Class of 2009: Computer science majors still in demand

The nation's leading computer science programs say graduating seniors are still sought after by technology vendors and corporate shops, despite the global economic slowdown and high-profile layoffs across the tech industry.

The nation's leading computer science programs say graduating seniors are still sought after by technology vendors and corporate shops, despite the global economic slowdown and high-profile layoffs across the tech industry. 

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Professor Peter Lee, head of the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University, says demand for the program's 130 graduating seniors has not wavered during the last few months.

"Our graduates continue even in this downturn to have near 100% employment," Lee says. "It is still the case that companies are coming to recruit new computer science graduates, and very often they go away happy with the recruits they find here."

"I have more recruiters here than I have seniors,'" says Professor Cary Laxer, head of the computer science and software engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Laxer says his program has only 32 students in the senior class.

"Our October career fair brought 213 companies on campus. It was standing room only," Laxer said. "On one day in January, we had 12 companies here, and nine of them were looking for software engineering professionals."

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says demand for its computer science graduates appears to be quite strong. Typically, around 40% of its seniors are hired by IT manufacturers and the rest by IT users such as State Farm Insurance and WalMart.

"We don't hear any sob stories from our seniors," says Professor Lenny Pitt, Director of Undergraduate Programs at University of Illinois's Department of Computer Science. "Our students are so robust that they can be employed in computing, telecom, medical fields or education. We will probably see a shift in terms of the sector they are employed in, with fewer in the financial sector."

At Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., hiring is a little slower than usual because of the collapse in the banking industry.

"In the past, 100% of our students had jobs before the Christmas holidays. Now it's a little bit more difficult, especially within the finance industry," says Professor Jerry Luftman, Executive Director of the School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology. "Companies are still hiring entry-level people in IT. They're downsizing more experienced, more expensive employees, and they're looking to backfill with younger employees with fresher skills."

Yvonne Agyei, Director of Talent and Outreach programs in Google's People Operations Department, says the Internet giant is continuing to recruit from U.S. colleges this year.

"We've been hiring from colleges for many, many years, and we hire at all levels: bachelors, masters and PhDs for technical roles, which is primarily software engineering. We're looking for computer science majors and broad programming skills," Agyei says. "We're continuing to hire from campuses…We're hiring at reduced rates."

Agyei recommends college students who are interested in working for Google get practical experience in programming. "There are a lot of open source projects that students can take initiative to get involved with," she says. "They should play around with GoogleApps, work on gadgets and get hands-on experience with how our products behave."

Microsoft also said it is doing college recruiting this year, even as it cuts 5,000 existing jobs

"The company's strategic direction remains unchanged, so you can expect to see Microsoft continuing to hire in most of the areas it has been investing in, areas such as online services, search and cloud computing," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement.

Microsoft said it is looking for "students from a variety of fields and backgrounds, both Computer Science and non-technical. There are a number of jobs at Microsoft ranging from software design engineers to financial analysts to marketing and sales."

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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