Not All Who Compute Were Computer Science Majors

Not All Who Compute Were Computer Science Majors

In the MIT Tech Review, George Anders flags a recent study from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, which analyzed US Census Bureau data from 2010 to 2013 to trace the job choices of 1.2 million college graduates and to answer the question: What do people who major in (X) typically end up doing for a living?

Overall, the study offers a fascinating look at how college educations in the sciences, arts, and humanities translate into careers, but Anders highlights one finding that may be of particular interest to employers, that “many people working as computer scientists, software developers, and programmers used their college years not to major in computer programming or software development, but instead to major in traditional sciences or other types of engineering”:

Among graduates with degrees in physics, math, statistics, or electrical engineering, as many as 20 percent now work in computing-based fields. At least 10 percent of people who majored in aerospace engineering, astronomy, biomedical engineering, or general engineering have made the same migration. Even geography, nuclear engineering, and chemistry departments send 3 to 5 percent of their undergraduate majors into software development or similar fields, the Hamilton Project reports.

At Indiana University Bloomington, dozens of math and science majors have been winning software-sector jobs after graduation, reports Joseph Lovejoy, head of the school’s Walter Center for Career Achievement. Bioinformatics companies such as Cerner and Epic Systems have been keen to hire biology majors who picked up coding skills without majoring in computer science, he adds. General Motors has been recruiting math majors for jobs as software testers and software developers. Math majors are in demand at Microsoft too.

This finding makes some intuitive sense, as graduates trained in math or science will tend to have experience at problem solving and working with data, and are likely to have developed some coding skills either as part of their college coursework or on the side.

It is also interesting to consider at a time when many organizations are struggling to fill talent shortages in these same high-tech fields. At the same time, employers are also growing increasingly comfortable with hiring graduates of coding “bootcamps” and other non-traditional forms of education—though most would still prefer to hire candidates with degrees in computer science if they were available. As the Hamilton Project study shows, however, the full range of STEM departments at universities can be worthwhile places to source tech talent as well.