Monday, January 14, 2008

Do NCAR or GISS Ask for This?

This crossed my path on a CS mailing list I follow. The context is about whether students need more software engineering or more computer science. It's a bit harsh on us older types but it certainly is an interesting list. I post it so scientific computing types can consider what they may or may not be missing. I should also note that there are practicing scientific coders for whom I have great respect who would find this list ludicrous.
As a software engineer in the industry and as a person who hires developers I have to say that 2 out of every 3 interviews I take from people with a CS or MS in computer science I do not hire because they are completely inadequate as software engineers. More often than not, they do not know about or have distaste for one or more of the following:
  • Design Patterns
  • Agile engineering / programming
  • Extreme Programming
  • Test Driven Development
  • Composition vs. Inheritance
We also give a programming test as a part of the interview process, it is mathematically / algorithmically moderate in challenge and most interviewees (80%) can solve the problem, but only 15-20% solve it with good programming practices and maybe 5-10% write unit tests. Actually, if an interviewee who has good engineering, but does not solve the problem is more appealing than someone who solves the problem.

I do recall from my undergraduate program at Purdue that we did have a "Software Engineering" class that did try to drive home the points I mentioned, but I have to say that it did not go far enough.

I would never diminish CS courses, mathematics, or general studies programs ever. I would say that anyone who only takes their CS and never masters the engineering principles either through other course work (several hours worth) or through an internship does not stand much of a chance getting hired at the company I work for.

In the end, I would say that if I knew 6 years ago what I knew now, I would have gone for the software engineering program and tried for a dual major in CS if I had the bandwidth.
For what it's worth I believe that design patterns in practice are overstressed, and that the list isn't especially elegant or complete. That said I also have the impression that these ideas are only very dimly perceived in the climate modeling centers and a great deal of benefit could be gained from them.

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