TITLE: Rebooting the Public Image of Computing AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 19, 2009 9:53 AM DESC: ----- BODY: In addition to my more general comments on the Rebooting Computing summit, I made a lot of notes about the image of the discipline, which was, I think, one of the primary motivations for many summit participants. The bad image that most kids and parents have of careers in computing these days came up frequently. How can we make computing as attractive as medicine or law or business? One of my table mates told us a story of seeing brochures for two bioinformatics programs at the same university. One was housed in the CS department, and the other was housed with the life sciences. The photos used in the two brochures painted strikingly different images in terms of how people were dressed and what the surroundings looked like. One looked like a serious discipline, while the other was "scruffy". Which one do you think ambitious students will choose? Which one will appeal to the parents of prospective students? Which one do you think was housed in CS? Sometimes, the messages we send about our discipline are subtle, and sometimes not. Too often, what K-12 students see in school these days under the guise of "computing" is applications. It is boring, full of black boxes with no mystery. It is about tools to use, not ideas for making things. After listening to several people relate their dissatisfaction with this view of computing, it occurred to me that one thing we might do to immediately improve the discipline's image is to get what currently passes for computing out of our schools. It tells the wrong stories! The more commonly proposed solution is to require CS in K-12 schools and do it right. Cutting computing would be easier... Adding a new requirement to the crowded K-12 curriculum is a tall task fraught with political and economic roadblocks. And, to be honest, our success in presenting a good image of computing through introductory university courses doesn't fill me with confidence that we are ready to teach required CS in K-12 everywhere. Don't take any of these thoughts too seriously. I'm still thinking out loud, in the spirit of the workshop. But I don't think there are any easy or obvious answers to the problems we face. One thing I liked about the summit was spending a few days with many different kinds of people who care about the problems and who all seem to be trying something to make things better. The problems facing computing are not just about image. Some think to think so, but they aren't. Yet image is part of the problem. And the stories we tell -- explicitly and implicitly -- matter. -----