College kids march slowly toward tech careers
There's hope that today's teenagers are rethinking the tech-job stereotype. Lately, enrollment in college STEM programs has seen an uptick. Stanford computer science grads are recruited heavily by Silicon Valley tech companies willing to pay top dollar, so it's not surprising that Stanford is seeing an increase in student interest in computing-related studies. But STEM grads from other colleges are doing just fine, too. For instance, Marist College has seen enrollment rise at both of its tech-focused programs, computer science and information technology and systems (ITS).
Whereas computer science grads often become software developers, ITS grads choose from a range of IT topics such as networking, e-commerce, systems analysis, project management, security, and database systems. "Our ITS students are probably more highly sought after than the straight computer science students," says Marist College's Norton. "ITS students, especially those with enterprise computing in their résumés, will get a half-dozen job offers."
Colleges are doing their part to attract more students. Marist College, for instance, is bringing down interesting technology courses, such as artificial intelligence and social networking, from the upper levels to the freshmen class. These courses will market technology at a time when students are deciding what to do with their lives.
Meanwhile, Stanford rolled out a new computer sciences curriculum last fall that's chock-full of courses linking technology with other fields of study. In computational biology, for instance, technologists work with biologists to figure out how computers can better analyze data from experiments. "There's a real social aspect," says Sahami. "There's an image problem in computer science right now that all you do is sit in a cube and program all day."
San Jose State University in California offers three majors for students in tech: computer science in the College of Science, management information systems in the College of Business, and industrial technology in the College of Engineering. "Enrollment has been very stable," says Susan Rockwell, assistant director at San Jose State University's career center. "We're seeing in the career center and with employers coming to our job fairs that there's still lots of interest in our graduates."
Despite layoffs, tech jobs are still pretty stable
The truth is that tech jobs continually beat the national unemployment average, offering a sign of stability in a tumultuous job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was a very tough overall job market late last year: The average national unemployment rate for the fourth quarter rose to 6.1 percent (with a December high of 7.2 percent). Still, tech workers posted some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country:
* Computer software engineers: 1.9 percent
* Computer support specialists: 2.2 percent
* Computer and information systems managers: 2.7 percent
* Computer scientists and systems analysts: 3 percent
* Network and computer systems administrators: 3.5 percent
* Network systems and data communications analysts: 3.6 percent
* Database administrators: 5.4 percent
* Computer programmers: 6.1 percent
The tech sector actually added more jobs during one of these months, compared to the vast majority of employment sectors that lost jobs.