U..S faces critical shortage of computer scientists

Published 13 January 2010

DARPA says the United States is facing a critical shortage of computer scientists; “While computers and internet connectivity become daily fixtures in the lives of Americans, we are steadily losing the engineering talent to [develop and maintain] these systems”

DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, issued a stark message the other day. According to the agency, the United States faces a crippling shortage of computer scientists in the near future, and only drastic action in the U.S. educational system can rectify this.

According to a DARPA solicitation:

The downward trend in college graduates with STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] majors is particularly pronounced in Computer Science (CS). While computers and internet connectivity become daily fixtures in the lives of Americans, we are steadily losing the engineering talent to project these systems.


Lewis Page writes that far from gloomy employment prospects, DARPA reckons that IT types — especially computer scientists, particularly ones suited to military/DARPA style projects — are going to be increasingly in demand.

Our systems are becoming more complex, requiring more people with the software engineering talent to manage and maintain them. Finding the right people with increasingly specialized talent is becoming more difficult and will continue to add risk to a wide range of [military] systems that include software development.

Recent studies conducted by DARPA revealed that public perception is a critical issue. Study participants believed that the “dot-com bust” and “international outsourcing” have led to fewer computer science jobs. In fact, the opposite is true: the US Department of Labor lists “Computer & Software Engineers, Applications” as the fourth fastest growing occupation in the country in November 2007. Verbal reports from industry partners, as well as the presence of constant job openings, indicate industry is having difficulty finding software engineering talent to develop and maintain their software systems.

DARPA is in the habit of considering innovative, even radical new technology. A shortage of top-end, radical scientists, especially computing ones, is detrimental for the agency. Page notes that DARPA is not taking this lying down.


DARPA is interested in proposals with innovative new ideas to encourage students to major in CS-STEM and pursue careers as engineers and scientists. Increasing the number of graduates in Computer Science is a key goal, but the project will also be considered a success if the number of graduates in the broader STEM community is increased.

DARPA envisages this being done by reaching out to American kids as early as middle school and getting them interested in technology in the hope that they would finish college with a qualification useful for DARPA’s purposes. “In order to compel students to graduate with a CS-STEM related degree, it is important to maintain a positive, long term presence in a student’s education,” notes the agency.