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needs help, but cannot understand enough to be helped.

 
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OK, I think I have a question that may get a few answers and will probably polarize the group:

I've never been an everyone gets a trophy type of guy: there are winners and losers in every action. When you apply for a job, somebody wins the job--by right of being the best interviewee--and like it or not if you have a significant other, mate, wife, spouse, or what ever you want to call them, then you are a winner over any other suitors. When you go to college you are given a degree if you win, make it to the end and complete all of the requirements satisfactorily. I see we have many students come in here, and I am of a mind to help them, but not give them a coded answer--no matter the dire outcome they face. They may get some example code to help them on their way, but I really believe that if they do not have the wherewithal to complete the assignment from their own genius, after seeing how to do it, then they need to drop out and find something else to do.

There are also those that cannot even begin to understand their assignments and place blame on the instructor, bad course materials, or etc. These people I am not include to help other than giving them very general problem solving approaches to help themselves delve into their assignment and hopefully do the analysis. Once again though, if they cannot, then they need to move on and find something else to do.

There are also the true professional, that has a question, they almost never ask for code. Their questions are well formed and pointed to get them over the hurdle they currently face--I am apt to help them with what ever they ask for, if I possibly can. We also have people come in that claim their boss told them to... and they don't have a clue, even to do the analysis as to what needs to be done--I am of the opinion that there needs to be some thinning or possibly natural selection in the job market done there. Because, once again, I am not one to believe in everyone deserves a trophy.

Then there is the guy that comes in and is not a professional, not a student and doesn't want to be, but decides that he wants to make something cool for his friends to see. I tend to give these guys too much, they are the ones that are not even competing for a trophy, but are doing something because they like to do it. That's just one of my quirks I guess.

Then there is the guy from any of the previous categories that you look at him and say: how did he ever make it into a programming job? I try to give them a couple of pushes in the right direction, then figure natural selection will take over from there, but I come back and read what is being said to help them, and they not only don't know what is going on, but they don't know enough to even start to grasp the simplest concepts of what people are trying to explain to them. Hopefully some type of self realization will break upon their mind at one point or another and do some significant learning or drop out of the race. I had a very dear friend that said of these people: "Some people are too stupid to know they are stupid."

Thoughts?
 
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We see that sort of person every now and again. I think there has been one such active for the last two or three weeks. Some of them try their hardest to follow your help and don't make it. Some try their hardest and seem to get nowhere for some time, but then the penny drops and you can see the success
Unfortunately when we see people who seem to ignore all advice we give them, we tend to give up.
 
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[Cynical, jaded world view] Unfortunately, in some environments natural selection and thinning the herd means getting pushed *up* to a level of incompetence that more likely than not results in a certain hair growth pattern. Many of these somehow manage to stay in that position of power and inutility for quite some time.

[Optimistic world view] Sometimes people can surprise even the most jaded and cynical among us.
 
Les Morgan
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Junilu Lacar wrote:[Cynical, jaded world view] Unfortunately, in some environments natural selection and thinning the herd means getting pushed *up* to a level of incompetence that more likely than not results in a certain hair growth pattern. Many of these somehow manage to stay in that position of power and inutility for quite some time.



Yep, way too often I have seen that happen. I had a manager that used to give me a hassle because she couldn't understand my documentation, any level of documentation, at that time I wrote computer manuals for "howto's" for our end users--accountants and not proficient in computer use in any stretch of the imagination--she just couldn't understand any of it, not even end user manuals. She lasted until she made a blunder that caused the directors of the 3 agencies I supported to lose significant face, and cause over 7 million in blunder cover up to happen. She rather unceremoniously moved down the road.

Junilu Lacar wrote:[Optimistic world view] Sometimes people can surprise even the most jaded and cynical among us.



It is great when that happens, alas, it happens not often.
 
Marshal
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Les Morgan wrote:There are also those that cannot even begin to understand their assignments and place blame on the instructor, bad course materials, or etc.



Yes, you see that sort of thing fairly regularly here. I used to ignore it and classify it as blame-shifting too, but lately I've been noticing that sometimes the assignments beginners are given are bad assignments. So yes, there are bad instructors and bad course materials out there. But there's probably no way of telling whether it's really bad instruction or blame-shifting in any given situation.

The other thing I keep having to remind myself about is this: The beginners are learning programming, not just Java programming. I look at a lot of assignments and think "You wouldn't do anything like that if you were a professional Java programmer", but that isn't the point. It does help a beginner to write some horrible low-level code, just to understand how things work. Hopefully they don't graduate from their course and go out and write that horrible low-level code in real life...
 
Marshal
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Sometimes, I think the problem is also that the member is restricted as to what they can do or use. I can't count how many times I've tried to answer a question only to be countered with "we haven't learned XYZ yet", or "my instructor won't let us use XYZ".

I make the mistake of pretty much always assuming that the member is writing professional software and will propose the best way to do it, rather than restrict my answer to an artificially limited set imposed by the academic nature of the question.

I've often thought that instead of Beginning Java and Java in General, that the forums ought to be Help with Java Homework, and Professional Java.
 
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Les Morgan wrote:Yep, way too often I have seen that happen. I had a manager that used to give me a hassle because she couldn't understand my documentation...


Join the club. I'd say that documentation is probably the single biggest problem I've faced in my programming life - and I've been told that mine is actually quite good...when I get around to it.

TBH, I suspect that most of your rant is about the Dunning-Kruger effect - or perhaps the result of seeing it in action - but perhaps some of your last post comes from not being able to put yourself in your manager's position.

I offer this purely as hypothesis, and as someone who definitely suffers from the same affliction. I call it nihilismus procuratorae (but my Latin is terrible), and in many cases it works just fine: You get on with your job, they get on with theirs; and when you bang heads you have a good old moan with people who understand what your problems are - thus guaranteeing a sympathetic response.

And perhaps that's the way things should be - I'm not a great advocate of discussion groups or "airing your differences" unless things get truly dysfunctional. I'd much rather go down the pub and have a few pints.
I've also worked perfectly reasonably with bosses I didn't particularly like (and who probably didn't like me); but it was basically because we respected "the invisible line" - ie, he or she didn't try to do my job, and I didn't try to do theirs.

Documentation - unfortunately - is one activity that (still, apparently) seems to defy demarcation of that "line", and is also very badly served by automated tools.

One of the reasons that I gravitated to Java was because of javadoc - a truly revolutionary product back in 2001. I loved the fact that I could write a program AND document it at the same time; and furthermore, publish it so anyone who wanted could see it.

But does that satisfy management? No. They want "narrative", and flowcharts, and diagrams of all shapes and sizes .... and they want them in Microsoft Word or Visio.

And THAT'S when my hackles get up. I just spent three months putting this suite together and documenting it with the tool it provides, but that's not good enough. Now I have to do your job as well (make it "understandable" to people who don't know a 'for' loop from a hole in the ground, or their 'associative entity' from their elbow).

So...another rant for you. I doubt it solves anything, but it made me feel better.

Winston
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Paul Clapham wrote:. . . bad instructors and bad course materials . . . But there's probably no way of telling whether it's really bad instruction or blame-shifting in any given situation. . . .

It is also very difficult to be too critical of assignments we see on this website. I can just about bring myself to complain about assignments which insist on a certain number of constructors, but more than that, no. I am just as likely to tell somebody off for being rude about thrie instructors.
 
Junilu Lacar
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Paul Clapham wrote:The beginners are learning programming, not just Java programming. I look at a lot of assignments and think "You wouldn't do anything like that if you were a professional Java programmer", but that isn't the point. It does help a beginner to write some horrible low-level code, just to understand how things work. Hopefully they don't graduate from their course and go out and write that horrible low-level code in real life...


Unfortunately, I've met too many people who are paid to write programs whose code would blow your hopes into millions of pieces. My son is taking an Intro to Programming in Java course this semester and they're past the midterm mark already. He's still writing all static methods in his homework, his labs, and his projects. I find this rather appalling. When I was in school, my instructor talked about "elegance" in solutions as early as our third or fourth lecture, if I remember correctly.

That was a long time ago but I distinctly remember that problem was The Tower of Hanoi Puzzle. The "elegance" was pertaining to a recursive solution vs. an iterative one. Our first machine problem was the Fibonacci Series. No coddling of new programmers back then. It really was a sink or swim deal. Yet, we were already being taught about good programming practices. I don't think we give kids enough credit these days and that's contributing to the problems we're seeing later on when they join the ranks of paid "professionals". Kids can be pushed to learn this stuff, you know. We didn't break, why should we think they will?

This was in the early days of Turbo Pascal and simple ASCII-based interfaces, no GUIs. We were running TP on CP/M off of 5.25 floppies. All we had to refer to back then (mid to late 1980s, in the Philippines) was one textbook on Pascal, not even object-oriented Pascal which would only emerge years later. Amazingly, I was able to find our textbook on Amazon . I recognized the cover immediately: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Programming-PASCAL-Peter-Grogono/dp/0201120704/ref=sr_1_83?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459288773&sr=1-83 I'll never forget that book.
 
Junilu Lacar
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This is the Text-based interface I learned Pascal on:



The editor commands were borrowed from WordStar. Anybody still remember using WordStar and the good old Ctrl+K,? and Ctrl+Q,? keyboard combos?
 
Junilu Lacar
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Just one example of the sloppiness that seems to be tolerated way too much these days: the lack of proper indentation of code. Proper indentation seems to be the exception rather than the rule in most of the code we see posted in these forums. That's totally opposite of what I saw back in my day as a student.

Back then, the TA in charge of our computer lab was my fraternity brother so I got hang out there a lot, often skipping my other classes. Midway through my first programming course, I wrote a program to print out code listings with a standard header and footer. This was done on a dot matrix printer and sending control characters to change the size of the fonts being printed. I helped with the printing of program listings so much that I decided to write a little utility program to speed up the process. I don't remember seeing any programs that I printed out back then that didn't have decently indented code. Of course these were all engineering students so sloppiness in details like that was frowned upon. Still, we would never think of submitting work that was not at least properly indented. Our instructor would not have tolerated it anyway.
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Junilu Lacar wrote:The editor commands were borrowed from WordStar. Anybody still remember using WordStar ...?


I not only remember it; I worked on the machine it was created for:


Oddly enough, never used it though.

Winston
 
Les Morgan
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Junilu I have to agree, I have had to hire a programmer or two and sit on interview panels also. There seems to have been a drop in "pretty print" importance. Once I had a refreshing contrast through--I had a person interview that was very competent--just out of college--and he gave us example code. His code was perfect. Not just in that it solved the problem, but it was perfectly indented, it was perfectly capitalized, it was perfectly formed for his algorithm execution, etc. In short: it was perfectly perfect! I told the manager to hire him, but first I wanted to see him in a room and produce code that looked like what he turned in.

Well, they wouldn't put him in a room, but the very first code segment I saw him cut was: perfectly perfect also and from the day he reported to work, he wrote perfectly perfect code. Kind of un-nerving to see, but his code was a delight to read. He's a good friend, and during the big recession, he was in a couple different development teams where his bosses fired everyone except him--I don't blame them, I hired him originally and I would have never fired him either.
Les

Junilu Lacar wrote:Just one example of the sloppiness that seems to be tolerated way too much these days: the lack of proper indentation of code. Proper indentation seems to be the exception rather than the rule in most of the code we see posted in these forums. That's totally opposite of what I saw back in my day as a student.

Back then, the TA in charge of our computer lab was my fraternity brother so I got hang out there a lot, often skipping my other classes. Midway through my first programming course, I wrote a program to print out code listings with a standard header and footer. This was done on a dot matrix printer and sending control characters to change the size of the fonts being printed. I helped with the printing of program listings so much that I decided to write a little utility program to speed up the process. I don't remember seeing any programs that I printed out back then that didn't have decently indented code. Of course these were all engineering students so sloppiness in details like that was frowned upon. Still, we would never think of submitting work that was not at least properly indented. Our instructor would not have tolerated it anyway.

 
Junilu Lacar
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Take for example the thread where you just replied, Les, the one where you said something about linked lists vs arrays. This is another thing that I wrote about recently in a blog post: the lack of context that students seem to have when dealing with their programming problems. Thinking back to my days as a student studying abstract data types in Pascal, we were already taught about lists, nodes, single-linked and double-linked lists, etc, when we were given problems related to these ADTs. Granted, this was a more advance CS class, we knew exactly how the problem was to be solved. None of us would have wandered off into the woods thinking that we needed to use arrays to solve the machine problem we were given if the current topic was linked lists.

I'm more inclined to point the finger at the instructor for not giving enough guidance to the students on this. OTOH, the student may not have been paying attention to what the topic in context was either. I would still think that it's more incumbent on the instructor to be more specific with instructions, giving ample examples related to the problem so students have something to build upon.
 
Junilu Lacar
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:

Paul Clapham wrote:. . . bad instructors and bad course materials . . . But there's probably no way of telling whether it's really bad instruction or blame-shifting in any given situation. . . .

It is also very difficult to be too critical of assignments we see on this website. I can just about bring myself to complain about assignments which insist on a certain number of constructors, but more than that, no. I am just as likely to tell somebody off for being rude about thrie instructors.


I'm less forgiving of instructors, especially when we ask students to post the full instructions they were given and see some of the things we've seen recently. Instructors should be held to a higher standard; there's no excuse for sloppiness when it comes to giving requirements for students to follow. Some ambiguity might be reasonably overlooked but requiring students to do things that are outright bad practices, like using exceptions to control program flow, is inexcusable. Instructors who don't know any better have no business being instructors, IMO.
 
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Ok, slightly opposite opinion. Might not all instructors are as good as they could be, but most of them are good enough to give you a foundation.

If you take 200 students from the same course, probably only around 20-30 of them set their goals high as they found an interest in programming field. The rest - aiming just to pass the course, which is in nowadays are 40%. The question comes why the hell they chose such discipline? Don't know, maybe because of it's popularity, many journals suggesting students about most popular disciplines, many parents maybe pushing to that area, various reasons.

But I'm about slightly different things. Students expecting to get everything from the instructors without much of effort to spend on material after the class finish. I do agree, that probably is better to learn from the lecturer who has extensive experience in industry and after a while went to academia rather than from the lecturers who are pure academics, and you cannot blame them too, they might teach you techniques not much popular based on industry standards, but that is knowledge too, which could give you a broader view of topic.

All of you probably with extensive experience in industry within 3-5 posts can see who demonstrates actual interest in programming and who is here just to get an answer to their current problem. Imagine you're lecturer - they see that most likely too. If student doesn't show any interest during the class (we should assume they don't know nothing about programming prior the studies, so they cannot assume material is bad) or not willing to learn extra's, giving them broader view would even more complicate the things. Need not to forget, that universities are profit institutions, there are politics too, and of course plans about how to earn more $. I believe that plays an important role from administration side - what material should be, how difficult it should be.. Anyway, lets leave politics, not interesting.

My ideal imaginable scenario is, when the student gets foundation material about the certain topic > comes back home and study that in deep after the class > comes next week to lecturers again > rises discussion, and trying to appeal to lecturers slides by showing what he found after studying topic in deep, so everyone could discuss and benefit from it, I believe most of lecturers are up for it and waiting for a challenge from students, but that doesn't happen often I believe across the courses.

Students should spend more time on forums like this at early days when the brains still can cope with excessive amount of information rather than sitting in popular socializing networks and refreshing page every 5 seconds. Remember yourself, you didn't have such amount of distraction right? So you had good times with books, hands on, too much distracting things in nowadays.

And finally, universities are not secondary schools, no one can expect to be picked up by hand and taught.



 
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Junilu Lacar wrote:
The editor commands were borrowed from WordStar. Anybody still remember using WordStar and the good old Ctrl+K,? and Ctrl+Q,? keyboard combos?


I still complain about the Caps Lock key being where the control key belongs. Most people don't even remember keyboards like that.

But then it took me years to get used to the F keys being on the top instead of on the left , so I don't adapt well to change.
 
Junilu Lacar
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J. Kevin Robbins wrote:But then it took me years to get used to the F keys being on the top instead of on the left , so I don't adapt well to change.


You made me with that comment. Yeah, I remember those days when keyboards had the Ctrl key and the F keys in the right place.
 
Les Morgan
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Back in the day, we had a course or possibly more in data structures. Ya, just data structures and how to use them, what each was good for, and the proper implementation of each. I don't see that any more. They are hidden in the language with dequeues and queues, stacks, and maps, and etc... The basics are obscured by the language and many don't know what it is that they are using or why they should use this structure over the other. It's sad, in a way, because quite often they don't ever get the fun of playing with the language and seeing the nuts and bolts in operation-the things that are under the hood now.

We also had information representation required, finite state autonoma, system optimization, compiler design, interpreter design, and algorithm development--not to mention formal software engineering classes.

I've been banging around in the Sun and other forums for the better part of 20+ years now, and it just seems the new people are getting more and more ignorant--but more disconcerting is that they are getting more and more unwilling to do the work to learn.

In my senior level Systems Design class, the department chair stood up one day and got a very sobering look on his face and look at the room of graduation candidates and said: "Who here thinks they are gifted?"

I have always been one that has not considered myself gifted, I have to work too hard for that to be true, but I decided to humor him. I raised my hand. He then looked out over the rest of the class and sternly said: "What's the matter with the rest of you? You represent the top 7% of all programmers in the world."

I think that type of thing is missing now--we had 1500 engineering candidates start the year I entered the university; approximately 50 of those graduated the year I graduated. It's hard and not everyone is going to get a trophy. It seems that programs are being dumbed down now more and more so that everyone can get a trophy--when that happens, that trophy really doesn't mean much at all. That coupled with the student and college tolerance and even acceptance for cheating and I find it horrifying when I have to interview people out of college--what can I really expect them to know any more?

Happily, we find qualified candidates, but we have to give some fairly extreme, or intense, interviews now where we could in the past take for granted that they actually received an education when they have a CS degree. I now start asking CS 101 type of questions and we progress through CS 350 type of things from when I was in school. That CS 101 type of stuff disqualifies a very unsettling amount of candidates.

Junilu Lacar wrote:

Campbell Ritchie wrote:

Paul Clapham wrote:. . . bad instructors and bad course materials . . . But there's probably no way of telling whether it's really bad instruction or blame-shifting in any given situation. . . .

It is also very difficult to be too critical of assignments we see on this website. I can just about bring myself to complain about assignments which insist on a certain number of constructors, but more than that, no. I am just as likely to tell somebody off for being rude about thrie instructors.


I'm less forgiving of instructors, especially when we ask students to post the full instructions they were given and see some of the things we've seen recently. Instructors should be held to a higher standard; there's no excuse for sloppiness when it comes to giving requirements for students to follow. Some ambiguity might be reasonably overlooked but requiring students to do things that are outright bad practices, like using exceptions to control program flow, is inexcusable. Instructors who don't know any better have no business being instructors, IMO.

 
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I think the truth is that not everyone is made to be a programmer. If you aren't good at logical reasoning, then I don't think programming is for you. I do believe some people can improve with a lot of hard work and practice, but the reality is IMHO that some people will never make it, just like I will never win the Grand Slam no matter how hard I try.

The problem, at least here in the UK, is that education has become more about making money and less about the best interests of students. So, I knew a guy, a nice chap, but he wasn't academically gifted. He however liked computers, and so he wanted to be a "programmer". Now, in the UK you do your GCSE exams at the age of 16 - if you do well, you go on to do A-Levels (it used to be three, but now I believe it is the norm for students to do four), and if you don't do that great, you can study for a BTEC, which is a lot easier. Now the well respected universities will only accept people with good A-Level results - however, the other universities will take people with even poor grades at A-Levels or a BTEC. So this guy did poorly in his GCSE exams, and so he ended up doing a BTEC. He managed to pass that (anyone can pass that to be honest), and got accepted into some really rubbish university to do something like "Business Information Systems". He really struggled in such a simple course, he actually managed to fail a year and had to resit that year, and then eventually he passed - he got a 3rd class degree.

So, did he get a job as a programmer? Of course he didn't - first of all he did a course which hardly covered any theory or programming, and was more to do with business-nonsense. Secondly, this university isn't respected at all because of their really low standards. Thirdly, despite this being a university with really low standards, he still only got a 3rd class degree. So in the end, this guy spent 6 years - 2 for his BTEC, 4 at university - and ended up getting an Admin job in an office. What a waste of time and money - I mean, if he just wanted to go to university for the experience, then fair enough, but he wanted to go to university to build a career, in which case he would have been much better off doing some apprenticeship or something.
 
Paul Clapham
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Another thing which is going on is this: when Les and I were younger, you would graduate from high school and then the chances for you to get a good (i.e. reasonably well-paying) job weren't bad. You could work as a store clerk, or a bank teller, or in a typing pool for a business, or even in a coal mine. And often you had a pretty good chance at advancement, maybe not in the coal mine but in a lot of other jobs. The fraction of us who were academically gifted (or worked hard enough to make it look that way) went off to university and became teachers and engineers and so on.

But now a lot of those basic jobs are gone, either gone completely or moved to places with low wages. No more typing pools, not as many store clerks, and coal mining jobs are mostly automated. So without a university degree you're nothing. But like Ahmed said, not everybody is cut out to go to university, so there are a lot of people who are going to university who just couldn't have hacked it in the universities of the old days. A lot of them want to be programmers, since that's one of the job categories which wasn't hollowed out by automation or moving to low-wage countries. And so we have a lot of people who can't hack it who are trying to be programmers.

And it seems to me that the demand for programmers is increasing, unlike a lot of other job categories. So the inevitable result is that the schools are letting those marginal students pass, and then they are out there looking for jobs.
 
Les Morgan
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Paul,
I have to mostly agree with all of that, but one thing that you should notice too is that skilled labor is on the down turn also. The trades cannot get enough people in to support the demand. There it's just basically people want to work.
Les

Paul Clapham wrote:Another thing which is going on is this: when Les and I were younger, you would graduate from high school and then the chances for you to get a good (i.e. reasonably well-paying) job weren't bad. You could work as a store clerk, or a bank teller, or in a typing pool for a business, or even in a coal mine. And often you had a pretty good chance at advancement, maybe not in the coal mine but in a lot of other jobs. The fraction of us who were academically gifted (or worked hard enough to make it look that way) went off to university and became teachers and engineers and so on.

But now a lot of those basic jobs are gone, either gone completely or moved to places with low wages. No more typing pools, not as many store clerks, and coal mining jobs are mostly automated. So without a university degree you're nothing. But like Ahmed said, not everybody is cut out to go to university, so there are a lot of people who are going to university who just couldn't have hacked it in the universities of the old days. A lot of them want to be programmers, since that's one of the job categories which wasn't hollowed out by automation or moving to low-wage countries. And so we have a lot of people who can't hack it who are trying to be programmers.

And it seems to me that the demand for programmers is increasing, unlike a lot of other job categories. So the inevitable result is that the schools are letting those marginal students pass, and then they are out there looking for jobs.

 
Ahmed Bin S
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Paul Clapham wrote:A lot of them want to be programmers, since that's one of the job categories which wasn't hollowed out by automation or moving to low-wage countries. And so we have a lot of people who can't hack it who are trying to be programmers.

And it seems to me that the demand for programmers is increasing, unlike a lot of other job categories. So the inevitable result is that the schools are letting those marginal students pass, and then they are out there looking for jobs.



Additionally, I think it is now "cool" to become a programmer. Maybe it was also cool back in the old days, but as you say, the demand wasn't as great, and so only the more academically gifted would have made it. Now everyone uses computers every day, and so a lot of people feel there is a "status" involved with knowing how to program.

I was in PC World last year, and I overheard a conversation between a middle-aged woman and a store assistant. She wanted to buy a laptop, and was asking him for help, and he was trying to explain things to her, and to someone who is a novice, he probably sounded really "technical" and knowledgeable, yet I stood there thinking "he really doesn't have a clue, does he?".
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Ahmed Bin S wrote:. . . a conversation between a middle-aged woman and a store assistant. . . . he probably sounded really "technical" and knowledgeable, yet I stood there thinking "he really doesn't have a clue, does he?".

She was obviously Joel Spolsky's Aunt Marge.
 
Les Morgan
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Ahmed,

I have to agree with you--being a programmer is a cool thing, and it is shown as main stream cool in our society today: back in the day there we geeks/nerds the nerds where the doers of he computer world and were portrayed as a very strange type, but today you look at any of the top shows, I'm an NCIS fan, and the computer guys are cool. Along with that everyone has computer skills of some level or another and it is shown to be the expected norm for all. If you don't have any computer skills, then you are depicted as abnormal and usually having some sever malady of the mind.

In any case it's a far cry from "Revenge of the Nerd" days.

I recently talked with a friend that runs his own computer tech business, and has been doing so for several years now, he had an enlightening look at things. Due to demand industry is pressing academia to lower its standards and let more people flush though the system, I use the term flush because that is basically what happens, so we are now getting, in a very big way, more people, but those people have a lower quality of education than they did just a decade before. Since there are more people and their education/skill is lower, that drives the market, at least for entry level, to be lower or remain at the present for a greater period than it would normally. By doing this the industry is getting their people they need at entry, but having to train more in-house. It also leaves a greater gap in undergraduate vs qualifications for post graduate work.

Les

Ahmed Bin S wrote:

Paul Clapham wrote:A lot of them want to be programmers, since that's one of the job categories which wasn't hollowed out by automation or moving to low-wage countries. And so we have a lot of people who can't hack it who are trying to be programmers.

And it seems to me that the demand for programmers is increasing, unlike a lot of other job categories. So the inevitable result is that the schools are letting those marginal students pass, and then they are out there looking for jobs.



Additionally, I think it is now "cool" to become a programmer. Maybe it was also cool back in the old days, but as you say, the demand wasn't as great, and so only the more academically gifted would have made it. Now everyone uses computers every day, and so a lot of people feel there is a "status" involved with knowing how to program.

I was in PC World last year, and I overheard a conversation between a middle-aged woman and a store assistant. She wanted to buy a laptop, and was asking him for help, and he was trying to explain things to her, and to someone who is a novice, he probably sounded really "technical" and knowledgeable, yet I stood there thinking "he really doesn't have a clue, does he?".

 
Campbell Ritchie
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Les Morgan wrote:. . . industry is pressing academia to lower its standards and let more people flush though the system . . .

They also put pressure on us to teach “vocational” topics rather than real computer sciences.
 
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Les Morgan wrote: Due to demand industry is pressing academia to lower its standards and let more people flush though the system, I use the term flush because that is basically what happens, so we are now getting, in a very big way, more people, but those people have a lower quality of education than they did just a decade before.



Interesting relevent article.
 
Les Morgan
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Nice article, makes a good read and is highly appropriate for the topic.

J. Kevin Robbins wrote:

Les Morgan wrote: Due to demand industry is pressing academia to lower its standards and let more people flush though the system, I use the term flush because that is basically what happens, so we are now getting, in a very big way, more people, but those people have a lower quality of education than they did just a decade before.



Interesting relevent article.

 
Campbell Ritchie
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J. Kevin Robbins wrote:. . . Interesting relevent article.

Same on this side of the pond, I believe.
 
Les Morgan
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Yep. I was campus chair for the ACM during my senior year, it came with a private office and a terminal into the school network so I was all for that, as such, I had to give the visiting dignitaries from the computer industry tours around campus and make sure they didn't get lost going from one meeting to another, also to speak at the various dinners and etc, well in short I was able to speak to a bunch of the industry leads from back in the day. All of them said that they were well pleased with university graduates and that our grads stacked up favorably against ALL others and there were some programs that they were only recruiting from our campus--but I digress. Any way in the same breath they also were pushing the college to leave "pure" computer science and incorporate more hands on vocational type of subjects.

That actually kind of angered me to think, but thankfully I was there at the very beginning of the movement. I was able to pick and choose what I wanted to take, and in many cases, the department chair authorized my schedule and made exceptions to university requirements to I could take the pure path I wanted--one advantage of having your department chair as your advisor and getting to know him a little. I ended up with a pure CS degree with an option in Mathematics, where the others had the vocational classes added at the expense of some of the classes that I considered fundamentally important--like that class on data structures that I mentioned earlier.

The US educational system is in a spiral that it doesn't see and it is really locked into it--the accrediting organizations are being pushed by industry to add more and more vocational and produce more and more students, as such, the colleges are dumbing down things. Industry gets more entry people that they have to train more, they don't like having to train so they add more vocational specific items, and they find that they have to train more and more extensively because their people don't have the basis to understand further than what was taught in school--vicious cycle. IMO give me a person that has all of the fundamentals and know them well, then they can be applied to anything with little explanation, but more importantly they are more versatile and able to go further than those that only know how to do the vocational specific things they have been taught.

It's kind of like the old thought from the "Mythical Man Month", You cannot put 9 women in a room and tell them to make a baby in a month, along the same line, you cannot take out theory to allow more vocational training and have the graduate have the same depth of knowledge as before.

Les

Campbell Ritchie wrote:

Les Morgan wrote:. . . industry is pressing academia to lower its standards and let more people flush though the system . . .

They also put pressure on us to teach “vocational” topics rather than real computer sciences.

 
Winston Gutkowski
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Ahmed Bin S wrote:The problem, at least here in the UK, is that education has become more about making money and less about the best interests of students...


Which is only likely to increase now that there's
(a) A "price tag" on it.
(b) More and more jobs that require a BA or BSc as a minimum requirement - in many cases, for no apparent reason.

I don't know about any of you, but when I went - or would have gone - to university (1975), it was free. There were Oxford and Cambridge, which only a very few got into, and then there were the "red bricks" - 2nd level "county" universities which usually had a specialty (my local one, for example, was Sussex which, at the time, had a good reputation for modern languages). My half-brother left York University back around 2000 with a jobsworth Bsc and 90,000 quid in debt.

My problem was that I was just sick of school. I hope this doesn't sound boastful, but I've never doubted my intelligence...but I'm also lazy. I'd just finished six years to get three mediocre 'A' Levels (mainly because I didn't work hard enough) and, faced with another three or four years of hard slog in a subject I wasn't even sure I wanted to do - and probably not allowed to have an opinion in (Bachelors, at least back then, were all about proving that you had the right to have an opinion ) - I opted for the job market instead. Much to the mortification of my parents.

Luckily, you didn't need a degree to be a programmer back then, and after a year or so of bumming around I got my first real job - in the Civil Service - because I went to the "right school" (still a big thing back in those days). The interview panel couldn't have cared less how good I was, but as soon as they heard I went to Millfield, we spent the rest of the interview talking about my experiences there. I duly got the job and, after three months OTB ("on the beach" - ie, training), I was writing COBOL programs for the Census Ofiice.

Any better? I don't know; but I parlayed that opportunity into a 30-year career that included some very interesting work.

These days, I wouldn't get a look-in.

Winston
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:. . . a) A "price tag" on it.
(b) More and more jobs that require a BA or BSc as a minimum requirement - in many cases, for no apparent reason.

I think it is a vicious spiral. Because more people go to University, more people have degrees, so the entrance requirement becomes higher. Things like nursing have gone all‑degree, but I am not convinced that has improved the quality of nursing. When I was in the lab, it was a really good thing about 1990 that the technical staff would be all‑degree entry. Until we had our first such person who was totally clueless. (Other people were better, fortunately.) The main benefit of University is learning to take care of yourself, in a lot of cases.

. . . My half-brother left York University back around 2000 with a jobsworth Bsc and 90,000 quid in debt.

nd York is a place with a good reputation.

. . . Luckily, you didn't need a degree to be a programmer back then, . . .

I don't think most places taught computer sciences in those days.

Which brings up another point. Until the 1980s or thereabouts, a lot of Universities didn't realise that computer sciences existed, or if they did it was a minor sub‑branch of Maths. That is why the big companies (Bell, IBM, M$ etc) took the initiative in CS research and the Universities have still got to catch up there.
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:I think it is a vicious spiral. Because more people go to University, more people have degrees, so the entrance requirement becomes higher.


But do they? They may take more time, but I think at least some of this discussion is about how degrees have been devalued because of their availability.

Things like nursing have gone all‑degree, but I am not convinced that has improved the quality of nursing.


Hmmm. A contentious point. Nursing, in the past, was regarded as "women's work" and for that reason (IMO) has always been undervalued.
My aunt trained as a midwife at St, Thomas's - the best midwifery hospital by a country mile in the UK at the time - for seven years. Precisely the same amount of time as a doctor trained. And yet she was "junior" even to a student doctor.
I also had a Filipino girlfriend in Vancouver who had successfully delivered more then 300 babies without a single mishap.

And yet neither of them (my aunt included) could practice as a midwife in British Columbia.

My aunt became a care nurse, and my girlfriend was studying for the equivalent of an SRN at the time I knew her, simply because they couldn't be bothered to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops to prove yet again that they were competent to do what they had actually trained for.
Wot a bleedin' waste.

When I was in the lab, it was a really good thing about 1990 that the technical staff would be all‑degree entry. Until we had our first such person who was totally clueless. (Other people were better, fortunately.)


And of the two best programmers I've ever met in my career: One didn't have a degree at all; the other's was in Soil Science.

The main benefit of University is learning to take care of yourself, in a lot of cases.


What, like getting a job?

I think that university is good for all sorts of things, but I'm not sure what you mean by that, or whether we agree - could you elaborate?

York [has] a good reputation.


And specifically in electrical engineering, which is what he did...and got a 2:1.

[Which brings up another point. Until the 1980s or thereabouts, a lot of Universities didn't realise that computer sciences existed, or if they did it was a minor sub‑branch of Maths. That is why the big companies (Bell, IBM, M$ etc) took the initiative in CS research and the Universities have still got to catch up there.


And I'm not sure that they're weren't - and aren't - correct. And it comes back to some of this discussion, which is about the devaluing of degrees; or perhaps degree subjects.

I'm quite sure that the founders of "the Academy" wouldn't recognise 'Computer Science' as a subject of study at all.
There is no "truth" in computing. At its best, it's an applied science that allows us to create better computers - which also makes it recursive (ie, diminishing).

There may, however, be some truth in algorithms; and perhaps in Turing's theories of computing; but until our industry (and it IS an industry) understands that - however fascinating it might be - it is NOT an end in itself, it will fail the basic test of academia. And for that reason, its breakthroughs are likely to continue to come from Mathematics and Physics.

Winston
 
Liutauras Vilda
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:And of the two best programmers I've ever met in my career: One didn't have a degree at all; the other's was in Soil Science.


Of course there are exceptions, and probably the way more than we could imagine, and WG initials just confirms that BUT, what CR just said about

The main benefit of University is learning to take care of yourself, in a lot of cases.


I agree with that. Couldn't say that finishing university certainly proves that person is able to follow and accomplish assigned tasks to him, but most likely it gives a higher probability that such person most likely will be better at looking and collecting information, summarizing that, assembling important parts together. Of course it is just a probability and even might sounds too vogue, but that is slightly better than pure cat in the bag.

Anyway, I strongly believe all depends on each individual, educational establishment it is just an older brother, who could try to show you a right path. That "right" I think is exactly the most trickiest part in this discussion.
 
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Liutauras Vilda wrote:]I agree with [what Campbell said]. Couldn't say that finishing university certainly proves that person is able to follow and accomplish assigned tasks to him, but most likely it gives a higher probability that such person most likely will be better at looking and collecting information, summarizing that, assembling important parts together.


And if that's what he meant, then I would agree with you. But that doesn't require a university education or even a degree; simply some techniques and a bit of nous.

educational establishment it is just an older brother, who could try to show you a right path.


I like the "older brother" allusion, but I disagree with your conclusion. Academia is absolutely NOT about finding the "right" path (if indeed there is one). It's about showing you what is possible in a field of study, and showing you the paths others have already taken.

It is also about teaching you how to tread similar paths yourself and (in some cases), why to reject some on ethical grounds.

And learning how to write good Java code (IMO) doesn't even begin to plumb that sort of depth.

Winston
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Would your aunt and friend have found it any easier to get nursing jobs in Canada with degrees?

Winston Gutkowski wrote:. . . ...and got a 2:1.

That isn't a jobsworth BSc. Least of all from York. I meant that having to live with other people, pay the rent, cook your tea and wash your socks are included in the things you learn as a student.

. . . At its best, it's an applied science that allows us to create better computers . . .

In which case engineering is at best an applied science too. People have taught engineering as a rigorous University subject for ages. Its tenets were built up by experiment and experience just as the theoretical tenets of physics and chemistry were. In computer sciences you can use logic to argue about the results of a program even before you run it. At least you could if people were actually taught computer sciences.
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:Would your aunt and friend have found it any easier to get nursing jobs in Canada with degrees?


God yes. Midwifery wasn't regarded as a "degreeworthy" in 1954 - despite the aforementioned 7 years of study - and yet it was an absolute requirement for accreditation in BC (who didn't recognise UK training at that time anyway; let alone Philippines certification).

That isn't a jobsworth BSc. Least of all from York.


He'll be glad to hear; but his (and my) dad wasn't.

I meant that having to live with other people, pay the rent, cook your tea and wash your socks are included in the things you learn as a student.


Ah, that's what I thought you meant. A few life skills - albeit in a nice, sheltered environment.

In which case engineering is at best an applied science too.


Absolutely. And my father (who was an engineer) thought so too.

People have taught engineering as a rigorous University subject for ages...


Really? Architecture, I'll grant you; but engineering? Undoubtedly, there were fine engineers in ancient Greece, but they studied Mathematics. Most of the rest of their knowledge in terms of construction came from what any decent stonemason or blacksmith could have passed on through apprenticeship.

And I know darn well that my dad fell back on Maths when he ran into trouble - which is why he thought it was so important for me.

Winston
 
Ahmed Bin S
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:
My problem was that I was just sick of school. I hope this doesn't sound boastful, but I've never doubted my intelligence...but I'm also lazy. I'd just finished six years to get three mediocre 'A' Levels (mainly because I didn't work hard enough) and, faced with another three or four years of hard slog in a subject I wasn't even sure I wanted to do - and probably not allowed to have an opinion in (Bachelors, at least back then, were all about proving that you had the right to have an opinion ) - I opted for the job market instead. Much to the mortification of my parents.



I studied at University College London and Imperial College London, which are quite respected. What I noticed was that there were quite a number of intelligent students who either dropped out or did poorly - I think they, like you, were just bored. I also noticed that most of the students who got the highest grades were not the most intelligent ones, but the ones that worked the hardest. So I know a guy who has a PhD from Imperial College London - most people, looking in from the outside, will think "Wow, this guy must be really bright". Except he wasn't - whenever we worked on group exercises, he really struggled. Now he had an older brother who had studied Computer Science too, and so he effectively had his own "personal tutor". He also studied "24/7". Despite having his own tutor and working so hard, his exam grades still didn't average a 1st!
I am not saying he doesn't deserve credit for his qualifications - of course he does, he worked very very hard. I'm just saying that if I was recruiting and I had two candidates in front of me, and both had similar experience, I would recruit purely on how well they did in the interview/tests, and would disregard which university they had which qualification from.

BTW, there was an interesting series on Higher Education before the end of the year on Radio 4.
 
Winston Gutkowski
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Ahmed Bin S wrote:What I noticed was that there were quite a number of intelligent students who either dropped out or did poorly - I think they, like you, were just bored.


And I hate to say, but academe is, and always has been - to some extent - an endurance test. Can you stick having to trawl out refereed opinions of other people to support some case you're arguing, but not allowed to actually have an opinion on, for three or four years? TBH, it's not an apprenticeship that particularly appeals to me, now or then.

That said, I've probably missed out on a lot of maths - especially algorithms - I might have learned as a result; and am now coming back to in middle age.

But hey, you're never too old to learn. And I still enjoy it - even if I do have a few fewer braincells

Winston
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Winston Gutkowski wrote:. . . even if I do have a few fewer braincells

Winston

As long as it is the efficient ones you have left
 
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