Self-fulfilling prophecies in computer science education?

Everybody has heroes. Bjarne is one of mine. If I have to explain why to you, then you wouldn’t understand even if I did try to ‘splain it. Heh. (That comment will be funnier later in this post, if you like irony.)

I’ve done some recruiting events for Microsoft at my alma mater (the University of Houston) and I’ve done my best to influence lots of younger folks to get into computer science, and my experience tracks very closely to what Bjarne describes in this great interview:

[James:] In this interview he speaks frankly about the challenges and problems – and improvements being made – in computer science programs. Among issues like perceptions of offshoring and the need to balance the theoretical with the practical, he addresses complaints by tech companies about the lack of fully qualified CS graduates.


[Bjarne:] The US industry could absorb more good developers than there are currently students enrolled in IT-related programs – but not all of those programs and all of those students would qualify as “good” in this context.

Bjarne Stroustrup on Educating Software Developers

Personally, I think “we” (culturally, IT-oriented companies, etc) are going to have to staff jobs with less-than-ideal candidates and train them up rather than count on young kids to bet their futures and careers on computer science education. I was involved with a tax-incented project to provide technical support services back in the ‘90s; it was a project much like the one that I’m proposing, except that more training would be required for my program to turn non-geeks into coders, programmers and someday developers. Interesting. Have I changed my position on fungibility?

The outcome of the project/company (which shall remain nameless) wasn’t any better or worse than the other classic “professional” IT projects/companies that I’ve been involved with, and more successful than most in the long run.

I realize that risk averse companies aren’t likely to try out my rural sourcing ideas (management just thinks I want an excuse to work from a mountain top in Wyoming), so when I’ve accumulated enough capital, I guess I’ll have to try it out myself. The potential upside is good, both tangible and intangible. I especially enjoy seeing people succeed at tasks that they didn’t believe that they could accomplish… all it usually takes is a little encouragement and an opportunity!

In the meantime, I’m glad that smart people like Bjarne are out there working on changing the nature of the self-fulfilling prophecy so that it’s a prophecy that we actually want to come true!

Comments (1)

  1. You are spot on my friend! Bjarne rocks. There is a veritable cornucopia of kids and adults who could be great programmers given the chance.  Many have already tinkered on their own and just need a little mentoring and guidance to become the next Bjarne Stroustrup.

    I believe you could run a very successful software company with 25-50% of your staff being interns (after school and volunteer programmers) from the community.  The other 50-75% of your staff would be committed to mentoring those interns.  Look me up when you start heading up the mountain.

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