Thursday, July 11, 2019

What do Companies Get Out of Supporting CS Education

After the announcement of a millions dollar grant by Google to CSTA and the new “Code with Google” program I was asked “what does a company get out of this sort of thing?” The answer can be complex.

In many cases, including this one from Google, there is no obvious monetary benefit to the company. In fact the closest thing to a balance sheet benefit is probably goodwill. Now goodwill can be very important to a company. Given the current political scrutiny on companies like Google (and Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon) one would be excused if they saw that as a motivation.
I’m not so na├»ve as to thing that goodwill doesn’t play into decisions like this one but I doubt it is the whole story.

Companies like Google. Amazon, Microsoft, and others live in an environment that includes many other companies. These huge companies will always attract top technical people but for many companies there is a real shortage of technology people for them to hire. These foundational companies need the companies who build on top of their foundations to also be able to hire technical people. Supporting CS education helps support that environment.

And it is not just tech companies who need these people. All companies need people who at least understand technology. So in many real ways one could call support for CS education enlightened self-interest.

Do companies want students to use their products? Of course and so you will see things like Swift Playgrounds which runs on Apple products and develops apps for Apple products. Or AWS Educate which uses AWS and will probably result in future paying customers for AWS. Again, there is some relationship building that companies hope will lead to future business but the concepts are far from limited to those specific products. There are no guaranties here but they are clearly more about building the company's environment than the specific companies.

Other products though don’t have as clear an path to profit though. Take MakeCode and Makecode arcade developed by Microsoft. These products don’t lead directly into revenue generating hardware or software sales. What they do is develop more people with a knowledge of programming and computer science. That helps the environment.

As I see it, companies are interested in building the CS environment, building goodwill, and possibly getting some business in the future. The degree and priority of those motivations vary by company and even time.

For me as an educator, my concern is about the concepts tools teach, how they motivate or not my students, and generally how they prepare my students for the future. Concerns about privacy and security are of course also concerns. If a company helps me do my job and prepare my students better I see that as a win. If companies get a benefit as well I hope that will encourage them to help more.

No comments: