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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Code Monkeys and Network Junkies 

I got together with Jacky and Zhou Tao to talk about my phone problem. In the course of our conversation, I started talking with Zhou Tao about the question I often put to my students in Arizona when I was trying to help them decide which direction to go professionally. At UAT, the software engineering department tended to be bipolar. Students focussed on Network Engineering, or Software Engineering. So I would ask students, "What are you, a code monkey or a network junkie?" I would ask them to place themselves along a spectrum, and in the process, explain the difference, both in terms of courses required, and the work involved. Some students identified clearly with one or the other. I had networking students who hated programming. And I had programming students who were completely clueless and uninterested in network infrastructure. But I also had students who tended to move easily between the two areas.

Jacky was so fascinated with our discussion that he pulled out his iPad and copied my sketch of the spectrum and then had me sign it. Zhou Tao is a computer science major, and seems quite able to function in either world. But some software people tend to be more intensely focussed on one particular skill area. And some simply don't know. I remember once talking to one of my networking students in Arizona who was very unhappy. I asked him a few questions and found out he had a Masters degree in material science. I asked him why he wasn't doing that. He told me that field wasn't very open at the moment. Then I asked him a few questions about the skills he already had, and found out he was a VB programmer. I said, "I don't think you belong at this university." He was surprised. I said, "Why don't you do application development?" He wasn't too sure about the field, so I explained to him that database application developers are involved with developing the front end of database. After talking for a few minutes, he said he would give it some thought. He went out and found a job nearby almost immediately and dropped out of school. I am not one to encourage students to drop out of school, but in his case, school was a waste of money. He already had marketable skills and he obviously didn't need the sheepskin. I used to run into him once in awhile after that. Every time he saw me he said, "You changed my life!" I didn't change his life. He changed his life. I just helped him to discover where he fit on the spectrum.

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