CS + X: What’s your X?

Last week I talked at Vivid Sydney about supporting startups in Australia and I mentioned that one surefire way is to produce more Computer Science (CS) graduates. This is because there are more startup founders with CS degrees than any other. But it’s not just startups which need CS graduates; demand is growing globally from all sectors of the economy so that by 2020, global demand will exceed the number of graduates by 1 million jobs (source).

So how do we encourage more students to study Computer Science? Honestly, changing the name might help, since the name “Computer Science” sounds a bit intimidating, doesn’t it? Certainly there is a scientific/mathematical basis to CS, but the CS practitioner mostly relies on Computational Thinking (CT) skills. CT includes pattern recognition, pattern abstraction (generalization), modeling, design, and programming (coding). Naturally, these are skills that are needed to create software, through the process of software engineering. What is not as well appreciated is that CT is applicable to more than just software engineering; it is increasingly a critical skill for understanding and using the computing technology that underpins much of our modern society.
CS has been cosying up to the sciences for a long time, where the term computational science is well known. CS + physics = computational physics, CS + chemistry = computational chemistry, CS + biology = bioinformatics, etc. Scientists have merely understood for some time, what everyone else now realizes, and that is that CS combined with another discipline, brings with it new insights and new ways of approaching things. We call this “CS + X”, where “X” can be virtually anything. For example, CS + retail = online shopping, CS + finance = “fin tech” (think online banking, personal finance management, etc.), CS + music = products like “Pandora”, CS + health = fitness products like “Fit Bit”, etc. The opportunities are endless. There’s even an Aussie startup called myEvidence combining CS + crime fighting.

And therein lies the answer to my earlier question. Students will be a whole lot more excited about studying Computer Science if they can combine it with their passion, their “X.” Universities around the world are starting to recognize this by introducing CS + X programs, where X can be any subject area, not just a science. We need flexible university degrees like this in Australia too. Then we just need to ask students the question, “what’s your “X”?

For more information on computational thinking and other resources, check out google.com.au/startwithcode.