May 7, 2006 at 9:50 am Leave a comment


The other day I ran into two different competition problems with American graduates in computer science and China and India. First is Joi Ito's post that his friends in China are able to hire more brilliant and qualified staff than his companies in the U.S. and Japan can, this is obvious China puts out something like 200,000 or more computer science majors a year from schools that score incredibly high in competitions for solving mathematical and computional logic problems. But China doesn't have as well developed companies to hire these people, hence employees definitely have an advantage when it comes to hiring compared to u.s. companies that are looking for anyone or anything that can make their php script better. Next I ran into this Business Week article (in the issue with the article about Second Life) that mentions that Eastern European, Indian, and Chinese programmers are outclassing American at competitions and in numbers. In terms of numbers China and India will always beat the U.S., we're 300 million people with a high level ageing populace already employeed in other industries. China and India together account for over 2 billion people with a lower life expentancy and also more males at a younger age (check: is this true? See note on China's ageing pop below). While the male problem in India will probably cease to exist as it becomes increasingly apparent that high-tech industries don't have as bad bars on highering on the basis of sex it still goes to show that more males go into science hence the higher porportion of males MIGHT (and I am using might here) accont for the higher number of engineering grads as a percentage of the population (see below China is cranking out female i.t.s like no where else, although females majoring in the sciences in the u.s. is still low) in addition to federal programs to promote science (just visit the Shanghai science museum and it's panopoly of scientific enthuaism for an example of China's emphaisis on the sciences). One simple solution is just to make computer science more appealing to the high portion of female college students in the U.S., but has this happened?

Secondly, as a percentage the U.S. hasn't faired to bad in computer science, it's had several 106% increases in computer science majors for far longer than the ballyhooed 3 – 4% drops in the Business Week article, but my question is, do the 106% increases stay constant or was that for a set of years and then the total dropped off later? In other words is the total number of graduates been building by 106% then 106% then falling by 3% hence as a total computer science has stayed fairly constant as a growing major in u.s. schools? Or was it a 106% increase one year followed by a fall the next year etc? But the other problems I see is that it's just not possible for the U.S. or Japan to feed itself entirely on domestic talent. It's not possible for a variety of reasons including that we can't all go into the sciences, some people are needed for law, medicine, the arts, accounting, etc. There are tons of fields growing in the U.S. outside of computer science. However, what fields are overpopulated? What majors should colleges try and limit enrollment in? What fields are you least likely to get a job? Secondly, what is the percentage for graduate school? Were I to go to graduate school now I can garuntee you that I would go into high-tech and not literature. Why? Becuase I'd like to have a job and also because the ability to write programs is a form of digital literacy essential in our world today. It's become more than just programming, it's expression too. The easiest solutions (many of which have already been proposed) is to ease the work visas for high-tech (although many people are returning to their homeland these days) and make the number of i.t. work visas unlimited or expand their number (there literally is a yearly race to hire as many i.t. workers as possible with the current # of visas issued). The other soltuon which I have not seen is to retrain the older workforce. The number of young people in the U.S. isn't as bad as places in Europe and especially Japan, but the concept of going back to school to land yourself in an intellectually engaging job with high level math and long grueling hours would probably appeal more to a middle aged worker tired of their job. The salaries of 100k could easily help out many a mid-career worker wether she is married or not. What's needed is for scholarship programs to begin aiming their programs at people who are reading for additional job training, after all the number of people who go back to college for additional degrees I'd imagine is climbing (both my mom and dad went back to school for additional degrees while on the job). Providing these people with incentives in the form of free college money to go into needed fields makes sense.

What interests me more about these article is the sense of competition in them. Living in Asia you fairly constantly find examples of competition based on the basis of beating white people "the west" or in paticular America and often (especially in Korea) some type of racial or cultural basis is used for the superiorty and ability of the people of a country to become better at something than others. This type of conservative lecturing first began with Japan's neo-cons who stressed economic superiority and educational values as a key to Japan's succession to it's rightful place in the world (I remember once reading an article that claimed Americans couldn't make cars becuase of some inherint aspect of Japanese culture we could never understand… taken the state of GM and Ford they were probably right, but then again Japan's automakers have also left a legacy of unfair and at times brutal treatment of employees trying to beat the bottom line), but of course as Japan has aged it's children have become more nationalist, but less inclined to see intelligence in terms of race, in essence many Japanese have become tolerant (80% favor immigration). However in Korea and other places I was constantly assailed by the fact that China is getting ahead of you etc. Of course this is problematic. China has built it's economy around manufacturing, now comes the hard part of re-evaluating it's currency to compete as a knowledge based economy. Most Chinese graduates must still travel out of country to find work while India is managing to grow it's I.T. sector with excellent returns becuase it's money floats more inline with the dollar. Recent article read today says in Xian 100 universities put out 120,000 grads per year half majoring in computer science. The picture also shows a high level of women in the i.t. workforce.

p.s. wrote this awhile back and wanted to exclude the part on sex, but publishing anyway.

Update: I was wrong

over 40% of Chinese college students are women. Hence chances are

the problem isn't sex it's just government iniatives to promote majoring

in high-tech fields.

Additionally, China has a quickly ageing population. It's one child policy has meant that a good amount of it's huge population is actually older and less educated than the continuing population boom in India (although China's pop is picking back up). But this does beckon the question, what is the age of the average college grad in china? who makes up the largest section of collede students? and how many young people does China have? Is it possible to retrain an ageing workforce with little previous experience in high-tech work?

Cut this apology from the beginning on may/29/2006:

On basically quite a few occassions I've been wrong. I blogged about the education problem and well I was rather stupid and didn't look at the crisis properly (we got major problems with college tution and graduation rates) and I also once wrote a piece on Africa that argued aid wasn't needed (it probably is). But all of this does show the problems you start to run into when you begin to anaylze things yourself. You begin to look at problems see them in a different light. All that said it also shows a little bit of fear, I'm afriad to hone up to the entirety of the problem sometimes and have a tendency to gloss over things. But

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