There’s often an ebb and flow with the demand for certain professions. Computer science has been a very popular field with demand for educational spots far outstripped by the supply in the most competitive programs. Quoted passages are from the article linked below.
The number of undergraduates majoring in the subject more than tripled from 2011 to 2021, to nearly 136,000 students, according to the Computing Research Association, which tracks computing degrees at about 200 universities.
The article discusses not just the job cuts at the FAANG companies but also the reduction of internship and job opportunities at other name brand tech companies. It also mentions
There are still good jobs for computing students, and the field is growing. Between 2021 and 2031, employment for software developers and testers is expected to grow 25 percent, amounting to more than 411,000 new jobs, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But many of those jobs are in areas like finance and the automotive industry.
Do people think that CS is going to become less popular as a major, and to what degree, if the available CS jobs aren’t at the big 6-figure starting salaries that were seemingly commonplace at the top tech companies? And if the popularity of CS wanes at all, what field(s) do you think the would-have-been-CS majors may choose instead?
I don’t see a decrease in the jobs for which a CS degree is useful any time in the near future. Maybe there won’t be huge starting salaries, but I believe that the vast majority of graduates don’t actually expect six figure starting salaries. They may want them, but realistically, most people don’t get them. IMO, most people want jobs that will keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and cover necessary expenses with hopefully some left over … and it seems that jobs in the CS field that will pay salaries that allow for that to happen will still be around for awhile.
My prediction- it will be like the tech meltdown in the mid-90’s, the e-commerce blowup in 2001, and somewhat like the banking crisis of 2008/2009.
Meaning that there will be many overqualified CS folks taking jobs which really don’t require a CS degree— but they are IT or data science or cyber security related. Which is fine. And there will be folks at the bottom of the IT pecking order (who probably didn’t like their jobs anyway, or at least weren’t very good at them) who will end up doing something else. Musical chairs- fewer jobs, someone will get left out.
This is happening already. But like in any bubble, the “hurt” isn’t evenly spread across an industry or sector-- it gets concentrated. So the meltdown of Lehman and Bear Stearns- huge impact in certain sectors (you could have been a lawyer in Houston who specialized in Securitization and your job might have evaporated in a week) and modest impact in others (director of quality control in a large hospital system- no exposure at all to the larger financial crisis).
Stressful for sure. But I know many young people who honestly had zero interest in CS from the git-go. It was a “parent approved major” for kids who don’t like the sight of blood so med school and nursing were out. They can know figure out what they really want to be when they grow up.
Kid in my neighborhood- tutors in math all the way through (3-13). Tutors in EVERYTHING during college (math, science, every programming class, statistics). He wanted to be a pastry chef; maybe the difficulty in finding a CS job this Spring will finally liberate him from being a B or C student and allow him to excel at something he loves!
I get the impression that there is a lot of that going around. My kid was telling me just this morning about one of his friends who has applied for CS at every school, because his parents insist on it, because they think that is where the big bucks are. The kid feels pressured because the parents are paying for school. He doesn’t know what he actually wants to do. He told my kid that he hopes he doesn’t get into a pressure cooker CS school, and ends up in a school with lower cost and more flexibility for him to explore his interests. Maybe the parents will read this article and broaden their outlook to allow for a more wide open future for their kid, too.
By my count, 3 of the 4 main examples in the NYT article lost their job or had their offer rescinded from Meta (Facebook). Yeah, Meta in particular is a tough spot these days, and premium big techs are more generally troubled, but the article also says that total industry growth (including testers, who are only borderline CS IMO) is expected to be ~25% from 2021-2031. That’s not bad.
If my youngest (entering college next year) goes CS, they will have my approval. (CS currently coming in 2nd to MechE among her preferences). Oldest kid is in CS at Bigtech making $$$. Middle soon to start job in a different engineering discipline, making far less than he likely would in CS.
Kid preferences matter of course - you want them to do something they enjoy and can do well at. But in terms of employment prospects and $$$, it’s hard to beat CS right now, if you’ve got the aptitude to make it at the Bigtech companies. Even if those companies aren’t hiring when a kid graduates, there are plenty of other good opportunities…
.3% is a nominal impact for an entire sector going belly up. Surprising. I guess in absolute terms, tech employees are a drop in the overall employment bucket. Regardless, I think CS grads will continue to do well if they have aptitude and interest (neither of my kids do) - maybe the huge $$ jobs will be scarcer, but there will always be opportunity. And, truthfully, how many CS grads are getting those super high paying FAANG jobs now? Probably a relatively small percentage.
The company where our S works has drastically cut back on hiring. They are still brining on interns. Interestingly, they are increasing pay for key contributors. For our S that resulted in a promotion with a substantial increase in base pay, bonus, and equity.
it will be interesting to see how many parents start steering their kids towards other “big bucks” majors if the big bucks CS jobs start to evaporate. But it is hard to predict the labor markets four year out… even hard to predict it six months out- just read about the “trimming” going on at Goldman, JP Morgan, etc- everyone is trying to spin it as “we always let people go right before Christmas” which seems like an odd narrative to embrace before you announce lay-offs…
The layoffs are just reducing some of the tech giants to their pre-pandemic size; that is, they are rolling back the hiring frenzy of the last 2-3 years. There is no reason Amazon ever should have had 18k interns and historically it did not until very recently.
By the standards of 2019, these are still very good jobs and plenty of applicants sought them then. If Google only receives 1.5 million applications rather than 2.5 million for its internships, would it matter?
A summary in how the number of CS bachelor’s degree recipients has changed over time is below, as listed in NCES.
1965 – New degree with less that 100 recipients
1985 – 42k (steady increase from 1965 to 1985)
1990 – 25k (sharp drop from 1985 to 1990, video game crash of 1983-85 may contribute?)
1996 – 25k (no change in enrollment in early/mid 90s)
2003 – 59k (rapid increase from 1996 to 2003 with dot com boom)
2008 – 37k (decline from 2003 to 2008, with dot com crash of 2002)
2019 – 97k (steady increase since 2008)
There have been 2 periods with sharp declines in CS majors – one from 1985 to 1990 and one from 2003 to 2008. I don’t think the recent layoffs at some tech companies and/or FAANG stocks dropping are anything approaching the scale of these 2 periods, so I don’t expect a comparable change in majors. Recent CS grads as a whole continue to have low unemployment with higher earnings than most other majors. If recent trends continue, I’d more expect a reduction in rate of increase in CS majors than a significant decrease in number of CS majors as a whole.
Certain specific colleges may show different patterns for a variety of reasons. This forum often emphasizes highly selective private colleges. Students at such colleges are far more likely to choose higher earnings fields, including CS, than the overall population. This can make them more sensitive to changes in perceived earnings/stability in CS than the overall population. Some would be CS majors at such colleges may choose other perceived high earnings fields instead of CS, such as econ → finance or bio → medicine instead.
As an example, the major distribution changes at Stanford during the dot com boom/bust period are below. Bio and Econ increased as CS major enrollment decreased during dot com bust. General engineering also had a large increase, with the decline in CS majors and increased uncertainty. If there was another severe CS bust event, I’d expect a similar type of pattern.
Most popular majors in 2001 – peak of CS major enrollment during dot com boom
1 . CS
4. Hum Bio
17. Gen Eng.
Most popular majors in 2006 – trough of CS major enrollment following dot com bust
1 . Hum Bio
9. Gen Eng.
I have been working in tech since the 90s. There is always a shortage of good software engineers and now data scientists. The jobs will be there and CS is a great major if that’s your interest/aptitude.
Choosing a major should be a long term decision based on interest, not the current state of the job cycle. Major is not a job credential. So many software engineers I work with were not CS majors (including me)
“Interestingly, they are increasing pay for key contributors. For our S that resulted in a promotion with a substantial increase in base pay, bonus, and equity.”
I have two children in EE/CS. They were both very math-driven in high school and loved the tech aspect of the math in CS and engineering. Because their schools required engineering in their coursework, they have and will adapt in their jobs. Their jobs, in two different companies, use a lot of engineering. Employees who love that discipline can adjust, adapt and will survive.
I agree that if you are a key contributor, and you show creativity and a willingness to get into those hard projects, you will note an increase in pay, bonuses and “seniority”.
My daughter, who is on her hiring committee, has noted that the pay has stabilized. They also recognize the applicants who just “went through the motions”, to get a degree in the field, without a real passion for the subject. She says it’s very evident in the interviews.
As they receive applications, from “experienced” employees, they’ve noticed some people who are there for the pay and who don’t really care about the job, so they jump from company to company hoping to make bigger pay. Before it was just about filling the positions. Now, it’s about filling the position with someone who is actually going to work well in the company. They are being very picky because it is very expensive to train these people and then these people leave because they’re not happy with the job, themselves, whatever, etc.
There is a lot of variation in how well different tech companies are succeeding/struggling in the current economy. Some companies are thriving and can’t hire enough people to expand as fast as they’d like. Others are struggling and laying off a significant portion of staff. It’s far from a universal downturn in tech/CS. We should start seeing colleges post first destination type reports for the class of 2022 soon. I suspect most will show the class of 2022 grads have largely similar degree of success to the class of 2021 grads, but some of the company names that hire the most grads will change.
There is also a lot variation in pay increase structure across different companies, positions, and fields of tech. In typical non-promotion pay increases success of company/project/group can contribute more to degree of pay increase than being a key individual contributor.
If there are layoffs, being a key individual contributor can be influential. However, again there are many additional considerations such as whether the individual is critical for maintaining the company’s IP and/or success in planned future direction (not the same as individual performance), whether the employee is worth his/her pay, how easily the employee can be replaced, etc.
That’s tough. CS is hard and not every child finds CS doable. My daughter has taken several CS classes at her school fortunately and she loves CS- but she has seen many of her friends change their minds about CS after taking the basic CS classes.