Nov 9, 201208:00 AMPoint of View

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Sophisticated Computer Literacy, a Necessity in the Workplace

Sophisticated Computer Literacy, a Necessity in the Workplace
For today's college students, computer literacy is a necessity. Yet, many get their degrees without taking even basic programming courses. For those in search of more comprehensive lessons than offered by traditional university curricula, online resources are becoming places to learn first-rate computer literacy.

Photo by Richard Perry, courtesy The New York Times

In a stalled economy, the job outlook for software developers and computer programmers is far more promising than for most occupations. In fact a 30% growth is projected between 2010 and 2020. Median pay for systems software developers is about $94,000, more than double the national average salary of $42,000 for college grads. The unstable economic conditions have also led most companies to hire freelancers for their needs in computer programming, web design, and social media management. “To be successful in the modern world, regardless of your occupation, requires a fluency in computers,” says Peter Harsha, director of government affairs at the Computing Research Association. “It is more than knowing how to use Word or Excel but [also] how to use a computer to solve problems.” Seeing the rapid growth of online education options, some top schools have begun to provide online resources. For instance, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have recently teamed up on a $60 million project to provide online classes for free. And Silicon Valley startup Coursera has teamed with dozens of schools like Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Michigan to offer training in subjects ranging from computer science to poetry. Coursera, founded by Stanford computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, is in response to the popularity of their free Stanford online lectures. Free online courses from Stanford are available via outlets like Coursera and iTunes U, where students can learn basic software development like Introduction to Logic, Human-Computer Interaction, and Natural Language Processing. Though prestigious schools worldwide may offer first-rate courses in computer science, they are finding a great deal of competition from popular private companies that teach coding and computer programming. Since its premiere in 2011, more than a million people have signed up for Codecacademy, a start-up based in New York that offers interactive lessons in various computing and web languages like JavaScript. Competition in a growing market also comes via Udacity, which offers lessons similar to those acquired through Stanford's online program, and Treehouse, another resource in web design instruction with financing from formidable investors such as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

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Online programs are filling a computer education void that many aspiring college students from a variety of backgrounds are experiencing. “We will...be working with employers to connect students,” says Coursera co-founder Koller, who says online computer education “... enables someone with less traditional education to get the credentials to open up these opportunities.” Olivia Leonardi contributes to an online resource for computer science professionals covering such topics as where to find online computer science open courseware.

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