Bill Gates on computer science education

The latest edition of InformationWeek has an interesting piece summarizing Bill Gates’ take on declining student interest in the discipline of computer science. Microsoft is hosting its annual Research Faculty Summit this week in Redmond Washington in which hundreds of computer science faculty from around the country and abroad are invited to meet, brainstorm, and share visions of computing in the future. According to Microsoft’s website, this year’s summit, titled “Computing: The Next Decade” will focus on

the research and technical challenges in areas such as security, mobility, software engineering, languages, human-computer interaction, embedded computing, eScience, and technologies for education.

On stage with Bill Gates this year during the “open dialog” to begin the Summit was Princeton University dean of engineering, Maria Klawe. During the dialog, Klawe asked Gates

So why do you think the government should be spending money on computer science research in tough economic times? What does the public get out of federal funding for research?

To which Gates replied

Well, I think the payoff, if there’s any place you can say there’s been a dramatic payoff, it’s in computer science. The United States in the 1980s was viewed as falling behind, Japan had a better industrial model, the U.S. just was going to lose industry after industry; and yet what really happened in the 1990s was that our economy created more jobs, new companies, lots of amazing leadership things happened. And I think you can really point to the DOD and NSF money that went into computer science work as being one of the key elements that allowed us to turn what was a period where people thought we were falling behind into preparation for one of the greatest success periods the country has ever had.

This is only an excerpt from 45 minutes of dialog between the two. The Gates’ quote above is only part of his response. You can see a complete transcript of their dialog, including the rest of his reply here.

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