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Computer Science Is No Longer the Safe Major

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Automation will expand the computer science talent pool, possibly leading to lower pay and diminished job security.

Credit: Ben Kothe / The Atlantic

Computer-science degrees have long been sold to college students as among the safest paths toward 21st-century job security. Since 2016, enrollment in undergraduate computer-science programs has increased nearly 49 percent.

But that was before the age of generative AI. ChatGPT and other chatbots can write lines of code in any number of programming languages. In the ultimate irony, software engineers helped create AI, and now they are the American workers who think it will have the biggest impact on their livelihoods, according to a survey from Pew Research Center. So much for learning to code.

Students are in the especially tough spot of anticipating the long-term implications of automation on their careers. "The question of what it will look like for a student to go through an undergraduate program in computer science, graduate with that degree, and go on into the industry . . . That is something I do worry about," says Timothy Richards, a computer-science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Not only do teachers like Richards have to wrestle with just how worthwhile learning to code is anymore, but even teaching students to code has become a tougher task.

Richards has already started to tweak his approach. "I don't think we can really teach students in the way that we've been teaching them for a long time, at least not in computer science," he says.

From The Atlantic
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