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

January, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting links 25 January 2010

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    Last week’s big news on Twitter? Bill Gates is now using it. Yes, @BillGates is now on Twitter. And he has a new website at www.thegatesnotes.com where he intends to highlight the things he is going and learning. Looks like it will be interesting. And there is lots more interesting links below. Please check them out!

    Congratulations Patrick Godwin who has just been named a Microsoft Student Insider. He’s on Twitter  @ximplosionx and blogged about his new role on his blog at Microsoft Student Insider - Programming He’s heading to Redmond next weekend. Hopefully he’ll blog about that trip. (Hint: Patrick if you are reading this. :-) )

    Free books! Games! Programming! Fun! Interested in a free e-book about game programming with XNA? Go get yours!

    Speaking of fun. Kodu community-based user blog and forums at www.kodux.com Do you Kodu?

    On the security front, @JimMacMillan twittered Hacked-passwords analysis: Most common was “123456,” followed by “12345,” “123456789" and “Password,” in that order.” Interesting and somewhat scary look at what people are using for passwords.

    And @Safer_Online twittered a link to some great tips for managing your online reputation. And did you know that this Thursday, 1/28 is Data Privacy Day—observed in the U.S. & 28 other countries. Its aim—to raise awareness about data privacy protection.

    Now personally I’m a huge fan of the web design course that Microsoft has made available for free using Microsoft Expression Web tools. But here is an interesting HS web design course using raw html. It may be worth looking at for supplemental resources as well as for itself.

    Looking for the latest work on various Microsoft products? This list of Official Microsoft Team & Product blogs may be just the resource you are looking for.

    The always interesting Mark Guzdial had an interesting observation last week (@guzdial)  “Open Source Development is actually Country Club Development: Hard to get into, mostly white guys.” That was on top of his blog post Open source development needs to grow-up and become education-friendly. Regardless of your feelings about open source there is some interesting opinions and information to start a conversation on the subject there. Check it out.

    Will you be at TCEA? HP, Intel and Microsoft will be offering a free teacher Digital Learning Event at TCEA (Austin). You can learn more about it and register here.

    These unique interactive forums are one-day events held throughout the United States. Each Digital Learning Event is an immersive experience that provides K-12 decision-makers with state-of-the-art technology solutions delivered in hands-on learning environments.

    More of these coming up - Las Vegas: Thursday, 2/25/10 ~ San Diego: Thursday, 3/11/10 ~ Atlanta: Friday, 3/19/10
    Boston: Thursday, 4/8/10 ~ Washington, D.C.: Wednesday, 4/14/10 ~ Indianapolis: Tuesday, 4/20/10 ~ Denver: Thursday, 4/29/10 Minneapolis: Wednesday, 5/5/10 ~ Raleigh-Durham: Tuesday, 5/11/10

    Are your students interested in getting some Microsoft certifications? Students can get a free second chance at Microsoft Certification exams.

    Great post by @kenroyal about FETC, meeting people, etc. And bonus a picture of the two of us together. :-)



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    So are there or are their not jobs in CS and IT

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    The other day in my interesting links post I included links to several articles/blog posts. One article was titled - IT hiring increases last month despite broader jobs decline and the other was DARPA feels that the geek shortage is a national security risk. It seems like I see those sorts of articles regularly. In the comments for those articles I usually see stories about IT professionals who are laid off and can’t find jobs. I hear them from friends as well. I also hear stories of college computer science professors who are getting lots of calls from companies who want to hire their graduates.

    Mark Guzdial (from Georgia Tech) asks about The disconnect between the Geek shortage and the Geek layoffs on his blog. It’s a question that comes up often. Neither the statistics or the stories from out of work IT people tell the whole story. I wrote some comments as a reply to Mark’s blog but I wanted to expand on them a bit. First a story.

    A little over 15 years ago I was laid off from my job in software development. I looked around and realized that the skills/knowledge that I had used to the previous 18 years were pretty much unnecessary. The world had moved from mini computers (my area) to PCs and had done so without out me. So I started rebuilding. I took a large step sideways (into teaching) and taught myself about PCs, new programming languages, and developed other skills. When I was ready for industry I found that industry was ready for me. I know other people who kept looking for the same types of jobs they had been doing for years. Some of them have spent a lot of time out of work. The people who are looking for continuing jobs as mainframe operators struggle – a lot. Those who went back to "school" figuratively if not literally have mostly had steady work.

    Not all companies will retrain workers. Companies have a short term attitude and will train people only for short term needs. In computer fields it is largely up to the individual to retrain themselves. Right or wrong that is a fact of life. These days I keep more on top of things and do a much better job of staying current. It is not always easy and I suspect the young people in their 20s are having an easier time of it than I am. But I see not point in blaming them, the companies, or the job market for any of it.

    In the long term I think that a formal education in computer science is a huge benefit. I can’t imagine the learning curve I would have had without my schooling. I had a deep base that I could draw upon. had I been completely self-taught I’m not sure I could have caught up with things. Oh some might but that does not strike me as the way to bet.

    I do know self-taught people who have never been out of work. They keep teaching themselves new things. They use the same learning skills that got them started to keep themselves going. Other people seem to jump into the job market too quickly. They learn enough to get their first job and for a while they do very well. Then the needs of the job change and they lack the base of knowledge or the learning skills to keep up. They assume that they are so smart and so good at what they do that they will always be in demand. All too often they are wrong.

    One of the things I tell students when I do career talks is that if they want a career where they can do the same thing for 30 years and then retire computer science and information technology are not for them. This is a career that requires life long  learning as much as any field I can think of. While at times you may feel like you have to run as fast as you can to keep up you will also seldom be bored. After 34+ years in the field I keep learning new things, doing new things, and growing as a person. If that is what you want this is the field you want. Just my  opinion.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Programming as a super power

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    From the time I wrote my first computer program about 38 years ago as a college student there has always been a bit of magic about the process. A bit of a super power sort of feeling if you will. Back in those days the average college/university had one computer, perhaps two, and they were kept locked away from normal people. It took special training and permissions to actually touch a computer let alone write a program for it.  As a computer science student I was able to control those powerful computers and make them do things other people couldn’t. I felt empowered in a way I never felt before.

    I was reminded a bit of that feeling when I read a recent blog post by Eugene Wallingford (@wallingf) titled “Programming, Literacy, and Superhuman Strength.”

    It’s all a good post but I especially like this part:

    All I know is, if we can put the power of programming into more people's hands and minds, then we can help more people to have the feeling that led Dan Meyer to write Put THAT On The Fridge:

    ... rather than grind the solution out over several hours of pointing, clicking, and transcribing, for the first time ever, I wrote twenty lines of code that solved the problem in several minutes.
    I created something from nothing. And that something did something else, which is such a weird, superhuman feeling. I've got to chase this.

    We have tools and ideas that make people feel superhuman. We have to share them!

    There are people out there who Wallingford refers to as non-programmers. In Microsoft we call them “non-professional programmers.” These are people who write programs for fun, for personal satisfaction and to solve personal/business problems.  We, our society, really needs to enable those people.

    There are more programs that should be written than professional programmers can ever write. Most of these are small, manageable problems. They range from spreadsheet macros to some programs to analyze large data sets. And games. And programs to solve interesting little problems. And the list goes on.

    One of the things I hear when I suggest that all students take a computer science or programming course is “these kids are not going to be [professional] computer programmers.” And that is true. But we don’t say “why teach English? These kids are not going to be professional novelists.” That would be ridiculous. We know that pretty much everyone needs to write well. Like wise we are getting to a point where many more people than ever before really should be able to write some computer code.

    Right now people think of programming as some sort of “super power” and something that few can handle. Computer programming is a hugely empowering skill but it is more approachable than many realize. They just need training, tools and opportunity. We really owe it to our students to give them that.

    This empowering of non-professional programmers is what the Beginning Developer Learning Center BTW. Young, old, student, experienced life-long learner? There is probably something there for you.

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