Computer Science Is at the Pulse of Every Field

Release Date: 
Feb 3 2012
Editorial featured in the Indianapolis Recorder

I Want To Be A…

Dr. James Hill, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer & Information Science
Dr. James H. Hill is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and, at the age of 27, was the ninth youngest African American to receive a Ph.D. in computer science according to the National Science Foundation. He has published over 40 peer-reviewed publications and worked with academic and industrial partners world-wide, including Australian Defense Science & Technology Organization, EBay, General Electric Research, Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Labs, and Raytheon. Hill received a B.S. in computer science from Morehouse College in 2004 and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in computer science from Vanderbilt University in 2006 and 2009, re-spectively.

“President, actor, professional athlete, doctor, engineer…” These career aspirations represent a child’s desire to be respected, well known, make a difference and make good money. Computer science is a field that offers these achievements, but how often do you hear a child say they want to be a computer scientist? My life as a computer scientist was unimaginable to me as a child, and the possibilities my career provides are endless. Yet too few young people know about computer science and are developing skills needed to pursue careers in one of the fastest growing and highest paying fields in Indiana, and the world.

Like most parents, mine encouraged involvement in sports to develop discipline and teamwork skills. By eighth grade, I was becoming a track superstar, placing first in the long jump at the 1996 AAU Junior Olympic Games.

A sports accident my freshman year took my life from good to great. I fractured my fourth vertebrae and was in a body cast for six months. During my recovery, my father enrolled me in a summer program for minorities where I was introduced to computer programming. I had always enjoyed doing puzzles, drawing, and building things—programming just combined these activities in a new way.

After my back healed, I continued to excel in sports. I was named 2000 A/AA Ten-nessee Mid-State Athlete of the Year in high school, and was a NCAA Division II All-American in the 4x400m at Morehouse College. The feelings of success I had in sports were matched by those I felt when using my programming skills to help solve problems in areas from health care to search engines. As a student, I worked at IBM, EBay, and NASA, just to name a few. At IUPUI, I research methods that improve testing of large-scale distributed software systems.

My career has allowed me to travel the world, solve complex problems, and make a difference. There are more job openings in computer science than college graduates to fill them, so why aren’t more people in Indiana pursuing degrees in computer science?

Unfortunately, Indiana’s K-12 education requirements do not reflect the importance of computer science to economic success in the 21st century. Though not all students are expected to become biologists or doctors, biology is a required course—it should be the same for computer science. Computer science supports progress across many other scientific disciplines and develops problem solving, computational thinking, and abstract reasoning skills. Yet it is an optional course that does not count toward the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) Core 40 science requirement.

Opportunities to take engaging and rigorous computer science courses are only available to a select few. K-12 technology and computing courses are often part of a business curriculum that focuses on using computer applications instead of developing skills to understand and create technology. Although new Indiana teacher licensing guidelines are promising, only 16 teachers in the IDOE database are currently certified in computer science education.

While advocating for true computer science in secondary education, encourage and support children’s interest and involvement in programs that promote math, problem solving, and critical thinking—the key skills needed for success in computer science. Universities across Indiana, including IUPUI, provide summer enrichment opportunities, offer computer science and technology competitions, and allow high school students to take math and computer science classes that count toward high school and college credit.

My introduction to computer science was coincidental, but it needn’t be that way today. Next time you ask, “What do you want to be?” follow up with, “Have you thought about a computer scientist?”