TITLE: Quick Hits with an Undercurrent of Change AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 19, 2009 9:09 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Yesterday evening, in between volleyball games, I had a chance to do some reading. I marked several one-liners to blog on. I planned a disconnected list of short notes, but after I started writing I realized that they revolve around a common theme: change. Over the last few months, Kent Beck has been blogging about his experiences creating a new product and trying to promote a new way to think about his design. In his most recent piece, Turning Skills into Money, he talks about how difficult it can be to create change in software service companies, because the economic model under which they operates actually encourages them to have a large cohort of relatively inexperienced and undertrained workers. The best line on that page, though, is a much-tweeted line from a comment by Niklas Bjørnerstedt:
A good team can learn a new domain much faster than a bad one can learn good practices.
I can't help thinking about the change we would like to create in our students through our software engineering course. Skills and good practices matter. We cannot overemphasize the importance of proficiency, driven by curiosity and a desire to get better. Then I ran across Jason Fried's The Next Generation Bends Over, a salty and angry lament about the sale of Mint to Intuit. My favorite line, with one symbolic editorial substitution:
Is that the best the next generation can do? Become part of the old generation? How about kicking the $%^& out of the old guys? What ever happened to that?
I experimented with Mint and liked it, though I never convinced myself to go all the way it. I have tried Quicken, too. It seemed at the same time too little and too much for me, so I've been rolling my own. But I love the idea of Mint and hope to see the idea survive. As the industry leader, Intuit has the leverage to accelerate the change in how people manage their finances, compared to the smaller upstart it purchased. For those of us who use these products and services, the nature of the risk has just changed. The risk with the small guy is that it might fold up before it spreads the change widely enough to take root. The risk with the big power is that it doesn't really get it and wastes an opportunity to create change (and wealth). I suspect that Intuit gets it and so hold out hope. Still... I love the feistiness that Fried shows. People with big ideas and need not settle. I've been trying to encourage the young people with whom I work, students and recent alumni, to shoot for the moon, whether in business or in grad school. This story meshed nicely with Paul Graham's Post-Medium Publishing, in which Graham joins in the discussion of what it will be like for creators no longer constrained by the printed page and the firms that have controlled publication in the past. The money line was:
... the really interesting question is not what will happen to existing forms, but what new forms will appear.
Change will happen. It is natural that we all want to think about our esteemed institutions and what the change means for them. But the real excitement lies in what will grow up to replace them. That's where the wealth lies, too. That's true for every discipline that traffics in knowledge and ideas, including our universities. Finally, Mark Guzdial ruminates on what changes CS education. He concludes:
My first pass analysis suggests that, to make change in CS, invent a language or tool at a well-known institution. Textbooks or curricula rarely make change, and it's really hard to get attention when you're not at a "name" institution.
I think I'll have more to say about this article later, but I certainly know what Mark must be feeling. In addition to his analysis of tools and textbooks and pedagogies, he has his own experience creating a new way to teach computing to non-majors and major alike. He and his team have developed a promising idea, built the infrastructure to support it, and run experiments to show how well it works. Yet... The CS ed world looks much like it always has, as people keep doing what they've always been doing, for as many reasons as you can imagine. And inertia works against even those with the advantages Mark enumerates. Education is a remarkably conservative place, even our universities. -----