Nowadays there is little doubt that computer science is not the job of the future. It’s the job of the present. Computer science was able to infiltrate itself in every area of our culture, economics and society. Never before was the concept of trans-disciplinarity so important in a science such as ours. Maybe 10% of the whole computer science is for itself. The other 90% 1, is applied to other areas, to the point where they now depend directly on our existence. For good or evil, this is were we stand.
But we didn’t stopped there. Even the vocabulary of other areas was redefined by us. About 10 years ago, my colleagues in Civil Architecture were complaining the hard time they were having searching for jobs on the internet on… architecture. Today, I’ve some ninja friends with the same problem 2.
Kidding aside, the world-wide projections is that the deficit in our area will reach 70% in just a few year. Think about that, even with near 100% employment, we only fill 30% of the demand. So we are cool…
There’s another possible reading for this statistic. Even in a job with an high (or at least comfortable) salary, and with an almost guarantee of sustainability in a society with rampant unemployment, we are incapable of creating sufficient supply to the current demand. Paradoxically, there are several startups hunting dozens of talents but incapable of filling them, despite receiving equally dozens of résumés. We should probably ask ourselves: why?
I believe to exist at least three reasons. The first (and obvious one) is: we don’t have enough people. In a top Portuguese university such as FEUP, there’s 8 times more demand than numerus clausus. But there’s also a 10% (and increasing) dropout in the first year alone.
The second, often argued, is the mismatch between what is taught in the universities’ curricula and the needs of the industry. There has been an increase in bringing together these worlds, but we are in a fast-pacing environment where 12 months make something obsolete. Insisting on not teaching current technologies and theories is clearly dissonant with the leadership research status the academy has.
The third, and less obvious, is that the challenges we had 20 years ago are not today’s challenges. The industry complained about the lack of soft-skills within young graduates. Today, there are graduates who aspire to do nothing more than soft-skills. It is a well-known issue among the industry that young technical graduates increasingly seek management and consultant positions (often hidden as tribe leaders and team coaches), with zero years of professional experience.
Maybe in the pre-dot-com bubble, particularly in a country used to see computer science as a factory – the labor force at the bottom of the pyramid – such state of affairs were consistent with monopolistic business practices. But today we know that computer science is more than an organisational activity. It’s a creative activity! In an economy increasingly lead by entrepreneurship, these “greases” are no longer sustainable; what makes us competitive today is, and will increasingly be, our technical competence.
But if young graduates don’t want technical jobs, seeking instead the so called “coach” and “ninja” position, seniors don’t want technical jobs because, well, they are seniors (who stopped upgrading their skills), and PhDs are forced to a long career studying “blue milk”, where will the industry find the necessary resources to compete with global forces?
I don’t want to be misunderstood. Our country has amazing technical skills, probably among the world’s best. But the current expectation is towards an unbalance between supply and demand. It seems to me that the academy has thus three big challenges ahead:
- To increase the quantity of computer science students (which, facing the current demand, is directly translated into increasing the numerus clausus);
- To increase the efficiency of young graduates, by adjusting their expectations to the market expectations; and
- To increase the quality and keep an updated curricula, strengthening its status as scientific leaders per excellence.