Computer science enrolment low, despite opportunities

Computer science students at the University of Windsor enjoy a perfect job placement rate, but the school says not enough people are entering the field.

University of Windsor student lands lucrative job with Google before graduation

Chris Drouillard, 21, said he also got a similar offer from Microsoft. (CBC News)

Computer science students at the University of Windsor enjoy a perfect job placement rate, but the school says not enough people are entering the field.

Ziad Kobti, the director of the university's school of computer science, says part of the problem is due to government cutbacks that have resulted in some high schools losing their computer labs.

"[If] you don't have a computer lab, you don't have a computer course," he said. "That means you won't have qualified computer science instructed at that high school that would motivate these students."

JoAnne Shea, superintendent of education with the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board, said four of the eight high schools offer computer science programs.

She said the school board "encourages students to pursue computer sciences when they are interested." She added that students "have to have interest and a skill set to pursue that path."

Scott Scantlebury with the Greater Essex County District School Board said all but one of their high schools (Harrow) offers a computer science or computer engineering program.

The classes are not mandatory in the province and it’s up to the student to show an interest and take the class.

Scantlebury said the industry has to promote itself with communities, schools and the government much like the manufacturing trade industry has done recently.

"If they're not getting enough employable people in their field, I would think that it would be incumbent on the industry to be promoting that and then trickling down to the students at the high school level," he said.

According to a report from the Information and Communication Technology Council, Canada is facing a major shortage of skilled labour in the information technology sector.

Kobti said graduates of his program are not limited to working for computer companies such as IBM and Google.

"If you go to the automotive industry, if you go into different companies, such as supply chain management, the trucking industry — they need programmers," he said.

That doesn't mean jobs with the giants of the technology industry aren't available.

Chris Drouillard, who will graduate this year, already has a six-figure job lined up as a software engineer with Google. Drouillard, 21, said he also got a similar offer from Microsoft.

"I've always wanted to work at either Google or Microsoft — big companies doing hard things — and then, to be able to get an offer at the age of 21 before I've even graduated, is awesome," he said.

Drouillard says he got into computer science in high school, because he liked to play computer games and had an aptitude for math.

He was able to take computer science classes throughout high school, which he said put him ahead of many of his university classmates.

"[The program] starts out really easy, because we don't require that high school students have computer science," he said. "Everyone starts at the base level, which can kind of be slow for people that have already taken it in high school or played around on their own."

Drouillard said despite that, everyone who graduated from the program ahead of him has landed a good job, and a few of his classmates already have paid internships lined up with major software companies in the US.

In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of software developers needed will increase by 30 per cent between 2010 and 2020.

Drouillard said not every student who enters the program should expect to land a job with a tech giant.

"You have to do stuff above and beyond just what you do here at the university to get those opportunities, but you can definitely get pretty good jobs straight out [of school] with this degree."

Kobti said the University of Windsor has received a $90,000 grant under Google's Computer Science for High School program, to show educators the benefits of teaching computer science.

The workshop is designed to improve current offerings of computer courses at the high school level. The focus will be on education of computer science through robotics.

The workshop will aim at establishing an ongoing network of computer science teaching resources in the region.

"If you don’t have qualified teachers at the high schools or at the grade schools to show them this kind of technology, that’s where we are filling this gap," Kobti said.