The 98%: That Google Statistic

I’ve recently heard a statistic that 98% of Google engineers were exposed to CS in high-school. The implication being that we need to expose kids to CS in high-school for them to be successful in CS. I’m all for computing in schools, but I wanted to track down the origin of this statistic, to try and get to the bottom of any underlying causality. So naturally, I googled it. Here’s one mention I found:

“98% of Google engineers were exposed to computer science in high school or earlier.” — Marissa Meyer, VP of Google Local/Maps/Localization, as quoted by Jazmin Hupp

That’s pretty much the phrasing I heard — it seems like several Google employees are trumpeting the statistic in that form. Here’s the best official source I found on the matter — Google’s own “Google in Education” report:

“In a recent survey of Google engineers, we found that 98 percent of Computer Science (CS) majors had CS exposure prior to college, compared with 45 percent of non-CS majors/non-technical Googlers.”
Google in Education report

So it’s not that 98% of all engineers had CS exposure at school, it’s that 98% of the engineers who were CS majors were exposed at school, compared to 45% of other google employees. This seems to tally with what Chris Stephenson, head of CSTA, says elsewhere:

“In the summer of 2010 Google conducted a survey of a sample of its U.S. employees about their exposure to computer science prior to college… Nearly all CS majors (98%) reported being exposed to CS prior to college, compared to less than half of non-CS majors (45%). The nature of the exposure varied from reading about CS in books or online, after-school programs or summers camps, to middle or high school CS classes.” — Chris Stephenson, CSTA blog

So if this is accurate, the statistic says that 98% of the Google engineers who majored in CS at least read a book or blog post about computer science before they took the subject as a major. I’ve seen students apply to university CS degrees having done less research than that, admittedly, but does the 98% statistic tell us anything about the importance of computing in schools? I think not. Let’s keep pushing for computing in schools, but let’s look for more informative statistics than this.

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