Wall Street's collapse may be computer science's gain

From IT to hedge funds and back again

"The pipeline is inadequate for IT professionals," said Jerry Luftman, who is involved in academics and business as associate dean at the Stevens Institute of Technology's Howe School of Technology Management, and vice president for academic affairs at the Society for Information Management.

The big difference between today and the heyday period of the late 1990s is the type of student that businesses need, Luftman said. Technical skills are still important, but businesses also want to hire students with management and industry training, strong communications abilities, marketing and negotiation skills, he said.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, IT jobs are among the fastest growing. On the top of the bureau's list of fast-growing career areas is network systems and data communications analysts, which it is forecasting will grow from 262,000 jobs in 2006 to 402,000 jobs by 2008, a 53 percent increase. Computer software engineers, applications, is expected to increase from 507,000 to 733,000 or 45 percent; while computer scientists and database administrators will rise from 542,000 to 742,000, a 37 percent increase.

Randal Bryant, dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, said his school saw student applications drop to a low of 1,700 from a peak of 3,200 in 2001 at the end of the dot-com boom.

But the situation has been turning around in the past few years, with 2,300 applications coming in last year, he said.

Bryant said he expects that the troubles on Wall Street will likely influence some students to switch majors in the coming months from business to other fields, including computer science. He also urges caution to those students.

"I like to tell students that if you make your career choice that quickly based on what is hottest this month, you're going to be graduating in four years and that field may not be hot anymore," Bryant said. "I tell them to major in something they like and not what's a likely short-term fluctuation in the job market."

"Our peak at the dot-com [period] included people in computer science who had no particular aptitude in it, but they thought they'd get rich," he said.

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