New major technical skills and human-centric applications are combined | MIT News


Annie Snyder wasn’t sure what she wanted to specialize in when she arrived on campus. She drifted into MIT’s most popular major, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), also known as Course 6, but it didn’t seem like quite the right fit. She was interested in computing but was more passionate about understanding the impact of technology on people’s daily lives.

Snyder, now a junior, found a compelling mix of technical skills and human-centric applications in Major 6-14: Computing, Economics, and Data Science, which was jointly started by the departments of IT and Business Development. economy in 2017.

The 6-14 major is a unique blend of computer science, data science and economics. Students learn the basics of computer science, such as programming and algorithms, and receive a multifaceted view of data science, from machine learning to econometrics. The major also covers economic concepts such as game theory, incentives, and multi-agent systems.

“The economics of things fascinated me. It seemed like an interesting way to take these really abstract technical concepts, which I knew from my knowledge of mathematics, and apply them to people, society and the modeling of human behavior, ”says Snyder. “At the same time, computing is a tool that will permeate all areas, so having that computing experience is a way to improve your game, in a way.”

Since its inception, the 6-14 course has attracted students with diverse interests. About 40 students took the major in 2017 and it has since grown to include 135 students, more than half of whom are women. The first cohort of “bilinguals” in computer science and economics graduated last year. Students have followed a wide range of career paths including joining tech giants like Google and Microsoft, starting careers in finance and management consulting firms, working in logistics or data analytics, by pursuing university research, etc.

The economy and IT join forces

IT and economics have always had some overlap, but as more and more market exchange takes place in online systems, the domains have become inseparable. The decision to create the 6-14 mixed major arose out of the development of collaborations between professors from both departments, as well as the strong interest of students in increasingly interwoven disciplines, said Asu Ozdaglar, head of the electrical engineering department. and IT and vice-dean. academics from the Schwarzman College of Computing, who helped oversee the launch of the new major.

Faculty members wanted to mix the fields in ways that inspire and empower students, she says. The majors of the 6-14 course acquire a variety of mathematical skills, but they also gain hands-on experience in empirical data analysis to discover and solve real-world problems.

“The combination of subjects and skills offered by 6-14 is not only useful for academics who wish to specialize in this exciting interface. The job market for our undergraduates has long valued exactly this combination of skills, as IT and data science jobs increasingly value knowledge of economic analysis, while job opportunities in economics, management consulting and finance now often require not only mathematical maturity, but solid computer, algorithmic and statistical expertise, ”explains Ozdaglar.

From the classroom to the real world

Computing and data science provide tools for problem-solving, and economics applies those tools to areas where intellectual, scientific and business interest is growing rapidly, says David Autor, Ford professor of economics, who has helped start course 6-14.

He expects the demand for graduates with skills in both disciplines to continue to increase, especially as economic activity moves online. Businesses large and small will need employees who can design platforms, think through incentives, and interpret large amounts of behavioral data.

The author also hopes that the 6-14 major will raise MIT’s awareness of economics and show that the field is a formal science with a very useful set of tools.

“Economics teaches people to think about social science problems analytically, in a very convincing and constructive way. Some of these issues relate to e-commerce and data analysis, but some of these issues relate to economic development, social insurance programs, or climate science. The value of economics is that it provides a toolbox for applying the same kind of analytical thinking that someone does with an engineering or computer science problem to those problems that greatly shape our world, ”he says. .

‘Bilingual’ IT preparation

Senior Ali Sinan Kaya has used the skills he developed in the 6-14 course to land internships and research opportunities that will give him a head start in his future career. He recently completed a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) at MIT Sloan School of Management which involved testing an optimization algorithm for an online retailer.

The company offers services such as assembly and insurance to customers who buy furniture online. Kaya and colleagues have found that the way these services are displayed on the website has a huge impact on purchasing behavior.

“[Course] 6-14 gave me a good foundation that I was able to use when interviewing for these positions, to get these internships, ”he says. “Economics, computer science, data science and mathematics – at the intersection of these areas you have a successful data scientist. I don’t consider myself to be a successful data scientist yet, but I think 6-14 has really given me a foundation to become a successful data scientist.

Kaya plans to embark on a career in business to better understand how the economy works. In the long term, he hopes to apply these lessons as a politician or political expert in his native Turkey.

“I want to use all of this knowledge and experiences to hopefully make changes in my community,” he says.

For Ozdaglar, it has been especially gratifying to see students like Kaya master both skill sets with the goal of doing important work in the world.

“It has been amazing helping to develop a program that educates students about this exciting intersection. We have never seen this as a simple grouping of study programs into two departments. Rather, the 6-14 course combines the strengths of both disciplines to provide unique courses and opportunities for our students. It provides such a solid foundation that students are able to tackle deep problems that require mastery of both disciplines. It’s wonderful to see this new generation of “bilingual” computer scientists who will be able to make great contributions, ”she said.


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