Supporting STEM is Important for Tech Industry

STEM

Consider Creative Ways to Raise Awareness of Programmer Shortage

Dec. 7-13 is Computer Science Education Week, which gives me great reason to talk about something I am passionate about: Addressing the shortage of trained programmers in the U.S.

Jobs in computer science are growing faster than almost every other segment, and the shortage of trained workers is only getting worse. This week is a chance to highlight the need for more students to pursue computer science.

As a STEM advocate, I’ve had the opportunity to share my story as a student in the Idaho public education system; my journey to MIT, where I got an electrical engineering degree (and started a juggling club); and then what happened after. It wasn’t ideal, and it had a couple twists and turns, but it turned out well (so far, I think).

One of the missing pieces was that I, even as a top math and science student in K-12, had zero exposure to coding before college. I took AP history, math, and science courses (nine total), but I still wasn’t exposed to computer science. It should be part of every curriculum, with the basics starting in elementary school.

I don’t use history or literature directly for my job, but understanding the fundamentals is necessary context. Not every kid needs to grow up and become a programmer, just like not every kid who learns history needs to grow up to become a historian, but a basic understanding of coding to appreciate how every electrical device we use is important. Also, having enough students pursue computer-related degrees is vital to the success of this nation and its economy. Virtually nothing electronic can function without some sort of code running on it.

You may have heard that we need more students to pursue STEM education, because we have a shortage of workers in the U.S. That’s true. But to highlight how much more dire the situation is with trained computer engineers, below I’ve listed a few stats from code.org, an organization dedicated to inspiring students to pursue computer-related education. There is a STEM worker shortage, but the computer science worker shortage is the majority of it.

Job / Student Gap

I, like most students, wasn’t exposed to computer science before college — and then, for most, it’s too late. AP high school enrollment is relatively low and underrepresented in most demographics.

High School AP Enrollment

So what do we do? There are several initiatives under way to expose students to and excite them about computer science. You can learn about these at csedweek.org.

It is Hour of Code Week now. Get your kids and others you know signed up or start a location yourself; it’s happening at 152,260 locations around the world and counting.

Computing degrees are going to be worth a lot in the future, and we want to be training our students for those jobs.

Computing Jobs

Cradlepoint, the company at which I am a senior product manager, is one of the fastest-growing private companies in Idaho. However, Cradlepoint would have grown faster if we were able to fill our open engineering positions (primarily those writing code) as fast as we’d like.

It’s a frustration felt at many companies throughout Idaho and the U.S., and it will continue until we make strides to improve STEM education in K-12.

Juggling for STEM Awareness

On Feb. 7, 2016, I’m going to attempt to set a Guinness World Record at Boise State University’s Science and Technology Exploration Day. I will strive to become the world’s fastest five-ball juggler. (Learn more here.) My goal, besides setting the record, is to boost STEM awareness.

One of the cool projects I did in college with my partner was a virtual juggling simulator. I combined my passions for engineering and juggling. It came as a complete surprise to me, but the project won Best Undergraduate Lab of the Year at MIT in electrical engineering and computer science.

As I prepare for my world record attempt, I encourage fellow STEM advocates to find creative ways to support this valuable component of a well-rounded education.