UW-Madison pc science main grows by greater than 800% as tech trade prospers

MADISON, Wis. — In 2011, the computer science major at the University of Wisconsin – Madison had about 200 students. Today, it has more than 2,000. It’s now the largest major on campus, and it’s expected to keep growing.

“I used to teach a class which I called a big class, which would have 60 or 70 students in it. Now this fall I’m slated to teach a course that will probably have 350 people in it,” said Department Chair Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau.

Unlike other computer science programs where it’s really competitive and hard to get in, Arpaci-Dusseau said UW-Madison faculty agreed to allow anyone who wanted to major in computer science to be able to.

“A lot of students come here, like from the Bay Area or from Washington, because they can’t get into the program that they want in their state school,” he said.

The tech industry is constantly evolving, so computer science classes are also changing. Although Arpaci-Dusseau said the core lessons surrounding programming remain the same.

He said years ago, most computer science graduates went to work in the computer industry at companies such as Google and Microsoft. But now the degree can translate into any company.

“Many of our students go work in banks, in financial tech. They work in the insurance industry. Some people even go into agriculture. Agriculture is being transformed by technology and computer science is really at the center of that,” said Arpaci-Dusseau.

He believes this is just the beginning of a jump in students turning to the tech industry.

“Students are very knowledgeable about, ‘What am I going to do when I get out of school?’ And the reality is CS is such an applicable degree,” he said.

UW-Madison has recently created a data science major and formed a new school of Computer Data Information Sciences to include departments such as computer science and statistics. Arpaci-Dusseau said this is very unique.

The university is trying to plan ahead and think about what skills students will need 10 or 20 years from now.

“There are a lot of majors that we are creating that are all related to tech, the tech industry and various aspects of it that I think will see continued growth over the next so many years,” said Arpaci-Dusseau.

Students are recognizing how important computer skills are.

“One hundred years ago, if you were going to study anything, you’d also study math. I think students are realizing now, ‘When I want to study anything, I should also know enough computer science,’” said Arpaci-Dusseau.

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