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Honing Computer Science Education

A few weeks back, Microsoft security expert (and co-author of the book Writing Secure Code) Michael Howard lamented about the quality of young coders coming out of university computer science programs.

In Howard's case, the concern was over the utter lack of security awareness and training among newly minted post-graduate programmers. In fact, the situation is so bad that Howard says Microsoft pulls every new programmer aside for several weeks of security-specific training before they can even begin working on live code.

Security, of course, is an ongoing concern, as reflected in our upcoming cover feature on secure development in the age of Windows Vista (coming in our June 15 print issue). But U.S. colleges face a challenge just getting kids in the door. Since 2000, the Computing Research Association found that enrollment in computer science (CS) programs has dropped 70 percent.

So perhaps it's no surprise that colleges are looking for ways to spice up CS studies, as reported in a recent Associated Press story.

At Georgia Tech, computing professor Tucker Balch heads up a robotics curriculum that includes cheap, Frisbee-sized robots called Scribblers that students program. The story notes that students get to write code to control the behavior of the tiny robots -- a far cry from traditional exercises like cracking prime numbers.

At the University of Southern California, the GamePipe Laboratory offers students a chance to blend coding and creative skills as they study the art and science of computer game design.

Do you think universities are on the right track? Or do alternative approaches like these threaten to undermine core skills and fundamentals that are critical to producing able programmers? E-mail me at [email protected]. If we publish your response in our magazine, you'll receive a free RDN T-shirt.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/30/2007 at 1:15 PM


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