Decoding the Value of Computer Science – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education

November 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm 8 comments

Thanks to Beki Grinter for pointing this out — an interesting piece recognizing the value of computer science for the liberal arts major.

Computer science exposed two generations of young people to the rigors of logic and rhetoric that have disappeared from far too many curricula in the humanities. Those students learned to speak to the machines with which the future of humanity will be increasingly intertwined. They discovered the virtue of understanding the instructions that lie at the heart of things, of realizing the danger of misplaced semicolons, of learning to labor until what you have built is good enough to do what it is supposed to do.I left computer science when I was 17 years old. Thankfully, it never left me.

via Decoding the Value of Computer Science – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ian Bogost  |  November 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    The next time I see Zuckerberg referred to as a “prodigy” or a “genius” I may lose it. Who can’t write some shitty web code to move text between a browser and a database? His genius, if indeed he has one, was in taking advantage of good timing. And, apparently of being an insufferable asshole.

    • 2. Aaron Lanterman  |  November 14, 2010 at 2:51 am

      This comment, #19 from “bobster,” jumped out at me: “…the author ignores the fact that both he and Zuckerberg never really studied much computer science in college. It sure sounds like he picked it on the job and then he moved on at age 17. It didn’t take Zuckerberg much longer to move on from studying.”

  • 3. John "Z-Bo" Zabroski  |  November 10, 2010 at 9:16 am

    @According to the Computing Research Association, the annual number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in computer science and computer engineering dropped 12 percent in 2009. When Zuckerberg started Facebook, in 2004, universities awarded over 20,000 computer degrees. The total fell below 10,000 last year.

    Interesting. I did not realize it has changed that much, and my degree is that exclusive. How does that compare to other majors?

    Clearly the Java-ification of most Computer Science schools is not the answer.

    @Computer science exposed two generations of young people to the rigors of logic and rhetoric that have disappeared from far too many curricula in the humanities

    This quote is not backed up by anything — what two generations? What is the time period?. How can it have exposed two generations if we have more than half as many computer science graduate as 6 years ago? Most people in their 60s and 70s that I talk to, who are retired teachers, say that we will never go back to the level of instruction they had in mathematics.

    Poorly written article.

    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  November 10, 2010 at 9:40 am

      Between 2004 and 2009, the majority of classes in the majority of schools did not teach Java. Java textbooks only surpassed C++ textbooks in sales a couple years ago. Java isn’t the whole story. For more details on what’s happened, I recommend reading any of the resources discussed here on the status of CS enrollment, including the great resources at

  • […] challenge for making this work in computer science is, as the essay in the Chronicle mentioned, kids today don’t think much about how things work, about how to take things apart.  Will […]

  • 7. Mark N.  |  November 10, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    The comment about CS picking up the slack for a decline in logic and rhetoric in the humanities is surprising. I can’t seem to find a rigorous survey, but I’ve noticed at least some sort of requirement for a logic class to be more common in the humanities (mainly philosophy) than in CS. I did have a required symbolic-logic and logic-programming class from Harvey Mudd’s CS, but I was under the impression that that was unusual. It doesn’t appear that any sort of logic class is part of Tech’s undergrad curriculum, unless I’m missing it.

  • 8. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  November 10, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    At some schools (including UCSC) the logic course for CS majors is part of the Applied Discrete Math course, which covers logic, combinatorics, and proof by induction. The content is generally more rigorous than the Philosophy department logic courses, which stretch 3 weeks of material into 10-13 weeks.


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