Two insights on teaching computer programming

David Klappholz d.klappholz at
Thu Jan 5 15:41:04 EST 2006

At 03:06 PM 1/5/2006, Kirby Urner wrote:
>...So what keeps universities of repute from simply printing degrees?  Private
>industry provides a check.  Your job interview will go badly if your
>knowledge of pharmacy is clearly superficial, or if you demonstrate
>incompetence during your first probationary weeks on the job.

Kirby, I love your posts, mostly for their useful contents, but often 
for being way out in left field. What's this about pharmacy? I 
thought this is a (math in) CS mailing list.


PS My guess is that severe legal consequences could result from 
errors committed by pharmacists; not so with errors committed by 
software developers, though there are those who think there should be 
-- at least at the system architect/project manager level.

>So pharmacy remains a rigorous program in its own right, quite demanding
>(like the job itself).  Note:  I had a pharmacist come to my front door
>once, when he realized some hours before that he'd dispensed the wrong
>thing.  I admired his integrity.
>Pharmacist trainees could use some computer savvy, and so might take a CS0
>to learn some job-relevant concepts and skills.  They'll be disappointed if
>this CS0 is just some prereq to CS1, CS2... i.e. is mostly relevant only to
>majors (a Catch-22).  That'd be like a CS major taking BIOMED0 and not
>getting any real overview of the field.
>BIOMED, like CS, is looking to recruit talented people, and so would be
>stupid to disappoint its valued guests in this way.
>I liked the answer of having two CS0s, one for majors and one for
>not-majors.  The problem here is freshmen often sample intro courses to
>*decide* where to specialize.  Which CS0 is for them?
>I think a single showcase CS0 is probably simplest, but should be taught by
>faculty who do not express haughty attitudes towards majors in other fields.
>Analogy:  any prof who teaches Physics for Poets should have the highest
>respect for poetry, perhaps regarding it as what physics ultimately boils
>down to.
>Some departments make the mistake of putting a turn-off teacher in a key
>recruiting position (e.g. CS0).  Instead of making the subject user-friendly
>and accessible, while providing a lot of overview, she or he exudes an air
>of aloof superiority that makes everyone squirm.
>These specimens are best reserved for higher level courses, where majors
>need to study how to ape those at the apex of their chosen field -- a good
>way to get accepted by your peers.  Strut and puff in just the right way and
>you'll be invited to all the right conferences.
>I'm pleased to report that my CS0 prof at Princeton was highly effective as
>a recruiter.  He tended to anthropomorphize the computer somewhat (it would
>always "go home mad" when the programmer did something stupid), but we all
>understood this was in a spirit of good fun and user-friendliness.  He was
>also obviously very expert in his chosen field.
>At 12:10 PM 1/4/2006, Matthias Felleisen wrote:
> >>>The average student at an average college just wants a degree so that
> >>>she can find a well-paying job that doesn't demand too much. Why dont
> >>>we just hand out those degrees and focus on the few that matter and
> >>>our research?
> >>
> >>Your response reveals something that really disturbs me about many
> >>university faculty. If you can't answer your own question, I'll let
> >>others answer it rather than showing the anger I feel.
> >
> >I assume you realize the question was rhetorical. -- Matthias
>It didn't sound rhetorical, especially as I don't know you and can
>only read what you write rather than the unexpressed personal
>thought/motivation behind it.
>Sorry for reacting as I did if, in fact, you meant it rhetorically.
>No virus found in this outgoing message.
>Checked by AVG Free Edition.
>Version: 7.1.371 / Virus Database: 267.14.12/220 - Release Date: 1/3/2006
>Math-thinking-l mailing list  -  Math-thinking-l at

More information about the Math-thinking-l mailing list