TITLE: Passion is Job 1 AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 06, 2008 2:37 PM DESC: ----- BODY: This half-hour interview with Pragmatic Dave Thomas starts off interesting enough to listen to, and about halfway through it becomes even more compelling, especially for academics. Interviewer Jim Coplien asks what advice Thomas would give to CS academics. Thomas has long been an industry trainer, and a good one. (I learned some Ruby from him fellow Prag Andy Hunt at an OOPSLA workshop in 2001.) But he has not been a CS academic since leaving graduate school a couple of decades ago. Still, his answer is marvelous:
... one thing I would say that you have to be very careful of, if you are an academic, is that you are dealing with a very delicate product in your students, and ultimately when a student gets into the industry it is not how well hey can analyze a particular function or the depth of knowledge in this particular architecture, it is their passion that drives them forward. And as an academic I think you have a responsibility not to squash that passion, I think you have to find ways of nurturing it.
I can't instill passion in someone, but I can kill someone's passion. Worse, I diminish someone's passion in small steps, in how I speak about the discipline, what I expect of them. When writing comments is more valuable than writing code, I dampen passion. When the form of a program matters more than the substance, I dampen passion. Unfortunately, I think that our K-12 system kills the passion of many students. This is not a criticism of teachers, many of whom do wonderful, inspiring jobs under less than ideal conditions. The problem is more a product of the structure of our schools and our classrooms. At the university, we'd like to think that we begin to restore passion, and we do have more opportunities to do so. But we need to be honest with ourselves and stamp out the spirit-killing parts of our courses, curricula, and degree programs. I cannot instill passion, but I can stop killing passion. And I can help it grow. Thomas didn't have much in the way of concrete advice for how to nurture passion, but he did say that teachers need to motivate what they teach and what they expect students to do. Yes; context matters. He also suggested that we encourage students to be well-rounded and try to attract well-rounded folks to the discipline. Yes; the more interesting ideas we have in our heads and in our classrooms, the better we can learn, and the better we can program. As an aside, Thomas talks some about how he recently took up learning to play the piano, on the occasion of turning fifty. Early in this decade, I, too, began to study piano as an adult. In the year or so before I began writing this blog, I had let myself become too busy to practice and so fell away. I hope to make time to return to my study some day, for all the reasons that Thomas mentions and more. -----