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NZ school students becoming attracted to computer science

More NZ school students becoming attracted to computer science

August 23, 2013

New Zealand school students, who traditionally aspired to be All Blacks, doctors or lawyers, are becoming more attracted to computer science, a University of Canterbury (UC) expert says.

UC computer science professor Tim Bell says the smartphones, the web, and computing in general, allows people to easily create new things that never existed before. Many school students, he says, will grow up to be experts in areas that don't even exist today.

Professor Bell is one of the speakers at the seventh annual Education Learners Forum at UC’s College House next week (August 28 and 29). More than 100 people will attend the conference.

``Exporting software can be done in a fraction of a second, almost at no cost, but brings in a substantial income for New Zealand,’’ Professor Bell says. But he points out that there is a desperate shortage of suitably qualified graduates.

``New Zealand is on track to become a net exporter of computer services within the next few years. Exports of computer and information services totalled $659 million last year, against imports of $531million. By last year, 62,000 people were employed in ICT occupations, 11,000 more than in 2003, while salaries for people employed by ICT firms are rising at twice the national average, and good computer science graduates receive multiple job offers.

``Computer science covers a wide range of areas that make it possible to put wheels on creative ideas. It covers a range of topics that are needed to create great software. For example, security is important – a new website is no good if people can break into it and steal clients' private information.

``Human-computer interaction, designing software that's natural to use, makes software that is a lot more popular than systems that frustrate users. There are a lot of techniques that developers need to know to make sure their interfaces work well.

``Good algorithms, which are about making software respond quickly, can also help the user; waiting even a few seconds for a response can be frustrating or unacceptable for users.

``The area of software engineering is also important; most projects are way too big for one person to write, so good techniques are required to deliver a product successfully.

``Having an overview of these topics helps software developers to produce software that will delight users. Without these techniques, a programmer can end up producing systems that are slow, unreliable, insecure and frustrating to use.

``Our UC computer science graduates have ended up working at top companies around the world and have developed parts of products that we use every day, including familiar names such as Google, Facebook, and Apple. Many others have started their own companies, and have ended up employing dozens of people, such as companies like Clarus or Hairy Lemon.

``The recent computer science standards that have been added to NCEA give high school students the opportunity to find out what the field is really like, and hundreds of students around the country have completed these standards since they were introduced in 2011. These students will be much more aware of the opportunities and challenges of a career in computing.

``The future is bright, not just for New Zealand's young people and their job prospects, but also for the positive impact this will have on our economy.’’


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