TITLE: Extravagant Ideas AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: August 27, 2011 9:36 AM DESC: ----- BODY: One of the students in my just-started Programming Languages course recently mentioned that he has started a company, Glass Cannon Games, to write games for the XBox and Android platforms. He is working out of my university's student incubator. Last summer, I wrote a bit about entrepreneurship and a recent student of mine, Nick Cash, who has started Book Hatchery to "help authors publish their works digitally". Going a bit further back, I mentioned an alumnus, Wade Arnold, winning a statewide award for his company, T8 Webware. Readers of this blog most recently encountered Wade in my entry on the power of intersections. Over the last decade, Wade has taken a few big ideas and worked hard to make them real. That's what Nick and, presumably, Ian are doing, too. Most entrepreneurs start with big thoughts. I try to encourage students to think big thoughts, to consider an entrepreneurial career. The more ideas they have, the more options they have in careers and in life. Going to work for a big company is the right path for some, but some want more and can do their own thing -- if only they have the courage to start. This is a more important idea than just for starting start-ups. We can "think big and write small" even for the more ordinary programs we write. Sometimes we need a big idea to get us started writing code. Sometimes, we even need hubris. Every problem a novice faces can appear bigger than it is. Students who are able to think big often have more confidence. That is the confidence they need to start, and to persevere. It is fun as a teacher to be able to encourage students to think big. As writer Roger Rosenblatt says,
One of the pleasures of teaching writing courses is that you can encourage extravagant thoughts like this in your students. These are the thoughts that will be concealed in plain and modest sentences when they write. But before that artistic reduction occurs, you want your students to think big and write small.
Many students come into our programming courses unsure, even a little afraid. Helping them free themselves to have extravagant ideas is one of the best things a teacher can do for them. Then they will be motivated to do the work they need to master syntax and idioms, patterns and styles. A select few of them will go a step further and believe something even more audacious, that
... there's no purpose to writing programs unless you believe in significant ideas.
Those will be the students who start the Glass Cannons, the Book Hatcheries, and the T8s. We are all better off when they do. -----