By Scott Schwab & Kristy Bloxham, PHD
The book Smarter, Faster, Better: The secrets of being productive in life and business by Charles Duhigg is a must read. This book sheds light on many challenges, one in particular that we are having worldwide, and in our backyard in Utah. The problem of cognitive tunneling. Accurately described, cognitive tunneling is the mental state in which your brain focuses on one thing, and as a result, it does not see other relevant data. As an example, when we talk about skill gaps and talent shortages, particularly in the Computer Science discipline, we rush to solve the problem from our unique perspective. Although not a bad thing, in a vacuum it is easy to say that macro problems can be solved by a simple solution. However, it is clear that each of us needs to step back and look at the problem with more points of data, and with collaboration as the driver of the solution.
We have been told from the beginning that you have to be good at math and science to understand computer science and tech in general. This in itself may be an underlying problem that has effectively kept many from pursuing an interest in the field, particularly women. This is where cognitive tunneling (mentioned by Charles Duhigg) comes in and the lack of understanding of other relevant data. The “other relevant data” here is what computer science and tech truly are.
We have personally witnessed hundreds of students take on the arduous task of learning how to become software developers. We have also witnessed these same resilient people transition into a career that is meaningful, an industry with an amazing future, and a skill set that can be utilized in every industry. Many of these students began their training with little math and science background. Coding is a language, it is a way to solve problems, explore options, and it provides an ability to create. Many highly sought after jobs in the tech industry only need a working knowledge of coding. The actual software creation cycle requires those that have good problem solving, visual design, human experience design, and data analysis skills. You can have these skills and not be good at math or science. To be clear, as you progress within the field of computer science, it is absolutely necessary to understand frameworks, architecture, and thus mathematics and science.
Finally, we want to explore the thought of growing in domain knowledge and approaching tech shortages from a different angle. We have witnessed over the last decade in software development that people solve problems in a variety of ways. Specifically, people may not have a strong “book” understanding of science and mathematics but are some of the best software developers because they have learned to utilize what they know to solve problems. The reality is; people are unique, and the will to succeed and the work ethic to create can and will deliver results. We need to eliminate our cognitive tunneling where if you are not good at mathematics and science, you steer clear from computer science. Instead, we need to encourage people to bring their domain knowledge, their expertise, their creativity, and solve the problems that will advance the field in ways not done before. Not everyone needs to be a computer science graduate, but everyone does need to have a working knowledge of how computer science is impacting every industry to thrive in our digital world.
We applaud the State of Utah and the progressive way that industry, government, and individuals are constantly talking about solutions to our tech shortage. We need to start looking at the tech field in new ways that are more inclusive of those who find math and science, not to their liking. There is plenty of room for a variety of skills. When we encourage our students in new and different ways and help them realize they can bring their unique talents to the table, they will climb mountains to be part of this ever-growing field.