Improving the Image of IT
The computing community has an image problem. This is not news to long-time readers of this blog - or indeed, anyone who has followed coverage of IT-related stories in the popular press. Dropping enrollment rates and dropping interest in computing are pretty good signs that that there is a perception among an increasing number of undergraduate (and probably younger) students that a career in computing isn't as rewarding as a career in some other discipline.
The reasons for this perception could be many: belief that a career in computing means long, lonely hours staring at an LCD screen; that the field is "mature," and computing a "solved" problem; that the problems aren't intellectually stimulating enough; or that the best IT jobs will get outsourced overseas. In previous posts, we've described some of the evidence out there that debunks these perceptions, yet they persist.
Fortunately, the computing community isn't standing still. As we wrote last August:
"At the Computing Leadership Summit convened by CRA last February, a large and diverse group of stakeholders - including all the major computing societies, representatives from PITAC, NSF and the National Academies, and industry reps from Google, HP, IBM, Lucent, Microsoft, Sun, TechNet and others (complete list and summary here (pdf)) - committed to addressing two key issues facing computing: the current concerns of research funding support and computing's "image" problem. Task forces have been formed, chairmen named (Edward Lazowska of U of Washington heads the research funding task force; Rick Rashid of Microsoft heads the "image" task force), and the work is underway. As the summary of the summit demonstrates, no ideas or possible avenues are off the table ... We'll report more on the effort as it moves forward."
Rashid and the Image Task force have been pretty busy. Rick detailed some of the Task Force's conclusions at CRA's Snowbird conference back in June (which Cameron Wilson of ACM has done a good job summarizing). One of the key conclusions, though, was that addressing this problem in a coordinated way is going to be a full-time job. And the Task Force members felt committed enough addressing the problem that they agreed to contribute their own resources to fund the position and get to work.
That position is now ready to be filled. From the job description:
"The person in this position will become a national spokesperson for the computing discipline, working with executive level leaders from across the nation in industry, academia, government and not-for-profit organizations. Work will include forming strategic relationships with corporations, negotiating with academic institutions to shepherd computer science curricular reform, talking to the press, and promoting information technologies to the public.
"The position will plan and lead a national research and information gathering effort and use the results to define a strategy to encourage more young people to enter information technology, as well as create a greater public understanding of IT. The position will create and lead the roll out of a national awareness campaign and will be personally involved with changing the image of IT, through numerous speaking engagements, conference panels, outreach activities and written articles. This position is accountable for progress to the Task Force on the Image of IT (whose members represent such distinguished institutions as AAAI, ACM, CRA, Hewlett Packard, IEEE-CS, Intel, Microsoft, SIAM, and USENIX) and is housed in the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and ATLAS Institute."
For complete details, see the full posting. Please forward the link to anyone you think may qualify.
Peter Harsha heads CRA's Government Affairs Committee.