Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

“Computer Science’s ‘Sputnik Moment’?”

June 15th, 2011 / in pipeline, policy, research horizons, Research News / by Erwin Gianchandani

A computer science student at Berry College in Georgia [image courtesy of Alan Storey/Berry College through The New York Times].Following up on an article about rising enrollments in computer science this past Saturday, The New York Times has just published a fabulous Room for Debate essay series titled “Computer Science’s ‘Sputnik Moment’?“:

Computer science is a hot major again. It had been in the doldrums after the dot-com bust a decade ago, but with the social media gold rush and the success of “The Social Network,” computer science departments are transforming themselves to meet the demand. At Harvard, the size of the introductory computer science class has nearly quadrupled in five years.


The spike has raised hopes of a ripple effect throughout the American education system — so much so that Mehran Sahami, the associate chairman for computer science at Stanford, can envision “a national call, a Sputnik moment.”


What would a “Sputnik moment” entail today? Will the surge of students into computer science last, and could it help raise American educational achievement?

The series features fairly short opinions (they’re quick reads!) from some of our field’s leaders — including Ed Lazowska, Chair of the CCC Council as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates chair in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, and Jeannette Wing, the recent Assistant Director for NSF’s CISE Directorate and currently the head of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University — as well as a sociologist, entrepreneur, lawyer, and tech editor.

Under the heading “Software as Self-Expression,” Wing writes:

Today’s students have grown-up tech savvy. They live in a world of exploring the Web and of personalizing their devices. Cyberspace is the anytime, anywhere laboratory where you can design and run your own experiments by writing just a little software. It’s affordable by anyone with access to the Internet. And each piece of software is an individual’s expression of creativity, much like poetry or music. Computer science can be fun and empowering…


Advances in computer science have the potential to dramatically transform our approaches to societal challenges such as health care, energy, sustainability and education.


When people talk about the smart grid, smart vehicles, and smart buildings — what makes them “smart”? Computer science. When people talk about personalized medicine and personalized learning, how do you think personalization is possible? Computer science. We’re not there yet, but the next generation of computer scientists can help us realize these visions — with immeasurable benefits to society and the economy.

And Lazowska describes how computing is “A Key to Critical Thinking”:

As more fields become information fields… “computational thinking” is necessary for success in just about any endeavor…


Computer science is a superb preparation for just about anything. And within technology industries, there are plentiful jobs. Those who choose to work in the computing field find it characterized by highly interactive teams that are focused on solving real life problems. The Dilbert stereotype is surely dead.


For students who want to change the world, there is no field with greater impact or leverage than computer science. Just take a look at the 2010 report by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, which characterized computer science as “arguably unique among all fields of science and engineering in the breadth of its impact.


Despite all of this good news, we need a national re-commitment to education, innovation, science and engineering. All the facts suggest that we are losing our edge.

Be sure to check out the whole essay series here!

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

“Computer Science’s ‘Sputnik Moment’?”

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