January 11-13, 2015

I’ve been doing a lot of technical interviewing lately, and I have a suggestion for the nation’s universities’ Computer Science departments:

Quit making your undergraduate curricula so polyglot

I feel like a decade ago, you had a pretty good chance of talking to a Computer Science student who had at least a solid 2 years of Java or C++ under his or her belt, and at some schools more like 3 or even all 4 years.

This was of course highly problematic – it meant that you would encounter students who hadn’t the foggiest idea about web technologies, or how to use useful scripting languages. But at least they knew a pretty solid range of advanced topics in their department’s language of choice.

Lately I’ve been talking to a ton of students who had maybe two semesters taught in Java freshman year, and then perhaps a couple of classes in C, and some more advanced classes in Python, and perhaps a web class in PHP or Javascript, and then maybe some crank of a prof teaching in a functional language.

Which is neat, right? They get exposed to all of these different languages, blah blah blah. 

So they can barely remember how to write a for loop in any of them.

I would like to suggest that perhaps a minimum of four consecutive semesters or eight core CS courses should be taught in the SAME LANGUAGE, which should be enough time for the students to get past the initial learning curve, master the basics, and pick up the more advanced concepts. 

Because right now I’m talking to too many students who’ve essentially repeated the basics in three different languages & never seen advanced topics in any of them.

Anyway. I’m backlogged on writing diary entries again. Let’s see:

  • Sunday was Sunday, with the added bonus of a power outage at WXDU that resulted in no show for me. But I was able to switch our internet radio stream over to a higher-quality audio processor. I think it sounds better. You tell me
  • We watched the Golden Globes. I don’t have a lot to say about that, other than to register my annoyance that Selma didn’t win anything. I mean, I enjoyed Birdman, and I enjoyed Boyhood, but I liked Selma better. And COME ON there have already been a lot of movies about WHITE MEN.
  • Our Alien-series film festival has ground to a halt due to Having to Work At Night After Work. Yuck.
  • My nighttime work has mostly been refactoring someone else’s 10-year-old PHP code so that it doesn’t throw 10,000 errors every time a page loads now that we’re on PHP 5.x. It’s actually fairly straightforward, just gotta put EVERY SINGLE HASH KEY into single quotes instead of barewords.
  • M has had real work-work to do, which is a drag.
  • My work has been rendered far more pleasant by my incessant repeat playing of the new Sleater-Kinney. Gonna be hard to knock this one off of my #1 spot for 2015. It’s January 14th as I’m writing this. Yep.
  • I finished reading Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan. What a great read. Thanks for the recommendation, zmagg! I’m kind of gobsmacked that there are more books in this series & I can read them RIGHT NOW.

January 11-13, 2015

December 8-9, 2014

Monday was a vacation day, which meant I only spent half the day working on work stuff. 

I neglected to mention this the other day, but at some point over the three-day weekend I successfully replaced the cords in one set of cellular shades, so I guess I can add that skill to my CV. All hail FixYourBlinds.com for selling the special string.

Monday afternoon I met with Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel for an hour or so to discuss development, incentives, and the recent protest-related arrests. I really appreciate Steve taking the time to talk to me. Full disclosure: I worked for Steve, indirectly, for several years in the early 90s, when he owned the Independent and I was a frequent contributor.

He was extraordinarily kind to me then, and has continued to be so in the intervening couple of decades. 

I came away from the discussion with a slightly better understanding of just how comparatively little power municipalities have in North Carolina, since we are a state without municipal home-rule, meaning that the legislature fully controls what powers it does or does not grant to cities.

This is actually a reasonable high-level primer, if you’re interested.

Makes me doubly glad that I focused all of my campaign contributions this cycle on state legislative races, even though the outcome wasn’t enough to change the balance of power in the legislature.

At work lately I have been doing a lot of technical interviewing, the first time that I have done so at any sort of scale. It has been an interesting experience.

One thing I have noticed, and have been thinking about, is that some universities have Computer Science curricula in which any given student might do coursework in any of three or four different languages over the course of his or her studies. They might be trained initially in Java, take a couple of courses in C, and then pivot to Python or some other language for some of their higher-level electives.

Based on my experience as a technical manager & interviewer, at the undergraduate level, anyway, this is perhaps not an optimal configuration.

I’ve talked to a decent number of students who have difficulty keeping the syntax and structural idiosyncrasies of their various languages straight in their heads. (To be fair, I suffer from this myself – and it’s a real problem.)

Moreover, it seems clear to me that many of them haven’t used any single language long enough to have mastered it, or to have begun to understand its nuances and idioms.

This effect seems to have increased in recent years, as more schools switch their entry-level courses to different languages, while leaving the professors of higher-level courses free to use whatever languages they want.

Presumably once these students graduate & get jobs, they will eventually wind up in a situation where they’re able to focus on a single language for more than 6-9 months at a time, and will get a more holistic view of that language. 

But I feel like students are missing out on an opportunity to dig deeper and master a discipline in an educational environment that should be designed to support that.

Plus it’s kind of frustrating to me as a hiring manager.

December 8-9, 2014