Counting Computing Means Making Computing Count

What we count is what we value, the old adage goes. But what about what we mistakenly overlook? As we mark Computer Science Education Week, it's worth taking a deeper look at the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) current report that 3.8 million people in the U.S work in computing jobs. New Change the Equation research shows that more than twice the BLS statistic - 7.7 million people - say they use complex computing in their jobs. Why the discrepancy?

BLS uses job titles in collecting its statistics. Where that once made sense, it's not necessarily accurate as the world of work is increasingly technology-driven. Our data analyzed what people actually do in their jobs, regardless of their job title, and found that millions have gone uncounted, because they do not have job titles like computer programmer or network administrator. That doesn't mean, however, that they're not doing the complex computing work usually associated with such job titles. We're not talking spreadsheets and word processing - these skills include developing software; programming using languages like JAVA, SQL, PHP, or Perl; or maintaining a computer network. For instance, someone with the job title "Marketing Manager" doesn't traditionally fall into the computing professional category. But what if that Marketing Manager is building a database of targets, creating reporting mechanisms within that database, and developing an analytics program based on that work? That's the rub. The new number represents workers both in and out of STEM fields - in fact, while there are 3.9 million people in STEM-related fields doing complex computing, there are 3.8 million more people who are not in STEM fields.

The widespread preponderance of these skills in the jobs of today means that we've got significant work to do to ensure that we are ready to meet the rising demand for these skills for tomorrow. The business community has long lamented the skills gap as noted in a Change the Equation/Business Roundtable survey of CEOs where 62 percent said that they encounter the biggest gaps between company needs and applicants' skills in advanced computer/IT knowledge - and 60 percent expected to encounter that same issue in five years. Based on projected demand and the existing skills gap, it's imperative that a young person entering the workforce today have at least some of these advanced computing skills in order to be successful.

So how do we make that happen? First, let's take a look at what's already working. Through efforts like Hour of Code and Computer Science Education Week, Code.org is making coding a household name, bringing computing to the forefront of our consciousness, and leading efforts to get kids involved in computer science. By simply exposing kids to something they may not otherwise have the opportunity to explore, the organization is helping inspire the next generation of computing professionals.

And there are technology education programs that are helping kids take their initial exposure to the next level and gain the skills they'll need to apply later in life. For instance, at the high school level, National Academies Foundation (NAF) have dedicated Academies of Information Technology (AOIT) that are bringing computing to more than 18,000 students nationwide, with curriculum, teacher development, and coursework that provides a connection to the real world through internship experiences. And it's paying off, too. Ninety-eight percent of students at AOIT academies graduate, and 92 percent plan to go on to college. That's real, meaningful impact. But it can't simply start when kids are in high school - we've got to reach younger kids, too. Girlstart, a program out of Texas, is reaching more than 1,500 girls in grades K-8 each week. The after school and summer camp programs spark girls' excitement around computing through activities like 3-D design and a Harry Potter-themed programming challenge. Girlstart also provides wraparound programming for parents, so they can supplement learning at home. Techbridge is also boosting girls' interest in technology through their computing module where girls complete several projects to learn basic coding and work with computer applications to complete a stop motion animation project. These programs and others like them are making a difference, today - but they must be brought to scale in order to address the growing need.

Cities, too, are making big strides. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in September that by 2020, all 1.1 million New York City students would have access to computer science education. This follows the lead of Chicago which expanded its computer science efforts district-wide in 2013, and San Francisco which announced its efforts in June 2015 and began to phase it in during the current school year. These visionary leadership efforts by big cities are laudable and will reach millions more young people with computer science education.

But we need leadership beyond programs or a handful of cities if we are going to meet the demand for computing talent. States have got to take action, too. Currently, just 27 states allow for computer science courses to count toward graduation requirements. States can and should expand what is allowable toward graduation - and ensure that what is taught is rigorous and supported by high standards. We've got to send the message in our schools that we value computer science. We need states, cities, and districts to encourage teachers to pursue certifications in computer science. If we are going to require and count computer science, we are going to need teachers who have the background and experience to teach it. In many cases, existing certification requirements are flawed or missing, and there is little opportunity for professional development.

The future is already here. Computing is not a cottage industry that we can leave to chance - it is a marketable skill that is going to be essential to success across many fields. We must inspire now, teach now, act now, to ensure that our young people are prepared for the future that is awaiting them. Every week must be Computer Science Education Week!