Dec 8, 2008


Once upon a time, when I was in my second year at university, I was taking these two courses (I was taking more than two courses of course, but these are the two that have any relevance to my story). One of them was called Computer Graphics, where you learn about how computer graphics are done. Things like transformation matrices, perspective, anti-aliasing techniques, things like that. While the lectures were mostly theoretical using formulae, diagrams and pseudo-code, the assignments were to be done in C++ with OpenGL and GLUT - and for the most part the only function in OpenGL you were allowed to use was glDrawPixels. This meant that we were going to be working with pointers a lot, and doing pointer arithmetic and things like that since glDrawPixels only accepts a single-dimensional array of pixels. Not a big deal, pointer arithmetic is pretty damn basic. On top of that, we had a required first-year course on assembly language where if you want to get anything done you use mostly pointers (aka memory addresses) so pointers weren't really a foreign concept.

The second one was a class on programming languages. We learned about things like static vs. dynamic typing, functional programming, parsing, etc. It was pretty interesting (it was during this course that the FP light bulb went on in my head). However about halfway through we had to do a small unit on pointers and pointer arithmetic because the Graphics prof was complaining that nobody understood them and students were failing the assignments because of this - and in a class where there is no final, the assignments have quite a heavy weight.

I found it somewhat sad that people actually needed this. It's not like we were doing anything advanced with C++, the objects we were making were very basic, the standard libraries we used were no more advanced than std::list or std::vector. If you want to get familiar with pointers there is this thing called a search engine that you can use to find this stuff out, or another thing called the school library which was full of books on C++. Yet people blamed the prof for using things that they hadn't been taught in class - it is important to note that the C++ course was not required for the graphics course, probably because the scope of C++ that you use (pointers) is covered by a single lecture.

The thing that was holding these people back was their lack of responsibility. The lack of understanding that not everything is spoon-fed to you and that you actually need to go out and learn things on your own time (consider it homework). Isn't that what university is all about? Learning things? How about learning how to learn things?

Here's a fact (might be widely known, might not be). A computer science education does not give you the direct skills you will need in the workplace. You'll probably learn the basics of Java and some of the libraries for it like Swing or the collection classes, but it's doubtful you'll be able to use just that to develop enterprise applications. You might take a course on PHP, but that won't tell you how to build quality websites - if your university has a class anything like the one at the university I went to, chances are the stuff you'll be learning is well out of date. They have classes that teach you Haskell or Prolog, which have a gigantic market share and will grab you a job in no time.
Then there's other things - no class ever taught me how to use version control. Or how to do unit testing. Or how to use vi/emacs (some universities do force you to use these, mine didn't).
So if they don't teach you the things you'll need to know, how are you supposed to get a job? This is where that responsibility comes in. You have a lot of free time when you're at school - at least this is the way it seemed like to me. You have lots of resources at your disposal. Any of these things, be it a language or a software or a technique, can be learned just by sitting down in a lab for a little while and looking online for it. I learned how to manage Ubuntu because there was a lab run by students, and you could volunteer to manage a machine (due to dropping enrolment/interest, by my 4th year I ended up administering all the machines). I learned how to use SVN because I was working on a personal project and decided it should be under version control.

Responsibility doesn't just apply to the computer world - although it is really relevant here. Not happy with your job? Find something else. Think you're overweight? Go to the gym. Something bothering you? Figure out why it is bothering you, and attempt to find a solution (preferably a solution that solves the problem, not just puts it off) instead of sitting back complaining about it.

We live in a (mostly) free society. Your choices are ultimately the ones that direct what happens to you, so the only thing that really holds you back is yourself. I'd guess that the main thing holding people back is fear. It's what holds me back most of the time. I'm afraid right now, that after I post this article people will read it and leave nasty comments saying how dumb I am, or how inexperienced I sound, or how I'm completely wrong about everything.
That's part of learning. There's been several times when I write something and somebody will leave an insightful or informative comment telling me how I'm wrong. As much as I hate being wrong, it is a good experience and after the initial annoyance at being wrong subsides, I feel like I've learned something and am a better person due to my failure.

So if you're young and unhappy/unsatisfied, now is the time to go out and take risks. Ignore your fear of failure. What have you got to lose at this point? It's not like you have dependants or anything (if you do, ignore that last comment). Your life at this stage is mostly a blank slate, and what becomes of it is what you make of it. Don't let others dictate what goes on it, take responsibility for your own actions.

1 comment:

Golf Tee Times said...

well this is indeed a responsibility