RealNews

Computing's Lost Allure

ON a sunny May afternoon, Brian Harvey’s introductory computer science class at the University of California convened for the last time before the final exam. By the time Dr. Harvey was full tilt into his lecture, reviewing recursive functions and binary search trees, the cavernous hall was lightly peppered with about 100 students, backpacks at their sides, a few legs slung over the backs of empty seats. Sparse attendance is, of course, an end-of-semester inevitability. Many students viewed the lecture by Webcast, if at all. But more significantly, just 350 students signed up for the course this spring, in striking contrast to enrollment in the fall of 2000, when the same lecture hall was engorged at the start of the semester with 700 students sitting and standing in every available pocket of space. Today, empty classroom seats, like the vacant offices once occupied by high-flying start-ups, are among the unmistakable repercussions of the dot-com bust. At the height of the Internet boom in the late 90’s, computer science talent was in such demand that recruiters offered signing bonuses to students who agreed to drop out of school. Now, spooked by layoffs and disabused of visions of overnight riches, many undergraduates are turning away from computer science as if it were somehow cursed. Full Story

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