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US faces critical lack of (mad) computer scientists

Outreach project to teen tech dorks planned

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Famed Pentagon wildcard boffinry outfit DARPA issued a stark message today. According to the military crazytech bureau, America faces a crippling shortage of mad scientists - in particular, of mad computer scientists - in the near future, and only drastic action in the US educational system can rectify this.

According to a DARPA solicitation issued yesterday:

The downward trend in college graduates with STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] majors is particularly pronounced in Computer Science (CS). While computers and internet connectivity become daily fixtures in the lives of Americans, we are steadily losing the engineering talent to project [?] these systems.

Far from gloomy employment prospects, DARPA reckons that IT types - especially computer scientists, particularly ones suited to military/DARPA style projects, that is mad computer scientists - are going to be increasingly in demand.

Our systems are becoming more complex, requiring more people with the software engineering talent to manage and maintain them. Finding the right people with increasingly specialized talent is becoming more difficult and will continue to add risk to a wide range of [military] systems that include software development.

Recent studies conducted by DARPA revealed that public perception is a critical issue. Study participants believed that the “dot-com bust” and “international outsourcing” have led to fewer computer science jobs. In fact, the opposite is true: the US Department of Labor lists “Computer Software Engineers, Applications” as the fourth fastest growing occupation in the country in November 2007. Verbal reports from industry partners, as well as the presence of constant job openings, indicate industry is having difficulty finding software engineering talent to develop and maintain their software systems.

DARPA by its very nature considers radical new technology and the people who develop/maintain it critically important, so this scenario - an America short of top-end, radical scientists, especially computing ones - is a doomsday one for the agency. But DARPA isn't taking this lying down.

DARPA is interested in proposals with innovative new ideas to encourage students to major in CS-STEM and pursue careers as engineers and scientists. Increasing the number of graduates in Computer Science is a key goal, but the project will also be considered a success if the number of graduates in the broader STEM community is increased.

DARPA envisages this being done by reaching out to American kids as early as middle school, somehow getting them hooked on technology, and then keeping them on the string until they finally finish college with a qualification useful for DARPA's purposes.

"In order to compel students to graduate with a CS-STEM related degree, it is important to maintain a positive, long term presence in a student’s education," note the military boffins.

There's much talk of projects and extracurricular activities, which all seems a bit mundane for DARPA - one might rather have expected a plan to equip junior tech dorks with powerful robot servants able to protect them from towel-snapping jocks, and/or crafty exclusive technologies able to attract the attentions of the opposite sex: flying/submarine cars, love-hormone body sprays etc.

Full details are here in pdf for those interested. ®

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