Computer science is now Duke’s largest major, but this wasn’t the case 10 years ago. In 2011, 50 first and second majors were awarded Computer Science (CS) degrees. Compare this to 2018 when 250 members were awarded CS degrees. However, while the number of graduates has increased, the composition of CS students has been constantly poised against those in minority groups (Black, Hispanic, Women) – as calculated by the Percentage Project, a program run by Women in Technology (WiT). With growing power within the tech industry comes ethical considerations and social implications of new products, which will be largely decided by those that go into the tech industry.
This article provides a neat statistical analysis of the past 8 years of the demographics of the Computer Science major, coming at a time where the power of the tech industry is even more apparent. I work as a Teaching Assistant within Duke CS (my opinion is [clearly] not representative of the CS department), and I was bothered by the fact that one of my students loosely said during office hours that “you can get sooo much money making it in the tech industry, like, your life becomes so easy.” While what this student said irked me (mainly because he wasn’t focusing on his assignment), I couldn’t deny his statement.
The article states that “tech is a lucrative job” and “[CS has] the highest average salary immediately after graduation.” Hell, as a CS major, I struggle to find interesting courses within the department, but I have kept going with the goal of a successful career in mind. It is frankly disappointing that the only available advice for CS newbies is to “focus on the projects you love,” when that pathway to fulfillment is filled with so much technical background and not much oversight. In other words, while a lot of CS students come in with a passion for tech, it’s not clear what they want to do with it and the curriculum doesn’t help to clarify the motives behind working in tech. While this article does a great job highlighting racial inequality in a field covered in money, it is also worth asking students for their motivations behind pursuing the CS major to accommodate their needs and customize the curriculum to match their interests.
This article reminds me that while I am an Asian male and normally considered a minority within the U.S., that does not make me a minority in the CS field, as Asian males and White males have dominated the CS population at Duke. Primarily, Black and Hispanic people have suffered the short end of the stick, with Black and Hispanic CS majors comprising 3% each of the CS community. And while the percentage of women in the CS major has gone up, women that also identify as a racial minority were not represented well.
The article concludes with saying we need to come together “to include conversations about technology and its role in society”, however, I wish the article would go more into detail about these sorts of topics. Three things to think about are:
- Privacy rights and who gets access to data – Facial Recognition use by police.
- AI, ML, and how we define bias – Beauty.ai is a great example (tl;dr: beauty contest judged by AI had a higher proportion of white winners despite the high amount of black entries.)
- Genetic modification – both humans and non-humans.
Overall, this article doesn’t change my perspective on my work this summer, as I have been aware of the increasing racial disparity within the CS department, but it calls us to ask ourselves how we can accommodate the major to be universal and make it easier for those of underrepresented groups to join the CS community.