September 23, 2008

Comp. Sci. Majors Face Outsourcing

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Outsourcing is abuzz and computer science enrollment has dropped, but in Cornell’s world-renowned computer science department, students and professors alike are confident that this outsourcing trend will not impact their futures.
When asked if outsourcing is a concern that comes up among friends, Noah Santorello ’09, president of the Association of Computer Science Undergraduates, said, “Never. Computer science is not like finance where everyone’s concerned about getting a job when the economy gets bad.”
Santorello’s perspective on computer science may only apply to top tier institutions like Cornell. In Steve Holzner’s blogpost for TechRepublic, “Why outsourcing is scaring off potential C.S. students,” Holzner claims that “The general feeling seems to be: ‘How can I stake a career on a job that may be gone tomorrow?’”
Furthering this fearful sentiment, statistics show that computer science enrollment is down by 60 percent.
In today’s globalized world, it has become easy and inexpensive for companies to outsource jobs to countries like India and China, places where wages are generally ten percent lower than they are in the United States. For industries like computer science, which require hundreds of hands to do straightforward software coding and computer maintenance, outsourcing is an ideal business tactic.
[img_assist|nid=32005|title=Solving the code|desc=Computer coding jobs are often outsorced to other countries.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]However, the sentiment within Cornell’s computer science department seems to be that Cornell students are too talented to be going after professions that can be outsourced. Cornell’s computer science department is ranked fifth in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report, and according to Prof. Ken Birman, computer science, the department trains its students to work in the top positions.
Birman explained, “What makes Cornell such a fantastic place to study C.S. is that we teach people to ‘solve problems’…our students are the ones who learn to tackle the big issues. The kind of job that can be outsourced tends to be a sort of labor intensive programming task, not a conceptual one.”
The main headquarters for big companies like Google and Microsoft are in the U.S. and don’t seem to be going anywhere. “All the innovation, all the interesting stuff, is happening here,” Birman said.
Aaron Sarna ’11, who is studying computer science, agrees. “The types of jobs that get outsourced are the uncreative grunt work,” Sarna said.
As evidence of this, Cornell’s computer science graduates from the class of 2007 are placed in top jobs around the U.S., including employers such as Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and Google. The average starting salary for 2007 computer science graduates was $70,350, compared to the $47,857 overall mean starting salary for all of Cornell’s 2007 graduates.
In addition to the opinion that companies only outsource menial computer science tasks, there is an overall feeling that companies would prefer not to outsource.
Ezra Katz ’09 explained that the software development company that he worked for this past summer has a division in India, but due to poor communication, the company was laying off many of their employees there.
“They weren’t producing what they were asked to produce,” Katz explained. “A benefit of having development in the United States is that you get to work closely with your developer and ultimately the quality of the work is better,” he said.
Santorello put it simply, “Getting half way across the world is a pain in the ass.”
Despite the enthusiastic and positive approach of Cornell’s computer science students, enrollment numbers dropped dramatically after the dotcom bust and have continued on a slight downward trend since 2004. Many computer science students credit this decrease to an already technologically advanced world. Technology is not new and cutting edge anymore.
Birman provided a different explanation. He explained that if you combine the numbers from the information science department, a four-year-old department that overlaps with computer science, with the enrollment statistics from the computer science department, the numbers are beginning to crawl back up.
“C.S. isn’t growing quickly, but it has definitely started to recover from the dotcom bust,” Birman said.