Sunday, December 24, 2006


Response to Gary Short on the importance of educating children on IT...

Gary Short of Smalltalk fame responded to an earlier post of mines here and asked me since software engineering is not taught as a subject in schools in the UK, how can we get more of our young people interested in becoming software engineers?.

My response to his question is simple and I have several thoughts:

First, the US and the UK have similar problems, so my advice is universal. I would minimally the problems of universities in terms of teaching software engineering are directly correlated to the notion of tenure. To be a really good software engineer requires experience in the real world working on enterprise scale applications. The folks who get really good at this tend not to be the ones who desire to be tenured professors.

I suspect that if you were to name the ten folks you respect the most in IT, maybe at best two or three of them have their Masters with the masses only having a Bachelors and probably none of them actually have a non-engineering oriented degree. Universities in many ways are some of the biggest walled gardens and it is up to us to destruct themthem in order to save our profession. Teaching software engineering shouldn't be coupled to the notion of credentials. If others agree, then they need to start talking about it.

Each and every IT blogger in the blogosphere should consider volunteering at the high school level and teaching computer skills. If a young individual only sees their jobs going to India (bad experience) or even worse, no experience then how can we expect kids to take an interest in our profession? Over the summer, I volunteered and taught inner-city children Java which I blogged about here.

I choose Java for two reasons, first it the language that I know best (I also know C, C++, COBOL, Powerbuilder, Pascal, Ada, RPG and Forth) and two it gives them a hope that they could actually get a job when they turn 16 using it. Likewise, folks such as Yakov Fain graciously donated copies of his wonderful book: The Java Tutorial for the Real World. If I could get authors of Ruby on Rails books such as David Heinemeier Hansson to contribute books for the upcoming Summer, then we will definetely use them. Gary, I unfortunately don't know of a suitable book in SmallTalk that is targeted at younger demographics.

I think the second part of the equation is that as IT professionals, we have to do our part and get out and talk with folks at universities. In the past, I have spoken as a guest lecturer at University of Connecticut to MBA students as well as CS and MIS students at Rensselaer in hopes of sharing my own journey into IT and providing perspectives they otherwise wouldn't get to here.

As part of my 2006 goals I did state that I also planned on lecturing at the University of West Indies during vacation. Sadly, I have missed this goal but can say that I have firm dates scheduled for next year in this regard.

So, Gary I hope I answered your question from what I am doing. Now the real question is whether folks who read this blog entry will also take swift deliberate action in helping both of us further get others to also volunteer and/or at least amplify the call to action to others. Sadly, I believe that most bloggers will exercise their right to remain silent and watch out jobs in America become outsourced...

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