Technology giants have lamented for years the dearth of technical talent, despite the careers of Mark Zuckerberg and other technology luminaries that have made the subject-matter a more high-profile, if not more popular, career choice.
While the number of undergraduate degrees granted in computer science has increased over the last few years, 2011’s figure was still 34 percent lower than at its peak in 2004, according to the Computing Research Association.
Tech firms have tried tackling the problem by launching a growing number of tech competition to encourage students to enter the industry, and even by lobbying for looser immigration laws that will help foreign engineers relocate to the U.S. Several computer firms have targeted high school students with attractive summer programming camps.
Now, Microsoft is taking things a step further: the software giant is sending its employees to the front lines, and encouraging them to teach a high school computer science class for a full academic year, according to an article in the New York Times.
From the NYT:
Its engineers, who earn a small stipend for their classroom time, are in at least two hourlong classes a week and sometimes as many as five. Schools arrange the classes for first thing in the day to avoid interfering with the schedules of the engineers, who often do not arrive at Microsoft until the late morning.
The program started as a grass-roots effort by Kevin Wang, a Microsoft engineer with a master’s degree in education from Harvard.
In 2009, he began volunteering as a computer science teacher at a Seattle public high school on his way to work. After executives at Microsoft caught wind of what he was doing, they put financial support behind the effort — which is known as Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or Teals — and let Mr. Wang run it full time.
The program is now in 22 schools in the Seattle area and has expanded to more than a dozen other schools in Washington, Utah, North Dakota, California and other states this academic year. Microsoft wants other big technology companies to back the effort so it can broaden the number of outside engineers involved.
This year, only 19 of the 110 teachers in the program are not Microsoft employees. In some cases, the program has thrown together volunteers from companies that spend a lot of their time beating each other up in the marketplace.
“I think education and bringing more people into the field is something all technology companies agree on,” said Alyssa Caulley, a Google software engineer, who, along with a Microsoft volunteer, is teaching a computer science class at Woodside High School in Woodside, Calif.
The Times notes that computer science needs to be introduced at a very young age for students to foster a strong interest in the subject-matter.
However, support for the subject at schools has faded along with funds. Today, computer science is taught as an elective rather than a core requirement in almost every state.