January 15, 2008

Is Java Damaging to students?

From a slashdot story, I went on to read an interesting essay. The author argues that Java doesn't teach the proper fundamentals or all the fundamentals for the next generation of Comp scientists and engineers.

"We have seen how this choice has weakened the formation of our students, as reflected in their performance in systems and architecture courses. As founders of a company that specializes in Ada programming tools for mission-critical systems, we find it harder to recruit qualified applicants who have the right foundational skills."

The professors have a vested interest in Ada, this is not the language of choice, I mean the popularity of this language doesn't compare to Java or C#. Universities have it tough, or are between a rock in a hard place here. The debate is always to teach skills that match the industry needs, if they stick to teaching lisp and pascal, the industry will also complain.

So how can Universities win this battle? Building specialized programs within larger ones. The fact is that the technology world is becoming broader and broader, and software touches just about everything. So I don't know anymore that in 20years from now we will need as many generalist computer scientists, or engineers.

The reality then maybe that we have healthcare computer scientists, or defense computer scientists and engineers or biology computer specialists. The program would be designed so that the people have a major in computers and and a minor in the specific domain. They would then savvy in the specific platforms/technologies of the domain itself as well as savvy in the vertical itself, so that they can interface with the pure specialist productively. This way if the vertical requires more or something else than Java to be fully productive it would be taught.


Universities are already started on this, I know of Healthcare and bio informatics programs in Nova Scotia and Waterloo. With the work I volunteer (ictc, ocri) on the front of raising the awareness of tech possibilities, connecting the real life with the theory side of things is one very important thing to do to entice more kids to enrol. Let's hope it becomes a trend and that many more universities go for that approach.