Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are Computing Jobs the Future?

This article is quite deceptive.

Sure, it focuses on the young--teenagers, to be exact. I love the idea of new jobs in computing, just like I love the idea of new jobs in relation to the environment, or in government. But how can I get involved? I love computers and technology, though I am far from savvy and quite behind the curve in a lot of areas, but I'd love to learn. My high school did not have even close to a fraction of the opportunities listed here, and well, my problem is I never know what to do. What do I do? How can I get one of these hybrid careers:

Hybrid careers like Dr. Halamka’s that combine computing with other fields will increasingly be the new American jobs of the future, labor experts say. In other words, the nation’s economy is going to need more cool nerds. But not enough young people are embracing computing — often because they are leery of being branded nerds.

Educators and technologists say two things need to change: the image of computing work, and computer science education in high schools.

Is computing really considered too nerdy? I’ve argued before that nerd isn’t the stigma it used to be—not with Hollywood glamourizing the term, between Spider-man and Sheldon. Sure, most of us are more socially adept than these two characters, but neither of them embody computing. What does need to change is the notion that computer science is too hard, too male, and dreadfully dull. Tales of it being mundane code that will cause most normal people to go off the rails before hitting 35 are the norm, and that doesn’t bode well for recruitment.

I am all for hybrid careers. I want one. I want to be one of those hyphen people, described as writer/activist/etc/etc/etc, juggling many things and moving fluidly between interests and skills, belonging in several different environments. There are plenty of people who fit this mode, why can’t I?

This article using computing as a jumping off point for those interested in a varied career path, and uses examples of people who have untraditional background but have a “computing” job:

One goal, Ms. Cuny and others say, is to explain the steady march and broad reach of computing across the sciences, industries, culture and society. Yes, they say, the computing tools young people see and use every day — e-mail, text-messaging and Facebook — are part of the story. But so are the advances in field after field that are made possible by computing, like gene-sequencing that unlocks the mysteries of life and simulations that model climate change.

It’s seeing these simulations that really make computing cool, the data sequenced and mapped out. Museums are great for this; I recommend the MIT Museum in Boston, especially the section from their Media Lab (I was practically drooling). You need a computer science background to enter the school, something that bummed me out quite a bit when I found out in high school. Data collection is so cool, especially when sequenced and compared, trying to explain and extrapolate from the responses. It’s really unbelievable how they make even the most mundane fascinating.

But it’s hard to get there:

Today, introductory courses in computer science are too often focused merely on teaching students to use software like word processing and spreadsheet programs, said Janice C. Cuny, a program director at the National Science Foundation.

Introductory programs? I’m not sure if she’s talking about Computer Science 101 in college or the local community college’s Introduction to Computers, which is meant for grandma. I believe a lot of people just need time and practice with programs in order to use them well; sometimes that necessitates a course, other times a job or project. But a lot of people don’t get that chance, or they don’t know they have that chance and it passes them by.

I’ve always liked that the Obama administration created a Chief Technology Officer position in addition to having a Chief Information Officer, showing his commitment to technology, an area that the previous president was not into. Nowadays, technology is so incredibly important that not having the government play a part is an egregious mistake. Having support in this area—including advocating electronic health records—ensures that our citizens will be able to prepare for the future, and enhances our standing in the world.

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