Service of Why Pick on Computer Science Types? Inappropriate Stereotyping

May 20th, 2019

Categories: Communications, Computer Science, Education

Have you ever met a doctor, executive, middle manager, social worker, nurse, PR or advertising exec, engineer or instructor with poor empathy and/or crummy communications skills? I have.

This is why I want to know why Northeastern University picks on “Computer science types” in this regard. Sara Castellanos wrote that to graduate, these students have been required to take an “Eloquent Presenter” class. I maintain that any student would benefit from such a requirement and that the university is inappropriately typecasting its computer science students–and people in this line of work.

In her Wall Street Journal article, “A Tech Nerd Walks Into a Bar…” Castellanos wrote: “The class is a way to ‘robot-proof’ computer-science majors, helping them sharpen uniquely human skills, said Joseph E. Aoun, the university president. Empathy, creativity and teamwork help students exercise their competitive advantage over machines in the era of artificial intelligence, according to Mr. Aoun, who wrote a book about it.”

How many people do you know who aren’t glued to their devices regardless of their profession or industry? Even the UPS delivery person carries a device. And of these, do all have “human skills?” Some five years ago a friend in the nonprofit world, who worked in a one-room office with the boss and another person, was irritated that this manager insisted she email everything. She was forbidden to cross the room to ask the simplest question.

Castellanos reported these reasons to justify the class:

  • “Many computer-science types say they would rather work at a screen than chat face to face.” I don’t think that they are alone!
  • “Others hate drawing attention to themselves.” Ditto.
  • “In the improv class….computer-science majors not only cozy up with peers, but work in groups and take turns in the spotlight.” Don’t groups like Toastmasters address this kind of thing? They wouldn’t be so popular if participants didn’t feel the need.

The jury’s still out about the success of office concepts adopted by companies like GitLab, a company that “offers tools for software developers.” The startup employs 600 over the world, continued Agam Shah in The Wall Street Journal, and has no headquarters. All employees work remotely which seems to be a trend with some working from home at least a few days a week. I have my opinion about the negative impact on the quality of work with little face-to-face but the point for this post is that if this is the way things are going, why bother with being an “Eloquent Presenter?” Or, is the CEO, Sid Sijbrandij, and his clients the result of people who missed taking such a class and feel no need to converse/empathize?

Speech was a gut course when I went to college. Turns out it would have been helpful in my career and in the professions of most of the people I know. Had computer science been around in the day, I wouldn’t have been able to pass a course. Nevertheless, “Eloquent Presenter” should have been right up my alley as a government/history major—yours too? Your thoughts about Northeastern typecasting computer science majors?

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4 Responses to “Service of Why Pick on Computer Science Types? Inappropriate Stereotyping”

  1. ASK Said:

    I don’t have a problem with the requirement; if anything, they should open the course to all students at Northeastern. At my alma mater, a Speakers Program is available to students who want to learn how to speak well, no matter what their major. And perhaps tech types should be “encouraged” to interact with others…too much isolation and interaction with screens only, which working at home also encourages, may simply lead to greater experimentation and more hacking behavior…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Dare I admit that there are days I get up from my desk and move away from my computer maybe twice between 9 and 6:30 when ensconced in projects and on deadline? I shoo away calls/texts from friends. The difference is that I love collaborating with and seeing others so becoming a hermit is unlikely at the moment anyway.

    I think the university should require the course of all students or of none.

    The IT people who work for a company and are tenants in the office I’m also in are a cheery bunch. After work some nights I hear laughter from their office which makes me happy. They seem to like one another. Over years I’ve chatted with a few and they are well-rounded. Some re interested in politics and others have hobbies.

    I had a friend who was offered a job with generous salary but refused to take it because it would have meant working in the office. She preferred to work at home and would have it no other way. I can do both but prefer to get up, get dressed and get out to an office.

  3. BC Said:

    My college mandated us with English comp , a 300 word a day composition on a variety of topics, like trees or sky. That got the creative juices going. Also required, was a course in Language and Speech the first year. Painful at first, we learned to stand up and give presentations. That course allowed me to overcome public speaking.

    Sad, many colleges are so busy with STEM programs, they forget these essentials as listed above.

    To be effective in one’s chosen profession, one must learn to speak and communicate. As a result of the above courses, I had no difficulty speaking to 1000 public health doctors some years ago

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    In a different industry–interior design–we knew two designers who were supremely talented. One of them was tongue-tied. He could not describe any concept. We trusted him with a small project that turned out spectacularly. But who would give him a big and costly one if he couldn’t put what was in his mind into words for an audience of two?

    The other one wrote well but in order to achieve the recognition she felt she deserved, she would have to join panels and give presentations to large audiences. She refused to do that. Roadblock as you noted!

    I almost refused to become president of an organization years ago because at the time it had two to three luncheons a year with several hundred people in attendance at each and in that role I’d have to welcome and introduce the speakers or the program. I lived through it and improved at the end of the year but it would have been easier on everyone–especially the audience–had I been trained and at ease with public speaking. I didn’t have a problem addressing a board of directors or a small group. A thousand people, however as you did–WOW. That’s a lot.

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