New York City gets a Software Engineering High School

This fall New York City will open The Academy for Software Engineering, the city’s first public high school that will actually train kids to develop software. The project has been a long time dream of Mike Zamansky, the highly-regarded CS teacher at New York’s elite Stuyvesant public high school. It was jump started when Fred Wilson, a VC at Union Square Ventures, promised to get the tech community to help with knowledge, advice, and money.

I’m on the board of advisors of the new school, which plans to accept ninth graders for fall of 2012. Here’s why I’m excited about this new school:

1. It’s a “limited, unscreened” school.  That’s Board of Ed jargon. It means that any student who is interested can apply—their grades and attendence record are not taken into account in deciding whether or not to admit them, only their interest. I think this is the best thing about the school. A lot of kids are just not interested enough in other academic subjects to get good grades, but they would make great software engineers. A lot of immigrants (especially in New York) are not yet proficient enough in English to get good grades in all their subjects, but they’re going to make great software engineers, too. And in my humble opinion, a school that accepts a cross-section of students is bound to be more enriching than a school that only accepts academic superstars.

2. OMG do we ever need more software engineers. The US post-secondary education system is massively failing us: it’s not producing even remotely enough programmers to meet the hiring needs of the technology industry. Not even remotely enough. Starting salaries for smart programmers from top schools are flirting with the $100,000 mark. Supply isn’t even close to meeting demand. This school is going to be pretty small (in the 400-500 student range) but the Board of Ed has promised that if it’s successful it’ll be used as a template for more schools or for special programs inside larger schools. I predict that they will be overwhelmed with applicants and this will be the most popular new school in New York City in years.

3. And we need more diversity, too. One of the reasons the elite US colleges seem to turn out so few computer science majors every year is that they are only drawing from a narrow pool of mostly white and asian males. Minorities and women are embarrassingly under-represented. Hopefully an unscreened school in New York City can pump a lot more diversity into the pool.

4. It’s not a vocational school. Unlike traditional vocational schools, this new school will have a rigorous academic component and will prepare students for college. But college is not for everyone—many of the best programmers I know were just not interested enough in a general four year degree and went straight into jobs programming.

I’m pleased to be involved in this project, but it needs more help: they’re still looking for qualified computer science teachers and a principal. If you’re interested drop me an email and I’ll make sure it gets through to the right people.

About the author.

I'm Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Trello and Fog Creek Software, and CEO of Stack Overflow. More about me.