Olivia Doty / Mustang News

While Cal Poly mandates that students choose their major before coming to school to give them a head start, that system hasn’t benefited computer science senior Darryl Vo. In order to get classes in the computer science department, crashing was the only option.

“The current system just relies too much on crashing,” Vo said. “You can get your classes, but you are going to have to crash.”

Students have to crash classes because of low faculty retention, Vo said. And the low faculty retention rate is a result of the competitive Silicon Valley salaries, computer science assistant professor Foaad Khosmood said.

Lower pay keeps the professors away

According to online hiring platform Hired, software engineers are paid $123,000 on average in the industry and data scientists are paid an average of $127,000. Cal Poly professors in the computer science department received an average salary of $95,000 in 2016, with the highest pay being $122,000, according to publicly available data information distributed by the Sacramento Bee.

Computer science department chair Franz Kurfess said the department is aware of the pay discrepancy between the industry and academia.

“Even at the time I got my Ph.D. it was clear to me, if I pursue a career in academia, it will not be financially beneficial to me,” Kurfess said. “At that time, the discrepancy was not that high, but it was noticeable. But certainly in the last few years it has gotten much more prominent.”

Closing the gap

Kurfess said there have been internal conversations among colleagues regarding increasing salary for new hires. However, there are consequences. For one, it would cause inversion, a term for hiring new staff at a higher entry-level salary than in the past. In order to take care of the inversion, the department would eventually raise everyone else’s salaries. This will affect the budget, according to Kurfess.

Effects on students

Software engineering sophomore Nathan Philliber has only gotten one computer science class through registration over the past four quarters.

“It feels like Cal Poly administration is trying to admit as many freshmen as possible and doesn’t care about the students who already go here,” Philliber said. “If I had actually been able to get the classes I needed, I could have graduated early, but because of how impacted this program is, I will definitely be here for five years ­— maybe more. I’m terrified for Winter 2018 because I have no more GEs to take.”

Philliber said he tried to crash multiple courses in the past, but that other people crash as well, and he has never seen more than three students manage to get into a class.

“If I could go back in time, I would definitely choose a different school,” Philliber said. “I’m just really tired of getting screwed.”

Business administration junior Dani Aiello left the computer science department her junior year because she struggled to get classes with reputable teachers.

“I think they’re taking anyone they can get to teach,” Aiello said. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good at teaching, able to communicate well with students or have ever had
any experience.”

During her sophomore year, Aiello was enrolled in Fundamentals of Computer Science III (CPE 103), lectured by Timothy Hawkins. Though she passed the class with an A, she said the students didn’t take anything away from the course.

“We did absolutely nothing in that class,” Aiello said. “We sat there, he would go over a program, give us all the code for it and then that was it. Like, we didn’t have to write anything, we would just look at it. I learned nothing in that class. And the next classes build on that and I didn’t learn anything.”

Both Davis and Aiello agreed that having outside resources helps students get through the program. For Aiello, she relied on her father who was already in the industry and could help her troubleshoot her coding homework.

“A lot of the kids have outside sources, like they have their parents so they don’t have to consult the teacher,” Davis said. “Or they are in a club, so they have people who have done those programs to refer to and get through,” Davis said.

Computer science professor Zoe Wood has been at Cal Poly for 14 years. According to Wood, on average, her students are usually making substantially more than she does one year after graduation.

Wood compared the computer science to a jigsaw puzzle and said sometimes the puzzle can take longer to solve than other times. Because of this, free tutoring is offered for students in the intro series. There are also community-building clubs like White Hat, Game Development and Women Involved in Software and Hardware. She said these are places students may find communities to help them stay in the department.

“Something that students have repeatedly reflected is that they need more community to help them stay,” Wood said. “The way to get through something hard is to stick with friends.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Zoe Wood compared the computer science department to the jigsaw puzzle. It has since been corrected to say that Zoe Wood compared computer science to a jigsaw puzzle. 

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