Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

April, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Child Labor AKA Summer Jobs for HS Geeks


    It's spring and as we all know when spring comes young people get one thing on their minds - where are they going to work for the summer. OK maybe that is not at the forefront of every student's mind. There are some who want to take the summer off and party. Others will wait until the last minute hoping to get lucky where depending on their attitude getting lucky means getting a job at the last minute or telling the 'rents that there are no jobs available.

    Still I've been getting email and calls from high school students looking for computer jobs for the summer. When I was in the classroom I would also get calls from companies looking to hire as well. Over the years I was able to place some top students in some summer jobs/internships that were good for both the student and the company.

    It is popular to claim that taking a high school computer science course or two does not prepare a student for a real job writing code or a related area. And there is truth there. There is no question that taking a HS CS course does not qualify one as an experienced developer. A student who has taken one or two computer sciences course in college is similarly unprepared. But with the advantage of maturity the college student is likely to be considered for a summer job or internship.

    In many cases I believe some high school students are ready for entry level internships if not full-time jobs. Maturity is a major factor but just as important is the level of their learning. Note I said learning not the teaching they have gone through. While the level of teaching is very important what matters more is how much of what the teacher was trying to teach the student was able to internalize. In some cases I have seen students go way beyond what is taught in class and that is a quality employers should be looking for.

    So while many high school students are not ready to work in industry others are. What are they ready for? Testing jobs are great. Generally they involve running scripts and not a lot of real coding. These can be very educational jobs though. Other testing jobs that involve writing test code may also be appropriate for students. Students are going to try things different than the professional developers would and that often highlights problems that would otherwise be missed. Besides if your documentation works for high school students it will probably work for professionals who have greater vocabulary and reading skills. Sometimes, especially in smaller companies, very skilled students may actually be appropriate for small but real development projects, project maintenance (great learning doing that let me tell you) or other things one might not assume they are ready for. The key to making that work is good support and mentoring though.

    These jobs are all hard to find though. I talked about the TechApprentice Program is a seven-week internship program for high school seniors and juniors in Boston and the Metro Boston area a week ago. Those sorts of programs are great but localized and always in need of more company support.

    Obviously there is benefit to students in these jobs but what's in it for the companies? Often lower priced help during summer months when a lot of people take vacations. But it is also a chance for them to get a good look at potential future employees. Summer interns often make the best full-time employees after graduation. Plus there is the chance to help develop people and grow the number of skilled workers. It's an investment in the future.

    If you are a student looking to enter the IT/CS field it is worth trying to find a summer internship even while still in high school. If you are a company looking to grow and to contribute to the community summer internships may be more in your advantage than you think. Try it - you may like it.

    BTW Microsoft has limited high school internships. They are currently just in the Redmond WA area (as far as I know) and limited to students in that area but they do exist.


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    AP Computer Science v AP Latin and other AP Courses


    I keep hearing that more students take Advanced Placement Latin than take Advanced Placement Computer Science (most recently in Mark Guzdial's blog) so I decided to check it out. The College Board recently published their Report to the Nation so that is where I went looking. Well long story short is that it doesn't seem to be true.

    According to the report some 19,601 students took the AP CS exams in 2006 while only 8,177 students took the AP Latin exam. That's really not so scary. As many people have pointed out there is a perceived value in Latin that goes beyond just knowing Latin. There is the perception that learning Latin will help improve vocabulary and so performance on the SAT and other standardized tests. I'm not so sure that is the case but at least it makes a good story.

    But what about Environmental Science? How does that help on standardized tests? The number of students taking the AP Environmental Science exam (44,698) is more than double the number of students who take AP CS. Now I don't mean to put down Environmental Science. It is important and valuable. More valuable for high school students than computer science? I don't think so.

    AP Psychology has over 101,000 students taking the exam. AP Statistics has over 88,000 students - more than 4 times the number of AP CS students. Again these are valuable courses but 4-5 times more valuable than Computer Science? Can't these courses wait until college?

    Ah, I hear you say, Environmental Science is a "science" course. Psychology is a "science" course. Statistics is a "math" course.

    Computer Science isn't science? It isn't math? Now there is a discussion and one we've had before. Computer Science is the poor neglected step child of math and science.

    Mark Guzdial (rapidly becoming one of my favorite edu blogs) talked about his recent experiences trying to get a college (run and taught) computer science course into Georgia high schools recently. Math and science courses are "core" courses so state money is available to pay for them. Computer science and engineering are not coincided "core courses" though.

    I think every student should take a computer science course.  David Warlick said the same thing in his blog recently so I'm not alone. In the minority perhaps but at least not  alone. One thing I have observed is that we need our students to be better and more creative problems solvers. We need them to think (computationally, clearly, methodically, creatively, carefully) more about more things and in more ways. Computer science, properly taught, teaches those things as well or better than any other subject.

    We're just not getting the respect we deserve and that is a shame.



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Girls Will Be Girls


    Girls Will Be Girls subtitled "good thing" is on a poster in the office of Microsoft Corporate Vice President Debra Chrapaty who was recently interviewed for Channel 9. This is one of the 37 interviews  in Channel 9's Women in Technology series.

    This is a fun interesting interview with a woman who has graced the cover of Information Week and who was once the CTO of the National basketball Association (NBA). I got a kick out her descriptions of life as a woman in the male dominated world of professional basketball. She's a sharp person with a great personality. So much for the boring geek in a locked windowless room.


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