If debugging is the process of removing bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in. – Unknown

The fall in applicants for IT college courses is becoming a growing cause for concern in Ireland. There’s been lots of talk about it over the last couple of years and now the industry wants to encourage women to enrol. So there have been all manner of suggestions and solutions offered, including the scholarship programme as reported by ElectricNews in the linked news story.

In this month’s Computerscope the editor’s insightful sugestion was to force subjects like Maths or Physics onto female students and all of a sudden they’ll want to work in IT…duh! Yes I’m sure if we forced women to study knitting that’s all they could manage, heaven forbid that they actually have brains or that IT students are reliant on maths.

As a former Computer Science student, I can give a very simple explanation as to why the number of applicants for IT courses are falling – IT courses are taught by nerds and the course content is directed at nerds! On my first day the head of the course said that we were there to learn programming and we weren’t going to learn how to design websites, something I bet half the room thought they were going to learn. After our first lab and we were greeted with a MS-DOS prompt window reading ‘Hello World!’ after two hours, I’d say people were already filling out their college application sheets again for next year. Out of a class of fifty, more than half of my classmates dropped out over the next four years.

While courses like Computer Science continue to become even more unpopular, courses like Video Game Design are going to strengthen to strengthen. Is it any wonder? These are courses effectively consisting of the same core material, but Video Game Design courses are presenting the material in a more fashionable manner. In effect they are engaging the target audience and hopefully fulfil their expectations, unlike Computer Science in UCD.

No amount of spin, advertising, scholarships, etc can fix the problem when the fault inherently lies in the product itself. The cartoon business card in this Gaping Void post says it all really.

2 Responses to “Can no-one else see why applicant numbers for IT courses are falling in Ireland?”  

  1. 1 Dan

    I have to say that I completely disagree with your assertion that IT-related courses are unpopular merely because they are seen as unfashionable. I believe it has far more to do with the fact that people no longer hold the ridiculous dot-com era view of IT as an easy career with high salaries. According to recent studies in the UK and Ireland, accountancy seems to be the flavour of the day, but few people would consider it to be an exciting or fashionable profession. I’m sure the lure of guaranteed employment and high salaries is far more potent.

    As a graduate of Computer Science in Ireland in the last few years, your experience of the “joys” of console programming is familiar. But the reality is that a well-designed Computer Science (not IT or Software Development) course is going to cover the fundamentals (maths, algorithms, data structures) before moving on to more interesting topics. Medical students do not dissect cadavers in their first week; engineers don’t build elaborate structures before learning fundamental mechanics and chemistry. If people expected to be developing web sites and designing games, then obviously they had been mis-informed. Like your course, more than half of my year dropped out. But that was mainly because people had made their CAO choice under the assumption that they would easily complete the course, and immediately land a well-paid job. When the jobs markets changed and people actually realised what was involved in Compute Science, many of my classmates moved to other courses in which they were genuinely interested. Six years ago, every guidance teacher in the country was recommending IT as an easy option to anyone who was unsure about their future. Now the situation is reversed, with IT being seen as a dead-end.

    As for Video Game Design courses, the link to gaming is always going to be easy to market, but it’s a niche area. Engineering and accountancy courses are typically run by “nerds” and are not particularly exciting. Yet nobody suggests changing the fundamental content of these courses just to make them more marketable. You need only look at this year’s CAO points for these courses in UCD and TCD to see that there must be some other motivation for their popularity. The reality is that Computer Science is not about playing games or designing web sites – there’s no escaping the “science” aspect of it.

    Personally, I always doubted these scare stories put out by the industry. At the end of the last decade, the current government was forecasting the apocalypse if Ireland did not produce enough IT graduates. As a result we produced too many, with many of my classmates having graduated and gone into other careers. I’ve paid close attention to the IT jobs market over the last two years, and the current “problem” seems to be that there is a lack of *experienced* candidates who are prepared to work for below-par salaries. If large IT companies are expecting graduates with experience to work for 19-21K, is it any wonder that students are choosing accountancy or law instead?

    The reality is that most people are not going to find Computer Science interesting, and IT, as a career, is hardly to be recommended these days. To pretend otherwise is just being disingenuous – you’ll just have more people dropping out with disappointed expectations.

  2. 2 Piaras Kelly

    I don’t think that the courses are unfashionable, they just don’t engage with students.

    I agree most people around 1999 applied for IT courses because they were thinking about big bucks, but there are plenty of people that would be happy to work for 19-21k. Not everyone can be a lawyer or accoutant and I’d rather be a programmer than a liar or a pencil pusher.

    There is no escaping the science aspect of the course, but there are ways to present it better.

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