Are computer science graduates any good at working in the real world of IT? What happens to computing graduates? Are they, in fact, totally irrelevant? Lets have a good rant shall we.

I have heard people saying that graduates from computer science courses (or 'computing' as the catch-all term for university courses related to IT) are useless.... unless of course you want to do some kind of esoteric research. After all, most people who work in IT don't have computing degrees.


Let's look at some of the facts. Can you find useless computing graduates? I bet you can. Can you find high performing, intelligent, socially gifted computing graduates? Yes, and I do all the time. Consultants earning fat piles of cash who have a good grounding in technology and understand the businesses they are helping to change. Our Young Professionals Group (YPG) is full of them.

Huge numbers graduate from computing courses; around the same number as maths, physics, chemistry, biology and all the engineerings combined. Well, that was the case in the last government stats on employment (2005), but it won't be in the future because of the 40% drop in intake since then.

What do they do? At least 40% (more likely 50-60%, as the stats are rather poor) of those who go directly into employment go into IT. That's huge, considering that those graduates are in high demand in non-IT jobs just as maths and physics students are wanted in non-maths and non-physics jobs. According to Universities UK, computing graduates are big earners. They earn around the same as other science/technology graduates and are only beaten significantly by Law and Medicine.

They must be doing something right.

Both computing in academia and the IT industry are in a huge state of flux. 30 years ago hardly anyone graduated in computing, so if you're in your 50's and working in IT chances are that you don't have a degree in computing. Chances are that if you are in your 30's and you do have a computing degree, your experience will be totally different to someone starting their course today. For a start, the web barely existed. I could go on with the changes of the last ten years, but I probably don't need to. The point is that past experience is not a good guide to future performance. The way the IT industry grew to a million people isn't the way it will be sustained and grown in the future.

So the real question is: what do computing degree courses look like today? I had a quick look at the Computer Science syllabus at the University of Southampton, where the BCS President, Nigel Shadbolt calls home. This is the bog-standard computer science course, and they do several others. There are a lot of modules you might expect, but there are also professional modules that are compulsory, covering communications, presentation, project management and all that good stuff. There are lots of modules that strike me as very relevant to IT in business, if taught well, including some run by the school of management.

I've picked on Southampton because of the BCS President, but I could have chosen dozens (if not hundreds) of others; the thrust of Southampton's syllabus is not unique. Across the UK there are degree courses that cover IT and business, theoretical computer science, software engineering, and many different permutations and combinations of all of them. There is, in fact, something for everyone; students and employers alike.

You may passionately disagree, or (more surprisingly perhaps) passionately agree. I may not have swayed you one way or another. Please do attempt to shoot my arguments down if you want to!