With 510 students enrolled, representing almost 10 percent of all Yale undergraduates, Computer Science 100, “Introduction to Computing and Programming,” — commonly known as CS50 — is the most popular course in Yale College.
The companion class to Harvard’s CS50, CPSC 100 emulates the structure and material of its Boston counterpart while supplementing Crimson lectures with a Yale teaching assistant team of nearly 40 students. This is the first time that a computer science class has been the most popular course at Yale since 2011, when course demand statistics first became available. The surging interest in programming at Yale mirrors the popularity of CS50 at Harvard, which had 889 students in fall 2014, making it the most enrolled class there as well, according to The Harvard Crimson.
“We spent quite a few months preparing for fall 2015 of CS50 at Yale and Harvard alike, and, even so, we weren’t quite sure what to expect,” said David Malan, the lead instructor of CS50 at Harvard. “It’s a unique collaboration, to be sure, and we’re thrilled to have so many students with us this term on both campuses.”
Andi Peng ’17, the head teaching assistant of CPSC 100, said that installing CS50 at Yale allowed students and instructors to build upon a course structure that already works well elsewhere. CPSC 100 relies on the lecture material and course structure of CS50 for most of its classes. Peng added that this process is similar to programming itself, where programmers make use of code written by other programmers.
Professor Joan Feigenbaum, chair of the Yale Computer Science Department, said in an email that for years, the University administration has wanted the department to offer a “real-world oriented” introductory programming course that is suitable for students from all majors, not just from computer science. She said that computation has become a dominant intellectual, social and cultural force in the world. Therefore, even non-majors would benefit from taking the course, Feigenbaum said.
Peng said that in the past, 72 to 78 percent of the students taking CS50 at Harvard had no prior programming experience. Of the 10 students interviewed taking CPSC 100 now, only three are declared or prospective computer science majors. Six of the 10 had little to no programming experience prior to the class.
“I found the class harder than I expected,” said Patty Lan ’16, an anthropology major. “But I believe that [programming] is a helpful skill to have.”
The surging interest in introductory computer science at Yale comes as more graduates are pursuing jobs in the technology sector. Preliminary data from the 2015 Office of Career Strategy survey shows that 10.6 percent of the class of 2015 is employed in the technology sector, almost a 50 percent jump from the class of 2014. Programming and software developers also doubled from 3.1 percent in the class of 2014 to 6.1 percent in 2015.
On pace with burgeoning interest in technology jobs, more students are pursuing computer science majors on campus. Over 180 students declared computer science majors during the 2014–15 academic year, including joint majors such as Computer Science and Mathematics, showing a more than three-fold increase from five years ago, according to Feigenbaum.
Jeanine Dames, director of the Office of Career Strategy, said that programming has become an important transferable skill no matter the industry. She added that gaining such abilities is a great supplement to a liberal arts education.
“Employers want a mash-up of skills,” Associate Director of the Office of Career Strategy Brian Frenette said.
After CPSC 100, the next most popular courses are “Introductory Microeconomics,” the English 114 writing seminars and “Minds and Brains in America,” which have 358, 350 and 365 enrollees, respectively.