Dumbed down?

Joel Spolsky wrote an article that has gotten quite a bit of reaction. From Tim Bray saying he mostly agrees to Frans Bouma saying its absurd,
there is a lot of feeling that this article has aroused. It aroused
some strong feeling for me as well and I wanted to get them down while
still fresh. The comments are entertaining as well.

I think most
of the posters have missed the point I came away with. I disagree with
much of what he says about java and will counter some of those points.
But one point is not lost on me. I find it very difficult to work with
new graduates. This point rings especially loud with me for two
reasons. First, I will be going out to visit with university teachers
in the coming year to tackle this very point. I have been very
frustrated by the things that interviewees are not able to answer,
haven’t done, haven’t even heard of. I need to answer this question
more thoroughly so my expectations of what I will be able to hire are
more in line with reality. But the more important point is trying to
answer without huge amounts of thought: is a person from school X
likely to be able to do the work I need done?

I am currently
reading Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”. One of his chapters is
dedicated to the crisis he sees in the lack of young Americans
taking on science and engineering degrees, and especially advanced
degrees. There is no lack of Chinese, South Koreans, Indians and others
pursuing these degrees and indeed they make up over 60% of the
graduates in those programs according to figures he quotes. But I can’t
easily hire those graduates because of both immigration laws and
increasingly because these graduates are going home to improved
conditions, lower costs and probably greater opportunity at home. In
his view, this will increase over time and the Americans like me will
mostly have to look at Americans for hires.

Great, I like
Americans and want to hire them. Joel’s point is that the education
received is not rigorous as it should be and this means he can’t count
on the fact that those that made the degree are smart enough and hard
working enough to be trained in the specifics of whatever your
environment is. I think he makes terrible points saying that java has
dumbed down the curriculum, and that “rigorous training” must use
pointers, closures and recursion to be effective. My fist CS101 class
was done in fortran with punch cards, but while I got though that one
OK, I was a music major and thought it was way to dull to ever consider
as a career. I started over again about 10 years later. This time cs101
was everything Joel described. I was working full time, and this one
class took up nearly 40 hours per week of class and homework time. It
was taught in pascal and honestly I don’t remember anything resembling
pointers. The teacher was a mathematician
who was absolutely maniacal about clean code, perfect procedural style,
and perfect comments.

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