In some ways, the future of high technology in higher education could be forecast this week as MIT graduates make their annual pilgrimage to Silicon Valley for possible recruitment.
U.S. college students have generally shied away from tech disciplines in recent years, scared off by the twin blows of the dot-com bust and offshore outsourcing. But as the industry works its way back to full strength, prospects for the education could brighten alongside it--and the level of interest among MIT grads could be an important barometer for tech programs at universities in coming years.
Companies know well the perils of brain drain, and some are trying to help fill the void left by declining federal funds for computer science research. Yet the most important test will arguably be faced by the universities themselves, whose drop in enrollment led to some deep soul-searching on topics ranging from corporate alliances to basic teaching concepts. How they retrenched during the dark years--if they did at all--will be enormously important at this critical juncture.
Blog community response:
"You used to start out in college with a course in data structures, with linked lists and hash tables and whatnot, with extensive use of pointers. Those courses were often used as weedout courses: they were so hard that anyone that couldn't handle the mental challenge of a CS degree would give up, which was a good thing, because if you thought pointers are hard, wait until you try to prove things about fixed point theory."
--Joel on Software
"We need to give students large projects, not just exercises and algorithms. These projects need to be large enough that the students will fail, regardless of their talent; hard enough that they'll fail in small ways (forced to throw away bad code and ideas), and ultimately in larger ways (likely creating a big, confusing, buggy system they can't maintain). All learning is best done through failure."
--Ian Bicking: A Blog
"The purpose of an education in Computer Science is to build a foundation of knowledge of abstract concepts to, upon graduation be taken into the 'real world' and applied to some problem. Once the institution starts teaching a language over teaching concepts, you're in big trouble and really have become a trade school."
--fewer moving parts