Author Archive: The Programmer

An Open Letter to My Former CEO

 

Today is my last day with Company X. I’ve really enjoyed working with my colleagues. That said, the events of two weeks ago really made me ill. To call an all-hands webinar, announce that the company is losing too much money, as a result of which 80 people will have their jobs taken away, then boom, meeting over. Not even the decency to take a comment or question. I feel like those 80 people probably did not lose the money, probably just did what they were told to do to the best of their ability. The responsibility for losing the money lies with whoever told them what to do, starting with the CEO. There’s a law of the sea, I think it’s a good law, that the captain goes down with his ship. Not that he grabs hold of 80 people and throws them overboard, then follows up with a… Read more →

How Long Does it Take to Get Hired?

 

From LinkedIn News: How long does it take to get hired? That depends on the field of work you’re in, according to a new analysis by LinkedIn’s Economic Graph team looking at confirmed hires on the platform from June 2020 to March 2021. The data shows that technical positions take the longest time to fill (the median turnaround in engineering is 49 days). By contrast, everything moves faster in non-technical fields, such as sales (38 days) and customer service (34 days). I’m a software engineer. I did a phone interview with Company A, two managers on the call, we did a tech screen and the gist of it was, “Great job, we’ll set you up for the next interview a week from tomorrow.” Meanwhile Company B did one Zoom call and was ready to make an offer the next day. Top candidates are not going to stay on the market… Read more →

Healthy Enough to Type

 

I have a student in my class — let’s call him John — who missed the entire first week, so I sent him an email to the effect that I hadn’t seen him in class yet and what were his plans going forward. He replied that he had really been looking forward to the class but had a health condition that was going to force him to drop and who could he contact about a tuition refund. So he’s healthy enough to type. The class is online, so he could watch from his hospital bed if necessary. In short, I don’t believe him but what can you do? A slightly better way to play it, in my opinion, is to send me back an email saying “I’m typing this for John because he’s too sick to move his fingers. It’s really touch and go at this point. Please remember him… Read more →

Enlightenment

 

Tzu-li and Tzu-ssu were boasting about the size of their latest programs. ‘Two-hundred thousand lines,’ said Tzu-li, ‘not counting comments!’ Tzu-ssu responded, ‘Pssh, mine is almost a million lines already.’ Master Yuan-Ma said, ‘My best program has five hundred lines.’ Hearing this, Tzu-li and Tzu-ssu were enlightened. — Master Yuan-Ma, The Book of Programming Read more →

Hey Google! Does Joe Biden Have Dementia?

 

Here’s a fun experiment you can try out yourself . . . Pull up a Google search bar and type “does joe biden have dementia.” Of course you know Google has an autocomplete feature to fill in common searches. Here’s what happened when I started to type “does joe biden have dementia”: According to Google, the top search starting with “does joe biden have” is “does joe biden have a dog”! Are people making decisions about presidential candidates based on whether or not they have a dog?! Here’s the result when I type in the whole search phrase: There’s no autocomplete at all! Apparently I’m the only person in the entire universe to enter the search phrase “does joe biden have dementia.” Now switch search engines. I switched to DuckDuckGo and started typing the same search phrase. Here’s the result: With DuckDuckGo, I only have to type three letters to… Read more →

Do You Want a Programmer or a Pizza?

 

I teach programming classes for a living. The school has a Slack account and one of the things we use it for is to post relevant job openings. These postings come from the hiring companies and most of them unfortunately simply consist of a copy of the job description: Responsibilities, Requirements, Technical Skills. Bullet points. Trying to hire programmers like ordering a pizza. When I was a hiring manager, HR would try to run job postings like that. The problem was that I wanted to hire good programmers and good programmers have a lot of options regarding where they work. So just as a candidate needs to sell themselves to a company, a company needs to sell itself to candidates. One way of doing this is through job postings. So I rewrote the job postings to make them more enticing. To give you an example of what I mean, here’s… Read more →

Now Here’s a Guy Who Gets Me

 

I teach programming classes for a living. The classes are 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks. I put a lot of preparation into it because I want students to have the best, most up-to-date and relevant instruction. It’s a good job for me. Programming seems to me like an important, valuable skill . . . it’s allowed me to make a living doing (for the most part) things I like and things I’m good at. It gives you a lot of options. You don’t have to work for a tech company. Almost any field of endeavor now uses software and data and they hire programmers. You can work in education, healthcare, finance, sports, whatever energizes you. So it’s good to have a job where I feel like I’m helping people. The downside is that the students can’t really tell good instruction from bad instruction. Yes,… Read more →

Why is Sexual Harassment the Only Workplace Malfunction That Merits National Attention?

 

Many workers in Silicon Valley have said tech companies aren’t doing enough to promote women and minorities, or to stamp out misogyny and harassment. — wsj.com “Not doing enough” . . . I remember last year a female engineer at Uber wrote in a blog post that she was being harassed and mistreated and Uber actually hired the former attorney general of the United States to launch an investigation. One woman! The assertion that Uber in particular and Silicon Valley in general are cesspools of misogyny is based on confirmation bias and small sample sizes. Uber has more than 16,000 employees in 600 cities and 65 countries. If you’re inclined to believe that women are more virtuous and vulnerable than men, then the reported experience of one person out of 16,000 may be enough to confirm you in your view of the world. A man (or woman) hears what he… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Priorities

 

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren. — Albert Shanker, President of the United Federation of Teachers (1964-1984) and President of the American Federation of Teachers (1974-1997) It’s a problem in my profession that the number of schools that want to teach computer science far exceeds the number of computer science majors who want to teach computer science. The opportunity cost is too high. Computer science majors can earn a lot more working as software engineers than working as teachers. I volunteer a couple mornings a week to help with computer science instruction at a local high school. This school has a teacher, originally hired as a math teacher, who must be well into her fourth decade of teaching.  She now teaches computer science classes — poorly, but she teaches them. Because of her professional longevity, she makes a six-figure income with… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: What is a Computer Science Integration Specialist?

 

Sheena Vaidyanathan, a computer science integration specialist at Los Altos School District in California, says that states, school districts and boards of education have not prioritized computer science education the way they should. Even if not every child will grow up to work as a computer scientist, she thinks everyone should at least get exposure to how computers work. — EdSurge News A couple of things I don’t understand there . . . one is why everyone needs to know “how computers work.” They work on electricity, that’s about all I know about it. Actually, I know a little more than that, but there’s no reason that everyone should know “how computers work,” any more than everyone should know how phones work, or how cars work, or how refrigerators work. You can use things without knowing how they work. I do think everyone can benefit from understanding how programmers think,… Read more →

Making it Easier for Women to Do Things They Don’t Want to Do

 

Apple launching tech camps for women in bid to diversify industry Like other major tech companies, Apple has been trying to lessen its dependence on men in high-paying programming jobs. I don’t think “dependence” is the right word there. Is that dependence like alcohol dependence, or like dependence on foreign oil? It’s an oblique way of saying “we’re trying to employ fewer men,” but explicitly singling out members of a certain group for unwelcome attention sounds discriminatory and possibly illegal. Women filled just 23 percent of Apple’s technology jobs in 2017, according to the company’s latest breakdown. “Just” — why do we assume that working at Apple is a goal that a lot of women have? Maybe women found better jobs? Or something else they’d rather be doing? Industry critics have accused the technology companies of discriminating against women through a male-dominated hierarchy that has ruled the industry for decades.… Read more →

How to Not Get a Job Teaching Computer Science

 

She was a software engineer interviewing for a job teaching high school computer science. One of the interviewers read a question: XYZ School District is committed to effective learning for all students. Key in this work is improving the success of historically underrepresented, low-income and/or students of color. What are your experiences implementing instructional strategies shown to be most effective in increasing the success of these populations? She knew what the “right” answer looked like but after a momentary hesitation decided to answer honestly. “I think it’s probably counterproductive to single out groups of students as needing special handling to be up to the standards of the other students.” “We’re not saying that they’re not up to the standards of the other students,” the interviewer said. “Okay, let me say it another way. We have four labels available: ‘historically underrepresented,’ ‘low-income,’ ‘students of color’ and ‘none of the above.’ “From… Read more →

11,000 New Computer Science Teachers Considered Harmful?

 

Here’s the start of an email I got from Code.org: We’re kicking off our summer workshops to prepare 11,000 new CS teachers. Last month we welcomed over 600 teachers, facilitators, and Regional Partners to Atlanta, GA for our largest TeacherCon ever. On top of TeacherCon, we also have 350 K-5 workshops and 167 workshops for middle and high school teachers planned this summer, where we expect an additional 10,000 teachers who plan to begin teaching computer science for the first time this fall! This is heralded with an exclamation point, like it’s exciting news, but as a computer science person, I can’t get excited about it. Why do we want kids to be taught computer science by 11,000 teachers who know little or nothing about computer science? How can someone teach something that they themselves don’t do? See if you can get excited about any of the following possibilities: 11,000… Read more →

Diversity in Tech Efforts Self-Defeating?

 

Panelists at the Inclusion in Tech summit lamented that we can’t tell if tech is doing better on diversity because the data stinks. My advice would be don’t worry about it. A lot of the noise around diversity in technology is self-defeating. If you’re a member of an underrepresented group, all you hear is that technology fields are hostile and awful and unwelcoming, you won’t be treated fairly, etc. And you wonder why certain groups are underrepresented? You’ve answered your own question. Why would anyone who wants to have a happy life pursue a career beset by unfairness and hardship? Why not instead be a meeting planner or a flight attendant? Asians are overrepresented in technology jobs but that’s a relatively recent development in the history of these fields. I don’t remember, when this transition from underrepresented to overrepresented was happening, hearing a lot about how technology fields were hostile… Read more →

Women in STEM: It’s Ambiguous but You’re Still Wrong

 

The Dartmouth student newspaper reports on a study finding that gender affects an individual’s perception of women’s anxiety in STEM disciplines. Men are more likely than women to attribute this anxiety and self-doubt to internal factors, while women usually attribute such emotions to external factors. Participants in the study read one story, among a selection, about an undergraduate woman taking a STEM class. In the stories, based on the experiences of actual undergraduate women in STEM, the female main character expressed having anxiety or self-doubt. It was ambiguous whether the instructor in the stories harbored any biases against women. According to research team leader Mary Flanagan, “Women identify the problem as something that is familiar and men identify the problem as something that is a particular student’s problem. Men are not seeing the systemic biases as much as the women are. That is something that we need to address in deeper… Read more →

This is Where Your PDF Resume Will Take You

 

Received the following advice today: When applying for jobs, never send your resume in .docx format. Fonts don’t always get embedded and hiring managers cannot always open these files. Use PDF. Do we really want to work for managers who can’t open a Word doc? Imagine the world-class mentoring and career development you’re going to get from such a person. I mean, my wife can open Word docs no problem and she can’t even figure out how to turn on the TV. Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: How to Get Top-Notch Teachers in the Classroom

 

I read something every day where educators and/or elected officials are talking about the importance for our kids, our country, our future, etc., of teaching computer science, the sticking point being an extreme shortage of qualified teachers. A person entering the workforce with a computer science degree is unlikely to go into teaching because of the opportunity cost: they can earn a lot more money as a software engineer. The likelihood of getting a mid-career tech industry professional to switch into teaching is even lower. Teacher salaries are based in large part on years of service. A mid-career person switching into teaching is not going to get a mid-career teacher’s salary, they are going to get a first-year teacher’s salary. So here’s the idea: Give CS professionals the opportunity to apply their years in industry to years of service as a teacher. It’s still a pay cut going from software… Read more →

Too Few Women in Computer Science?

 

Embed from Getty Images “We have too few women in computer science.” That’s something you hear a lot. It’s an opinion presented as a fact. I never hear anyone say, “In my opinion, we have too few women in computer science.” Just “we we have too few women in computer science.” How do we know that? What is the right number? Maybe we have too many women in computer science. How do we know? I’d love to see more women in computer science btw, I just object to people presuming to know what other people should be doing with their lives . . . Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: When You Need Help, Ask For Help

 

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes. It’s a mixed class . . . most of the students are taking AP Computer Science Principles, and about 10 kids just recently started a second-semester Visual Basic class. The VB kids were pretty inquisitive at first but started to get discouraged . . . in my opinion because of the way the material is presented to them via an online curriculum. The current approach to teaching computer science in American schools, because of the shortage of (I almost said “lack of”) qualified teachers is to use packaged courses delivered to students online. My observation is students assume that because they’ve been put in front of a computer full of lessons, they’re expected to be able to read and understand the material and complete the assignments on their own with no help.… Read more →

Two Reasons For the Low Number of Women in Computer Jobs

 

I saw this chart on LinkedIn with the heading “Chart: Women in tech continue to face uphill battle” and the hashtag #STEMSexism. The first reason for the low number of women in computer jobs is that we rarely hear about women in computing except in the context of pay gaps, harassment, discrimination, “uphill battles” and #STEMSexism. It’s self-perpetuating. “Computing is a terrible profession for women in so many ways.” Followed by “Why aren’t there more women in computing?” You’ve answered your own question. If you think computing is a hostile profession (I do not, btw), why do you want more women to go into it?   The second reason for the low number of women in computer jobs — sometimes the simplest explanations are the best — is that women prefer to do other things. Men and women are different and make different choices about their lives, as a result… Read more →

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