I was listening to TWiT #100 today and they mentioned an article by Ryan Paul about declining interest in Computer Science at universities.

In the article, Paul says:

I have less than fond memories of my own experiences with computer science education. I was frustrated with the emphasis on niche commercial development tools that I had never used before and have rarely used since. I also got frustrated with the emphasis on technical minutiae that aren’t particularly relevant to general application development. Assembly programming and compiler design skills acquired in college aren’t going to be very useful for software developers who enter the workforce and get paid to write web applications with ASP.NET or Ruby on Rails. That particular problem could largely be resolved by the emergence of new academic programs that differentiate between computer science and web application development. Few schools do this, however.

YES. Exactly! Being a Computer Science major at George Mason University, I can attest to this. (And I still have two semesters to go that I’m not really looking forward to.) Anyway, I’m always somewhat delighted to find someone out there who I don’t know who seems to agree with me on something. I have far less than fond memories of especially the past two semesters, in which 90% of what I learned is just crap I’m not going use. It’ll definitely be useful for some people, but I think my time could be much better spent. It’s very frustrating to be interested in emergent properties, game programming, and artificial intelligence when professors waste your time with math problems and assembly programming assignments. (But if you tell the professors this, they will say that you need a change in attitude if you want to be successful, the same kind of advice spouted off by vacuum cleaner sales men, as if such a position is really high on the what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up list. Attitude is much more likely to be influenced by success than vice-versa, so give me a break. And then there are the adults who think there’s no such thing as a lousy professor and advise young people to learn every piece of pointless knowledge they can and always be happy because they wish they could go back to college. And then they say learning is a life long process. Ok, then, why do I need college to learn if I’d be learning anyway? And I would think I’d learn a lot more with an actual job doing something useful than doing math problems out of text books and programming binary trees in LISP.)

Ah, fun rant…

Further, Paul says:

Improvements to computer science education are being touted as a way to prevent the United States from continuing to lose relevance in the technology industry, a problem that is also becoming pervasive across the board in other fields relating to math and science. Although increasing the number of computer science students could make the United States more competitive in the tech industry, there are other factors that should be included as well. Encouraging students to become technology entrepreneurs isn’t going to do much good if abusive patent litigation, for instance, prevents them from innovating and developing products.

More good points! I just read The Black Swan, and I think I remember the author saying something like “the reason capatalism works so well is that it allows for Black Swans.” (Not an exact quote, check the book for the actual words.) I think this could easily be applied to the field of computer science as well. Let the Indians do the tech support, there’s not going to be a Black Swan out of there. Let China manufacture the plastic toys, no Black Swan out of that either. Let the Japanese be good at their math problems and piano playing, no Black Swans there. Oh, you can make a fine living out of any of the above, but the best thing I think American universities can do is encourage students to be creative and “become technology entrepreneurs”, because that is where the Black Swans lie waiting somewhere in the dark. (And for all you bad professors out there, that means give your students less math homework! And please do not think saying “I challenge you to be creative and think out of the box!” is truly any kind of encouragement. You have to encourage it through your actions and your teaching style. I had one professor who always said “I’m trying to teach you to think out of the box!” and then gave us dippy math problems while spouting off anti-Microsoft rants because they’re successful and he had to become of professor.)

Ok, I’m done for now. And don’t think I’m going to change my opinions when I’m 40. I’ll hopefully just be less annoyed by all the time I was forced by the education system to waste because I’ll have more interesting things to think about…

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