It’s probably not the first thing people think about when it comes to December occasions but for those involved in computer science, they’re certainly dates to remember.
Dec. 6 to 12 is Computer Science Education Week in North America and to help recognize the week, computer science personnel at St. F. X. have been holding special screenings of the award-winning documentary The Machine that Changed the World.
The third film in the three part series will be shown on Wednesday evening (Dec. 1) from 6 to 7 p.m. at Nicholson Hall room 248. It’s open to the general public and all those who attend can enter their name to win an iPod. The iPod draw will take place on Dec. 6.
“What we’re trying to do is generate interest in computer science,” Iker Gondra, a computer science professor at St. F. X. and one of the hosts of the evening sessions, said. “There is a very large demand for computer science graduates and we’re just not meeting the demand. And this is a problem that’s not just local, it’s all over North America.”
Gondra said there is an overall decline of students going into computer science related programs. He speculated that one the problems dates back to the 1990s.
“There are many theories why and one of the most common is the fall of the Dot.com (companies mostly reliant on Internet), which happened in the 90s,” he said. “So there are misconceptions that anything that has to do with computers and information technology will not get you a job. And it’s really a misconception because there are so few people going into it that we’re (North American employers) bringing many people from other countries to fill those jobs.”
Gondra said there are also misconceptions about the type of work that goes along with computer science with a lot of students figuring it will confine them to sitting in front of a computer all day just doing programming.
“So that’s part of what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We’re telling people that there are many interesting problems you can work on which have basically nothing to do with programming.”
Getting that message across to high school students is very important, Gondra said, and a major goal of Computer Science Education Week.
The documentaries being shown focus on the history of electronic digital computers and start with their earliest development. The second in the series, screened on Nov. 24, was on artificial intelligence (AI).
“A little bit outdated but interesting to the see the point of view from 20 years ago,” Wolfram Bentz, a St. F. X. professor said about the documentary which was released around 1992. “Some of them (attempts at AI) were more advanced then what I would have imagined. I think the problem is really a conceptual thing. Some things that are so easy for us, are not easy at all for the computer. Sometimes it’s the easy stuff that can’t be translated.”
Fellow audience member Poyi Liu said she found both part one and two informative.
“I don’t specialize in computers but it’s interesting to see that there has been so much change and a lot of it we’ve taken for granted,” she said.