the Field

Many employers have been finding it difficult to secure enough computer science specialists to fill their vacancies. Incidentally, in 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that from 2008-2018, employment of various types of technical professionals was expected to rise. The need for computer scientists, for instance, was predicted to climb 24%, adding 7,000 new jobs to the field. Similarly, employment of computer software engineers was expected to account for nearly 300,000 new jobs over the decade, a rise of 32%.

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