Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




You too can run up $60K of student loan debt!

...in only 28 months!

http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/08/05/programming.u.ap/index.html

And where do these newly-minted 28-month wonders think they're going to find jobs? IBM certainly can't hire them all....

Michael E.

wmeconsulting.us
Thursday, August 05, 2004

from the article:
Nadine Whitfield was making $51,000 as an electronics technician for the Postal Service when she decided to try formal computer training to increase her pay.

$51K + nice government benefits + union protection from job loss

Now she can get an entry-level programming job for $25-30K + little or no benefits + at-will employment - such a deal!

www.wmeconsulting.us
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Except for the affiliation with large companies, it sounds like DeVry http://www.devry.edu - a for-profit school that graduates people with a totally tech-focused Bachelor degrees in 3 years (by not taking the summers off).

The problem is, they _only_ know tech. If you want a head's down coder who doesn't need to talk about business, they're fine.  Also, they're trained on 'practical' subjects like using the latest version of VB, SQL Server, Oracle, etc - don't expect them to have generic knowledge that's transferable between technologies.

I'm not saying that there aren't individuals who graduate from there with these skills, they just didn't learn them there.

RocketJeff
Thursday, August 05, 2004

This has always bugged me: If anything should be "free", surely education would be top of the list, right?
But here you can go and pay megabucks to get trained on "free" software just so IBM can cherrypick very cheaply from an oversupplied market of Linux consultants. Djeez.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Why should vocational education be free? If you want to argue that it's good for society to have an educated populace, i'll buy that for the basics like literacy and basic arithmatic, but you'll have to explain why it should be more than that.

MilesArcher
Thursday, August 05, 2004

AFAIK Finland has free University for citizens.  I remember reading a couple of years ago that Fins get free University, free child-care and while at University the government pays up to 66% of the student's rent.  I was in Fanland about 10 years ago and they are very educated, intelligent people and Finland was a beautiful, safe country.  In downtown Helsinki people didn't even lock up their bikes.  I am from Canada, BTW.  Finland has a socialist government that really benefits their people whereas Canada's left-leaning government leaves a lot to be desired.  DOn't get me wrong, it is a great country and I am glad to live here but I just don't see the same benefits for a similar tax burder to Finland.  Here in Canada the Universities are heavily government subsidized, but not free.  My brother just got his Comp. Sci. degree from the University of Manitoba for about $3000/year.

Bacon
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"The problem is, they _only_ know tech."

It frightens me that you, along with many others, think that the only knowledge that one accumulates is during classroom time of a 4 year degree -- the rest of life is apparently coasting.

Dennis Forbes
Thursday, August 05, 2004

What really gets me is that if this is just a farm club for the IBM major league team (like most big universities are NFL farm clubs with a few academic departments attached for grins), why doesn't IBM or Microsoft just foot the bill for the students? Or better yet, do away with the pretense altogether and say the students are IBM employees and they get paid some pittance to go to this school, and when they get out they owe X years of indentured servitude, sort of like what EDS used to do to people during the Ross Perot days? And if they quit before that, *then* they owe the $60K.

wmeconsulting.us
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Keep in mind that the size of Finland's population and their weath of resources makes it possible for them to do things for their citizens that would be much more difficult in a country the size of Canada.  Small oil-producing countries like UAE, Kuwait, etc. also are able to spend massive $$$ per capita (if they choose to).

Brian
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Note I did not argue education should be free, just that if there were to be a ranking of things the "collective" should spend our money on, education should rank higher than software development.

Don't think too much of it. It is sort of scars from meeting to many CS professors that argue all public sector software should be "free" (read: development paid for by the collective, preferably by grants to their labs), while they should get fat salaries for "teaching" (the actual work being outsourced to their TA's).

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, August 05, 2004

>> It frightens me that you, along with many others, think that the only knowledge that one accumulates is during classroom time of a 4 year degree -- the rest of life is apparently coasting.

Never said it was - but the expectation is that someone with a Bachelor's degree has more education the just tech - they've at least been introduced to other topics because of their education.

It's not that business skills can't be picked up - heck, my current department head only has a High School diploma and she knows more about our business then a lot of the business people. The problem is, they're hitting the ground already behind a lot of other people - most people won't be able to make up the difference (because of time/skills/desire/etc).

RocketJeff
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"The problem is, they _only_ know tech. If you want a head's down coder who doesn't need to talk about business, they're fine."

Yes, and you know how knowledgable about business all the CS phd wanks are.  They can barely utter a sentence without some reference to Star Trek or obscure science fiction contained therin.

sysadmin
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"Here in Canada the Universities are heavily government subsidized, but not free.  My brother just got his Comp. Sci. degree from the University of Manitoba for about $3000/year."

For those in need the government has grants and loans -- few people who want to go to university can't find a way to make it happen. However there is a personal cost to university, exactly as there should be -- the system is costing the government, and thus taxpayers, so as a taxpayer I _demand_ that the people who go are committed, at a personal expense, to optimizing their use of this resource - it isn't a place to avoid reality for a decade.

Dennis Forbes
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"It frightens me that you, along with many others, think that the only knowledge that one accumulates is during classroom time of a 4 year degree -- the rest of life is apparently coasting."

The liberal arts side of an engineering degree is like high school - nothing stops people from sleeping through class and regurgitating the bare minimums on the exams. But hopefully if you throw enough dough at the wall, *some* of it will stick.

Honestly, I support programs like Northface - drain some of the people out of the four-year colleges who only want a piece of paper and some solid tech training. My only heartburn is that they shouldn't be getting bachelor's degrees - we should destigmatize Associates Degrees and they should get those (or maybe some new hybrid - Technologist of Science?). "Bachelor of Science" should mean they've at least had some somnolence training in something besides computers.

Finally, can we PLEASE remove "BSCS/BSEE" from the requirements for a job unless you can justify it?

Philo
(and FYI - I have a BSEE, so this isn't bitterness)

Philo
Thursday, August 05, 2004

>Finally, can we PLEASE remove "BSCS/BSEE" from the >requirements for a job unless you can justify it?

Hey, that's just there for the HR drones to have one more way of determining which resumes to throw away first. I'm reasonably sure that's why I never got called for interviews during the dot-bomb crash - no BSCS.

Michael E.

wmeconsutling.us
Thursday, August 05, 2004

My university had a requirement of all students that they attend a certain number of cultural events each year.

So, while I can explain the big-O notation and algorithm optimization, I can also talk about Japanese migrant workers in the Brazilian rainforest.

I'm still waiting to use that knowledge -- maybe it'll come up at a cocktail party one day.  :-)

Also - $60k is nothing.  Duke students can run a bill up that high in just 4 semesters (although they do get free iPods for it).

example
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"But hopefully if you throw enough dough at the wall, *some* of it will stick."

I entirely agree with the belief that forcing students to sit through diverse material will inevitably broaden their knowledge. What I disagree with, though, is the false corollary that failing to force students to sit through certain material thus means that they have no knowledge in that realm.

The body of knowledge that each of us acquires vastly exceeds that which we were formally educated in, and while many of us have completely forgotten (or worse, incorrectly recollect) what we were formally taught, we've learned information in other areas that vastly outpaces the most rigorous university program.

Dennis Forbes
Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Devry commercials I see really tick me off.

"You too can have a career in the exciting and expanding field of Information Technology."

Before the burst this was ok.

During the burst you thought they just didn't update their commercials.

After the burst, when they had new commercials, you had to wonder about their integrity. I'm sure they could cite one source that says some small part of IT is expanding, but amidst massive layoffs, they're really deluding their prospective students.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"After the burst, when they had new commercials, you had to wonder about their integrity. "

Integrity? ROFL.

Snake-oil salemen are alive and well in the good 'ole US of A....

wmeconsulting.us
Thursday, August 05, 2004

That's one huuuge bar bill...


Thursday, August 05, 2004

"What I disagree with, though, is the false corollary that failing to force students to sit through certain material thus means that they have no knowledge in that realm."

Agreed. However, one thing that a Bachelor's degree does fairly well (depends on the school and the curriculum) is expose people to things they would never encounter if they didn't have to.

The average person will only learn what they like, which leads to a fairly insular experience pattern (unless they are renaissance people by nature). So while one geek can write in runes and speak elvish, or another can tell you what deck of the Enterprise the brigs are on and can speak Klingon, neither has ever heard of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Keats, or knows that Shakespeare was actually Christopher Marlowe.

The worst part is that the types of geeks I've mentioned above often have brains that absorb trivia like a sponge, so when they're exposed to the material, they actually retain some portion of it (it's a sure thing that absent freshman english I never would've read Confederacy of Dunces and wouldn't remember
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
to the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow,
a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and is then heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.)

[My ability to sing the Preamble to the Constitution I credit to Schoolhouse Rock]

So, in conclusion [applause], I simply feel that the point of those infernal core and humanities electives in a BS are to forcibly expose the student to areas of study to which he/she might not otherwise choose to explore.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Funny how everyone complains that programming isn't like manufacturing cars, and you can't go to a trade school for a few years and learn it.

But when a school like that is introduced, people start complaining about having to learn anything else in school.

A Bachelors Degree is designed to produce well rounded individuals who can can advance in the business world, and even if they don't know the salad fork from the tea spoon, will be able to hold a reasonable discussion about Shakespeare.

These Asperger Syndrome graduates don't seem to want to have those kinds of social interactions.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Klingon linguistics is trivia but a memorable line from MacBeth isn't?  What criteria exists for dividing between the trivial and the important?  I can deliver Hamlet's soliloquy, but I don't think that's particularly important on its own.  Sure, Shakespeare (or even Marlow) can be a vehicle for understanding Western Civilization, but Klingon linguistics can be a vehicle for understanding Chomsky's hierarchy.

Really, the value of a degree is in its function as a respected certification.  That's not how *I* feel about it, but that's generally the function that it serves from a social point of view.  Just look at Mr. Sink's recent article about how he sorts applicants and ask yourself what you think he'd do with somebody who'd made their own efficient compiler (including the parser generator and so on), studied Western Civ on their own, made a rigid-body dynamics simulator, and so on, without doing it in an academic program.  They'd go below somebody from Carnegie-Mellon (whether or not that person is honestly motivated).  That says it all, really.

Of course, in the long run that fact doesn't serve the unmotivated (or less motivated) people particularly well, since there's still some degree of meritocracy in the marketplace.

Kalani
Thursday, August 05, 2004

I don't know what to call this, but it's certainly not a Bachelor's in Computer Science.  Computer Science encompasses a lot more than learning how to do certain things with a certain language.  This is a trade school... not that there's anything wrong with that...

chris
Thursday, August 05, 2004

BTW an old friend of mine went to Columbia Medical School, and by the time he was a doctor had $400,000 in student loan debt.

From what I hear he's making over $1,000,000 a year now though, though I don't consider the source to be reliable.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"I can deliver Hamlet's soliloquy, but I don't think that's particularly important on its own."

Actually, yes it is.
Many people don't examine the classics for what they are actually *saying". Yes, when you learn Hamlet's soliloquy or Macbeth's lamentation or Marc Anthony's funeral oration in Caesar, it's trivia.

But when you reflect on it later in life and realize the deeper meanings of the futility of suicide, or the meaningless of life, or the admiiration of a well-crafted denunciation, that is why these writings have lasted centuries. Classics are classics because they have lasted so long, but they have lasted so long because they are such well-crafted tributes to psychology. Look at Romeo and Juliet or Les Liaisons Dangereuses - each made into movies spanning a dozen genres, because the stories are so timeless, because they are such perfect framings of human frailty.

Star Trek's "Let That Be Your Last Battleground" should live on as those stories have, for its perfect portrayal of the idiocy of racism. "The Trouble With Tribbles," despite my love of David Gerrold, doesn't contain quite the same magnitude of metaphor. And while Caesar may not translate so well from the original Klingon, I suspect knowledge of that language simply may not provide the kind of "well rounded background" that can serve the general public.

When is trivia not trivia? When it's useful in practical application. ;-)

Philo

Philo
Thursday, August 05, 2004

My favorite quote from the article:

"That [number of graduates] may seem ambitious, given declining computer-science enrollments. But McKinley says he doesn't need to achieve that figure for Northface to break even. He expects Northface to turn a profit within a year."

I bet it _will_ turn a hell of a profit, at just under $30,000 per student per year.  What a racket.  But is Microsoft really going to hire these guys over MIT grads?

Kyralessa
Thursday, August 05, 2004

>But when you reflect on it later in life and realize the
>deeper meanings of the futility of suicide

First of all, that's not at all what Hamlet was talking about.  He didn't think that suicide was futile in his case, but rather that it was the most courageous thing he could possibly do.  He admonished himself for being such a coward that he wouldn't risk death ("thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought") to right the bitter wrong that was done to his father while the young prince of Norway would go with thousands of men into a bloody battle over a trivial nothing.

But that's beside the point anyway.  How valuable is Hamlet's story as a lesson about the value of one man's life in the scope of a nation?  Yeah, I'd give high marks to somebody who knew all about the details of Hamlet's life, but as for somebody who actually experienced betrayal on the level that Hamlet dealt with, well did they get an 'A' in Elizabethan Literacy?

>Classics are classics because they have lasted so long,
>but they have lasted so long because they are such
>well-crafted tributes to psychology.

Sure, and I don't disagree with you that they're great stories.  However, when we're talking about the bottom line (ie: getting the message), people might as well hear Spock railing against the human establishment within which he has to struggle to live the life he wants as they ought to hear Shylock giving his "if you prick us do we not bleed?" speech.

It's like the difference between judging somebody based on the programming languages they know or the computational/design concepts they've mastered.  You've designed a probabilistic Earley parser to approximate natural language processing, but that was in C++ you say?  Well we're hiring VB.NET linguists, sorry.  It's a stupid thing to do in software and it's stupid everywhere else too.

(And as for classics and psychology -- I've read Freud's "diary of a young girl" and let me tell you, you'd be better off reading the "psychological junk food" of Pinker [or even Berne and his "transactional analysis" business] than any of that "foundational" stuff.)

>Look at Romeo and Juliet or Les Liaisons Dangereuses -
>each made into movies spanning a dozen genres, because
>the stories are so timeless, because they are such perfect
>framings of human frailty.

I completely agree with you (that they're complete stories detailing some aspect of human frailty, not necessarily that they're perfect).  However, if I wanted to teach a young man or woman the story of Romeo and Juliet, I'd give them "West Side Story" to watch (for the same reason that we learn Calculus with the notation of Leibniz and Euler rather than Newton).

>Star Trek's "Let That Be Your Last Battleground" should
>live on as those stories have, for its perfect portrayal of
>the idiocy of racism.

Ah maybe we're in agreement after all then ...

>And while Caesar may not translate so well from the
>original Klingon, I suspect knowledge of that language
>simply may not provide the kind of "well rounded
>background" that can serve the general public.

Why do you "suspect" that?  Maybe you could make an argument that a person ought to learn Latin instead of Klingon, because there are at least a ton of texts written in Latin that are worth reading.  That might be true, if a person is interested in doing that reading, but that's just as much an edge case as somebody making a hobby of speaking Klingon to round off their knowledge of the theory of language.

But maybe you ought to qualify "well rounded."  I think that "well rounded" means that a person has some limited knowledge of domains outside of his own area of expertise ("know everything about something and something about everything" as one guy said).  Do you mean that they have some knowledge of a certain set of subjects?

>When is trivia not trivia? When it's useful in practical
>application. ;-)

OK, but I think that what we're talking about here is "practical trivia."  It's useful in practical application only because lots of other people had to learn it too.  Contrast that to something like principles of analytic/computational linguistics, where you pick up concepts that apply just as well to Klingon as they do to Latin.

In fact, I think that in a certain sense anything that's not part of an analytical system for thinking about something is trivia.  std::for_each is trivia but the concept of enumeration isn't.  Lots of students use std::for_each as a vehicle for understanding enumeration (or 'map' or whatever).  Maybe they use the Romulans to understand cultural interfaces instead of Othello, but I think that what ought to matter is the state of understanding.  Are you reading this Mr. Sink?

Kalani
Thursday, August 05, 2004

>But is Microsoft really going to hire these guys over
>MIT grads?

Do you need somebody from MIT to implement PNG support for Word 2025?

Microsoft used to hire a lot of people out of Cal Poly Pomona.  Cal Poly has a very practical program for electrical and computer engineers.  They have this thing where they build a "robot" and take it through a town parade every year.  It's not a tortuous description of wars of anonymous ants at the side of Walden Pond, but Microsoft seems to think it's valuable anyway.

Maybe this will turn out to be another DeVry, but I really wish them luck.  There are serious problems with the existing system.

Kalani
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"They have this thing where they build a "robot" and take it through a town parade every year."

Wow, so they build a parade float?

By the way, never heard of Cal Poly Pomona... or do you mean CalTech?

Bill
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"Maybe you could make an argument that a person ought to learn Latin instead of Klingon, because there are at least a ton of texts written in Latin that are worth reading"

Heh. I stayed away from the latin argument on purpose. If you're going to learn a foreign language, learn one you can actually use to converse. ;-)

Of course, one of my favorite quotes is in latin:
"Quid pro quo, Mr. Colt"
"What does that mean?"
"It means I'm pretentious"

But you know, this all brings to mind another benefit of "well roundedness" - the ability to have common points of reference. Look at the little tete a tete on Hamlet above - that is a discussion just about any two educated people in the world could have, no matter what school they went to.

The problem with Klingon is that it doesn't broaden your sphere of experience. People who can speak in Klingon or discuss the subtleties of whether "p'tagh" is an epithet or a compliment already have a large body of shared knowledge, including the combination to Kirk's safe in "This Side of Paradise" or the name of Shatner's newest foal.

Classical education should be about creating common backgrounds. And yes, I believe US schools should adopt more foreign literature.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, August 05, 2004

>By the way, never heard of Cal Poly Pomona... or do
>you mean CalTech?

No I mean Cal Poly (California Polytechnic University).  They've got one in San Luis Obispo too (I used to live near that one).

http://www.csupomona.edu/

If you ever read G. Pascal Zachary's "Showstopper!" (a book about the making of Windows NT) you'll find the references.

Kalani
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"First of all, that's not at all what Hamlet was talking about. "

There you go, a discussion two "tech only" school graduates probably wouldn't have.

www.MarkTAW.com
Friday, August 06, 2004

>There you go, a discussion two "tech only" school
>graduates probably wouldn't have.

Except I'm a "nothing" graduate, so I don't think that explanation really covers the issue.

Kalani
Friday, August 06, 2004

"Except I'm a "nothing" graduate, so I don't think that explanation really covers the issue."

I figured that because you actually knew what you were talking about.

www.MarkTAW.com
Friday, August 06, 2004

>But you know, this all brings to mind another benefit of
>"well roundedness" - the ability to have common points
>of reference.

Maybe I don't understand exactly how you mean "well roundedness," but I don't think that you could mean having a single metaphor for some idea.  That's the kind of thing that you'd criticize myopic geeks for (i.e.: they can talk about cognitive science but only in relation to that Star Trek episode where Bones has to do brain surgery).

If you're saying that we ought to have lots of metaphors for some set of ideas, I completely agree.  I think that many people, once they've had the experience of a few examples of a thing, will look for some unifying concepts -- and then when they get the unifying concepts they go to the edge cases (what are the limits of the loyalty of a loved one?  how much can I expect to get for this service in this market?  how does this function behave when X gets to be large?).  But that's exactly why I wouldn't be so fast to discount the cultural experience of Trekkies.

Aside: Speaking of Trekkies, have you seen that documentary?  There's this scene where the guy who played "Scotty" recounts this story of a young woman whom he noticed looking extremely morose at some Trek convention.  I guess he helped her out with some friendly conversations, but she later wrote to him telling him that the conversations had convinced her not to commit suicide, and instead to go get a masters in engineering (which she did).  I think it's interesting that some people relate so strongly to the show and its stories.

Anyway, these universal principles that you're talking about are manifested in media other than Shakespare plays/sonnets.  Why shouldn't a university at least teach these with Star Trek or West Side Story where possible?

How many students get hung up on thinking "wherefore art thou Romeo?" means "where are you Romeo?"  But a line like, "damnit Tony, why do you have to be a Jet?" is something that doesn't require explanation.  What's with this business of "quietus" and "bodkins" and obscure references to an Elizabethan-era political group whose name sounds like "worms?"  Half of any given Shakespeare play consists of footnotes on outdated historical/cultural details.  Imagine if education in the sciences was like this!  We'd be halfway through the story of Faraday's life on the street when class would end and we'd never get to his lines of force.

Kalani
Friday, August 06, 2004

Interesting. Here in the UK a Bachelor's degree involves three or four years of study of one or two subjects, sometimes three in courses like Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

During that time you aren't expected to study anything else. I guess Americans would be horrified by such specialization. Most people I knew managed to discuss Shakespeare even though it wasn't part of their course, however.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, August 06, 2004

I'm trying to say that there happens to be a (large) body of work which has some commonality at least throughout the US, and bleeds over to other cultures (and as I said, I'd like to see US schools adopting more foreign classics to increase the geographic area of that commonality).

Heh. I just realized I probably can't talk to my Russian coworker about Ivan Denisovich - he's probably never heard of it...

"Anyway, these universal principles that you're talking about are manifested in media other than Shakespare plays/sonnets.  Why shouldn't a university at least teach these with Star Trek or West Side Story where possible?"

Actually, I'd like to see a course taught in "Pop music as modern lyric poetry" since I think that's where all our bards have gone...

Philo

Philo
Friday, August 06, 2004

> I think that what ought to matter is the state of understanding

Just accept that it _is_, maaan.


Friday, August 06, 2004

«Actually, I'd like to see a course taught in "Pop music as modern lyric poetry" since I think that's where all our bards have gone...»

Unfortunately, that's also where our pseudo-bards have gone - you know, the ones that spit out "ooh, baby, I'm so lonely without you" again and again.

It's not the theme that annoys me - love is universal, and so is the suffering it may cause. It's the fact that we have too few bards/minstrels and too many xeroxed teen-starlets-of-the-moment.

Paulo Caetano
Friday, August 06, 2004

Western Civ?  Shakespeare?  When did you people go to college?  If you can have some kind of conversation with a fellow American university graduate of my generation about Julius Caesar (the play or the man), ancient Greece, or the American or French revolutions, it's only because he has educated himself.  I entered my university in 1991, and I can assure you that by that time the only history required to be learned was that pertaining to Africans, Asians, Hispanics/Latinos or Native Americans (students’ choice) and a smattering of American war atrocities (covered in passing in English 101).  And in that English class we read Rigoberta Menchu and Rachel Carson but not a word of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, or Yeats. 
If you are an American under the age of 35 and your university required that you read any Thuycides, Gibbon, Shakespeare or any other book more than 100 years old I’d like to hear about it.   

Ethan Herdrick
Friday, August 06, 2004

My experience matches Ethan. However, I did study Shakespeare extensively in junior high school, and once again during one class at community college.

But in general, unless you major in classical literature or ancient history, or you go to a really good college like St. John's, you will have no contact with the classics and instead will be studying a bunch of folk tales written down by westerners from oral histories of remote tribesmen. Good stuff, but it is no substitute for studying the classics of western civilization.

Scott
Saturday, August 07, 2004

Hey, how well known is St. John's? I've heard of it because we played them in croquet, but are they generally known as an exceptional liberal arts school?

Philo

Philo
Saturday, August 07, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home