The State of Computer Science Education

As a technology entrepreneur who is active in the Tampa startup community, I hear repeatedly from other entrepreneurs about the difficulty finding local talent to fill positions which require deep technical skills. The younger people coming out of college just don’t have the employable skills, particularly in iOS programming and web development like Ruby on Rails. These tend to be aftermarket educational add-ons where someone would either enroll in a coding bootcamp like The Iron Yard or teach themselves. Both of those situations benefit greatly from having basic coding skills from which to build. A person with a degree in computer science is not going to learn these skills in most universities. One exception is the highly popular iOS programming course at Stanford.

A student who graduates from high school with a solid basic understanding of coding can successfully go directly into a coding bootcamp and find work as an entry-level full stack developer. This bypasses the traditional career plan of attending a university where costs continue to escalate at a staggering rate. While this could be a great plan for some individuals, it remains elusive due to the fact that less than half of the local high schools offer AP Computer Science as a part of the curriculum. In some cases where the courses are offered, highly qualified teachers are in short supply. Why would an excellent coding teacher accept public school teacher pay when they could double that by teaching at a coding school or becoming a developer in their own right? This is an area where partnerships between industry and public school systems would greatly benefit each other. Industry could mentor students and teachers or even partner with instructors and institutions by offering informational, financial, and/or technical support. In my opinion, partnerships are the most efficient way to mobilize a coding workforce quickly.

On a much broader scale, the need for a basic computer science education for all students is a necessity.  Computing is used in virtually every field. To withhold that basic knowledge puts our workforce at a distinct disadvantage, which, in turn, puts our nation behind. Consider the ramifications of this on a much larger scale like national security. What happens when we can’t provide our own citizens to fill those positions in the military and financial systems?

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Please write to your representatives in support of computer science education initiatives that provide direction and support to our students.

Where is the talent?

In Tampa Congressional District 12, approximately 10 percent of software developer positions remain unfilled. More specifically, for the 9,960 employed developers, there are 985 open positions waiting for talent. The average salary for these jobs is $88,781. Where is the talent?

With less than half of Tampa area high schools offering computer science education, it comes as no surprise that local firms can’t find local talent.

What needs to happen next

Florida is on the right path with establishing rigorous K-12 computer science standards and clear certification pathways for computer science teachers. The course is set, but support is lacking.

Four areas for improvement

  • Provide dedicated funding for rigorous computer science professional development and course support.
  • Offer incentives for institutions of higher education to offer computer science to preservice teachers.
  • Have dedicated computer science positions in state and local education authorities.
  • Require that all secondary schools offer computer science.

In Tampa, please write to Congressman Gus Bilirakis in support of computer science education for all.

Ann Adair
is co-founder of Thinkamingo Inc, a mobile applications development firm, which she co-founded with her husband Jon.  They have two children, one of which is a senior in high school currently enrolled in AP Computer Science.