Posted on July 24, 2008 by Tommy McGuire
Labels: software development, quote
InformIT: Is Computer Science Dying? : Computer Science and Telescopes

Finally! Someone who seems to understand that computer science is actually a subject in its own right!

In attempting to describe computer science, Edsger Dijkstra claimed, "Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." I like this quote, but it’s often taken in the wrong way by people who haven’t met many astronomers. [Hanging around observatories,] I learned a lot more about optics than I ever did in physics courses at school. I never built my own telescope, but a lot of real astronomers did, and many of the earliest members of the profession made considerable contributions to our understanding of optics.

There’s a difference between a telescope builder and an astronomer, of course. A telescope builder is likely to know more about the construction of telescopes and less about the motion of stellar bodies. But both will have a solid understanding of what happens to light as it travels through the lenses and bounces off the mirrors. Without this understanding, astronomy is very difficult.

David Chisnall concludes,

Computers are part of everyday life for a lot of people. Even discounting desktop computers, most people interact with a large number of computing devices every day. This trend has lead to a more algorithmic view being taken of a lot of processes, and computer science is essential in building these devices.

The decline in computer science applicants is likely to continue for a while. Computer science is no longer a buzzword-compliant "get rich quick" subject, and people (outside the BCS) are starting to realize that it’s not a vocational software development degree course. This realization is likely to be good for the subject in the long run, because it will remove many of the students who never should have chosen that field in the first place. Physics has also seen a decline in applicants in recent years, and no one is claiming that it’s dying and needs to cater more to teaching people to be second-rate engineers, rather than first-rate scientists.
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