It’s difficult to think of any aspect of our lives that hasn’t been changed by the invention of the digital computer, just 70 short years ago. Consequently, computing is a crucial skill in a wide range of careers across every sector of business and society. You don’t have to have studied Computer Science at University to take advantage of all the exciting opportunities provided by computing. This chapter looks at why computing is a subject for everyone. If you’re studying computing, this chapter isn’t aimed at you, unless you are struggling to stay motivated with your subject! 👨🏿💻👨💻👩🏽💻👩💻👨🏿💻
Reading this chapter and doing the activities will help you to:
- Identify where you can get started with computing, if you’re not studying computer science as a major part of your degree
- Describe why NOT studying computer science doesn’t necessarily “lock you out” of computing as a career
But why should everyone be studying computing? There are social and economic arguments:
At school, everyone learns to read, write and do maths. These are sometimes known as the three Rs but:
- Why did you learn to read and write? Was it so that you could become a professional writer?
- Why did you study mathematics? Was it so that you could become a professional mathematician?
Of course not, that would be ludicrous! You learned to read and write because they are fundamental tools for expressing yourself and communicating with other people. You studied maths so that you could develop numeracy, reason about the world around you, analyse data and solve problems.
So why should everyone learn about computing? Is it so that everyone can become software engineers? Again, this is patently ludicrous.
Everyone should study computing for the same reasons everyone studies maths and english at school. Like writing, computing is one of the most creative tools for expression and communication that we have today. Just like mathematics, studying computing will also help you to solve important problems too. Sam Aaron, creator of Sonic Pi, puts exactly this case for creative computing in his TEDx talk (Aaron 2016) shown in figure 6.2.
Computing is also an intellectually stimulating and challenging subject to study in its own right. If you don’t believe me, I’m not going to make the case here. Have a look at Silvio Peroni’s free computational thinking and programming book at comp-think.github.io which is written for people with a background in the humanities. (Peroni 2021)
Whatever future world you enter into after you graduate, there’s a good chance it has already been eaten by software. In 2011, the software engineer and billionaire investor Marc Andreesen outlined why (in his opinion, figure 6.3) software is eating the world, in The Wall Street Journal (Andreessen 2011).
Unfortunately, many people lack the digital skills required to take advantage of all the opportunities provided by software. Robert Sedgwick at Princeton University has, like many others, argued that Computer Science should be required of all undergraduate students. (Sedgwick 2019) We’re not there yet because computing is a subject that has historically been siloed in Computer Science Departments, but this is changing as we’ll see in this chapter. It’s not that everyone should jump ship to Computer Science, but that:
- Computing is too important to be left to Computer Scientists
- Computing is too important to be left to men (Spärck-Jones and Runciman 2007)
Whatever subject you are currently studying, adding some computing to your education will empower you with the computational thinking skills you need to be an active producer, not just a passive consumer in modern society. Computing can open up new opportunities for you and improve your social mobility.
Besides the social arguments, there are also strong economic reasons for studying computing. It’s not just software that’s eating the world, but its combination with hardware that dominates the list of the world’s largest corporations by market capitalisation, shown in figure 6.4. What use is software without hardware?
Even if you don’t want to work for any of these global monopolies, their success is good news for all students of computing because it shows how important computation is to society, both commercially and otherwise. Another visualisation of data in figure 6.4 is shown in figure 6.5.
What figure 6.4 and figure 6.5 show is that computing is eating the stock market. This means that commercial demand for software developers is high, comparable to teaching and nursing in terms of raw numbers. In the UK, the most common jobs for graduates from 2017-18 are shown in Figure 6.6, based on data taken from an article on the graduate labour market in 2021 (Ball 2020)
So there’s lots of choice and lots on offer, wherever you are in the world.
All this choice is a great thing but what sort of role do you want computing to play in your career? You can either be a passive consumer of computing or you can be an active producer, shaping the world of computing to get want you want from it, rather than what it wants from you. Going back to Andreesen’s eating analogy in section 6.3, the choice is to be an eater or be eaten. Or to use a games analogy, play or be played.
Because of its social and economic importance, computing also gives you flexible career options. If academic disciplines are playing card suits, then Computer Science is the joker in the pack shown in figure 6.7. A versatile card, the computational joker can be played with (and without) any of the traditional four suits: diamonds, clubs, hearts and spades. That’s because computing is a science and an art. It allows us to study human society and culture, so it’s part of the humanities too (see digital humanities and computational social science for example). Last but not least, computing is also an engineering discipline and a branch of mathematics too. What all this means is that the computational joker is a wild card that can be played whenever and wherever you like, making it an incredibly powerful but dangerous card, depending on the game you are playing (see chapter 9). ♣♥♠♦🃏
The flexibility of computing as a career means you have a broad range of options on where you can apply your computational skills. You don’t have to be studying Computer Science to take advantage of these opportunities, but it helps.