Yesterday I learned that my younger sister, a sophomore in computer science, did not know the difference between a text editor and a word processor. This baffled even me, myself, and my magical neanderbrain to comprehend. Surely this is the sort of thing that ought to come up, incidentally, in the due course of studying and writing computer code.
I suppose the concept of “text editor” is not entirely necessary to the mathematical understanding of algorithms, which is supposedly the real meat of the curriculum. Hey, I’m a reasonable guy. I don’t expect undergrads to have 100% all-encompassing knowledge of industry jargon. But despite my pious dedication to nonjudgmentalism, I catch myself in idle moments wondering whether my dear, smart little sister has yet distinguished in her mind between her IDE and her source code.
Again, I’m not saying everyone must learn to program in Emacs and chorded keyboard layouts. In the meantime, we would have no time to grow food, and thereafter starve. But it does nag that the situation seems never to have arisen that a professor (excuse me, this is a prestigious university- I meant faculty or salaried staff person or grad student) gave the instruction on an assignment to “use a text editor of your choice”. Which event, my studious sibling could thereupon do her righteous duty and approach the instructor-shaped person after class and answer once and for all the indubitably superfluous question “What is a text editor? Do you mean something like Microsoft Word?”
Now I hope you’ll forgive the tangent, but it impresses me that computer science is a difficult field that requires both talent and intrinsic interest in order to succeed. And it also seems that people who are interested in things tend to pick up a fairly broad base of trivia, particularly about immediate tools of the trade. Such trivia as, for instance, the name of this doohickey I’ve been using to turn these here whatchacallits for 8 hours each day for come nigh five years. A “wrench”, you say?
Further, it seems that upon entering the workforce- if we may offer comment on such taboo subjects as The Near Future- the youngling will find herself surrounded by motivated and competitive young men of similar talent who had picked up a lot of useless vocab like “text editor” in high school whilst coding away for countless hours in their free time. Not that such knowledge is useful, understand, but we all know that talking technojargon is a great way to impress the boss. Though unfair, a woeful disadvantage.
Fortunately, it seems that no one is expecting the girl to ever write any software. It seems that having a STEM degree and a spare X chromosome are sufficient to be empowered, and that’s mostly kind of like being employed. Anyway, it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know, and that may well include a graduating class 99% full of involuntarily celibate young men who can offer helpful homework hints in exchange for mere compliments. Up to 1/4 of whom aren’t yucky Asians!
Now, I can attest the girl’s as bright as anyone, having personally taught her various mathematical tricks what’s worth knowing in college STEM. Hell, she could probably do anything she wanted, reasonably speaking. So it beggars reasonable-speaking blogfolk like myself to understand why she would decide on a notoriously difficult career path of which she had not heard until near the end of freshman year. Why, a reasonable man like myself (and I swear it’s not my fault, I was born this way) might think someone had suggested the idea to her.
Thinking back, yes, now I remember. There was some talk of “engineering” before the little lass began the holy pilgrimage for encephalic edification. I remember because she asked me what “engineering” is, being the sort of peripatetic scoundrel to amass such useless trivia. A misspent childhood made me do it. Alas, I did what such evil men do in these situations, and offered advice.
Our parents forbade me to do this again, and I have repented. Fortunately, the deed seems to have done no lasting harm: The young one is destined for a career in “computer science”, whatever that is.