Why the rise of AI is good for English grads


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For years, a degree in computer science was seen as a route to success, thanks to the abundance of high-paying entry level jobs at big tech firms. The median salary for computer and information technology jobs was $104,420 last year, far above the national median of $48,060.

The prospect of a six-figure starting salary, as well as perks such as free food and stock options, sent students scrambling to enrol in the subject. In the last five years alone, the number of undergraduates majoring in computer and information sciences fields in the US jumped 43 per cent to more than 628,900, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. By contrast those majoring in English language and literature have dropped about a fifth to under 108,000. History majors fell 15 per cent to about 71,900.

Column chart of US undergraduate enrollment by major (in thousands) showing Demand for a degree in computer science surges

These days, aggressive cost cutting across the tech industry and advances in artificial intelligence threaten to put the brakes on the computing education boom.

More than 89,000 job cuts have been announced by tech companies so far this year, according to Layoffs.fyi, a crowdsourced site that tracks cuts in the sector. That comes on top of the 263,180 positions culled in 2023. A generation of computer and data science students who spent years preparing themselves for careers at the largest tech companies is finding that it is not so easy to get their foot through the door.

It is not all doom and gloom. Outside the tech sector, there is still plenty of demand for software developers and computer engineers. From banks to healthcare service providers to brick-and-mortar retailers, nearly every industry is investing. JPMorgan, for example, has upped its IT budget to $17bn this year, compared to $15bn last year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of job opportunities for computer programmers to shrink by 11 per cent between 2022 to 2032, citing “automation” as the reason. But it is also forecasting total employment in the wider computer and information technology sector to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. Generative AI will make coding easier but the world will still need coding skills to guide or correct the chatbots’ work.

One unexpected consequence of AI is that its rise could revive demand for a liberal arts education. AI’s propensity for errors or hallucinations means an increase in demand for prompt engineers. They determine the best way to frame a question when interacting with AI-powered systems. This requires people with strong language and creative thinking skills. Like previous technologies, AI is creating new roles as well as revamping old ones.

pan.yuk@ft.com



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