[Edu-sig] Programming in High School

David MacQuigg macquigg at ece.arizona.edu
Tue Dec 9 17:44:07 CET 2008

At 06:52 PM 12/8/2008 -0800, Guido van Rossum wrote:
>On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 5:10 PM, David MacQuigg <macquigg at ece.arizona.edu> wrote:
>> At 03:30 PM 12/8/2008 -0800, michel paul wrote:
>>>I think part of the problem in the past has been the misunderstanding about tech jobs getting outsourced.  I've heard people say there's no point in becoming a programmer, because all the jobs are going overseas.  It's really kind of silly.
>> Stated that way, it does seem circular.  I've heard it stated more convincingly by an EE prof to a class of undergrads.  "If you go into engineering, you will be facing layoffs."  Imagine the effect of that expectation on smart students who see their buddies going into law or medicine, and getting more pay and more respect than engineers.  It's no wonder there are almost no US students in our graduate classes.  I've thought about what I would have said to those students.  It would be more like "If money is your major motivation, find another profession.  If technology is in your blood, stay with it.  Learn everything you can.  The money will come out OK."
>I read this as: Engineering is something where mediocrity doesn't pay.
>Doctors and lawyers are like cobblers, their output is limited by the
>number of hours they can work, so there is room for good solid workers
>who aren't particularly innovative. Engineering at its best is not
>like that at all. It's a field whose main *point* is to make manual
>labor redundant. Good engineers do their work because it's their
>passion. The rest... Well they can always try to earn a living
>cranking out Java code. ;-)

I'm a bit uncomfortable with the idea that engineering is a field where only the brightest should feel comfortable.  There is plenty of need for good solid workers, and I would like to see our schools and our economy support that.  If we outsource the grunt work, and hope to keep just the top geniuses employed, eventually we lose the top also.  I remember in the 80's thinking the Japanese could never catch up with us in circuit design.  They just didn't have the creative spark.  It wasn't in their culture.

>> We need a shocker like Sputnik.
>There won't be one. History doesn't repeat itself that literally. Each
>crisis is fundamentally different, because each time we've learned
>from the last one.

Yet we seem to repeat one bubble after another, and all that changes is the specific investment, stocks one time, real estate the next, then back to stocks again, with a slightly different story, so what we learned from the last one doesn't apply.  I guess we did learn something from the tulip bubble.  We'll never fall for that one again!  Orchids, maybe, but never tulips! :>)

Maybe instead of Sputnik, it will be a cyber attack.  I know some smart folks who are taking that threat seriously.  I find it hard to believe.  We do need a wake-up call, but one that doesn't cause any real damage.

>> Maybe this economic crisis will do it.  It's not as directly related to technical education as was Sputnik, and it may be even tougher to spend money on education now than it was in 1957, but consider the alternative.  What will we have to offer our trading partners.  Not manufacturing.  Not intellectual work.  Real estate?
>I disagree that we have no intellectual work to offer. Most outsourced
>work I have witnessed first-hand is poorly done. Yes, if your primary
>skill is J2EE, you should be afraid, very afraid. (Or Perl, if the geo
>data shown by Google trends is any indication. :-) OTOH if you have a
>passion for inventing great engineering solutions, the USA is still
>the place to be.

unless your passion is consumer electronics.  I wonder how long it will be before India is the place to be in Computer Science.

>I think it's fine that engineering isn't the job creation engine that
>people once thought it might be. It's a place where the best and
>brightest shine. In the dot-com times everyone dropped out of whatever
>they were doing and suddenly became a web designer. Of course, those
>were most eagerly hired by dot-bombs, and the first to lose their

The root cause here was bubble think, not too many people wanting to work in technology.

What ever happened to the original enthusiasm with Computer Programming for Everyone?  If everyone with a high school diploma knew how to write a simple program, not only would we be more productive, but we would understand the world better.  Instead of loose talk and isolated numbers, the news would show us charts.  The general public, not just experts, would have seen the very obvious bubble growing in the housing market, and could see now where we are on the down side.  What if the average real estate agent could show me the price trends on property similar to what I am looking at.  Instead, I have to dig out the data myself, and plot it in Excel.  Then when I show her the result, she still doesn't see the significance.  

What if the general public (and our candidates) clearly understood the difference between religious belief and scientific fact.  Well, maybe that's too much to expect from a course in programming, but it would be a step in the right direction. (Some would say the wrong direction.  Maybe that is one more reason to add to our list.)

>> I have high hopes we will come to our senses.  A year ago, I had almost everything in commodities.  Now I am switching back to stocks.  I just hope I can ride it out.
>I don't get the connection. But maybe this is just your way of hinting
>that you are in it for the money.

Sorry for being obscure.  I was trying to emphasize that I am more optimistic now than I was a year ago.  Commodities were a hedge against the economic disaster I thought was coming.  The real estate collapse may have actually saved us from that disaster.  Stocks are faith in the future.

I trade to make money (or avoid losing it).  I do engineering because I love the work, even when I don't get paid for it.

-- David MacQuigg (http://purl.net/macquigg)

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