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Your Turn: Is Computer Science Dead?

Last week, I noted an article that took a dim view of trends in the programming arena. And readers had a thing or two to say about it all.

Reader Joel runs a skewer through the argument with this incisive response:

Of course not. It's a great hallmark of progress that most people can work and live their lives at much higher levels of abstraction than before. I for one don't want to make my own clothes or catch my dinner.

There will always need to be a handful of people writing microprocessor code for the assembly programmers, a few hundred assembly programmers writing compilers for the C/C++ programmers, several thousand C/C++ programmers building frameworks like Java and .NET for the application programmers, and finally, millions of application programmers building the apps that 99 percent of the world actually uses. If Mr. McBride can point to a single time in computer history when there were more software developers, more (or better) development tools, or more programs in existence, I could take his concern seriously.

Did automotive science die when mass production put 99 percent of the tinkering machinists out of work? Or did it encourage even more investment because the ones who remained multiplied their innovations by 10 million cars instead of one? Yes, someone somewhere needs to know how to write the assembly language code that makes all the levels above it possible, and I hope those people are getting paid handsomely. But the other 99.9 percent of us should take a quiet moment to be thankful it isn't us, then get back to writing our applications instead of worrying about the death of the field.

Mr. McBride correctly states that computer science curricula need to be more relevant and vocational, but I hope he understands that if that isn't done, it will be computer science departments that die, not computer science.
-Joel, New York

Laura is not as upbeat, but she makes a similar argument.

It's the computer scientists who make the "era of visual programming languages where 8-year-old kids can program robots with a drag-and-drop interface" and other wonderful things possible.

Computer science is certainly not dead. But let's be realistic: Job opportunities in this country are simply not what they were. At least, that is the present perception. The world isn't flat, as one author has famously preached; it is cone-shaped, everything sliding down a slippery slope.
-Laura, Connecticut

Do you agree with these counterarguments? Was pundit/humorist P.J. O'Rourke right when he wrote that those who pine for a perfect era in the past are forgetting about the pain that past produced (including *shudder* painful dentistry)? Let me know at

Posted by Michael Desmond on 03/21/2007 at 1:15 PM

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