For the first time in Stanford's history, computer science has become the most popular undergraduate major -- a milestone for a school conceived on a farm but now located in the holy land of technology.
The surge in interest is attributed to a job market that values software over Shakespeare -- as well as recent reforms that make entry-level classes exciting and accessible.
"Today's students have grown up using many computing technologies, including web search engines, social networks and smartphones," said Mehran Sahami, computer science professor associate chairman of the department's education program.
The computer science major "affords them the opportunity to go from being consumers of computing technology to producers of it, and that's a tremendously powerful transition."
The number of Stanford students specializing in computer science in 2012 trumps those in human biology, a long-standing favorite, 380 to 329, according to a new analysis by the university. Engineering ranks third, with 250 students.
A similar phenomenon is seen at UC-Berkeley, a historic hotbed of activism where the number of students majoring in electrical engineering and computer sciences now far surpasses those in political science.
But psychology and business are the most popular majors at other Bay Area universities -- UC-Santa Cruz, UC-Davis, SJSU and CSU East Bay.
In the humanities' heyday of the mid-60s, more than 1 in 3 Stanford
Now one of Stanford's most popular classrooms is a course in creating apps for the iPad and iPhone. There is also a computer music class.
The university has helped give birth to such heavyweight companies as Google, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems.
Some gifted Stanford students don't even stay to graduate. Ankit Gupta, for instance, co-created the Pulse News Reader while at Stanford -- then left to raise $9 million in financing. His app has been downloaded 30 million times and the late Steve Jobs touted it.
"Stanford is the intellectual heart of Silicon Valley. Stanford students quickly come to understand that they should take at least one of the introductory computer science courses, which are very much part of the culture," said Eric Roberts, computer science professor.
The trend bodes well for the future of the valley -- and for companies around the world that seek to bolster their ranks of Stanford graduates.
"The increasing number of (computer science) majors will mean both a larger talent pool for Silicon Valley companies to draw from as well as more potential startup activity coming out of Stanford's (computer science) program," Roberts said.
"For years, the most common reaction I've gotten from industry leaders, both inside and outside the Valley, is that they love Stanford's program -- but that we don't produce nearly enough graduates to meet the demand," he said.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.
at Bay Area universities
1, Computer science
2. Human biology
1. Electrical engineering and computer science
2. Political science
5. Business administration
2. Business management economics
4. Molecular, cell and developmental biology
2. Biological sciences
3. Business administration/accounting
4. Business administration/management
CSU East Bay
1. Business administration
3. Health sciences
4. Biological science