This week Harvard’s CS50 Introduction to Computer Science beat Economics 10a to become the largest freshman class with 818 students enrolled (and many non-students viewing for free online).
“Harvard students are smart people,” Harry R. Lewis, director of undergraduate studies for Computer Science, told The Crimson. “They have figured out that in pretty much every area of study, computational methods and computational thinking are going to be important to the future.”
Oh how the world has changed. As recently as 2002, Harvard’s CS50 enrollment had fallen below 100 students, down from nearly 400 in the Dot-com bubble, according to a paper by current class leader Professor David J. Malan.
Even more striking is that of approximately 120 students enrolled in 2005, fewer than 20 students attended a Dec. 2005 guest lecture by Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, judging from a video posted to YouTube.
Apparently, Harvard students hadn’t figured out the importance of computer science back then.
Of course, Zuckerberg, then 21, wasn’t the icon he is today, though he was well on his way to building the Facebook empire. The social networking site, which he started during his sophomore year in Feb. 2004, had expanded to 2,000 schools, with 400 million page views per day and 50 employees.
After his introduction from Professor Michael D. Smith, Zuckerberg gets halfhearted applause from the small audience.
“Yo,” Zuckerberg says. “All right. Sweet. This is one of the first times I’ve been to a lecture at Harvard.”
The audience laughs.
Zuckerberg gives a brief and rather technical lecture and then takes questions. He seems disappointed that students keep asking about Facebook rather than computer science.
“Any CS questions?” he jokes repeatedly.
He also points out how smart it is to get into computer science these days:
“One of the cool things about this time in technology is that individuals are leveraged and able to do way more than they have really ever been able to do before. Even four years ago when Google was started — now they have hundreds of thousands of machines and probably billions of dollars spent on equipment.
“The generation before Google, you couldn’t even make a site without some big piece of hardware. I think eBay, for example, ran off of two $US50,000 machines. You just can’t start doing that if you’re just a kid in a dorm room. So I think the fact that we could rent machines for $US100 a month and use that to scale up to a point where we had 300,000 users is pretty cool.
“It’s a pretty unique thing that that’s going on in technology right now. It makes it so that instead of worrying about who is the big player and what is Google going to do next, you can do more of — you can just get a lot of stuff done. And instead of having to go out and have some of the traditional business problems, like you have to raise capital before you can make anything, that’s no longer an issue. So you’re leveraged to do a lot more on your own now.
“I don’t know if that answers the question that you’re asking, but it’s one of the reasons why I think that, at this point, it makes a lot of sense to be studying this stuff. Because at no point in the past could you leverage such a small amount of money to get powerful enough technology to really touch people in the way that you can today.”
Read the full transcript here.
Nine years later, Zuckerberg is a generational icon with a net worth of $US33 billion, and CS50 looks like this: