15 July 2015

An Appreciation for _Programmers at Work_

A few months ago I learned that an important book in my life had been "republished" in the form of a blog.  The book is/was Programmers at Work.  I'm happy to see the content in this book available on the web, because I dimly remember giving my own copy of this book away to somebody else who I thought could use it.

I found this book to be useful when I was younger because back then I really didn't have very many people to talk with when I was exploring the idea of going into the computer (specifically software) field.  There were literally no programmers to talk with in the area that I grew up in, and of course, this was before the era of the Internet.  The thing that I was wondering about was "how do I get from point A to point B?".  Based on the information I got from this book, I got a sense that I needed to change the trajectory of my math studies in high-school (I decided that I really needed to take Calculus in high-school) so I enrolled in a local community college (night school) and got myself onto a better path.  Later on, as a college freshman, I was glad that I had changed my trajectory.


Back when I read this book, I was a twisted, confused kid, who really didn't have too many people to talk to about college in the first place.  Looking back at this section of Programmers at Work:

LAMPSON: I used to think that undergraduate computer-science education was bad, and that it should be outlawed. Recently I realized that position isn’t reasonable. An undergraduate degree in computer science is a perfectly respectable professional degree, just like electrical engineering or business administration. But I do think it’s a serious mistake to take an undergraduate degree in computer science if you intend to study it in graduate school.
LAMPSON: Because most of what you learn won’t have any long-term significance. You won’t learn new ways of using your mind, which does you more good than learning the details of how to write a compiler, which is what you’re likely to get from undergraduate computer science. I think the world would be much better off if all the graduate computer-science departments would get together and agree not to accept anybody with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Those people should be required to take a remedial year to learn something respectable like mathematics or history, before going on to graduate-level computer science. However, I don’t see that happening.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of training or type of thought leads to the greatest productivity in the computer field?
LAMPSON: From mathematics, you learn logical reasoning. You also learn what it means to prove something, as well as how to handle abstract essentials. From an experimental science such as physics, or from the humanities, you learn how to make connections in the real world by applying these abstractions.

....maybe this was one of the reasons why I also decided to study liberal-arts at college.  Sometimes books are the source of dangerous ideas....

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