Re: Why Can’t Programmers.. Program?

After having read numerous articles on the inability of many CS graduates to program; in particularly “Why Can’t Programmers.. Program?“; I have decided to explain what seems to catch everyone by surprise, yet should be obvious. First, a little bit about me. I am currently a Upper Junior studying for a BS in Computer Science at Queens College.

Let’s get to the point. From the article, “Like me, the author is having trouble with the fact that 199 out of 200 applicants for every programming job can’t write code at all. I repeat: they can’t write any code whatsoever.” This starts in college. Let’s divide our students in groups. Would you be surprised if I tell you that approximately 50% of the students cannot write the simple programs they are assigned? (Group F) The other 30% finishes simple tasks as if they were final projects that couldn’t be any harder. (i.e. linked lists, GROUP C). The last 20% does fine because they are good students. (GROUP A) (All of these are empirical figures only.)

Then the exams come; in almost all my classes 50% have failing grades(<60/100), sometimes less due to the huge curves a lot of the professors give. Now if you are a Computer Science major and get something like a C (after tremendous curves) in a programming class, it is the same as getting an F. Sadly professors can't fail everybody or they would look like bad professors, so they implement these curves in order to have a decent number of students passing their class. After the finals and the course is over, at least half of GROUP F will pass, It has been the case in almost all my classes. (they claim they have passed with a C which is enough for the major requirement. All GROUP C and GROUP A will pass, with the minor difference that C people will receive a B+ or A-, whereas A people an A, or A+.

Of course, there are professors that actually try to keep their precious field free of incompetent workers, but these are few. I have had the extreme cases where a professor actually let you cheat on an exam by letting you write down all the algorithms you need to know in a sheet of paper. At first I thought this guy was kidding but when i showed up for the final and saw everybody with such sheet of paper I realized he was not. To make things even better he even left the class for about 5 minutes during the mid-term and the final exam letting everybody do as they please. This particular class was concentrated on MIPS assembly language programming, which I feel gives a huge edge to programmers; since they get to understand what all their high level instructions actually do. Sadly, due to this professor very few people from that class of 20 will have learned that important lesson. However, it can’t all be blamed on the professors, for letting that F student pass his course.

Professors can’t be blamed because, the biggest and simplest explanation to the matter lays not with Group F (they probably won’t ever apply for a CS job anyway), but with Group C and A. In group A there are actually very few people who are majoring in Computer Science because they enjoy the material. Most are in because of the money rewards after they get a job. Group C and A do all their assignments, they pass the finals, they get good grades. So what? These students get their grades and never program again. They do not enjoy programming, they do not look at other code besides the one in their projects and homework. Okay, even if they don’t find it fun they should do it. What happens when you learn a new word in a foreign language and don’t use it for a year? That’s right, you forget it. These people don’t program outside of their classes, and that’s how they forget everything they have learned by the time they get their degree. Very, very few people actually program outside of class and this is what matters. The more you program on your own, the more you get to like it, and the better you become at it. If they major in Computer Science and don’t have practice outside homework, might as well not have wasted their money on useless degrees. I have told this to many fellow students but only few seem to understand me, others think that this will come as work experience and ignore me.

Obviously, since 1 out of 200 programmers can program well when they graduate, this is not only going on in my college. Students everywhere are making the same mistake, which at best is just keeping themselves to their homework, or worse, participating in academic dishonesty. Sooner or later, a Masters degree will be the minimum requirement to apply for the majority of jobs, then the madness of doing CS for money perhaps will stop. These people should head elsewhere, if they are in CS for the money, and not because they really enjoy it.

Education Science

Being Hungry… Good For You?

On December 10th, the New York Times published an article entitled Empty-Stomach Intelligence. This article goes over a research project by Yale Medical School, that has been performed to evaluate performance in mice when they are hungry. According to the research, being hungry actually makes mice smarter. Researches said this is very likely to be true for humans as well.

This is obviously true, or well at least it makes sense. If someone is hungry, they will focus all their energy into finding ways to acquire food. This is why we’ll act smarter, because we need food. The interesting claim is that being hungry helps you learn and remember better. According to the research ghrelin, a hormone produced when the stomach is empty, was binding to cells of the hippocampus (the area in our brain responsible for learning). However, all the facts have been proven for mice, who performed better in a maze because they were hungry (maybe the ones that weren’t couldn’t be bothered, everything and everyone are lazy). No specific research shows this is true for human beings, yet. Scientists believe it is very likely to be the same case.

I find it hard to believe that being hungry could actually help you learn. From experience when you are hungry, all you can think about is food. However, this is why the article recommends to not just “not eat”, but eat a little and snack a lot to keep an “edgy state”. I suppose if you are not that hungry this could work, but this theory has a lot of minds to change, since what is previously believed, is that you need to eat properly before going to school. According to Dr. Debby Demorcy-Luce, a nutritionist from the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center, “Children who eat breakfast have been shown to get higher grades and are less likely to be described as depressed, anxious, fidgety, or irritable by parents and teachers.” Just like Dr. Demorcy-Luce, there are thousands of people who believe the same thing.

Due to the performance in most schools, I’d give the hunger theory a try, it will also help with the obesity problem America is facing. Imagine moms around the country telling their kids, “Hunny, if you don’t bring home an A, you are not eating today”, now this will definetly work!

Education General Science

Sleep is Important!

Any age you may be, you can’t forget one important fact in life. Sleep is important, no matter how old you are. Some young adults that attend college seem to forget this very often it almost scares me. I have had people comment to me that becuase they were studying for an insignificant quiz, they stayed up until 4-5am (and the quiz was at 8am). Leaving them with what, 1 hour of sleep?

When fellow students tell me proudly that they have stayed up all night studying, I feel sorry for them. Although they have no idea why they are subject to pity, the reason is very clear. Missing sleep hours is definetly worse than not reviewing for the test. The facts are plain and simple, according to The National Sleep Research Project “Seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%”, although 0.05% might not be that much, these students are giving up one disadvantage (not studying properly) for another one, taking the test while a little drunk, and still not studying properly (you are supposed to study much earlier than one night before a test after all). Not to mention that even if you had 6 hours of sleep and you may feel ok, it still might not be enough for your best performance level, since even proper adults (24+) need a recommended 8 hours of sleep per day.

Nowadays, very few people manage to get the right amount of sleep. Every single one has their own excuses. Too much work, too many responsabilities, too much of everything. Well, maybe if these people started getting a little more sleep they would be able to get over everything they have to do quicker, instead of daydreaming in their job or taking naps at random times in the day. Use your time efficiently, get some sleep.

Education Technology

Podcasts Increasing in Popularity

Official Definition
Podcast: a Web-based audio broadcast via an RSS feed, accessed by subscription over the Internet.

Easier To Understand
Podcast: an audio file which you can download and listen to.

A couple of years back, not everyone knew what podcasts were, and perhaps now it is still not the case but it is obvious that their popularity is increasing very rapidly. While your tech savvy user probably is familiar with the term, it does not mean they are actually using them. By using them, I mean not just downloading the podcasts and listening to them in your computer, but doing what you are actually supposed to. Put them in your iPod or MP3 player and listen to them on the go.

However, this is about to change. Soon everyone will be using podcasts more and more on the go. A big step towards this is the increasing number of uses that are being found for podcasts. From radio shows, to interviews, to the latest and perhaps what maybe the best use thought of…college lectures.

As more students find out about the possibility of having lectures in podcasts, the number of courses offering this should increase. The first and most obvious benefit would be that, you could actually stay home if you didn’t feel like going to school and listen to the professor. But even better than this, is listening to the lectures while using mass transit.

If you happen to live in New York City and have to take the subway, train or the bus for an hour or more, you will find it more than useful to be able to listen to a lecture while traveling, rather than reading the book while your bus/train/whatever is moving. First of reading in a bus is uncomfortable and can damage your eyes due to constant focus change (ok im no expert at this but Its what I believe, correct me if I’m wrong). If reading, it is also hard to concentrate due to all the noise around you, whereas when you are listening to the podcast at max volume it will ease things for you.

If students are offered the ability to have lectures in podcasts I’m more than positive their performance will increase, leading to better grades. Colleges will be able to up their overall GPA so this is a two way street. Both colleges and their students will benefit greatly once podcasts start being used more and more. Oh hey, did I mention you can put it on repeat and listen to it while you are sleeping? You are guaranteed to remember your lecture material then!!!