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United States Programming IT Technology

Johnny Can So Program 730

theodp writes "In Johnny Can So Program, CS Prof Norm Matloff calls BS on CNET stories like Can Johnny Still Program? and Can the U.S. Still Compete?, saying it's a shame that CNET fails to cover the real threat to American technological competitiveness, the hidden agendas of Chicken Littles like Jim Foley of the Computing Research Association, David Patterson of the ACM and former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, all of whose organizations have a vested interest in playing the education card."
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Johnny Can So Program

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  • There is a problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PenguinBoyDave ( 806137 ) <david@@@davidmeyer...org> on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:38AM (#12498659)
    I taught a computer class for a large group of home school students and private school kids this year. They were, at the beginning, interested in learning to program. However, when it came down to actually doing it, and learning to code, they all, except for one, said "We're just more interested in playing games." The sad part about this is that some of the parents were just fine with that as long as they did their other work.
    • by Bellyflop ( 681305 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:43AM (#12498717)
      There's really nothing wrong with that. People like to watch TV and movies but don't want to be producers and directors. People like to view art, but don't have the patience to be artists. People like to read books and newspapers but don't want to be editors and writers. If every kid that liked video games became a programmer, we wouldn't have enough people doing all the other things in this society that need to get done.
      • Agreed. If it was some sort of required class by teachers, then you can bet that a lot of kids are only there because they have to, or just to put it on their college applications.

        I wouldn't worry about it too much, at least you got one who is genuinely interested.

        -Jesse
      • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @12:03PM (#12499615)
        And we could use a few more doctors and stuff. An auto mechanic with more than half a brain cell would be a pleasant thing to run into now and again as well. Who the hell decided that being a moron was actually one of the desirable qualities of someone who has to perform complex diagnostics and then fix the problem?

        Parents like to decide what their kids are "going to be" when they're about minus 5 years old. This makes growing up hell on the poor kid who wants to be a concert violinst, but whose parents have him down to be a doctor, balanced by a kid who loves biology, but is forced to practice the hateful violin 6 hours a day.

        The process is so pervasive that even kids who "grow up and make their own decision" often don't really, because they aren't actually taught how to make decisions of that nature in the first place.

        Quite frankly, the one thing we're up to arses in is apps programers, and, ironically, the one thing in the computer field we're desperately short of right now is computer scientists.

        And it's the universities getting into bed with companies like Microsoft and Intel that have resulted in computer science being mistaken for apps programming.

        So my question to Norm Matloff is. . .

        "Is your own house in order?"

        Are you, a CS professor, teaching real computer science, or are you teaching programming and calling it computer science at the behest of Intel?

        You're right. The competition isn't a valid measure of where the US stands in the tech world. It stands in the fact that we are no longer the number one nation for publishing original computer science papers. We aren't even number two anymore. Japanese kids aren't coming to Boston and Berkeley anymore for the CS educations, they're going to Bejing.

        Word is out. We've lost it. We're on the way down The rats started abondoning the ship years ago, but as Van Loon noted when talking about the Roman Empire, empires that have been fallen for hundreds of years are rarely aware of the fact.

        I too, like the grandparent, teach privately. I do not, however, take just anybody. Beyond a certain point I'll only work with people, both kids and adults, who I believe are personally involved in the subject. Not who's parents have decided that computer "science" is a good job field for them because they see a lot of ads for Java programmers in the papers.

        I do not piss and moan if a kid isn't interested in programming. I try my damndest to find that out, and then direct them to something they are interested in. As it happens, I teach violin too. It's better for everybody that way, and not just the kid.

        Because one kid who lives for computer science is worth more than an entire university full of kids who are there because it's a good job field. We are falling behind in the sciences because we no longer focus on that one kid and give him the training and facilities he needs to do brilliant work, but we crank out less than worthless Java apps programmers to satisfy the commercial concerns (yes, that may well mean you, even if you find the concept insulting) by the bucketful.

        And one kid who lives to play the violin, but isn't very technically proficient, is going to make more music worth listening to than a whole symphony orchestra full of technically perfect, but bored out of their skulls, orchestra pit monkeys.

        Tell ya what, give me 12 kids who have been properly trained as computer scientists and love the field, six theorists and six empiricists, none of whom know a lick of "practical" programming, and just enough capital to set up shop with workbenchs from Sears and computers cobbled together from odd parts, but not enough to hand out free Ferraris to everybody, and in five years the 13 of us will knock all of China on its arse.

        But I can't tell you in advance what our output is going to be, because I haven't a frickin' clue and that's the bloody point.

        Not that anyone around here would care anyway. Build a better mousetrap, give it away for free; and they'll still buy the latest braindead clusterfuck from Oracle.

        I think maybe I'll take another crack at learning Portuguese.

        KFG
        • by JeyKottalam ( 461624 ) * on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @12:40PM (#12500072) Homepage
          So my question to Norm Matloff is. . .

          "Is your own house in order?"

          Are you, a CS professor, teaching real computer science, or are you teaching programming and calling it computer science at the behest of Intel?


          This question is downright ridiculous. He is without a doubt the best professor I've known. He is notorious (feared?) in his department for teaching real Computer Science. Prof. Matloff's students rip out their hair solving his problems, but nearly every student of his will give a glowing review of his courses.

          There are some instructors who are easy, there are some instructors who are difficult for the sake of being difficult, and then there are those who enrich. Prof. Matloff certainly enriches his students.

          -Former Student of Prof. Matloff
          • by kfg ( 145172 )
            This question is downright ridiculous.

            Questions are not ridiculous. Questions are the seeking of knowledge. I have no way of knowing whether the question is "ridiculous" until I have had it answered.

            I'm glad to know this information about Prof. Matloff, but I wish he had managed to inculcate you with the above. It would give me more personal confidence in your assessment of him.

            KFG
        • by sbrown123 ( 229895 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:13PM (#12500539) Homepage
          Quite frankly, the one thing we're up to arses in is apps programers, and, ironically, the one thing in the computer field we're desperately short of right now is computer scientists.

          We are up to our "arses" in computer apps programmers for a very good reason. Companies make money by producing goods and services. They do not make money by having a gaggle of employees sitting around discussing computer concepts. So those types of people are not hired. Those who know computer science must apply their skills in a manner that is of interest to an employer. This usually translates to apps writers. So, with that said, many of those apps writers you speak poorly of are actually computer scientists.

          I do not piss and moan if a kid isn't interested in programming. I try my damndest to find that out, and then direct them to something they are interested in.

          Well, I guess it's good that you have taken a personal agenda to weed out those that are not interested in programming. But I am completely mystified to what institution you are teaching from. Teachers in public and private schools in the United States do not "pick and choose" who they teach and do not teach courses to. If you tried to remove a student from your class you'll end up getting removed yourself. This only leaves private teaching. Since most companies only hire employees who have received degrees from credited institutions, I find it unlikely you will ever get students. This is a sharp contrast from violin players who, in truth, do not have such a high requirement on having college degrees. To summarize, I find it hard to believe your claim that you are a teacher.
        • by adamruck ( 638131 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:31PM (#12500742)
          Quite frankly, the one thing we're up to arses in is apps programers, and, ironically, the one thing in the computer field we're desperately short of right now is computer scientists.

          I would like to say that I agree. I am currently taking a four year CS program, and I am really tired of programming. Personally I dont find my programming assignments difficult at all, and therefor do not find them interesting.

          However, I would like to say that CS programs have more than one other route to choose. As you pointed out they can focus more on the theory side, and graduate more researchers in the field. Another option which is almost never considered, is to teach practical things either in network administration, or more detailed information about particular applications that are widely used.

          I have no intention of being a code monkey for all my life, I personally would like to get into network administration, but have a real CS background. Personally I think it is kind of sad that my fellow students wouldn't know what a web server, or a mail server, or a router was if it bit them in the ass(on any operating system even). Also if your wondering, yes I do live for CS.
          • by kfg ( 145172 )
            Personally I think it is kind of sad that my fellow students wouldn't know what a web server, or a mail server, or a router was if it bit them in the ass(on any operating system even).

            Contrariwise to the impression some might get from my above post there is a reason why we make students take physics labs, other than annoying them by making them right lab papers.

            You don't really understand something until you have touched it with your own hands. That's why there are so many "interpretations" of quantum ph
        • I am an instructor for an LSAT prep-company, and I see this phenomenon all the time.
          I think that the vast majority of kids in my classes are there because their parents want them to be.
          Needless to say, those kids aren't the hardest working.

          I am afraid that the sky may indeed be falling in the U.S. - this phenomenon may be more prevalent than we would like to admit.

          I went through a lot of CS classes at a top-tier school, and I met some super-smart kids.
          Even those kids had trouble finding decent jobs.
          Why?
          Be
    • It is actually no different in India. Back in the day when I was first introduced to computers, I was introduced via games. It is definitely the most appealing way to get kids interested. In fact most of the introductory courses for kids in school and private institutions start with computer games to get kids interested. Then there are a few who show interest in how to program those games coz they don't like it or feel that they can do better job. And I don't see any thing wrong with that. It is a matter of
    • by blue_adept ( 40915 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:49AM (#12498781)
      A good way to get kids interested in programming is to open up the possibility of them creating their OWN games. Even if the games are simple, doesn't matter. Suddenly they'll want to know how to get x,y, and z done in their code.
      • by Andrewkov ( 140579 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:58AM (#12498894)
        It seems like the perfet tool would be some kind of high level scripting language for a game design kit, where the kids could produce a high quality game (or at least program variations of the game). They could get their feet wet, learn to think logically and maybe get hooked and want to lear more. Starting with Basic, Fortran or C is just going to turn off most kids.
      • Uhm, what platform? Surely not Windows. Because even if you aren't gonna use DX, programming something like a game is a huge PITA that no newcomer/student is going to enjoy. VB or C or Delphi - it's not gonna be easy. 15-20 years ago that would've been a valid point though. Today - you need to learn a whole pack of stuff even to start.
        • by JMandingo ( 325160 ) *
          Open source libs such as CDX and SDL take ALL of the pain out of Direct X. With these tools you can get a game framework up and running on Windows with just a few lines of code.

          For example, Download and install Dev-Cpp, run the built in web update to download and install SDL, and BAM you have an open source game-building IDE and libs with example code.

          15-20 years ago you had to purchase a C++ compiler, purchase hardware books so that you could fiddle around with secret hardware settings to get to Mode X,
      • Well, that was my gateway into programming.

        First I had to make MENUS for my game disks. So when you put them into the old Apple ][, a menu of the games on the disk came up.

        Then I had to make LISTS of games, which read from a text file, and were editable.

        Of course I had to learn how to COPY the games. Can't do without that.

        Finally I had to WRITE my own games- which blew more than Jenna Jameson...but they gave me a certain little thrill.

        If it hadn't been for games, I never would have started in this in
    • by Perl-Pusher ( 555592 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:49AM (#12498785)
      "We're just more interested in playing games."

      You get them interested by getting them to create their own games. That's how my college professor did it. We created half-assed cheasy little games. But in the process learned the basics of simulation, object oriented programming, algorithms and managing a software project.

    • by ceeam ( 39911 )
      Amazingly - the more complex the computer system the larger is effort-to-wow-factor ratio it seems. What had you try to teach those kids? Do you think that doing some low-level stuff for simpler systems may spark their interest easier?( hmm, handheld game consoles?, smartphones?, or maybe non-WinCE-PDAs?) Also, it will undoubtably give them more insight into CS than any of .NET/VBA, BTW.
    • Did you expect them to say, "We loved that integer thingy! We can't wait to find out what an array is!"

      People learn faster and more effectively when the topic interests them. If I believed that all I ever had to look forward to was writing banking software or parsing obscure log files, I never would have lasted.

      Why not modify your lesson plan to start with coding a few simple games and work your way up through that?
    • That's not a problem. Not everyone needs to program a computer. If they don't want to, or aren't any good at it, let them investigate other interests. Opportunity and exposure are enough. As long as these children can at least USE a computer, we're probably fine. 1 good programmer coming out of every classroom in the USA is a SHITLOAD of programmers.
    • Maybe you should have went with them over programming a simple game (pong, packman, tetris, blockout, robots, snake, gorilla :), tanks, invaders, tower,) - things like that are very easy to program and are quite fun to see being put together.

    • by BigGerman ( 541312 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:57AM (#12498884)
      so why is this a problem?

      The guy who stays and wants to code is the one we want. It is perfectly normal, IMHO, that in a group of decent size only few actually can program. Our educational system should be designed in a way to identify those precious few and make sure they can go as high as they can.

      It is silly to assume that Indian (Chinese, Russian, etc.) person in general is better programmer than an American one or that there are more programmers born there per 1000 population. It is simply those education systems were (for a while) better tuned to identify and pull up those selected ones.
    • Your point being...? (Score:3, Informative)

      by cyranoVR ( 518628 ) *
      However, when it came down to actually doing it, and learning to code, they all, except for one, said "We're just more interested in playing games."

      Hrm, sorta like those goof-offs at MIT [wheels.org] who developed Space War [stibbe.net], huh?

      Of course, we all know that nothing good ever resulted [google.com] from that effort [catb.org]...RIGHT?
  • Education Lacking? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maclir ( 33773 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:38AM (#12498662) Journal
    The US education problems are not in computer science, but in the general level of education in history, geography and world affairs ourside of local US issues and what Fox and similar "News" organizations deem rating-worthy.
    • More in Mathamatics, which I see very weak. I have studied both in Sri Lanka and Norway, and the mathamatics levels here are very low compared. Simply put if you want to learn good, you need to work much much more extra than what high schools and universities are offering right now.

      The balance of subject matter is what most educational instutions here try to give, yet institutes in other parts of the world such as India, China and Japan focus more on Mathatmatics, which could explain the relation to Compu
    • by bombadillo ( 706765 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:50AM (#12498801)
      Also, there is often a comparison against our public education (which guarantees everyone the right to an education) to other nations which do not have this system and thus only have priveledged classes in the education system. The comparison is not of a similar subset.
  • by bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:39AM (#12498666)
    As evidenced by the varied computer-related programming on MTV:

    Real Programming
    Code Rules
    Cyberpunked
    etc

    It's obvious that kids today have a healthy interest in computer programming.
  • Its interesting that everytime I read anything about H1B or offshore outsourcing or tech labor shortage etc., the authors never seem to cover all the bases. Does anyone know of links to good information that covers all, or at least most, of the known relevant facts surrounding this issue in the U.S.?
  • From TFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:40AM (#12498673) Homepage Journal
    Congress, openly admitting that it was responding to industry campaign donations rather than the popular will, complied by increasing the H-1B cap in 1998 and 2000, the latter action coming at the time the mass layoffs began. This past December, despite a continuing abysmal tech labor market, Congress enacted another expansion of the program.
    Welcome to Democracy. As long as no one is stepping up to the ticket with a "screw these retarded policies to the wall with a giant Black and Decker" platform, we shall continue to have more of same.
    Will slashdot help to identify responsible, long-term thinking candidates/policies, or does the second word of this sentence inform its answer?
    • Welcome to America. Please leave your self-identify and biometrics at Elis Island.
    • The US isn't a democracy.
    • This is a lie (Score:3, Interesting)

      by VP ( 32928 )
      It is bad enough that it is somewhat accepted that politicians lie, and we don't think it is a big deal, but now we have a University professor twisting and omitting facts to support his flawed premise.

      From the article:

      Congress, openly admitting that it was responding to industry campaign donations rather than the popular will, complied by increasing the H-1B cap in 1998 and 2000, the latter action coming at the time the mass layoffs began. This past December, despite a continuing abysmal tech labor mark
      • Re:This is a lie (Score:3, Informative)

        If a permanent resident program was available, where a person could start working in 1 to 6 months after accepting an employment offer, and their status was confirmed in under a year, the H1B path will be abandoned in a second. This is the solution to H1B abuses, not the fairy tales that Matloff wants to tell...

        Don't get me started on the USCIS; my German wife and I are 'enjoying' a Kafka-esque ordeal, at our own expense, through them.
        Thank you for a revealing post, though.

  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman@gmail . c om> on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:42AM (#12498706) Homepage Journal
    ...go read the article! The author has hit the nail on the head about H1-Bs and outsourcing. He never stoops to blaming Indians for either issue, but rather points out that it's a side effect of corporations and universities trying to build tiny little empires. Then in the same breath, he points out how this sort of empire building is slowly leading the higher education system into ruins and dragging all of America's great talent with it!

    I think I need to print this one out and post it somewhere...
  • Why people with hidden agendas would be pushing education, if they aren't going to gain any benefit from the education they are pushing.

    I can understand these same people wanting the Visa cap raised ( cheap labour, onshore ), but the increased focus on education doesn't fit. Why would they want that? If they are just going to be hiring visa'd employees, why would they want to increase the number of capable usa workers?

    It makes no sense.
    • As long as they get thier check, they don't care how many unemployed programmers they pump out.
    • Why would they want that? If they are just going to be hiring visa'd employees, why would they want to increase the number of capable usa workers?

      Very easy : economics 101 : The more offer, the lower the price.

      So they try to increase the offer as much as possible, by increasing "imports" (H1B) and local "production" (education). So that they can lower IT salaries even more.

      Even if the H1B works cheaper, he has heigher administration costs than the usa worker. So increasing the number of usa workers migh
  • by JWW ( 79176 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:43AM (#12498716)
    I just love seeing stories where business leaders "fret" over the lack of education in science and technology in this country today.

    Of course, then they go and layoff large numbers of technical workers and send their jobs to another country. The message is getting through loud and clear to the younger generations in this country. All the while the business leaders are lamenting the education available here they are shouting at the top of their lungs by their businsess practices - "WHY THE HELL ARE YOU GOING INTO SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, WE DON'T HIRE THOSE KIND OF PEOPLE HERE!!!!"

    The kids get it. As the one article states programming isn't glamorous like football. But, even more the kids going to college now look at business and see no need for technical people, because they're sending it all away.

    Kids are smarter than people think, they see the writing on the wall. Why go to school for 4-5 years only to find a job market with no room for you. So all the best and brightest kids end up going to law school, which is in and of itself a terrifying thought.
    • "WHY THE HELL ARE YOU GOING INTO SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, WE DON'T HIRE THOSE KIND OF PEOPLE HERE!!!!"

      And even if we do hire a few, we won't pay them very well because they spend too much time in their ivory towers/parents' basement/the dark so their experience isn't relevant to "business"(TM).

      I know it's overstating things, but the perception is definitely there. Traditional engineering (no-IT) roles have been going this way for some time.
    • by Monkelectric ( 546685 ) <slashdot AT monkelectric DOT com> on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @01:09PM (#12500489)
      "WHY THE HELL ARE YOU GOING INTO SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, WE DON'T HIRE THOSE KIND OF PEOPLE HERE!!!!"

      Wish I'd heard that when I started college :)

      Something else we're not talking about here is cultural differences amongst programmers. I dont know many Indian folk, but I've dealt with *A LOT* of chinese programmers, and they are very single minded and narrowly educated.

      Most programmers will have 1 or 2 strong languages and APIs, and dabble in a few other languages and platforms. All the Chinese programmers I've ever met, know *1* language. They know it like nobodys business, but the only know that langauge, same with their Math skills, they know linear algebra *VERY* well. They don't know databases, they don't know html, they don't know matlab, basic, php, python, perl, anything. Just their one langauge (usually C/C++). Now when you need a C++ coder these are the guys to go to, but when you need an *ENGINEER* stay the hell away.

  • More weomen in CS (Score:2, Interesting)

    by unk1911 ( 250141 )
    We need more women in CS... Seems like when I went to school 5 years ago, the male:female ratio in CS classes was something like 99:1. We were all very depressed males. If society could somehow be more accepting of women in CS then all us CS guys wouldn't be as depressed/apathetic in college. It/s a win/win situation. It might even attract more guys to CS... The real question is - how? How do we get more women to go into science/computer science?

    --
    http://unk1911.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]
  • Alas for poor Johnny,
    For Johnny is no more,
    For what he thought was H2O,
    Was H2SO4.

    If only he had gone into CS instead of Chem...

  • I skimmed TFA - it's a list of excuses basically. Valid excuses or not - who cares? The only fact I see is that if you live in Elbonia then becoming a programmer may look like a (relatively) good career. If you know that by going managerial or even clerk-like route you'll get a decent living for you and your family (with "programming" whatever that means, as a spare-time hobby if you wish so) then you must be pretty wicked to want to become a "professional" programmer.
    I mean - you are going to sacrifice a h
  • by AT-SkyWalker ( 610033 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:46AM (#12498752)
    I believe the problem boils down to the fact that we expect to be No. 1 after just getting used to it !

    while we think its our divine right to be No.1, a Chinese individual who doesn't have that perception just works a lot harder than your average American, add to that the sense of having to achieve and beat the No.1 and you get a will that is tougher than steel to win this thing (and any other situation)

    We are "Slipping" because we got too comfy in our No.1 spot; not because our education is worse. Its human nature.

    • by Quill_28 ( 553921 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:57AM (#12498880) Journal
      I would agree. I think one reason why America has done well for so long is because of immigrants.

      Most immigrants are willingly to work their arse off to get ahead. They also value education more so then the average american.

      At least that he been my perception.
    • You're missing the point of the article. The article is saying that we're in fact *not slipping*, that there are plenty of capable scitech workers out there, but that business leaders and universities are trying to create the impression that we're slipping so that universities can get grant money, and the number of H1B visas being granted will increase.

      But who in his right mind would go into scitech when half the jobs are being shipped overseas, and the other half are filled with cheap H1B labor? There i
  • In other news... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:46AM (#12498756)
    Executives want more cheap labor and are doing everything they can to get it. Labor wants higher and higher salaries, particularly if they feel the barriers to entry in their career are high. People are fighting it out, spin doctors are out in force.

    I don't know what the right answer is, but it seems to me H1-Bs are far, far better than wholesale outsourcing. My favorite form of this is my own companies current push to hire employees and open it's own design centers in Singapore, Shang-hai, Bangalore and Taiwan. This way they get full benefits of Asian labor, without pesky contracting problems, yet get to live in mansions in the nicer parts of the US.

    But Norm's article was good, I just think no one is going to listen to him that doesn't already understand the problem.
  • by cOdEgUru ( 181536 ) * on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @10:47AM (#12498769) Homepage Journal
    I have been in the U.S for the last six years. Right from the beginning I was surprised to find the constant barrage of sports over everything else (only outdone by Terrorism and Elections) in this country. Here parents pray their kids end up on the school/college football teams for both bragging rights as well as the potential for a lot of moolah in the future (mostly I think its bragging rights). Jocks get limelighted every step, every game, gets the hotter looking babe and scrapes through academics yet has no trouble getting in to college due to his sports background. The science nerds barely gets any mention in school over their accomplishment and rarely gets highlighted among their community or in the media. Almost never. Yet they positively contribute to the country and get sucked in to the same cycle, hoping their kids turn in to football players and get the girls they could only dream of.

    Where I am from: Literacy is 100%. Sports hour or P.T is a one hour drill where the students are herded for rigorous exercises, which happens thankfully only once a week. At the school level, there is hardly any sports events, mostly it is to do with academics, science shows, arts and cultural events, literature events. Sports is mainly soccer or cricket and is indulged in during the lunch hour or afterschool. No sponsors, no parents wishing their kid would become the next star. Infact, if some kid grabs his gear and heads off to the local soccer ground during study hour, he is likely to play alone.

    Academics comes first and foremost. Infact, I used to wish it were different, but not anymore. And on the state and regional level, those who pass the Secondary School exam (10th grade) with rank (ranks 1 - 15 on state level) are rewarded by the State Govt. Same goes for National Level.

    I see none of that in the U.S. I see undue importance being given to Sports, and little given to academics. I see MVP's regarded as Gods while the ones who transparently contributed +vely to the society languish in anonymity.
    • Yup, High School is like that; but don't think that all of American society is like that. For college, I ended up going to a very good high tech university [cmu.edu] and the problem switched to "What sucks is the lack of women"
    • clearly you were not here in the 90's tech boom when being a geek was actually quite cool. remember that? then there was the crash and fewer people started going to CS. When the bio tech industry has its boom (and you know is coming) then everyone will be interested in that. Before us there was a whole generation obsessed with space. It comes and goes. Notice how the US still dominates tech research and everyone comes to the Us becasue that is where the money is. The fact that the gov spends so much on
    • by bombadillo ( 706765 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:00AM (#12498926)
      Get over yourself. Sports are important in pratically every country and always get more attention then scientific achievment. Travel anywhere in the world and you will see the local sports hero in the news not the scientists. This is not just a condition to the U.S. lest you forget David Beckham's world popularity. You can find a Beckham jersey in pratically every country in the world. Especially in Asian countries.
      • You don't get given a place at a University here (UK) just for being able to play football (the game with your foot and a ball, I mean) though.

        Anyone who's seen Beckham being interviewed can see that he barely got any primary education, let alone higher education.
    • by Om ( 5281 ) * on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:29AM (#12499227)


      The opinion expressed by you makes it seem like you are a little young (apologies if I am making the wrong assumption).

      The reason I see that is because you are thinking with an 18 year old mentality. Priorities shift drastically the older you get. When you get into college, the playing field is quite different. You slowly grow to understand that noone gives a rats ass about sports, and the professors will just as soon kick you out of school than they would smile at you (the beauty of tenure).

      But see, college is just different. People actually have to pay to go to school, for one thing, as opposed to being crammed in with hundreds of other walking hormones. You actually have to work to stay there.

      I'm not sure about your high school, but mine gave far more scholorships to the students that had the highest grades (coupled with SATs). Think about it, it is in the college's best interest to give scholarships to students that will actually be able to *pass* their classes and not get kicked out.

      I don't know, I may be ranting, but seriously... your post really does sound like a jealous high school kid. College is an entirely different setting, with the priority to succeed outweighing pretty much everything else...

      oh, and getting laid. Thats important too.

      ...and drunk...you know, because you are away from home for the first time, and stuff.

      *long pause*

      Did I just prove his point? :)

      ++Om
  • by alexhs ( 877055 )
    What a pile of junk !

    FTFA :
    News.com didn't tell you that the number of teams competing has grown nearly sevenfold from 1994 through 2005. In other words, for a team to finish at, say, third place, in 1994 would be equivalent to finishing 21st this year.

    Yeah. It seems he's confusing rank with notation scale. Like if the skills of both the first and the last didn't change.

    Norm Matloff, Computer science professor

    When professors are making that poor argumentation, no wonder education level is falling

  • "Johnny can so program"

    Is that

    "Johnny can not program."

    "Johnny can so program!"

    Or the more hip, modern "Johnny's a great hacker, he can *so* program."

    ?

  • Matloff is an American hero who will no doubt be honored in the distant future. Whereas Bush, Clinton and 90% of Congress and the rest of the globalizers who sent our jobs overseas and who import cheap scab labor are traitors who ought to be tried for High Treason in a court of law.

  • The problem with the US now, is that we're exporting all of our technical and manufacturing capabilities overseas and shifting the US work force to lower skilled service positions. This has long range implications. Suppose that we enter a period like we did in WWII where we require an significant jump in our manufacturing and technical output. It won't be there. It will be in places like China. And building that capabability in the short-term won't be an option because we'd be lacking the necessary industri
  • Why should Johnny bother to learn to program when he can't make a living doing it [slashdot.org]?
  • I don't know about you, but I no idea what this guy is saying.
  • by b17bmbr ( 608864 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:01AM (#12498928)
    Johnny can program, but he can't read or write a lick. In my spare time (/sarcasm) I teach high school history. Reading their papers is like dentistry sans novicaine. Trust me on this, if they can't program, or for that matter, graduate high school thinking a cd-rom is the drink holder, they'll be okay. If they graduate and read and write at their present level, we're doomed.
  • In the article, the author says, about the ACM Collegiate Programming Contest:

    []the number of teams competing has grown nearly sevenfold from 1994 through 2005. In other words, for a team to finish at, say, third place, in 1994 would be equivalent to finishing 21st this year.

    Coincidentally, I was a member of the team that finished third in 1982. I guess we'd be lucky to qualify today. I think I'll sulk all day....

  • Really, there are kids who can code. Most, however, will use the computer for entertainment. Not everyone can be a rocket scientist. It is probably viewed as most distressing on a site like slashdot because for the most part, this is a computing-centric group. We want to see "our kind" doing what we're good at. Things like programming apps, writing innovative code and not getting laid. Someone has to go to the future when we are old and our code is creaky.

    I think though, this is no different than the notio
  • by Bilestoad ( 60385 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:07AM (#12498994)
    (and isn't Davis all aggies anyway?)

    From the article:

    "News.com didn't tell you that the number of teams competing has grown nearly sevenfold from 1994 through 2005. In other words, for a team to finish at, say, third place, in 1994 would be equivalent to finishing 21st this year. So a hypothetical team that News.com would have lauded in 1994 would now be dismissed as having badly "slipped" in 2005, even though it would be of the same quality."

    From this I guess the author means that it's OK to be at the same level they were eight years ago. It doesn't matter that the American teams didn't improve at the same rate at the rest of the world. And in his statistical argument he ignores that although team numbers might have increased so did the number of American teams.

    Next comes my absolute favorite argument:

    "Long before Olympic athletes from all countries became quasiprofessionals, the Eastern European countries were seeing to it that training for the Games was their athletes' full-time job, giving them a major advantage over other nations' athletes."

    OMG, it's not fair, they trained harder! Well hello! Is it cheating to produce programmers who can actually solve problems and write code? What exactly is coursework for if it isn't preparation for the kinds of problems you solve in programming contests? I've done a couple - it's the same thing, you just have to be faster and more accurate, compared to a programming assignment.

    "the hidden agenda behind the shrill shortage claims was to push Congress to increase the yearly cap on the H-1B work visa program, which enabled industry to import cut-rate engineers from abroad."

    I was a H1-B worker - I made great rates (thanks very much) and so did all the other H1-B's I know. It's convenient for Norm's flawed argument to repeat this myth, propagated by programmers who think they should have had my job because it was their birthright, not because they could have done it better.

    "How can American engineers compete with cheap, imported labor?"

    Too much time in academia Norm. If you can't do the job right it really doesn't matter how cheap you come. The way to compete is to be the best, there is no other way. Shopping for programmers is not like shopping for socks. Remember, computer-related thingys are digital. At the end of the day it is usually pretty obvious whether they work or do not work. "Almost works" is not good enough for anyone, except perhaps a professor who grades CS101 papers.

    When Chinese (or Indian, or anyone else) programmers turn out to cost less AND be better programmers we'll be able to thank guys like Norm, who wanted to deny there was ever a problem.

    What's Norm's issue with devoting more to education - is it just that he wants to be able to say "It wasn't MY fault?"
    • OMG, it's not fair, they trained harder! Well hello! Is it cheating to produce programmers who can actually solve problems and write code?

      He doesn't say it isn't fair. He says it is not fair to take the results of the contest and extend them to "American CS students can't compete." Have you really done these programming contests? Are you seriously implying that dynamic programming with memoization is something you are even remotely likely to need in the average IT software project? Bipartite matching?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A few years ago I had to build a tech team from scratch for a US company. I know the US is stuffed full of skilled people, but my sample set was those who responded to our adverts. We had a hundred replies, and interviewed 30 or 40 people for 5 positions. The interviews consisted of hacking through a problem together which involved a mix of skill and worldliness, for want of a better word. The tech team ended up as 4 Chinese nationals and one Indian national (all with appropriate visas). The Chinese were ed
    • y. I know the US is stuffed full of skilled people, but my sample set was those who responded to our adverts. The Chinese were educated and skilled beyond belief. The Indian was a mistake because he had no grasp of the cost of any particular development path. The US nationals tended to overrate their abilities.

      If I might hazard a guess, I would think that the Chinese you interviewed were sent to the U.S. as being the best people from their educational programs back in China. Being students in the U.S. and

  • In my opinion, todays' electronic gadgets are to blame, though they do not take 100% of the blame. When I take a look at my own siblings, they are more interested in MP3 players and iPODS, and in fact, they listen and play these gadgets on their way to school and back home. They hardly think about last night's homework...or how to best solve problem they might have encountered. They also spend most of their time on cell phones.

    Rappers have not helped in this for they even sing (in their songs) things like

  • by Kupek ( 75469 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:22AM (#12499140)
    I don't think that extrapolating from programming contest results to a nation's programmers' general ability to code is valid. Matloff points out excellent reasons why this doesn't work, but he pays attention mainly to statistics of the rankings and varying amount of training time.

    Simply, I don't think that being good at these contests necessarily is the same at being good at producing software in industry or even research. I don't like solving problems under strict time constraints, so I've never volunteered to take part in math or programming competitions. It's simply not fun for me. I like problem solving when I'm free to take the time to explore the design space and maybe go off on tangents that might eventually prove worthwhile (but often don't). Some people enjoy solving problems under strict time constraints; I'm just not one of them. I enjoy other activities that others do not. It's just personal preference.

    In the end, we always have time constraints - projects have deadlines, research papers have submission dates - but measuring the amount of time in hours vs. days, weeks or months make a very big difference in how much freedom you have to explore the problem.
  • by notany ( 528696 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:56AM (#12499536) Journal
    What is programming? This question determines what kind of people companies want to hire and how programmers are made.

    Buisiness people and managers are playing the power game. They don't want craftsman, they want interchangeable parts. With that midset comes necessarily the belief that what you do is factory work. To master any craft means that the novice must dedicate years and years into learning the skill. MS certificated "programmer" is not real programmer. He/She is code slave. Behold! New class of people working nonphyscical equivalent of cotton picking is born.

    If you have any true programming skills nowdays, you are promoted. End are the days of programming. You are now supposed to herd group of caffeine-addicted-monkeys or write nice pictures (UML) to them so they can write it painfully down.

    Quoting one of the true masters:

    The Novice has been the focus of an alarming amount of attention in the computer field. It is not just that the preferred user is unskilled, it is that the whole field in its application rewards novices and punishes experts. What you learn today will be useless a few years hence, so why bother to study and know /anything/ well? I think this is the main reason for the IT winter we are now experiencing. -- Erik Naggum @ comp.lang.lisp
  • TFA is right (Score:3, Informative)

    by WillWare ( 11935 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @11:57AM (#12499554) Homepage Journal
    There's nothing wrong with the education system, or what Johnny can or can't do at the moment, that won't resolve itself overnight if we can fix the real reasons America is slipping, which are outsourcing, outsourcing, and outsourcing. Because there's no demand for American programmers, there is no selection pressure to kill off crappy education. As soon as a selection pressure appears, the good and bad educational institutions will be sorted immediately.

    We can't blame outsourcing on Indian or Chinese programmers. They're doing what's good for themselves and their families. We could blame corporations, but corporations never listen to criticism, even from shareholders, and certainly not from Slashdot comments.

    What would work would be corporate tax breaks for creating American jobs. Bigger would be better, but they don't have to be huge. There may be many thousands of jobs where the difference in utility [wikipedia.org] between hiring an American and outsourcing just isn't that large, and a small incentive would push it back to the American worker.

    Another thing that might help would be a system of labelling that tells how many American jobs were involved in the manufacture of a product. How you guarantee the accuracy of such labels is a question; corporations will face incentives to lie about the numbers.

  • by Tiresias_Mons ( 247567 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @12:13PM (#12499764)
    American education is slipping, not just slipping, its in free fall. Our society doesn't value education, it values vanity. We pay professional athletes millions of dollars, the Paris Hiltons of the world millions of dollars, and for what? Vanity and entertainment. When it comes to education, we just say, "well, suck it up"...its complete BS.

    So what if "Johnny Can So Program" his job will be sent offshore because "Johnny Demands a Livable Wage". There's very few niche markets where "Johnny" can still get a livable tech wage in America. Can you really blame "Johnny" if instead of studying science and math and learning about technology he blows it off, parties his life away through college, and becomes a business major so he can move on up to a clueless management position and cut jobs and make a decent wage?

    Everything I learned about computers in high school, and a lot of my time in college, was learned on my own. I'd say a good portion of /. is the same way. Sure I still like to work in the tech field, but if I bought into materialism I certainly wouldn't be here, and if I had a family, I know I wouldn't be here, because I'd demand enough money to feed my family and put a roof over their heads, which would be an issue.

    I'm not against outsourcing. I'd say we should be encouraging it, but the kicker being we have to do it responsibly, which corporate America doesn't quite understand.
  • by Paradox ( 13555 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @12:34PM (#12500010) Homepage Journal
    Part of the problem is how poorly american culture has adapted to the modern world of computing. Despite the fact that people use computers nearly every day in dozens of capacities, it's still considered an esoteric and specialist degree.

    For example, look at how late in our educational system the process of programming education begins. Most "good" programmers I know were fooling around with code long before their schools ever even dreamed of introducing them to such concepts (usually around or before age 10, even!) Remember the Smalltalk project at PARC? They had children making animations, programs, games, and even simple applications. Obviously, children can understand it if you present it correctly.

    Between this delay and the general American stigma against intellectualism, many of the programmers we produce are not terribly good at the job. Maybe they did it for the money (before the .com crash), or because they could get an associates degree at ITT (better than flipping burgers), or maybe they made some fast money making cheap ameturish webpages and now they think they can do anything (classic townie wannabe).

    What we need to do is teach kids to program at an earlier age. We also need to stop being so concerned about teaching them a "low" level language first. Let's start with Python or Ruby. Let's have them doing things instead of wasting time making for loops or calcualting array medians. Start making network-enabled applications, making interactive websites, etc.

    Then, let's combine that with their math courses. As they learn math, they can learn the corresponding ways to do it on a computer (when feasible).

    That way, they'll already know if they like programing or not, and they'll be able to make intelligent and informed decisions about what direction to steer their life. I can't tell you how many people I watched drop out of our CS Pre-major in college because they didn't realize what CS really was.

    Also, why don't we see more vocational programs for cheap coding work? Not to offend web designers, but there's an example of a career that could be considered for vocational schools.

    America is having problems keeping up with their demand because our entire society is shaped to ostracise young people who are interested in the subject, and discourage them. Only the most persistant and passionate people make it through, leading to a vast gulf between a "good" software engineer produced in America and a "bad" wage-slave class coder.
    • by jayloden ( 806185 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @02:41PM (#12501574)
      I have to agree...starting programming with Java and C++ was the worst thing that ever happened to my programming. It never really clicked with me until I recently started with Python. I was able to churn out some useful, working programs almost immediately, and now when I DO go back and read C++ code, or update my C++ apps, it makes a whole lot more sense. The logical, simple syntax of Python made me able to understand underlying precepts so that moving to the lower level language becomes a small step instead of a huge hurdle.

      If I ever had my say, I would definitely support using Python (or Ruby, from what little I've seen) for teaching introductory programming. There's plenty of things that are hard enough for most people to understand in programming, the language itself doesn't need to make it even harder.
      #!/usr/bin/env python
      print "Hello World"
      sure makes more sense to a young budding programmer than
      #include <stdio.h>
      int main(){
      cout << "Hello World";
      return 0;
      }
      There's nothing wrong with learning C++, but I can definitely attest that at least in my case, it wasn't conducive to a rapid learnign experience. Discovering Python literally renewed my interest in programming because it made it so accessible.

      -Jay
  • by $criptah ( 467422 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @02:03PM (#12501136) Homepage

    When I arrived to the United States in mid 90s, my view was exactly the same: American's could not do anything and no American was smart enough to do advanced stuff. Dear Americans, please accept my apologies. I was wrong and pumped by skewed views.

    In high school, it seemed that a great fraction of kids were being dragged along in order to meet some sort of a requirement. I was puzzled becuase I went to one of the best schools in the U.S. at that time. What I did not know, was the fact that the school was required to try its best in order to educate the students. In my former country, Belarus, a great majority of those slackers would never see the 10th grade.

    I remember how everybody told me that the U.S. had no science and no math. Unfortunately, this is partly true becuase there are no hard requirements: a student can get by several years of simple math and science without even getting into advanced stuff. It turned out that if you wanted to succeed, all you had to do is work harder and take the advanced courses yourself! Yes, that is right. Most of the kids in my AP classes were just as smart as my former peers. They wanted to study advanced stuff and they got it. If one covered all the courses offered by my high school, that person could go on and take courses at a local university. That totally busted my old opinions about this country. Granted, not every teenager is dreaming about yet another calc test. So what? As long as we have people who are willing to take on and progress, we'll be fine. In fact, I enjoyed that advanced clases were small because you had to qualify in order to get there!

    The same thing applies to college. You can take easy courses and slack or you can take advanced courses and try to do your best. I opted for the latter. I worked really hard to get an A in a computer graphics class while my buddies were driking beers while creating a database driven website project for a lower level course. We ended up with the same grades, but I had to work my ass off. You get the point. In the end, everything is up to you. In many countries of the world students are simply required to study more whether they want it or not. This is subjective as well. Do students appreciate the material that their teachers force upon them? Does it make any sense to have the same math program for every student? Does it make sense to benchmark students at all?

    I guess Johnny can program. The real issue is that Johnny wants to earn some money doing it. Competing with people who come from India or China is hopeless when you have a mortgage, kids, and educational loans. Had it not been for my monetary baggage in terms of ed loans and high rent payments, I'd work for ten dollars per hour. The question about visa workers and offshoring should not be discussed via one's skill level. It is the salary that counts. I know of several companies that had to bring their development and support back because the price of their offshored contractors went up.

    FYI, I have seen some posts about bright foreign exchange students. That is all nice and cute. However, you have to remember that students who come here on visas are not your average kids! After my family moved here, a couple of my former classmates were chosen to represent my former country in a foreign student exchange program. These were the cream of the crop kids. Straight As, good behavior, good discipline. In order to qualify for the program, you had to jump through many hoops and truly show that you're the best from the best in terms of your brain power and language skills. These guys were pretty smart by default and they truly stood out regardless of the student body. Being a smart person and an immigrant makes you stand out. There you have it.

  • try RTFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maxpublic ( 450413 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @03:36PM (#12502205) Homepage
    Did anyone actually bother to read to the fucking article? Y'all are yammering on about the very diversion that news.com engaged in: that the educational process is to blame. Didn't the 'whooshing' sound over your head clue you in to the fact that perhaps you missed the point?

    The problem isn't education, as the article pointed out. The problem is the simultaneous importation of cheap, skilled foreign labor (H-1B work visas) and the exportation of the tech industry overseas. The whole 'education shtick' is nothing more than a campaign of hype used to convince Congress that H-1Bs and overseas outsourcing are Great Things(TM) for the American economy. When in fact they're sucking the life out of the tech industry and are directly responsible for the ability of other countries to compete with the U.S. in the market. First we train their workers up to the expert standards of American workers, then we ship the jobs overseas...great national economic strategy, that.

    So cut the crap about education being to blame. You've been hoodwinked just as easily as Congress and news.com have. Try rubbing a few brain cells together, think a few seconds over H1-Bs, overseas outsourcing, and the joblessness in the American tech sector, and see if you can actually zero in on the real problems here.

    Max
  • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2005 @03:51PM (#12502368) Homepage Journal
    If you would REALLY like to accelerate the shift of jobs overseas, make sure you get some good foreigners trained in US universities with a whole lot of internship contacts in American companies, then refuse to give them a work visa.

    They'll go back to their home country, where developers probably get paid half as much, and use their contacts to start a code farming business, taking away American jobs.

    The best way to keep jobs in America is to have the best and brightest from around the world COME to America and build their industries HERE. Sending them home, in the long run, sends the jobs with them.

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