How College Students Are Solving The Biggest Problem In Computer Science

Claiming that anyone is solving “the largest problem in computer science is a bit bold.” I know that.

There are many people, geniuses, who have dedicated their lives trying to crack what are often called ‘the biggest problems in computer science.’ Are these college students close to proving P != NP? Have they found a new fastest way to multiply matrices or n-digit numbers? Solved any of Smale’s Problems?

Well no. In fact, they’re probably just writing simple, easy to understand conditionals and loops. That’s because this problem isn’t in the study of computer science. It’s in the field, about the field.

It’s best illustrated by a woman I am fortunate to work with named Jaqui. Jaqui received here undergraduate degree in computer science from Trinity in Ireland and went on to work at IBM. Eventually, she gave that up to settle in one place when she started a family. At first she was a high school math teacher but started teaching computer science once the school found out she could. The problem, as Jaqui puts it: “I am an anomaly”

And she’s right. There is an absolute shortage of quality computer science teachers in k-12 education. Jaqui had a sequence of events in her life that led her to it but the cards are extremely stacked against that outcome.

This year, thousands of computer science students will graduate knocking on the door of, if not attaining, a six figure salary. The average starting salary for a teacher in the united states? About 35k…

The sad fact is that if you are any good at what you do, the monetary incentive is far far stronger somewhere other than a class room. This means that people who know CS often aren’t in the classroom and the people who are in the classroom often don’t really know CS. I have a coworker who jokes about the fact that his AP CS teacher was a self taught English teacher…

And that was for a well funded private school on the East coast. If you’re a student who’s poor, from a rural area, of an underrepresented demographic, etc? It doesn’t look great.

This is where college students come in. Many of us are already quite good at what we do. We have a lot of room to grow, of course, but certainly good enough to make a difference to a high school student trying to learn. Anyone who’s been on a college campus knows that there is more than enough drive to volunteer for social impact to go around, so there’s the money issue sorted. Given the chance, College students can make a huge difference.

As I learned recently, however, that chance isn’t a given. I guess the sentence: “Hi, I’m from out of town and I’d like to provide a normally expensive service pro bono for high school students on weekends” is (rightfully) met with suspicion. Even with the suspicion out of the way, the red tape can be suffocating.

That’s why I’m so excited about The Coding School’s program: codeConnects. As described on their website:

“codeConnects is an online platform that offers one-on-one computer science instruction and mentorship to underrepresented middle and high school students. Pairing each student with a professional software engineer or university student majoring in computer science, students participate in weekly, face-to-face coding lessons using our platforms’ collaborative editing and video chat features”

It’s exactly the platform I was looking for. Plus, they have quite the roster. If you could see yourself on it, Go for it. I think it’s a worthy cause.

If you enjoyed this post or have ideas to improve it, let me know! I like to write about things I think are relevant to my path as a growing developer so expect general ramblings on ~self improvement~ and ~Computer Science~ wooOOoo

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I like making things and eating reubens.