Executive Summary

Ensuring economic competitiveness and satisfying societal needs will depend increasingly on what people do with computer-based technology. Changes in that technology are having profound effects: the shift from large, centralized computing systems to smaller and distributed systems is fueling the growth in demand for computing systems and enabling the spread of computer-based technology into our everyday lives.

Skilled professionals, in turn, are responsible for developing and implementing computer-based technology and for its diffusion throughout our society. These highly skilled professionals are often treated as part of a large occupational group, a group that can be referred to as ''computing professionals.'' But that label masks an unusually wide range of occupations, including researchers in computer science and computer engineering, developers of commercial applications and systems, and individuals involved in deploying applications and systems. And within these occupations are people with an unusually broad range of backgrounds. Adding to the confusion over the identity and number of computing professionals is the growing use of computing in other professional domains. However, professional users of computing systems should not be confused with computing professionals, who create, develop, or support computing technology and applications.



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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s Executive Summary Ensuring economic competitiveness and satisfying societal needs will depend increasingly on what people do with computer-based technology. Changes in that technology are having profound effects: the shift from large, centralized computing systems to smaller and distributed systems is fueling the growth in demand for computing systems and enabling the spread of computer-based technology into our everyday lives. Skilled professionals, in turn, are responsible for developing and implementing computer-based technology and for its diffusion throughout our society. These highly skilled professionals are often treated as part of a large occupational group, a group that can be referred to as ''computing professionals.'' But that label masks an unusually wide range of occupations, including researchers in computer science and computer engineering, developers of commercial applications and systems, and individuals involved in deploying applications and systems. And within these occupations are people with an unusually broad range of backgrounds. Adding to the confusion over the identity and number of computing professionals is the growing use of computing in other professional domains. However, professional users of computing systems should not be confused with computing professionals, who create, develop, or support computing technology and applications.

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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s Maintaining U.S. excellence in the creation and use of computing systems requires access to a sufficient supply of the best talent. Because employers, educators, and public policymakers know so little about the size of the labor pool and the skill requirements and responsibilities of the individuals shaping the computer revolution, human resources planning and policymaking are more haphazard than they should be. Opportunities for achieving a better fit between supply and demand are being lost, and in an increasingly competitive global economy the consequences may be far-reaching. WORKSHOP ORGANIZATION AND FINDINGS Over the course of two days, the problems associated with trying to understand the scope and scale of computing professional occupations were discussed at a workshop convened by the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board and the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel of the National Research Council. The workshop was exploratory: its purpose was to assess what is and is not known about supply and demand for computing professionals; how perceptions about this labor market differ in industry, academia, and government; and what kinds of steps could be taken to advance knowledge and understanding of relevant issues. The workshop agenda and list of participants were developed by a steering committee, which framed the issues that participants were asked to discuss and deliberated over the comments and insights that were generated during the workshop. Participants in the workshop included academic computer scientists and engineers, managers of businesses developing and applying computing systems, and experts in human resources and labor economics. Participants were selected for their insights into real-world practice in these different arenas. The steering committee found reasonable consensus among workshop participants about the following: Demand Is Fluid and Skill Requirements Are Growing Demand for computing professionals is subject to strong crosscurrents that are masked by statistical averaging. Industries that have been major employers of computing professionals have been contracting; at the same time, the shift to smaller systems is stimulating growth in sales throughout most of the computer sector. To draw meaningful conclusions, trends in individual industries, occupations, and computing and communications technologies must be evaluated together.

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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s Based on their discussion of these trends, the steering committee and workshop participants concluded that demand for computing professionals is expected to grow overall, although more slowly than in the 1980s. The overall level of skill required in computing professional occupations appears to be growing. Increases in required skills are expected to affect most if not all of these professions. As skill requirements grow, employers may increase their demand for individuals with formal education in computer science and engineering. Demand for individuals in specific jobs and occupations appears to shift relatively frequently. So do the responsibilities and skill sets that define specific jobs, occupations, and the mix of occupations that characterize computing professional work. For example, while the popular image of a computing professional may be that of a "programmer," leaders in the development and application of computing systems now reserve that title for relatively less skilled jobs. Yet newer titles for software developers, such as "software engineer," are not necessarily used with any great precision. Demand for computing professionals to engage in research appears to be softening, observed workshop participants, due to constraints on funding for academic research and the decline of large central industrial research laboratories. Although individuals with training for or experience in research can be productively employed elsewhere, absent other changes the research component of the labor market may shrink. Equality of Opportunity and the Increasingly Global Talent Pool Are Among Supply Challenges In general, given the current economic environment, the total supply of computing professionals is adequate for today's needs. Workshop participants acknowledged the existence of spot shortages in specific areas requiring specialized applications knowledge; also, almost by definition, skills involved in developing the leading edge of technology or its applications tend to be in tight supply. Participants from industry reported the greatest difficulty in meeting needs for software engineers. Given that bachelor's degree production is declining in science and engineering, especially in computer science, continuing attention will be needed to assure an adequate flow of talent into computing professional occupations. At issue are both the quantity and the quality of entrants.

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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s In particular, more effort should be made to encourage and support the interest of women and non-Asian minorities, groups that are underrepresented in the field. Underrepresented populations offer new sources of talent and new perspectives that can enrich the computing professions. Moreover, because these groups constitute growing proportions of the population, attracting them to computing professional occupations is essential for the survival of the field. The labor market for computing professionals is becoming increasingly global in scope. A large number of U.S. firms have begun to use computing professionals in other countries for a variety of research and development projects. And an increasing share of doctorates granted in this country are being awarded to foreign students, many of whom remain here. Dynamic Occupations Require Continuous Learning Continuing education and training are important for computing professionals because of the dynamism of computing technologies and markets. Workshop participants observed that computing professionals need to become more aware of the importance of continuous learning. Support for continuing education is needed from educational institutions and employers, while individual employees may need encouragement to secure retraining periodically. The education of new entrants to computing professional occupations must provide a foundation for future training and retraining. Better Planning Requires More and Better Data Better data are needed on the supply and demand for computing professionals. The dynamism of computing professional occupations makes it difficult to ensure that federal statistics about them remain accurate and sufficiently precise. Further problems arise from overlapping definitions of occupations and the tendency for different data sources to count different groups. A first step is to improve the taxonomies under which data are collected and analyzed, an effort that requires greater understanding of skill requirements and trends. Without a good categorization that reflects the actual division of labor in the work place and the actual differentiation among jobs by training or responsibility, there is a risk that too many distinct groups may be homogenized into overly broad categories. At the same time, there is a need for a robust high-level taxonomy with both a few broad occupational groupings and a clear explanation of associated portfolios of skills.

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Computing Professionals: Changing Needs for the 1990s Better data on education and degree production for computing professionals are needed to guide employers, students, educators, and policymakers. The large number and different types of apparently relevant education and training programs offered (computer science, computer engineering, information systems, information science, management of information systems, and so on) make it difficult to count the number of appropriately educated people and to target appropriate programs for study or hiring purposes. THE CHALLENGE OF COMBINING VIEWPOINTS While the workshop underscored the richness and excitement of computing professions, it also demonstrated the frustrations of attempting to discuss in common the rather different functions and concerns of researchers, applications and systems developers, and applications and systems deployers. Participants from academia and industry differed significantly in their perspectives, requirements, and concerns. Academic computer scientists and computer engineers, for example, argued for a narrower, more focused analysis of computer scientists and computer engineers. By contrast, a broader view was taken by managers of computing applications and systems development and deployment in industry and government. These workshop participants noted that they can meet most of their human resource needs, even for research, by hiring people without advanced education in computing (although these employees may need some form of advanced education and training). The discussions validated the notion that there is limited value in aggregating these professionals when analyzing the labor market. Workshop participants emphasized the importance of continued interaction on issues relating to the supply and demand of computing professionals among employers, educators, and policymakers, in the interests of promoting a better fit between the supply and demand for computing professionals over the coming decade and beyond. Collaboration among all of these parties is essential for successful pursuit of a wide variety of next steps, such as those suggested in the concluding chapter of this report.