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CNN: CS School Breaks with Tradition

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


I thought of this idea years ago when I realized that a standard university computer science curriculum had absolutely nothing to offer business.  At the time I wondered why someone hadn't put together a practical CS program, and thought, "Boy , I should do that." 

I, of course, realized that there was no hope of something like this happening because universities have a monopoly on prestige - and let's face it - that's the only thing universities are peddling.  I wondered at the time why the big name companies didn't use their clout and put together a program to rival the creaking old university system.  I am pleased to see that now this is happening.

Don't get me wrong.  I completely understand and agree with the counter-argument that a broader education is invaluable.  In fact, for fun, I got a philosophy degree from a top institution, and I feel I am now a more disciplined developer.  I just think that universities have had a monopoly on 'good educations' long enough. 

A traditional liberal arts education typically consists of 'courses' which are highly compartmentalized. ("Don't ask me an architecture question, this is an algorithms course, dammit!")  And typically the students are forced to sit there and listen to some droning professor lecture at them for three hours a week.  And then they're 'graded' on a midterm and a final.  (Tests?!?  Do they have anything at all to do with the real world?!?)  Maybe you're graded on projects too.  Now this model is okay - but it's not the only educational model!  I'd love to see a program where people are apprentices.  Where you learn hands on like a carpenter does.  Where you learn theoretical underpinnings of CS by proving each theorem yourself instead reading it in a crappy textbook or hearing it lectured at you by some talking head.

Anyway, I hope this shakes things up.  What do you all think? 

anon
Thursday, August 05, 2004

See the topic 2 lines down: "You too can run up $60K of student loan debt!" - http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=171574

As I said in that post - it's basically been done before and it churns out grunt-level coders who (without effort) will probably not rise above that level.

RocketJeff
Thursday, August 05, 2004

>> "As I said in that post - it's basically been done before and it churns out grunt-level coders who (without effort) will probably not rise above that level."

Nonsense.  You are comparing this institution to DeVry?  The article stated:

"Northface's strategy is to pare away liberal arts and focus on a tech-heavy curriculum."

The article did NOT state that it would be teaching 'Visual Basic for Dummies' like trade schools.  I'd bet my bottom Euro that Grady Booch doesn't have much interest in starting another McComputer Tech school. 

Use your head. 

anon
Thursday, August 05, 2004

$60,000 would be worth it to be taught by Joe Celko, the founder. Maybe.  Okay, maybe not.  Just pay $30 for the book.

Celko wrote 'SQL for Smarties' which I thought was a pretty good.

Get a load of the picture of Celko:

http://www.celko.com/

He looks kinda eeeeeevil. 

survivor
Thursday, August 05, 2004

> Northface's strategy is to pare away liberal arts and focus on a tech-heavy curriculum.

This is normal in English universities: I didn't "major" in Maths ... instead Maths courses were the *only* courses that I took at university.

In fact, with the "A-level" system that specialization goes back into high-school too: from the age of about 15 (when I finished O-level and started studying for A-levels), the courses that I took were:

1) Maths
2) Further Maths
3) Physics
4) French (unusual that a science-stream student would study a modern language ... I did so because, coming from Canada, I was already bilingual)
-) General Education (one non-exam course, in whch we were taught English, essay-writing, some history)

I didn't even study chemistry (beyond O-level), no biology beyond the age of 13 (schedule conflict with French) ... certainly no sociolgy, home economics, the myriad of other courses you might take at high school.

I did learn more mathematics than my peers in the Canadian school system ... just as, by attending a junior school in Canada all of whose courses were in French, I knew a lot more French than my peers in England.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, August 05, 2004

All curriculum/classroom trained coders are horrible.  They're arrogant, they think the prescribed method for A is the ONLY method for A.  They're unwilling to innovate and hostile towards those who are not.

Self trained coders, coders who learned because programming intrigued them and they went and researched it themselves, are the only true coders.

CS programs everywhere are a joke.  Trying to revamp the curriculum into something practical and business oriented will only make it more narrow sighted and mindless.

muppet
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Get a load of the picture of Celko:

http://www.celko.com/

He looks kinda eeeeeevil. 

It's The Master from Dr. Who!

W
Thursday, August 05, 2004

>All curriculum/classroom trained coders are horrible.

>CS programs everywhere are a joke.

And since you're self-taught, you're one of the elite, the only true coders?

Riiiight.

Yes, why don't you make some more pointless generalizations while you're at it?

www.wmeconsulting.us
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Muppet,

what a load of bull. All self trained coders are undisciplined hacks who never saw a goto they didn't like.

I am a self trained programmer who's learned the errors in my ways. I used to think the same, but I actually learned a thing or two from books/couple of college classes. You should try it before knocking it.

MilesArcher
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Yes.  A striking resemblance.

http://freespace.virgin.net/steve.preston/Master_1.html

survivor
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Northface I think fills the need that the article stated, career change.

There is value in the liberal arts, though to be honest, I'm not sure college is the place to teach it.  It would be nicer if people graduating from high school had such an education.  Add an extra year to high school and through 5 years give a broader education, especially allowing the last 3 years to choose their curriculum within limits.  Of course, this means paying high school teachers more comparably to university level teachers, something our tax dollars won't allow unfortunately. :(

As for the specialization, that's what graduate school is for here in the United States.  Why people who have a bachelor's degree already would go through a 28 month program when they could get a master's in about the same time for about the same money is beyond me.

;
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"All curriculum/classroom trained coders are horrible.  They're arrogant, they think the prescribed method for A is the ONLY method for A.  They're unwilling to innovate and hostile towards those who are not."

I know a number of classroom trained coders who don't fit any of your categorizations, and it is very short sighted to think this way (though as a self taught programmer it is appealing to believe this).


Back on thread, last fall I had a chance to discuss Northface with an employee of the school about what it would be.  My conclusion, is that despite what the CNN article says, it really is a trade school and it isn't fair to compare it to a traditional US University (apples and oranges).  Despite the negative connotations "trade school" has, I think this niche is a valuable one both for some students and for some employers, if Northface really delivers what they promise.

madking
Thursday, August 05, 2004

What tradition?  "Computer science" as a major has only existed max 40 years.  It's ridiculous to think that any tradition has been established at all.  For all we know, in 200 years this guy's model could be IT!  Or not, it's really hard to say yet.  Also, everyone has their own idea on what "good computer science" is still, so all that would have to get sorted out, and som real scientific principles would have to start creeping in before any of this is even remotely resolved (in my mind anyways).

sir_flexalot
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Celko, evil??

I say he is the spitting image of Ming the Merciless

AnonX
Thursday, August 05, 2004

I agree, he's dead-on for Ming the Merciless from 80's  Flash Gordon movie.

Ronk!
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Miles -

I haven't used a GOTO since my Commodore64, baby.

muppet
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Why do people still assume that CS programs should provide job training?  If we find that most history majors go on to become office clerks should history programs be modified to teach filing and data entry?

The solution is for current universities to add a software engineering major.

Absconditus
Thursday, August 05, 2004

The solution is for current universities to get back in the business of education and out of the business of lobbying, celebrity whoring, and tuition hiking.

muppet
Thursday, August 05, 2004

No, I am not going to agree to that ... but only because it was signed by muppet. :-)

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


"It sounds like an institution that has identified a need, but will come out with programmers instead of people really trained to think critically," said Eric Grimson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology administrator.

Another MIT guy - Greenspun thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

s
Thursday, August 05, 2004

The tuition increases are caused by state budget cuts which are caused in large part by federal budget cuts.  I'm not sure I see the correlation between tuition increases, lobbying, "celebrity whoring" and CS curriculum.

Absconditus
Thursday, August 05, 2004

AKA DeVry, Inc

W
Thursday, August 05, 2004

>"We believe our students need to have a perspective
>on the world," MIT's Grimson said. "You can't just go
>hacking in your room."

I think that the "old school" people are right on a lot of this.  I think that it really is valuable to get some experience in other fields than your major (if for no other reason than that it gives you some experience mapping "foreign" domains of thought to your own native format -- e.g.: physics simulations -- which is what we actually do in the "real world").

But at the same time I think that there's a horrible problem with the "old system".  It's nowhere near as efficient as it could be.  It's got the qualitative stuff all right but the world needs it to scale.  There are a lot of people out there with the talent and drive to complete an MIT curriculum who can't get in (and at the same time there are many who get in and don't make the optimal use of that opportunity).  It's not like nobody knows about this problem.  You can even go back to some of the old speeches (in "The Meaning of it All" I think) that Richard Feynman used to give and find similar criticisms of the admissions system at CalTech (and listen to some of his lectures on tape to hear his frustration with some people who were clearly not sufficiently motivated for him).

A school like this might be one answer to that problem.  That is, teach the really hard stuff really well, and let the students explore tangential subjects on their own (or through some less formal institution).  It will be interesting to see if it works.

The role that the Internet will play in all of this is going to be interesting too.  50 years ago, if you were really interested in physics but you got shuffled between different homes in your youth and got short shrift from several substandard high schools, your odds of getting very far with your interests were pretty slim.  I don't think that's as true today as it used to be.  The reason for this is that a significant aspect of the value of college is in communicating with other people who share similar interests (this is why the lone physicist 50 years ago might not do very well if he was just plopped in a public library at a young age and told to learn it all -- though there's the example of Ampere to refute even that), and that's exactly the kind of thing that you can very easily do over the Internet.

Clayton Christensen (a professor at Harvard) gave this great speech titled "Capturing the Upside" where, as an aside, he says that they're all a little worried that the Internet might be a "disruptive technology" for the existing educational institutions of this country.  For all our sakes, I hope that's true.

Kalani
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Absconditus -

clearly ANY and all malfeasance on the part of corrupt, pocket-lining university officials is going to affect any and all of their programs, including CS.

muppet
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"The school, run by a pair of former venture capital executives and a former technology chief at several companies, is accredited by an organization that certifies trade schools, making its students eligible for federal loans."

Accredited as a trade school: its a trade school.  Whether you like it or not, it won't be ABET accredited.

The real question for those attending will be "will it get me hired and at a good rate?".

The real question for the rest of us, IMO, are we merely propagating code monkeys?

Think it sucks that companies hire skill sets and not fundamentals?
Think it sucks that companies quarantine coders into the bat-cave and never let them see the light of day?

Then get some more of this.

hoser
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Computer Science and Software Development are not the same thing.

This school sounds like an interesting idea but if I was a student there I would be very afraid of being educated (however intensely) in one subject and nothing else.

Matt B
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Here's something that struck me -

"...five times MIT's 225 graduates in computer-related fields each year."

MIT only graduates that few students each year ?

Matt B
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"All self trained coders are undisciplined hacks who never saw a goto they didn't like"

Slightly OT, but some Javascript test code I inherited from a 70's vintage developer had GOTO statements all over the place.  The code also contained the variables A, NEW_A, LAST_A and A_FINAL.  The funny thing is they were all used in unrelated fashions. 

Jon Lindbo
Thursday, August 05, 2004

From the article:

>>Northface's strategy is to pare away liberal arts and focus on a tech-heavy curriculum

I'm curious to know what serious CS programs lack a "tech-heavy curriculum" or have such extensive liberal arts that they beg to be pared away. I started out majoring in CS/EE but ultimately didn't get my degree in engineering in part because the workload was already so narrowly focused -- if you were lucky you might manage to squeeze in a single non-engineering course a semester.

>>offers nearly a dozen technical courses, ranging from algebra review to databases and modeling

*Algebra* review? Algebra?!? Don't most real CS and engineering programs spend the first two years on things like calculus and diff eq? Isn't algebra, like, eighth-grade math?

I don't want to come off as a total cynic based on the information in this one superficial article, but doesn't this sound more like a slightly hopped up certificate program (that happens to cost $60K) than a traditional Bachelor'-level education in *computer science*?

John C.
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"doesn't this sound more like a slightly hopped up certificate program (that happens to cost $60K) .."

That's exactly what it is. It's not an accredited Bachelor degree, it's just some for-profit company teaching classes. Maybe they get a good education, maybe they don't, but a lot of companies will consider them not college grads, and accredited graduate schools won't take them unless they get an accredited degree first.

For the MIT question above, there are about 1000 in each class, but only 20-30 percent are EE or EECS. 

Ron
Thursday, August 05, 2004

> Isn't algebra, like, eighth-grade math?

Algebra is studied at the post-graduate level too, but means something different than it did in the eighth grade.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, August 05, 2004

I think he looks more like Anton LaVey, author of The Satanic Bible:

http://www.rotten.com/library/bio/religion/anton-lavey/

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, August 05, 2004

> "It sounds like an institution that has identified a need, but will come out with programmers instead of people really trained to think critically," said Eric Grimson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology administrator.

I like that! I haven't met a CS major who could think critically ever. Even among the lecturers you have to look for a fair while to find critical thinking capabilities.

.
Thursday, August 05, 2004

"I haven't met a CS major who could think critically ever"

Maybe you just went to the wrong school?

Bill
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Christopher, I knew somebody would bring that up :-) I even thought about footnoting my comment against such a possibility but decided that was just a little too much.

John C.
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Targeting career changers seems a bit odd.  I'm one myself, and most career changers I know have roots - wife, kids, mortgage, etc.  Packing it up and moving to Utah for two years is out of the question (unless, of course, the $60k buys you a second wife).

Past and Future Student
Friday, August 06, 2004

"I haven't met a CS major who could think critically ever. Even among the lecturers you have to look for a fair while to find critical thinking capabilities" - .

"Maybe you just went to the wrong school?" - Bill

I second that. Almost all the CS majors with whom I attended school were critical thinkers, and most had pretty good communications skills too.

Zahid
Friday, August 06, 2004

In my case most CS Students that saw themselves as critical thinkers were actually for most part cliche spouting blindfolded counterculture sheep. Their outside interests, if any, where of an asperger like fixation on something iconic meant demonstrate their "completeness", and more often than not involved memorized recitation of high volume details, rather than any grasp of meaning.
Now wipe the foam from your mouths and notice I said "MOST that saw themselves ...". Maybe I went to the wrong schools.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, August 06, 2004

This CS major has just enough critical thinking capacity to recognize that critical thinking can't be impaired by a CS curriculum.  What a silly generalization.

Most tendencies to generalize and project bad traits upon a class of people stem from a desire to prop one's self up and fortify a defense against a perceived threat from that class.

The poster likely has an axe to grind, and perhaps resents the way he's treated by the CS people at work, or by others who show those CS people more respect than they show him.  Like most people, he's externalized the cause.  Just a guess, and one I'm sure he'll protest vigorously rather than explore to discover whether it holds any truth.  Self awareness and critical thought usually travel together.  Ironic.

I-Ron
Friday, August 06, 2004

That's a nice load of contemporary psychobabble, Ron, but the fact is that in this and many cases stereotypes are based on reality.  Many, MANY CS majors are precisely as Just Me described up above.

muppet
Friday, August 06, 2004

To describe a school that pares away liberal arts and a broad curriculum as a university is like paring away the icky green stuff down to the seed and still calling it an avocado.

You simply cannot describe someone who's merely gone through such a program as well educated, unless they've additionally got a well rounded education elsewhere or by other means.  Maybe fans of this stuff don't care in their own hiring choices about whether somebody has a breadth of learning to draw upon, but it's not fair to prospective students to characterize this as anything but trade school.

Universities grow humans, they don't emit worker bees.

Portent
Friday, August 06, 2004

You've put the cart before the horse Muppet.  Many people of all stripes lack critical thinking skills, perhaps most people.  Perhaps you need to use that fact as leverage for some kind of personal "CS isn't relevant" agenda.  I'll keep my eyes open for further clues and keep you appraised.

Psychobabble is a word people like to apply to assessments that hit too close to home.  The very word exposes a telling defensiveness.  In fact, reactionary application of labels in general is pure defense.

I-Ron
Friday, August 06, 2004

I-Ron,

then again it could be self selective, say, like the sex ratio in CS classes that is >90% male in this part of the world (and before you get on a PC rampage, overall university ratio is >50% female).
Don't take it personal. Some of the most wellrounded individuals I ever met were CS students as well.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, August 06, 2004

Portent - you do realise you've just described the majority of (if not all) UK Universities  - *and* further education (see Chris Well's post way above).  In fact it has only been in the last 10 years or so that we haven't specialised from age 14.  I'm not sure that a basic requirement in a subject for which you have little interest & no aptitude necessarily makes for a well rounded education.

a cynic writes...
Friday, August 06, 2004

I think the key is that you should be allowed to take a certain number of courses outside your speciality but not obliged to. After all, Joel insisted he took as many writing classes as he could, and it shows.

In the UK you study either one or occasionally two subjects (joint honours), and yet the average university educatedl Brit doesn't seem any more narrow-minded than the average university educated American.

Stephen Jones
Friday, August 06, 2004

I don't want to attend ITT Tech++. If Microsoft is backing this, does that mean the people doing hiring won't discriminate against graduates from this school? Somehow I doubt it. They'll continue to hire people from the universities which supposedly produce mostly arrogant propellerheads, and the opinions of people like those on this forum will continue to be irrelevant. The vast majority of job openings for programmers ask for a bachelors degree in computer science, and a bachelors degree this ain't.

Also, I'd like to get something off my chest. Relational database systems were invented by a mathematician; UNIX, C, and the Internet were the products of research/university culture. C++ was invented by a researcher, and James Gosling has a PhD from CMU (Bill Joy, who contributed to the development of TCP/IP but is more famous for his work on Java, has a masters from Berkeley). Google started off as a Stanford research project, and Danny Lewin of Akamai was a student at MIT. Examples abound of this sort of thing: clearly academia and research has a lot of impact on technology, and so therefore the antipathy towards it on this forum is largely unwarranted. It bothers me and I'm sick of it.

Warren
Friday, August 06, 2004

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