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Why do so few people major in computer science? (danwang.co)
424 points by dmnd on May 29, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 599 comments

The grief factor of learning to code is on a different scale to every other major. One missing semicolon will take your whole tower down, and you realise this in the first day of practical exercises.

Even if you are of the opinion that CS is math, and coding doesn't come into it, you will hit a coding wall early on.

In fact, every exercise in CS has this problem. You add a new thing (eg inheritance), and it breaks. But not only that, it might be broken because of a banal little syntax problem.

And that's just what you consider code. If you put in the wrong compiler flags, it breaks. If you can't link because something needed rebuilding, it breaks. Want to avoid it? Learn how make works. Huge number of options, which you won't understand, because you're a novice.

Oh and learn git, too. And Linux. Just so you can hand in the homework.

Compare this to the rest of university. I'll use my own experience.

- Engineering subjects tend to revolve around a small number of vignettes. Here's an aircraft engine in thermo. Draw some boundaries, apply some equations. If you get it wrong, your tutor can still see if you were going the right way. Once you've learned the relevant points, it's not hard doing some rearrangements and plugging in some numbers.

- Economics essays are basically bullet points. Miss one out, you still have an essay. Which you can hand in without knowing git.

I don't think it's even the programming that's the problem. There's a ton of Stupid Computer Shit we all know, mostly from messing around on our own time, that makes programming or doing anything else with computers much easier. A set of skills for navigating and troubleshooting issues, and a hard-earned intuition for where and how to look for answers.

My CS program was really easy and I still don't know how people who hadn't put hundreds to thousands of hours into picking up that stuff in the years before college made it through. Many didn't, I guess. With some programming background on top of that it was pretty much a cakewalk for me, but the poor n00bs....

>There's a ton of Stupid Computer Shit we all know, mostly from messing around on our own time

This, I think, is the core issue. Like most of us here, I started playing with computers as a young child, from a Timex Sinclair 1000 as a pre-teen to a Commodore 128 as a young teen, then an Amiga and beyond. It wasn't work, it was fun, a hobby. And more importantly, by the time I hit college, I had literally thousands of hours of practice just being immersed in how computers work.

I started tutoring other students in CS for some beer money, and it was a real shock at how awful otherwise very intelligent people were at what I considered utterly trivial questions. But they weren't trivial. They were only simple if you already had a complex, detailed and well-worn model of how computers work running in your head. Without that, even simple computer tasks may as well be written in cuneiform for all the good it does the genuinely new student.

I'm not even sure it is possible to take a young adult who is truly computer illiterate and have them succeed in a technical major. At least not in a standard 4 years. There is simply too much foundational knowledge you need to have before you can even begin the real work of learning what to do.

So my story is a little different. I didn't write my first program until I was in college and didn't even own a personal computer until I was going into my junior year in 2009.

I had the advantage of having a department that assumed we were computer illiterate (I went to an HBCU in the late 00s: lots of low-income kids, very few had PCs of their own growing up, let alone college educated parents) so there were a lot of resources dedicated to tutoring, TA involvement in labs, and building a community around our department. It sort of felt like being in a sports club. Every freshman was assigned am upper-classman mentor and every mentor I had took their role seriously. If I didn't come around for a week I got a phone call. If I struggled I got extra help, and my relationship with my mentor was something that came up if I started slipping in a class. We also had advisors based on our interests who were constantly throwing REUs, internships, and events into our face.

When I went to grad school at a majority institution it was like night and day (no pun intended). Lower level students were often left hanging on a vine and were only paid attention to if they were already successful. The TAs weren't actively helping students, only passively so. I left there thinking there were probably a lot of kids who got turned off to the major because they didn't get the help they needed. Poor kids especially had it rough because they often came from a situation like mine, households with one computer that they were only allowed to use if they were using word write a paper or something.

I say all that to say I think you can teach a young adult to succeed in a technical major in 4 years, but it takes a village. If you immerse them in a community built around that technical major, it becomes a lot easier to get them up to speed.

Agreed. I think what's more important than tinkering with computers as a child is to just have willpower to stare at something for hours with no end in sight just to have a small breakthrough. Those breakthroughs, for me, almost seemed to reward me with little releases of endorphins like solving a puzzle.

I lived for those "a-ha" moments too. I remember when the theory of computation clicked and the rush of understanding that washed over me that put everything I'd done in that class in perspective. It was probably the best feeling I ever had in my academic career.

Thanks for sharing your story. It makes me genuinely happy to hear.

It really bothered me that I wasn't able to successfully tutor more CS students, and many folks that I know would have (eventually) loved it and thrived in the discipline dropped out due to their inability to get over the hump.

It sounds like from your experience direct, constant mentoring (along with a highly motivated student!) does work.

I should have thought about beer money. But I was such an introverted geek.

I do remember watching other people trying to figure out how to use a mouse or the most basic stuff. I've already studied algorithms and data structures and had a paying programming job. Most of the CS work seemed trivial but I did learn some math. The math did get hard so the degree was definitely not a breeze. Even with CS there were areas that were less trivial like computational geometry or numerical methods but I had the advantage that coding was a non-issue so I could focus on the essence.

Many many many years later, I still often make the mistake of assuming things that look trivial to me are also trivial to others. It's just so hard to tell whether something is universally trivial or just trivial because you've done it so many times.

I wonder if the current generation's "playing" with their phone/computer/tablets gives them an advantage over the previous generation. I do work with quite a few sharp young people but I don't know whether they had programmed before going into CS or not, I guess I should ask...

If anything, it's a disadvantage IME: the implicit lessons of the iDevice are that the world is made of non-user-serviceable black boxes that cannot be recombined to make anything substantially different than what you started with, and if one does ever manage to peek under the hood (and why would one do that, any more than they do with their fridge or their TV?) one sees only immutable non-deconstructible complexity.

Contrast this with the 8-bit era: devices made of multiple clunky components large enough to manipulate and simple enough to fully comprehend, shipping with "user manuals" that look like today's programming textbooks or service/maintenance manuals (where those exist today at all), a readily available developer environment giving full access to the hardware, tinkering with hardware and software as a matter of course to get anything interesting done at all... The experience is very different indeed.

I totally agree with this. The mass produced handheld computers such as smartphones and tablets, which outnumber desktops and laptops in personal ownership worldwide, will absolutely not help the newer generations with learning how computers work.

When I was a tween I was building my own desktop, installing drivers, trouble shooting driver issues, trawling log files, and even dabbled in a little bit of python here or there when I had no idea what I was doing.

None of that is even a thing on the black box of of a touch screen device.

I am so glad that there are enough people around to support a healthy PC components market. I build 1 or 2 per year and I haven't felt the supply dwindle yet.

It is a shame that this is no longer the default option, but it can be done for people wanting to get an educational experience. I wonder how easy it would be to build a computer with a little kid?

My six-year-old nephew sat with rapt amazement as I assembled a standard PC in his living room while hanging out with the family. It was a very straightforward build- just motherboard, CPU & RAM, no addon cards, hard drive was already in the case. His mind boggled a little when he saw all the wires from the power supply, but as I pointed out how each group of wired to key into only certain ports, I could see the 'aha!' in his eyes.

(He also just about jumped for joy when he saw the color-changing LED fan I put on the case.)

Obviously at that age he doesn't quite have the manual dexterity to do the work himself, but I let him touch the RAM as I installed it so he could feel it click in to place, and showed him how to close & latch the CPU lever.

He appeared to really enjoy the experience. The next time one of the offices I work for retire some desktops, I may clean some up and partially disassemble them, so he can 'build' one himself. I really want to impress on him the fact that things that look complicated can be understood, if you just break down the task into bite-sized chunks.

You forget that Arduino and Raspberry Pi exist now and fill that void quite nicely. If anything, I think it is far, far easier to learn the intangible CS skills today than at any time in the past. The one problem I see is with kids' motivation to do so, not with access to information or materials.

I think the subtlety is the change in defaults. Having access isn't even half the battle. Speaking from experience my motivation came from spending hundreds of hours making the only computer in my family work.

Naw, but I don't think they fill that void. Regular families don't really need/want desktops like they may have in years past.

Exactly. And the UI of a phone has become increasingly elementary and unsophisticated compared to even a keyboard and mouse. Being an end user of mobile games or Snapchat or Tinder (swipe-swipe-tap-swipe) simply doesn't prepare you for Emacs or vim.

My son is five and recently put together one of these: https://kano.me/

It's a great little system. It teaches the commandline and python programming and it lets kids do things like play minecraft then change the code to make it run differently.

This is why I think it should be mandatory for CS to use free software.

I don't think they have an advantage, as I've noticed that kids knowing their way around their phone are often completely lost when put in front of a computer. They never use the computer, they have everything in their phones. Compared to a computer, a phone is simple, and you aren't actually solving any problems while using it (you're just downloading and running apps). When you have a phone, however, there's no need to learn the computer. This means that they're missing out on the computer learning curve that we experienced.

Again, Rasp Pi and the whole "maker" movement are mainstream. My daughter is in a STEM Middle School and she has done more things at age 11 than I did when I was 18! They're teaching Android game coding to kids age 10.

I think your daughter is lucky to be going to an exceptional school that teaches programming at age ten. The vast, vast majority of American students do not have these kinds of courses. May I ask what school system your daughter is in?

I think GP hits the nail on the head there with the homework analogy, and you with yours. Just talking to my friends in other careers about the work that I do makes me check time and time again just how many assumptions of knowledge I make when talking about anything vaguely technical (which is possibly a criticism of how I explain things, but also/even if so says lots about this issue).

What surprises me is the lack of consolidated resources addressing these basic pain points. I don't think it would be hard to come up with a list of examples just by looking at a normal work day and taking a step back; really evaluating where you're relying on basic knowledge to do even the most mundane of tasks. Once you've been doing this for a few years those tasks are just that - mundane - but for beginners it's having difficulty with those basic parts that is a real turn off. "How will I ever be any good at this if I can't even download code off this thing called Github". If someone could point me towards some kind of existing resource covering a bunch of different areas in this way I'd be really interested in having a read.

On a related note, I'm reminded of one of Dan Luu's related essays on debugging [1], which I recommend reading if you haven't already.

[1] https://danluu.com/teach-debugging/

My Cousin smart kid had to come over at midnight because he had his first java assignment outside the ide. Couldn't compile because class path was not defined right on windows. Things like that scare people or pop their confidence.

That just sounds like the professor didn't teach them about Java classpath before telling them to use a CLI; or this kid didn't read the course materials.

It's not unusual, in education, to begin with something interesting* to provide motivation and a big-picture view before getting into details.

For example, if I wanted to teach a kid to use an Arduino, I'd start them off getting an LED to blink by telling them which wires to plug in where, and what code to type in. If they were good at that, maybe I'd have them make it fade in and out like a macbook light.

That way, when it comes time to learn about voltage and current and P-N junctions and bandgaps and PWM and cross-compiling and memory maps and bootloaders, they'll have real-world examples to relate it to.

The difficult part, of course, is even if I thoroughly test the instructions with a clean VM and hardware, the instructions can still fail - like if they've installed a different version previously and there's some sort of conflict.

*Or at least, interesting by the standards of the course

Sure, but if you have been playing around with environment variables in your OS since you where 8 years old the problem becomes a lot easier to troubleshoot, compared to someone who has never heard of environment variables.

Even after decades of experience, this stuff can still be extremely frustrating. I remember my first experience trying out Go, fighting with the GOPATH and GOROOT variables until I could figure out how to get things installed properly.

I recently had this experience as well, it was a good reminder about the fundamental obstacles. Although after years, we're much better equipped to interpret error messages and search for answers than a novice. Also, google now vs pre-google. Answers are so easy to find now, it boggles the mind.

I'm a bit interested with your comment. Do we have 8 year olds playing around with environment variables in the OS? I'm curious because I never thought that could be possible

It was not uncommon to have to monkey with crap like that back in the DOS days, to do the most basic things. I vaguely remember having to fool around with autoexec.bat and play with virtual and extended memory settings to try and get Raptor: Call of the Shadows, Wolfenstein 3D or Warcraft: Orcs and Humans to load up and use the right colors on the family 586, when I was much too young to be playing such games - or really tweaking environment variables.

Yea, having to hack your autoexec.bat and config.sys files to get your games to work was definitely a formative experience :)

I remember having to muck about with autoexec.bat files when I was SIX (this was a quarter century ago) because our 386 desktop had enough memory to run either Windows 3.1 or the CD-ROM drive, but not both simultaneously. Granted, I was just copying instructions that my dad had written into a workbook, not writing the file myself.

That's likely a source of frustration. In class, professors and other students might assume you already knowing something as in indicator that you're passionate/interested and not knowing it means you're not. (A->B doesn't necessarily mean ~A->~B, right?).

Maybe, but the procedure is the same as for any other error you don't understand, copy paste the error message to a search engine and use the results to figure out what it means and how to fix it.

Which teaches you how to find other people's solutions to your problem- a valuable skill - but you miss out on building foundational troubleshooting skills.

But that kind of information should just be in the instructions for the assignment. It's a problem with the instructor, is what I'm getting at.

Doesn't the Java processor tell you in the error message that it "can't find x in classpath" or whatever?

Perhaps the lesson was "read the error message; if it doesn't help then take that as a call to produce useful errors in your own programs"?

Learning to read errors is itself a skill. The number of professional devs who ask questions of the form "I got this message what do I do" and the message itself tells them what to do is astonishing.

to be fair, I've been coding for 8 years and have never coded in a Windows operating system outside of an IDE, and in general I don't use either, and have not since Computer Science 1.

For a job, I had to get python working on Windows, and it took me a few days to get it in stalled correctly on Windows. Even after years of coding experience.

The issue with Windows is it is designed to explicitly hide the backend functionality, and modular accessing and modifying of it to the front end user, so when you do need to do something of the sort, it's more difficult than linux, and even after using linux operating systems, macbooks I find difficult to work with because comustomizable things are hidden to the average mac user.

That being said, a linux operating system is probably daunting for a first timer.


I only minored in Computer Science, and like others, did not even know what it was until I went to a tech college for Electrical Engineering. I grew up in the deep south low on the socioeconomic scale, noone in my family even went to college ever so I just had had no exposure to computers or even the idea of computer science before.

It seemed cool but daunting.

1. I got a part time job in tech support to help myself get acquainted with the parts of computers and technology that you need to learn so that when you do Computer Science you can focus on Computer Science.

That side job was 15hours a week over two years and it helped me learn alot about troubleshooting, viruses, computers, I reimaged hundreds of computers and learned how to make my own isos, take apart and put together computers.

It made my computer science courses in relation seem ideal and the technical bottlenecks of working in different environments whether operating systems, relatively trivial but yeh, I had to double up on my time commitments and turn my college job into tech work to catch up.

2. once I learned what a linux operating system was, I started using only minimal versions of linux, so I would be forced to learn more about how computers work to do everyday needed tasks, along with all over layered projects and school work on it. This helps ALOT.

You want to print something, you need to install or update the drivers, you want a functionality that you didn't know could never not exist on a computer, now you learn how to figure out what to download, what rpms are learn alot about options you have from opensource packages many people have made.

Now you are aware of hundreds of gaps/needs in functionality that have not been written so you could try something and have a realistic project to work on.

You have access to other peoples code...etc...

All of this from googling about printing drivers and why you have access denied....

the learning curve is steep but its hard to learn about this world any other way.


In regards to Computer Science, there were a few reasons I did not end up majoring in it despite really liking it, and now taking coursera courses from Stanford and Princeton to supplement my desire 5 years post graduating to go back and learn more and shift to full time software development.

As a disclaimer, these are all really a result of my mental approach/reaction to a growing desire to learn more Computer Science.

1. I really didn't have the self esteem that I could do it in four years.

I knew I could excel at Electrical Engineering, but Computer Science seemed like a whole new world I could not learn in four years.

2. I went to a pretty good engineering school, and the kids in Computer Science had basically been coding since they were 8, so for me I felt like the competition was high and I could not stand a chance.

3. In retrospect that was not the case, and in fact the people I did know in Computer Science were very welcoming and encouraging to me coming into it, but I really didn't believe I could do it.

I regret that approach now, and I could blame it on all things academia in Computer Science, but it was really my reaction to the sentiment echoed here already that it takes years to really feel comfortable with Computers, programming and all of it in context so you aren't constantly wondering what youre not understanding or spending hours trying to set up varied work environments because you've never used a terminal before.

It is a continual effort and Computer Science, more than any other major or practice, is a new lifestyle and way of thinking, and a lifelong commitment to learning.

For me, I have continued on this path and continued to code for years after college and work on independent and group projects, and taken on coding work in my jobs in relation to electrical engineering. Just now at 26, being first exposed to Computer Science at 18, do I feel confident about my ability to learn and do well as a software engineer that is not a code monkey, working on computationally challenging problems where scaling, algorithms and data structures are a core part of design and implementation to make something successful.

You just have to keep trying, and in general, in regards to computer science or elsewhere, this weeds out alot of people.


As a final note, I would say the most daunting part of Computer Science in college was the perception I had about the experience and practice of Computer Science majors versus mine. I felt really ignorant in comparison and had no realistic way to convince myself I could compete and do well amongst kids with 10+ years experience.

Perhaps the value of this post is to say. I overcame alot of obstacles socioeconomic and otherwise to get into college in the first place.

I made a 4.0 in a private high end highschool and had and have a good work ethic and intelligence.

I even went to an engineering school and majored in Engineering.

Despite all of these layers of statistical thinning, I still didn't feel I could cut it as a CompSci.

If it is challenging for someone who is otherwise very smart, exceeding well by all academic metrics, has a good work ethic and is already in a school offering a good Computer Science program, wants to learn Computer Science, takes entry level Computer Science courses and makes As in them, and still doesnt feel confident about Computer Science, then there is definitely something about Computer Science, that sets the barrier high for learning.

It's definitely a DIFFERENT way of thinking, and I think the barrier to that new way of thinking is not a barrier for learning in most other places perhaps maybe save linguistics, which is also extremely difficult to become proficient in if you did not grow up in a multilinguistic environment or are not constantly saturated in living in a multilinguistic community.

You need to saturate yourself in a new way of thinking, and for me it is incredibly rewarding and translates into every other part of my life and allows me to think more objectively and logicially, creatively and efficiently than I have knew I could, but I think it is the way of thinking that is the learning barrier, along with the multilayered skills needed to navigate complex computing environments, that keeps people from Computer Science.

Lots of good insight here, you ought to cut n paste this into medium to get it out there. I particularly find your perspective of academic high achievers, who have already over come many obstacles, to still find CS as an impenetrable discipline.

This is really valuable insight. Thank you for sharing this!

If you don't mind me asking, did you apply this approach to specific programming languages? I'm curious which ones you tried to learned and ended up sticking with, and why.

What I stick with is based on what I'm developing and working on. The important part is to not be afraid to learn and try new things. I have not stuck with anything in particular but I stay strong in C/C++ because most of my development has related to efficient memory solutions.

On the other hand, Java is really nice for algorithm testing, and writing for classwork.

Javascript is obviously inescapable in some format if you are doing web development so I jumped right in and have learned it with Angular, Express, the MEAN stack in general etc.

It's better to have actual projects to work on. From there its easier to center around a framework, but I still prefer C/C++ but I am learning to appreciate Java the more I develop GUI applications and test more complex algorithms.

Recently I'm trying to test out an idea for an app, so the first thing I knew is I wanted it to be cross platform, so I've had to learn alot more javascript/ionic framework, etc. cordova and how phonegap is a version of that, and learn android and ios app dev to understand how phonegap links the two, and of course theres a movement to use react to dev natively, and Kotlin is coming in strong in the Android space with cross platform app dev, so there is alot you have to learn once you have an idea, and need to learn what helps you implement that idea/project, and you learn more that way instead of saying "I'm going to create something pretty with javascript". You will learn 20x more by making an entire project from design to implementation, and become familiar with how to navigate when and when not to use languages, frameworks technologies, you have to try stuff and fail alot and keep going and continue to make time to put thousands of hours of work into it.

You have to like it to do that, I really enjoy it.

I still remember a lab where one of my friends was up all night trying to find an error in his Java (1.0) code that ultimately came down to having a single character lowercase instead of uppercase.

> There's a ton of Stupid Computer Shit we all know, mostly from messing around on our own time, that makes programming or doing anything else with computers much easier.

Thanks for clearly articulating this in 6 words: "Stupid Computer Shit we all know". This is something many people aren't willing to acknowledge (aka tribal knowledge gained from lots of trial and error).

It perfectly summarizes what pg tried to communicate in a 2013 interview [0] where he said founders who have been "hacking for the past 10 years" have an enormous competitive advantage over founders who haven't i.e. female founders when it comes to starting technology companies.

Unfortunately, the tech press [1][2][3] went out of its way to grossly misinterpret what pg was trying to say [4].

[0] https://www.theinformation.com/YC-s-Paul-Graham-The-Complete...

[1] http://valleywag.gawker.com/paul-graham-says-women-havent-be...

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/paul-...

[3] https://www.quora.com/Is-it-possible-that-Paul-Grahams-comme...

[4] http://www.paulgraham.com/ff.html

> Thanks for clearly articulating this in 6 words: "Stupid Computer Shit we all know". This is something many people aren't willing to acknowledge.

I think a lot of us have forgotten how strange and frightening a blank command line was the first time we encountered it. And how long it took to actually get comfortable with it. Even a windowing system is weird if you're not used to it, and lots of people use those for years and years without ever actually feeling like they're in control of them.

Knowing where the boundaries lie, how to protect oneself from unrecoverable situations and how to get oneself out of bad-but-recoverable ones puts one at ease in front of the keyboard. The absolute n00b (which we all were, once) gets lost navigating directories. The experienced user loses their boot sector, curses, sighs, then fixes the problem. They aren't put off by finding the solution to their problem is to apply a patch to their kernel and compile, and so on. It takes time to reach that kind of ultra-power-user level of competence and confidence, it's hard to teach, but it's enormously useful for letting you put the concerns of basic (ha!) computing in the background and focus on the task at hand (programming, for example).

I got dropped in to an AS/400 environment a few years ago. All my knowledge instantly vanished. It was harrowing.

There were so many idiosyncrasies my coworkers knew that I had to learn (anyone know how to push the F22 key?) The terminal didn't function in any way I was familiar with at all (no ls, cd, mv, nothing). The "filesystem" was basically for interoperability while the actual system ran with a concept of "libraries" instead of folder hierarchy.

I ended up having to take basic lessons on the system.

It really gave me an appreciation for "stupid computer shit we all know". It sucks to be in a position of not knowing that stuff. Suddenly the most basic functions becomes monumental tasks.

>I think a lot of us have forgotten how strange and frightening a blank command line was the first time we encountered it.

  BBC Computer 32k

  FS 1.42


As an 11 year old, this was thing of joy, not fear.

It's all fun and games until you break the very expensive family computer (and when your parents have written instructions for the sequence of magic commands to run various programs and don't understand the directory tree, "breaking" it can mean a lot of things) and have to figure out how to fix it. With no Google to consult. :-)

Directory tree? I had a cassette player. This is a computer that you upgrade the OS by going to a computer show and buying a new ROM. Dad watched just to make sure I didn't electrocute myself. He drove me 50 miles buy a debugger on another ROM chip for my 14th birthday. My parents thought these new fangled computers might be important someday, and bought me one to "play" with. I didn't have Google, but I had the instruction manual for the 6502. Life was good.

Exactly right. The unstated but important knowledge of Stupid Computer Shit We All Know was spun by the media as "Evil Bigot Paul Graham Says That Only Suburban White Kids Who Have Used Computers Since Age 6 Can Ever Be Successful Tech Entrepreneurs". Which was not at all what he was saying but ... media gonna media.

I agree. The hardest part of getting my CS degree was the Math and some of the fundamental CS classes. The actual programming classes I enjoyed quite a lot. I came into college with a lot of personal experience with computers, and programming, like you mention.

I figured most other classmates were the same. However, the amount of skill variation I witnesses as a lab assistant where intro course students would plead with me to basically complete their assignments after I helped them once was mind-opening. Horrifically formatted code. Unable to use copy-and-paste keyboard shortcuts--or any keyboard shortcuts, really. Unable to run and debug code. Unable to find where in the file system the compiler or their commands were running. Unable to understand file system permissions, etc.

There was a huge valley between those with no experience that just wanted the CS degree for a well-paying job, and those that already had CS experience and wanted CS for a well-paying job that they would enjoy*


On the other hand, I took a theory CS course in college, and all of the pure math students found it extremely easy with predictable lectures and short obvious homework assignments, while all of the programming-since-they-were-5 but not too mathy students were in way over their heads, and really struggled a lot.

It’s all about what you know...

I loaded up with theory classes in college precisely to stretch myself and learn more of the difficult things that I wasn't yet already competent in. I'd been programming since I was 9, and could handle the programming projects just fine (more easily than most other students), but the theory classes were more challenging and I wasn't going to learn that stuff if not in school. It ended up being quite helpful for Google interviews later anyway.

I didn't go to Google but I can relate to your story. Having reached CS courses after tens of thousands of hours programming was very enlightening. Indeed, the CS course layed down all my hands-on knowledge upon a very nice theoretical foundation. I clearly remember saying to myself "ahhh, all that what I've done so far, now i really get it". I had that feeling when studying algorithm performance (with math proofs) and when studying the Scheme programming language (with all the fun stuff : call/cc, tunks, curification, CPS, immutability, pure function, lazy evaluation,...) This + my hands-on knowledge made me a very enlightened dev :-)

I had a much easier time in theory than the other students as well, and ended up being the only non-graduate level student in Quantum Computing, and only CS major in another, Combinatorics. I think a big part of it was that I had a strong maths background, graduating as I did from a Math/Sciences magnet school.

I had the same background of having gone to math/science/CS magnet programs in grades 6-12, which also helped me with the theory courses. Not to the same extent as my programming experience helped with the practical courses, though; theory wasn't something I did outside of school for fun.

I believe that being in the "engineering mindset" is at odds with what many people are used to. I think it's the culture that some see and get scared away from, even if that perception isn't 100% accurate. People interested in fixing CS "inclusivity" should address this first.

Given that computer science isn't engineering (they are distinct but different disciplines), can you elaborate on what you mean by the engineering mindset?

Can't speak for OP, but the engineering mindset usually comes from those of us who go into the program that tend to be very mathematical and logical, while being obsessed with figuring out how things work. When a group of engineers sits down at a table to eat lunch, they could spend an hour arguing about how the restaurant could be more efficient...etc. These kids are often used to independent problem solving and don't need to have their hands held. We had an economics teacher in college who was famous for asking the engineers to stand up on the first day of class and then stating that they would be excused from the finals as they would all have above a 95 and not have to take it. The only majors that get the math exposure we do are well mathematics and physics. The difference is we also have to do a lot of concrete things like fabrication, CAD, circuit design, and almost every other class gets some level of programming, so your entire world resolves around fixing things and applying problem solving techniques. They parody this in Dilbert, but engineers are weird birds. Comp Sci is similar in a way when you have a student coding for 12 hours straight as they're in the zone and coding an elegant solution. They aren't entirely dissimilar, but engineers often have a more formal math background and will attempt to approach a problem from that side. Someone with a PhD in math will be so far ahead of me, that I'll barely be able to catch a glimpse at the kinds of problems they solve. We do more practical things like design engines and stealth technology, while they work on things like the millennium problems. I once attended a lecture by a notable math professor on the Riemann Hypothesis basics. 1 hour in and I still didn't hear the problem properly stated. He said "the reason the riemann hypothesis is important is because it is the reimann hypothesis" wtf?!? Anyway, although it is somewhat stereotypical, each major seems to have a kind on niche person that is attracted to it.

> We had an economics teacher in college who was famous for asking the engineers to stand up on the first day of class and then stating that they would be excused from the finals as they would all have above a 95 and not have to take it.

To be honest with you, that teacher sounds like a real tool. All that that can possibly achieve is to breed various subtle forms of animosity, either among classmates or towards engineers or towards the teacher or the course.

No doubt about that. Really unprofessional.

> the reason the riemann hypothesis is important is because it is the reimann hypothesis

I can see this being a joke. Entire subfields of mathematics have been built on the assumption that Riemann hypothesis is true. He probably assumed that everyone in the audience would know this, which is not unreasonable.

In 6 years I never thought of it that way! :)

Thanks! Now I feel like an idiot.

Try "Trolling Euclid" book by Tom Wright, to understand why the Riemann Hypothesis is considered by many mathematicians to be the most important unsolved problem in mathematics today.

Will do, thanks!

Not a dig...but questions like this one. I get what you are asking, but I think that people outside of the discipline would be thinking, "You know what I mean. Why so pedantic?"

As an example, being "technically correct" is important for building a design to match a specification or for winning a logical argument.

But it is not an important skill for persuading people, or for cheering people up.

There should seriously be a class on "Stupid Computer Shit" - I think that would make programming, and hence CS, a lot more accessible.

There was a good class on Coursera a while back called "Startup Engineering" which did cover some of this even though it wasn't the focal point of the class.

Of course, it would be impossible to cover every little detail - but a class dedicated to SCS would still be super useful.

Hmm.... Many CS101 courses are extremely easy; have a look at something like Harvard's CS50, which many people also take online. There's always somewhere to start for people who's hardly used their computer for more than just browsing.

I thought that until I saw some of my otherwise very smart friends try to take the course. "extremely easy" is extremely subjective.

I haven't gone through CS50 but I took the MIT equivalent online. From the perspective of someone who has done a fair bit of programming but is not a professional programmer (and doesn't do a lot these days), it was somewhat time consuming but not terribly hard for me.

However, my thought when taking it was that if I were a freshman taking this who had minimal experience with computers, I'd have been pretty lost. Not so much because I couldn't have handled individual aspects of the course but there would have just been too much new from the practicalities of a programming environment to a lot of the basic programming concepts to the more theoretical aspects.

Would that be MITx 6.00.1x?

Yes. (It's actually in 2 parts online.)

I had a lot of that "SCS" experience from growing up, although in college CPSC 101 was my first experience with programming...and I hit that hypothetical wall really hard. I was worried I was going to have to change majors 2 months into the class. I still remember the moment when I was staring at code for about 3 hours on a bunk bed when it suddenly just made sense...and then I got A's in all of my CPSC classes for the rest of school.

I couldn't explain how to make it make sense if my life depended on it. It just happened.

When I went to senior secondary school (class 11 and 12; this is before engineering college for 4 years starts here in India) I opted for CS as my 5th subject (4 courses are compulsory and you can opt for 1, or 2 more - you'll be scored on best 5). The teacher was doing it in C++. I still remember my first program was a for loop in C++ and before that I didn't know the C of Computers. I sturggled from the day 1. I had gone there from a village and I had never used a computer before. I just was good in Maths, Physics (or so they said and so I thought) etc and people said I should go for CS and I did.

Loop, increments, semi colons, returns, recursive everything was a deterrent. But this wasn't the real problem. The real problems were the teacher and the rest of the class. Pretty much everyone else, most of them were from the that city or other cities and had been doing CS from quite early on - many of them had their own computers to my surprise (it was quite pricey back then), as they didn't face any challenges and the teacher expected me to just go at the same speed and catch up somehow. I tried to seek his attention and get some help with the challenges I faced and he would just say a thing or two and move on, or ask a student to help me who'll help with "no, you have to put a '==' there, not '='" and I would never know why. At that time of of struggles books confused me more. I was shocked to see years later that why they didn't use C&R and why Robert Lafore and some Indian authors. Why? Also, this was also the first time I was introduced to the purely commercial nature of education where the "connection" in the class was missing right from the start which I was used to having been to boarding schools and semi rural schools.

I failed. Miserably. Again and again. But I still kept the course throughout 11 and 12, though I had a strong urge to drop it in 12 (just before the board exam; the one that matters and you get a certificate for this) and opt for something familiar and straight like Economics or Sanskrit which was I really good at. I don't remember why but I guess it was the urge to prove myself or get something that will get me or job or so; as that's what I had known about CS. I can't recall.

Anyway, for some reason my seat during the board exam (during CS paper; your seats change for all the papers) was diagonally behind my best friend who knew pretty much everythiing in the paper and I ended up scoring 3 marks higher than him out of 100. He's still cross about it.

Well, I never recovered from those initial CS trauma days. I still feel daunted by anything new in CS and get stressed. First I try to avoid it and question the need of it in the first place (like I did when I was asked to move to frotend/Angular from Android) and after a few weeks or few months when I have my hands dirty with it and I find it easy like muscle memory I look back and wonder why I was worried about it and it repeats.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I've often thought one must be part sadist to continue in this field, or to be successful :)

Hundreds to thousands of hours? I think you're overestimating a weee bit.

Maybe. But I am sure I had put in a thousand hours programing my C64 by the time I had finished 8th grade. And I doubt I'm alone.

Ack. I misread "hundreds to thousands" as "hundreds of thousands." My mistake! Hundreds to thousands is def reasonable.

And wrote it too? Haha

I cut and pasted. Ya, kinda silly. Oops!

One of my professors actually made the opposite point: that in CS, the compiler will give you an error. You can fix it and move on to the next. While in math (he was a math prof), the paper doesn't object to your writing nonsense. If you have an error early on in your work, all the rest might be nonsense, and you only find out much later after a human grades it.

tl;dr at least in CS you get immediate negative feedback

Around here most CS, math, and physics courses have "demonstrations" - weekly occasions where students present their solutions to homework exercises in a classroom setting. The answers are not graded, you just have to attend and be prepared to present if you're (semi-)randomly chosen by the instructor (a TA or sometimes the lecturer themselves).

It's fun to observe the teacher's reactions sometimes when it is apparent that the student presenting is clearly heading towards a train wreck of some sort due to misunderstanding the question, not being rigorous enough, or just being generally confused about the subject matter. Occasionally I've seen professors at the math dept get this visibly pained look in their face as they watch a CS student abuse their beloved math in particularly horrendous ways.

Until you're working on something that can segfault/fail to null terminate a string/fail to sanitize user input, etc. And the compiler won't tell you if the semantics of your program is garbage either.

Indeed very often the problems people encounter are described well in the error message and/or stacktrace that is printed. But many, many people find it very hard to correctly read and understand those and it's because that is also a hard skill to learn.

People will actively refuse to read error messages[1].

I don't know how many times I've been trying to fix something with somebody, and an error dialog comes up, and they dismiss it instantly, before whatever content it might hold has a chance to flash across their retinas. Then I have to get them to do whatever it was four or five more times, before they calm the hell down and let me read what the error message is telling them.

[1] https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2000/04/26/designing-for-peop...

I agree. In no other area is the feedback loop so fast and can "experiments" be repeated so conveniently.

Incidentally, this is also why we see so many "experiments" in production code, which is the downside.

The real fun is when the compiler has no issues but things just are not working right. It's this type of situation "Stupid Computer Shit we all know" in these situations can ruffle-up classroom CS students. SCSWAK uses his skills to solve and try and add a bit or byte to the pile of shit.

Taking Calculus I in college most of the class had taken the course in high school. The most advanced math course in my HS had been Algebra II/advanced geometry. So they were ahead but it wasn't insurmountable, it was still math.

A classroom CS student trying to get an application to work asks a SCSWAK repository for assistance. One notepad app is suddenly 2 terminal windows with EMACKS? (at least it wasn't vim) on one and the other lots of lists go bye and quick commands are being entered while asking where the file is saved. "Nevermind, found it." The file contents show up but no editor was opened. Then there's all kinds of key combinations that no sense on the EMAKS just to move around! (add in more to the story).

One is still getting used to the operating system while the other has logged thousands of hours plugging away at the CLI. (Remember MUDS?) How the heck are the next 2.5-4 years going to be if the classroom CS couldn't follow anything he just saw?

Being around a bunch of SCSWAK who seem to naturally grasp everything can scare off students. IMHO the instructors for the low level CS courses should talk about this and get the classroom CS students to realize they can do just fine in the courses and SCSWAK are great resources if you can't find your answer on google. Also, the best way to actually learn something is to teach it. Thus, there's an opportunity for the SCSWAK group.

i sometimes wonder if a single line of code I wrote was ever run/checked by a TA or professor

I know for a fact mine weren't, because the profs tended to tell us so. Also, many of the academics could barely code themselves. Instead they found creative ways to set mark schemes such that the code didn't matter, even for programming assignments.

Getting the syntax right is the most trivial part of writing a useful program.

Running a program also gives feedback quicker than waiting for a professor to evaluate it.

> The grief factor of learning to code is on a different scale to every other major. One missing semicolon will take your whole tower down, and you realise this in the first day of practical exercises.

I would say that this basically screams "badly taught programming". Missing semicolon does not take down work, it just needs to be put back in and ide should help you.

"Even if you are of the opinion that CS is math, and coding doesn't come into it, you will hit a coding wall early on."

I mean it seriously, programming is easier then math. I am telling that as someone who always liked math.

"And that's just what you consider code. If you put in the wrong compiler flags, it breaks. If you can't link because something needed rebuilding, it breaks. Want to avoid it? Learn how make works. Huge number of options, which you won't understand, because you're a novice."

This is not something novice should be dealing with.

"Oh and learn git, too. And Linux. Just so you can hand in the homework."

As I told, badly taught programming that takes in people who know nothing and then proceed as if they already learned stuff in the past.

> I would say that this basically screams "badly taught programming". Missing semicolon does not take down work, it just needs to be put back in and ide should help you.

The point is that the incidental complexity is there, and that it's something that has to be dealt with, to even begin to get to the fundamental part of the problem.

That you have to be using the right IDE (and learn how to use it, and learn to recognize it's attempts at helping you with the problem) does not refute the point, it's a perfect illustration of it.

CS isn't harder. CS has high incidental complexity, the crap you have to deal with just to be able to work on the problem within a real world environment.

And yet I had zero problem learning Logo when I was like 10 years old. Neither did _most_ of the other 10-year-olds in the class. They didn't all take to it as much as I did, but the majority of the class was not stopped by the frustration of syntax errors.

If you can teach programming to 10-year-olds without it being too frustrating... on the other hand, I suppose you could argue that younger people will have an _easier_ time, for the same reasons (human) language acquisition is easier for children. I dunno.

I'm not sure how it relates, but what I think was _really_ an immense aid to people of any age learning programming in the 80s was that computers and software were _simpler_, meaning that you could very quickly approach the level (at least at first glance) of 'real' software with what today seems like 'toy' software. The text adventure games I started writing as a child weren't actually _fun_ for anyone to play but me, but they _looked_ like a real text adventure game that other people played, they had the same form. Or the ascii-graphic blackjack game. There was gratification with a pretty low bar.

I have no idea how I'd become a programmer today. It's an entirely different path. People ask for me for advice, and in my head, I'm like, well, first be a child in the 80s with an Apple IIe, then start writing for the web when all you need to know is HTML and you write it in Perl cgi-bin... I have no useful advice.

I do have a CS degree, which I got in the 90s.

Yeah, I tried to teach myself programming in high-school (mid 2000's) because I wanted to try and get into building games. I was overwhelmed by the complexity of even setting up the tools. I figured I wasn't cut-out for it. Then in college I decided to take an introductory programming class that involved writing simple C programs and I was hooked. The prof did a good job of minimizing the accidental complexities of programming.

That is the thing, you should not deal with that when you are just seeing for cycle for the first time. You should not be anywhere near compiler flags. The IDE is something you should start with. Text editor + compiler is the harder way. The first class should start with opening IDE and writing something really simple.

Like someone mentioned logo or the old basics - if kids start in that environment they pick it up quite easy. They pick up concepts (wtf variables, yes does not matter how they are named, conditions, for cycle, functions) and there is instant gratification and little complexity. Just playing those games with little robot and arrows that "programs" it or simple scripting language in some game already makes much difference.

Then you can move on compiler and java or C - because basics are out of the way and it is the time to deal with what you call incidental complexity. Basically, one concept at a time. It is a bit as like teaching quadratic equations to people who were never taught normal ones nor much arithmetic.

Logo is great and all, but we're not talking about beginning programming for kids, we're talking about CS degrees.

At some point between Logo and bachelor's degree, you run face-first into that complexity, which is the "wall" the commenter atop this thread was referring to.

> Logo is great and all, but we're not talking about beginning programming for kids, we're talking about CS degrees.

I'd be willing to bet you could create a CS course using nothing but Logo - and it would probably be better for students than what currently exists.

In his book "Mindstorms", Papert discusses the faulty idea that Logo is only for children, and that it isn't a language that can be used to develop complex software.

The fact is, it can. In fact, Logo is pretty close to Lisp in its functionality.

The most complex piece of Logo I've ever seen was a few decades ago in an issue of the Rainbow Magazine (for the TRS-80 Color Computer); it was essentially a game of Monopoly, with full graphics (and probably sound too); I'm not sure if it did any kind of file i/o - but I know Logo supports all of that and more (especially current versions of Logo).

Seriously - if you think Logo is only for kids, you're missing out on a very fascinating language.

> Logo is pretty close to Lisp in its functionality.

Is it? Quote from the Logo Manual, 1974:

All complete LOGO statements are imperatives, so that an operation cannot stand by itself. If you type SUM 17 26, Logo responds with the error message YOU DON'T SAY WHAT TO DO WITH 43. In contrast PRINT SUM 17 26 is a complete statement. The computer will print 43.

Yes, but many students are basically at the logo level at that point. They struggle with basics. Then there is huge sudden jump to compiler flags which you call the "wall". But that is exactly what I call bad teaching. There is no reason for that to be the wall, all you need is not to teach them everything at the same time in lesson one. This is combined with culture which tenda to attribute easily learnable skills to "natural talent" - so students conclude "I am not that talent" and go somewhere where they think they are talent.

I mean, you can teach concepts one at a time and still be demanding and require certain speed. I am not saying it should be easy. You however should separate those concepts from each other and teach them one by one. Otherwise you just relying on them to have it "picked up" randomly which is not an expectation other majors have (like physics or math or biology).

In early college I once spent 10 hours in the computer lab with a broken program over a missing semicolon. The compiler kept telling me the problem was something completely different and in an entirely different part of the code so I kept my focus there, but in reality it was just a missing semi-colon much higher up. I got so frustrated from that (and a couple other struggles, along with some extremely shitty and unhelpful professors), I figured I must be in the wrong degree, and ended up taking English classes for a semester before dropping out entirely and went to work in a warehouse for two years and not doing any programming whatsoever.

Eventually some people got me back into Flash development (I had dabbled before and had a couple sort of popular things on Newgrounds, and they were asking me for help). I then made a couple of games that were super popular and realized I probably wasn't in the wrong field after all, and eventually went back to college and finished my degree. It was easier the second time around, and I had much better teachers.

Now I've been in the industry for about 10 years and have worked on all sorts of different types and sizes of programs and learned and used dozens of languages and technologies.

That was back in the 90s when I had that semicolon problem, and I'm pretty sure compilers have improved since then, because I usually see compilers catch missing semi-colons pretty much exactly where the problem happens nowadays. Also there was no Stack Overflow back then, and most forums weren't terribly helpful either, and programming blogs were a lot less common and comprehensive.

I remember specifically that I had difficulty wrapping my head around the concept of linked lists and there seemed to be no where to find that information besides my professor who was a real jerk and said, during his office hours, the specific time he's supposed to be available to help students, that "if i didn't understand it during his lecture he couldn't help me" and two old books in the school library that had a few paragraphs about it each.

> That was back in the 90s when I had that semicolon problem, and I'm pretty sure compilers have improved since then, because I usually see compilers catch missing semi-colons pretty much exactly where the problem happens nowadays.

Yeah - that's been replaced by C++ compilers b0rking hard on errors in variable templates and such (and leaving you just as confused as to where the problem really is).

/wish I was making this up...

I took a short course (1 credit hour) in Java when it was new enough that there where no IDE's. IMO, limiting courses to established languages is kind of a waste.

I also did Java as my first serious programming language with no IDE...though this was in the early 00's in AP CS in HS. But it was good to get to know the basics through the most basic form of it. Javac/Java on the CLI, and a pure basic text editor.

What's your point?

On the bleeding edge your going to have to deal with things like semicolon placement by compilation. I am not saying writing code on a test by pencil and paper should be the normal approach, just using an IDE 100% of the time is hardly nessisarily.

I'd agree that starting with a plain old text editor is probably the best approach. Remove as much of the magic as possible when you're first getting started, and then add it in once they understand the basics.

I learned java in high school as my first language, and I struggled to get the IDE properly set up - it definitely slowed down my understanding.

novice programmers should not be starting a CS degree

Given the gender skew amongst high-school programmers, this is almost equivalent to saying "women should not be starting a CS degree". It also further entrenches the advantages of people who come from affluent backgrounds. Given the success of some short coding bootcamps, it isn't inconceivable that novices could be brought up to speed within the first semester.

We don't expect law students to have been amateur lawyers in high school; it's a bonus if they have been in the debate society or have taken a personal interest in the subject, but it's not necessary. I don't see why CS should be a special case, aside from a misplaced attitude of exclusionary elitism.

> It also further entrenches the advantages of people who come from affluent backgrounds.

If you can afford a video game console, you can afford a raspberry pi (or equivalent.)

> We don't expect law students to have been amateur lawyers in high school

No, but we expect math majors to have done some math before they get to college.

I don't disagree with you that most people can be brought up to speed in less than a year, but it's also not unreasonable to expect first year CS students to have had some programming experience. Computers don't cost thousands of dollars anymore.

Math majors are expected to know high school math. You can literally know exactly that and succeed. If you wish to get ahead of competition, you know exactly what to do and exactly what is measured. CS does not have such clarity of expectations. I knew basics, because of journals my father bought. Since I knew basics, the teacher shown me some competitions - from then on I just went with the flow. Had my father not bought those journals or had my teacher not shown me competitions, I would not study cs or had much harder time.

If you are a boy, video game console is something that is bought for you often times whether you really want it or not. Raspberry pi is likely not and you don't know it exists. And even if you know it exists, you need computer to upload code to it and then you could have just use that computer to code. I know that it is easy to code when you know where to look, but the biggest hurdle is that many kids dont know where to look. Instead, they are told there is something magical and hard about it.

I remember being told that it is hard or that I cant compete because I am (presumably) just learning and other kids "already know a lot". It was bs, but that is where it is for many kids.

Seriously, I knew straight A students who were more hardworking then me and had good grades in math (meaning no dummies memorizing stuff) were under impression I have some special brain because I can program. All the myths around cs tend reinforce such nonsense.

> Raspberry pi is likely not and you don't know it exists.

If a kid can't type "how do computers work" in google, they probably won't become a programmer. Are we really wringing our hands over that?

> All the myths around cs tend reinforce such nonsense.

There's another bit of nonsense around CS that a lot of people here believe - that there are all these secretly good programmers out there who just don't know they're programmers because no one ever told them how to start, and that they might not even know what programming is because it's so difficult to get started.

I find it nearly impossible to believe that there are all these smart people out there, surrounded by technology, with hacking and computers in every TV show, with the President telling them to "learn how to code", Bill Gates' name dropped by rappers, Google in everyones' pocket - and no one is typing "how does my smartphone/videogame/internet work" and reading the results?

Like, who is still walking around like, "I got good grades in school and knew people could become doctors, but I didn't know people could make computers go! Why didn't anyone tell me?!"

Are there other problems keeping people from breaking into the industry? Absolutely. Is "not knowing where to look" one of them? There's no way that it can be, not anymore.

You're also missing the social aspect, particularly for girls. Depending on your personality, friendship groups, culture and Family it's often not socially acceptable to spend your free time as a teenager hacking away at stuff. You forget that those of us who are happy to spend those years in our bedrooms hacking away are weird. If you're a geeky boy you can get away with it, some folk may even encourage it. If you're a girl not so much.

The idea that we block off CS as a subject for only those who've taught themselves some programming is absurd and elitist. While we may expect Math students to know Math before Uni, it so happens that 99% of high schools teach the level of Math we expect them to know. In a lot of countries it's compulsory. Same goes with most of the sciences, we expect the level that schools will teach. Unfortunately most schools don't teach programming, and those that do often don't do it well.

> If a kid can't type "how do computers work" in google, they probably won't become a programmer. Are we really wringing our hands over that?

If a kid cant type "how human body works" in google, they probably won't become a biologists. Somehow, being constantly surrounded by all those bodies and dogs and grass they did not learned biology. Except that they come to college and do learn. But realistically, "how do computers work" is such a broad question that it does not have to do with anything. It is literally irrelevant question to anything practical.

But that is literally this culture I am talking about - the conviction that if you already don't know stuff and was not interested in the past, you are not talented point stop don't even try. Math teachers nor chemistry teachers assume that - if you are curious now are happy with you learning now.

> that there are all these secretly good programmers out there who just don't know they're programmers because no one ever told them how to start,

They are not secretly good programmers. That takes more then just aptitude. But yeah, a student with good memory and basic math aptitude has genetics for programming. There is nothing special about us. The hardest part of beginner is to figure out what makes sense to learn and what not.

> and that they might not even know what programming is because it's so difficult to get started.

Well, it is difficult when you don't know what to do and get told you probably don't have aptitude first time you struggle with something. It is easy if you learned from simple concepts, either because you run into right game or because you run into good teacher or book.

Exactly like any other learnable skill - math, chemistry, law, physics and so on.

> "with hacking and computers in every TV show"

That has nothing to do with reality. I see sword fights in many movies too.

> "and no one is typing "how does my smartphone/videogame/internet work" and reading the results?"

What does that question have to do with building sofware? Like, real world software with real world homework that suddenly out of nowhere expects you to have skills that were not taught previously.

What does that question have to do with algorithms? Programming languages? Whether the students would be more attracted to solving problems side or building things side or theory side or software engineering side, your how does videogame works is largely irrelevant. Plus the answer will be high level overview of memory/cpu and such.

> Are there other problems keeping people from breaking into the industry? Absolutely. Is "not knowing where to look" one of them? There's no way that it can be, not anymore.

You did not suggested a single practical place for beginner to learn stuff. Only few very general question that does not necessary lead to programming - most of them would lead to electronics at best. And such good resources exist, but none of your suggestions lead to them.

The "breaking into the industry" is far away from "starting with programming". But then again, that is part of nonsense around this. I know people who found a job with very little knowledge in small company just because they looked confident and hiring manager was inexperienced. Few of them even became good programmers, although they created huge mess on their way there and had to rely at politics a lot. But somehow, a honest student with good results in pretty much everything else is assumed unable to learn the same, because he is less good at pretending.

> What does that question have to do with building sofware? Like, real world software with real world homework that suddenly out of nowhere expects you to have skills that were not taught previously.

You're way beyond the scope of the original discussion.

Someone suggested people would drop out of CS due to the grief factor of - for example - breakage due to missing semicolons.

Another person then suggests that maybe it's a good idea that CS majors have some experience programming before they enter the program. Note: some experience - no one said you need to have built a "real-world" team project before going into a CS program.

Then all hell breaks loose because, apparently, getting online and reading a couple tutorials and screwing around in a browser-based programming sandbox (there are tons), is something only wealthy people with college educated parents can do.

Sorry, but I don't believe that.

Another person then suggests that maybe it's a good idea that CS majors have some experience programming before they enter the program.

Why not offer two tracks? People who have never programmed before have to take a 6 month intro to computers course, that people who know how to program can skip. The people who skip the course can then either use the extra time to take other courses or graduate earlier.

> screwing around in a browser-based programming sandbox (there are tons), is something only wealthy people with college educated parents can do

Having the free time with access to a computer to "screw around" on and knowledge of the existence of browser sand boxes are absolutely tied to class.

Honestly I think the only prerequisite for a CS major is to have interest in it. I never had any programming classes in high school and I switch my major 3 times until landing on CS. I had never programmed before in my life, but it was interesting to me and I found out I had an affinity towards it. I'm just saying this statement that you need to have some background to it is not necessary.

A video game console has a known and proven entertainment value. The whole family can use it. It's a reason for people to come over to your house. It's a status symbol.

Beyond that, I know a lot of poor kids who don't have video game consoles, and there literally isn't $50 in the budget for something that may or may not produce any value (not to mention the monitor, the peripherals, and taking up vast amounts of time on the family computer -- if one exists -- to figure out how to use it).

I have extended family living in rural Utah who don't even have a computer -- they use their phones for the Internet. You can debate back and forth about the cost of a phone vs. the cost of a cheap Desktop, but people need phones to function in society, for better or worse. Try figuring out what to do with a bottom tier smartphone, a limited data plan, and a Rasberry Pi that just arrived in the mail.

I volunteer at the Boston Museum of Science, working in the Tech Studio/engineering department, often showing off the latest "engineering toys" -- Little Bits, Rasberry pi, Scratch on an iPad that controls a Lego robot... Rich kid parents ask "Oh, where can I get this?" It's not a big deal for them to drop a couple hundred bucks on flavor-of-the-week programming toys. Poor kid parents are often interested and enjoy playing around with it at the Museum, but never ask about getting one themselves. It doesn't even occur to them.

Beyond THAT, there are a lot of majors that don't cost a lot of money. You can use the argument "X doesn't cost much to learn -- why haven't you done X before on your own time?" to apply to anyone.

You can always point to someone who can't afford it. That doesn't make me wrong.

There are now computers that cost as little as taking the family out to dinner at McDonalds. Probably a hundred million more people (yes, however, not every single person, ok) have the means to learn programming compared to when I was a kid.

Acknowledge that, because it's amazing.

Sounds like a great opportunity for local libraries to become more relevant (and/or for a nonprofit org to supply them). I know many local libraries supply at least a few computers for internet browsing or whatnot. Why not a pi or two, or pocketCHIPs to loan out?

> If you can afford a video game console, you can afford a raspberry pi (or equivalent.)

Right. This type of democratization is EXACTLY what allowed me to climb the social ladder out of the rural midwest into a Top 15 university and then Silicon Valley. As a teenager, all I needed to teach myself coding and advanced math was free time and an Internet connection.

>Given the gender skew amongst high-school programmers, this is almost equivalent to saying "women should not be starting a CS degree"

What makes you bring up gender over race or class ? There are more middle-class Asian and White women in the field than lower-income African-American and Hispanic men.

The following sentence was about household income. I'm not entirely sure that race is a meaningful factor after correcting for socioeconomic status. Gender is demonstrably the biggest skew in CS majors.

> We don't expect law students to have been amateur lawyers in high school; it's a bonus if they have been in the debate society or have taken a personal interest in the subject, but it's not necessary. I don't see why CS should be a special case...

Agreed, and when it comes to CS, programming is the easiest part. People who fail to see this are probably the ones who only know programming and no CS.

If you've applied for a CS degree and not done any programming though why (outside of financial incentive) would a Uni want you, surely it shows you've no interest in the field - that has to correlate strongly with failure. From nothing to doing bubble-sorts with something like python shouldn't be more than a couple of weekends for someone of the caliber to study CS at Uni.

Say you apply to study marine biology but have never been to the seaside then sure, you might do fine, but really I'd be wondering why you weren't taking a gap year and doing some self-directed study at a beach (hey, that sounds fun!).

Maybe because in the USA, you don't "apply for a degree" at the undergraduate level? You apply to be at the university full stop, or at most an honors program.

So, you do modules or somesuch; presumably they have pre-requisites that work in largely the same way? Like for non high-school subjects "read chapters 1-4 of 'intro to $subject' and have a grade C or above on $exam"?

How do you manage expectations for courses/modules/whatever from both sides (teacher:student) without such things.

You simply declare a major/concentration and register for classes in the appropriate departments. If you get acceptable grades in those classes you are allowed to continue.

Isn't "declaring a major" almost synonymous with applying for a degree, presumably the declared major in this case would be "computer science", so requiring some programming knowledge for those declaring that major would be possible?

In theory can one easily go to a USA Uni based on relatively unrelated abilities - lets say history and cooking? - and leave with a degree in Electronic Engineering? If there are no subject-based pre-reqs why does one need to declare a major, or is that done later?

My UK degree was modular so I could have done something quite similar, but I was assessed for entry based on abilities pertinent to a nominated degree (not the one I ended up with as it happens). Modules still had [relatively loose, unassessed] pre-reqs such as reading particular books or understanding specific concepts.

By the time you have declared a major, you will have taken the prerequisite courses already. Some programming knowledge is required, but that can be acquired while at university, not before.

>Given the gender skew amongst high-school programmers, this is almost equivalent to saying "women should not be starting a CS degree".

Somewhat related to your point, letting novice programmers get CS degrees doesn't fix the problem because there is still a performance gap which results in a hiring gap. If there is problem with demographics having unequal experiences, while colleges can be tweaked to keep the inequality from growing, it is far better to fix it where it comes from.

It's far simpler to say than do, but our society needs to find why the gender skew in high school programmers happens and stop it.

You do in countries that specialise earlier you wont get into a STEM course at a UK Uni without the relevant GCSE / A Levels.

In the UK you start to specialise at 13/14

I and I bet having a GCSE and A level in Law would help for wanabe lawyers

Poppycock. I studied CS at UVA in the late-90s and had no previous programming experience. I was an experienced computer user, which wasn't a given in the 90s, but I hadn't done any programming. There wasn't anything in the curriculum that required previous experience.

Linux wasn't required for entry-level courses. At the time, they were taught using C++ and a Borland IDE on Windows.

Similarly, source control wasn't introduced immediately. I'm pretty sure CS101 assignments were turned on paper, in addition to email.

And the department offered many options for lab time, office hours, and tutoring. I worked as an undergraduate TA for 2.5 years, which basically meant holding lab hours 3-4 times/week for 2-3 hours at a time, in addition to grading assignments and exams.


I also started a CS program in '95, with practically no previous programming experience. (10 PRINT "HENRIK IS THE BEST", 20 GOTO 10 doesn't count)

One thing our university did though was that the introduction course was in Scheme, which evened the playing field immensely, because most of the kids who could program were self-taught in Pascal or C, and where pretty stumped when confronted with a functional programming language.

But my university's approach didn't help the abysmal graduation numbers either, there were so many classmates that dropped out during the first year. A bunch dropped out because the programme was an engineering programme, and they failed the math parts, but did good on the CS parts. Most of those switched to other programmes that were more pure CS and were successful.

But there were a lot of students who just lacked that elusive thing that makes a person a good programmer. There's been a lot of studies, and lot of previous discussions on HN of those studies, but the jury is still out, we have no idea how to effectively screen people for programming ability. The only thing we can do is toss them into an education and see if it sticks. The original article asks:

> Isn’t it reasonable to expect that people with an aptitude for math, physics, and engineering will also have an aptitude for CS?

And the answer is a resounding no.

Funnily enough, this whole thing ties into the problems of recruiting good programmers, another HN staple topic. We can't tell if someone will be a good programmer before an education, and we can't even quickly tell if someone is a good programmer after an education, or even after years of working in the industry! If there was a quick way of identifying good programmers, we wouldn't be in this mess.

>And the answer is a resounding no.

Agreed. Apart from understanding logic, complex math is such a small part of development. I would say programming requires the overlap of knack for math and a pure creative interest like painting. That's much, much rarer.

During the dot boom, there were plenty of CS grads, but after the dot bomb and the market dried up, people lost interest. Also, the pay and incentives aren't nearly as good as they were during the dot boom.

Add off shoring, constantly pushing down wages, and the fact that most US businesses make programming miserable, that's probably most of the big picture.

>knack for math and a pure creative interest like painting //

You mean a pure creative interest like maths, surely ;0)>

A bunch dropped out because the programme was an engineering programme, and they failed the math parts

There are solutions to this problem as well.

JMU and GMU (high quality, but not top-tier, state schools) both offer pure CS degrees, but also a spectrum of multidisciplinary programs in "IT". One of my current summer interns is wrapping up a degree in info security, with a heavy dose of programming. The other intern is a straight-up CS major. Both appear to have the programming chops to join the workforce as typical application developers.

FWIW I started my CS degree in 2001. My first CS class assumed I knew how to navigate a *nix system (I forget which one). I was also expected to already know at least one programming or scripting language of my choice that could be used on the school's servers. That included but was not necessarily limited to: Perl, Java, C/C++. Oh, and I also needed to know Matlab.

I'd say that's a massive flaw in the curriculum. They've effectively written off the overwhelming majority of new college students. Outside of a high-school level CS course, where would one even encounter a *nix system (yes, I'm ignoring the dedicated geeks who spin up their own system for fun)?

Their goal was probably not to maximize the number of CS graduates. FWIW my university had a well respected 2nd tier CS program. By that I mean just short of MIT/Georgia Tech/etc.

My university, around the same time, offered a 2 week, 0 credit, intro to Unix course that everybody who hadn't worked with *nix systems before where expected to take. All courses then assumed that everybody knew everything taught in that course.

I was there the same time you were and while I thought I came in knowing a lot but I was dead wrong. I had to learn a ton of things from the ground-up like everyone else.

God forbid someone goes to college to learn something.

Of course, in my experience coming in to a CS degree as a techie didn't actually teach me how to make a living writing code. Most of the useful stuff I had to learn on my own time. The connections I made at school helped, but the value of the actual classes was low.

So perhaps a CS degree isn't intended to teach anything to anyone.

To the degree that colleges have their curricula setup that you need to have experience programming to enroll in the CS degree, that's on them. It's not true of essentially any other STEM major--or indeed for most degrees. (There are a few exceptions. Lack of fluency+ in English would make it had to make it through many top humanities degrees. And many music, etc. degrees would be tough/impossible without prior exposure.)

However, in general, the idea that you need to already be a programmer per-college to major in CS is somewhere between wrong-headed and toxic.

I did my BS in CS with no prior programming experience.

I think the founders of what now is CS would be lumped in with the very, very bright but still novice programmers. Most of the field has nothing to do with actual hardware anyway.

What makes you say that?

Where would you have them start instead?

Bumble through learning to program without the theory behind any of it?

That seems like a cart-before-the-horse scenario.

Not necessarily a bad idea. This will give you a better appreciation for why you would want to use the established paradigms taught in CS courses.

in my day/at my alma mater non-novice programmers had a reputation for dropping out because they were bored by the introductory material in the first year of the program.

I think you are significantly under appreciating the difficulty and need for precision in many other fields, like mathematics and physics. For example, compare "missing a semicolon" to "missing a minus sign" in physics or making precision errors in chemistry.

Alright, so both the hard sciences and CS have less traffic than say business, but then physical science has been growing and CS has not, and so we've solved nothing.

The premise of the article is wrong. From 2009 and until 2015, the number of CS grads almost doubled and any of those economics majors could have seen that in the graph, even if their essays are "basically bullet points" and their field is dead simple. They could also have told the blogger that causality might go the other way; Salaries are high precisely because demand is bigger than supply. If (or when) high salaries cause more people to study CS, salaries will drop unless demand rises even more.

So we have a huge increase in CS majors in just 6 years. What could be the explanation for that? I would say that CS has become both more rewarding and more accessible in the last decade.

More rewarding because with better browsers, and with smartphones, you can simply do more stuff. And those who graduated in 2009 started studying just before iPhone, before Google Chrome, HTML5. Long before Tesla and SpaceX were household names, long before we again believed in AI and robots. The field has simply become more and more interesting.

More accessible because of Codecademy, Udacity, Udemy and the rest of the bunch. 10 years ago, learning to code meant reading books that were already outdated when you bought them and spending days in frustration trying to install whatever language you had decided on. Before you did as much as a hello world. Unless your friends knew how to code or you were enrolled at an educational institution you didn't have access to tutors. Today, you can get great tutorials online, and you can learn JS, python and many other languages without the hassle of installing anything. And once you are up and running, there are a plethora of libraries, modules, frameworks and ways of deploying which mean that you can do in weeks what before could take years.

Yes, I'm sure there are other factors but the graph tells a pretty simple story. Numbers declined from 2005-2009, which means students that entered college around 2001-2005 -- students that were in high school during the dotcom bubble burst and aftermath. CS may not have seemed like an attractive field at the time. Over time the state of the field has recovered, and as you point out continued to grow and get more interesting, and growth in graduates returned.

It's easier to see the bubble with the original data https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_322.10.a...

Interestingly there is also a giant bubble at 1985-86 which wasn't match until around 2010. Looking at http://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/1982/ shows a couple of noteworthy events (Tron and the commodore 64).

Perhaps another reason for low numbers is the difficulty in the major HN has two posts on the front page about it today: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14438601 And https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14442410

Perhaps the difficulty combined with the ability to more easily detect cheating/being easier to cheat in the classes are contributing to a slower than desired growth. Given that when plotted out computer science appears to be one growing faster than many others suggests that it isn't that few people major, it's that the science is new and barriers to entry are high? (Annecdotally I know my college had additional barriers to pursuing CS focused on pre-reqs and grades, it's possible a lack of quality CS teachers is causing this as it is so new.)

right on the money. I graduated HS in 2004. I originally was into making websites in HS. the farthest I got was a little ASP and ColdFusion. But it didn't seem like a safe industry at the time so I went another direction. (but what did I know, I was a kid)

I never really made the connection of "building websites" to actual computer programming, so CS didn't even come up for me.

but now its 2017 and I went back to school and just graduated with a degree in CS.

Nothing against comp Sci, but engineering is its own set of problems as you have to take a lot more advanced math classes than comp Sci, while taking all your calculus based engineering problems. Some you use techniques to convert to simple algebra problems...that end up being 2-3 pages long. All while having to learn CAD, robotics, practice circuits, design trusses, and yes, quite a few programming languages (basic, C, assembly, VHDL, Matlab, and PLC (ladder logic))to name a few. Each one of those has its own set of problems from the install to the OS to the awful assignments...etc. Then each class itself is often taught really harshly. I often had multiple choice tests...sounds good right? Not great when you make 1 sign error on an entire page of calculations and get 0/10 points. I had a design project once that I spent weeks on and went above and beyond everyone else in class. 30 pages on the design with pages of equations and optimizations. 1 page had a minor error that carried to another, but overall not too bad. 70/100. Not to sound overly dark, but engineering school was extremely difficult and by far the worst 4 years of my life. I graduated with a good GPA, but I studied pretty much non-stop those 4 years. Some people manage to make great grades with very little effort, but it is rare. Again, nothing against comp Sci. Any program that focuses on logical problem solving is A-ok in my book, I just don't want anyone to get the idea that engineering is in any way easy. It is often a cruel and harsh mistress.

> It is often a cruel and harsh mistress.

If your engineering project doesn't work, there's no pretending that it does. It's the ultimate in fairness :-)

If your engineering project doesn't work, there's no pretending that it does.

Yeah, that's marketing's job.

Nah that bridge that fell of its supports it was the contractors fault honest guv :-)


I used to work for a top 5 consulting engineers and I had to reverse engineer some tests to help prove that the tests on the ground where we had a problem with a bridge where the fault of some one else.

Being a software engineer is often about the merging of the discipline of CS and the art of programming. I think most software engineers are strong in one and get by in varying degrees in the other. The few that are strong in both end up being the "very good" programmers we all know or have heard about. For some, that semicolon is a nagging reminder of their mistakes. For others, it's a small detail they zoom past as they get on with the laying down of code.

I find those strong in programming may be prolific in what they write, but often have to rewrite portions as they encounter problems with their design. A more probe and prod sort of solution to the problem, where you feel your way through. I often do this. On the other hand, I have known people that take quite a bit more time up-front to think about problem areas, and end up programming generally what they thought in the beginning (with some delays as they stop to reexamine problems as they come up, but generally before too much time has been wasted on an incorrect solution). I strive for this.

Being able to do both at roughly the same time, so you come up with a good model that you quickly get implemented, is what I think makes a good programmer. I think a great programmer is someone that does that but also sees interesting new paths that others often miss, leading to more elegant solutions more often.

You start saying 'software engineer' and end with programmer.

Clarify your terms. There is a huge difference between willing to take on liability for your faults versus slinging code.

> You start saying 'software engineer' and end with programmer. Clarify your terms.

Eh, it snuck in there. I specifically changed programmer to software engineer in multiple spots to disambiguate it because I was talking about "programming" as an act distinct from applied CS. I missed doing so at the end.

> There is a huge difference between willing to take on liability for your faults versus slinging code.

Based on your assumption of what I meant, it sounds like you have something you wish to express on this point. Perhaps you should do so in more detail?

"Engineer" means someone who is licensed and is professionally and legally liable for the work they produce. Those who are licensed engineers often feel that the term "software engineer" cheapens the term because software folks are not licensed and not held liable for their work (and in some places, it is illegal to have "engineer" in your title without a license). On the flip side, software developers need a way to differentiate titles between the folks who copy-paste code from Stack Overflow with little understanding and those who build well thought-out, robust solutions. Folks sometimes put this on a spectrum from script kiddy, programmer, developer, to software engineer. Perhaps a new term is needed...

The opinion that the term "engineer" should be regulated (voluntarily or by the state) is definitely a minority view here on HN in my experience.

Imagine if anyone who "knew enough about doctoring" could drop out of undergrad and "become a doctor" without any license or credential.

They're all made up terms that are mostly meaningless.

Software engineer is what you call yourself because programmer has negative connotations, while an engineer is the guy that built your house, your roads, your bridges and your airplanes - with "engineer" in your title, you are obviously more trustworthy.

Not sure what universities you went to but that view is as far from the truth as it can be, at least for where i'm at (germany). I majored in CS myself but had a lot of friends in mechanical and electrical engineering. To say their fields revolve around a small number of vignettes is downright bizarre. I was never bad at math, but i gotta admit it got hard in CS along the way. However, the math the did in EE in the higher semesters to me was completely arcane. Like several steps above what we had to do in CS. The grief factor of coding? Seriously? Load up a halfway decent IDE and have immediate feedback when you did something wrong, then tinker until it works and you can hand it in? It doesn't get any easier. Compare that to "drawing some boundaries and applying some equations" (over 10 sheets of paper), then noticing you made a mistake on page one and your results don't make sense... I'll take the "code grief" any day. I don't mean to be snarky but you sound like a frustrated CS undergrad student that hasn't had to much exposure to the other fields you devalue so easily.

> The grief factor of learning to code is on a different scale to every other major.

'Cept physics. Misalign a mirror or shake the table and all your experimental data is bogus, and you don't find that out until you've analyzed your data and realize it's nonsensical.

I suspect other hard sciences (chemistry, biology) have similar issues, but am not familiar enough to judge. I started out as a physics major and switched to CS in my last semester...CS is hard, but not nearly as hard as the hard pure sciences.

An example from chemistry: get a mixture of different chemicals in a lab class that you are tasked with separating and identifying. Screw up one separation step and lose one or more of the chemicals, you aren't getting it back. If you're lucky maybe you can take the NMR spectrum of the whole sample, isolate out the contributions from the other chemicals you were able to separate and then possibly be able to identify the missing one, but you're not going to be able to turn in an isolated sample of it so that'll at best cost you a bit.

An example from math: you make one tiny logic error while composing a proof and miss it until you start rereading, then you might have to start all over again from scratch.

Many engineering fields (including CS in some contexts) have a huge dependency on experimental setups that are "temperamental" at best much of the time and/or dependent on someone else's experimental work and other hardware that doesn't always perform according to spec, etc.

As someone with degrees in non-CS engineering fields, I mostly find the idea that programming on a stable computer has a high frustration/grief factor to be pretty funny.

That was my reaction too. You don't know frustration as an undergrad until your correctly designed circuit is behaving oddly because one of your components is damaged in a nonobvious way. I found the CS classes to be relaxing by comparison. Works every time as long as I get the code right? Sign me up.

The damaged component is pretty similar to a bug in a library.

Agreed. I learned this in our new student orientation.

"If you can't recompile a linux kernel by the time you graduate, you have learned nothing. Oh, yeah, also, we wont teach you that - it's just something you will run into. "

-- Professor Norman S. Matloff

Anyone who talks about compiling the Linux kernel as a measure of difficulty or knowledge obviously knows nothing. I could teach my 9-year-old nephew how to do that.

Arrogance crystallized. Don't you have a bridge to tend to?

Compiling a linux kernel is just following a set of instructions. You don't need to know anything about computer science to do that.

The thing with instructions is always this: The first instant something goes wrong while following them you have to give up if you don't know quite a bit about what you're doing anyway.

I believe I'm not the only one who, when something goes wrong, I become more determined and think "I might learn something here" followed by searching the internet for things related to what went wrong.

Right, but that takes it from "just following instructions" to a thing that requires you to build a mental model of the system you're working with. It also requires you to have confidence that you will find the answer in bounded time.

This is basically how I learned to program.

"One missing semicolon will take your whole tower down, and you realize this in the first day of practical exercises."

Isn't that what makes CS easier? You get immediate feedback. You know if it will be right or wrong before you even turn it in.

Yes and no. You can understand a concept 100% and execute it 99% and still have the program fail. In other engineering disciplines, that gets you a good grade. In CS classes it's a fail.

So you have to sit there and make sure it actually works. I'm not a programmer, but I took CS courses. Debugging your homework is fucking awful. I understand it's a skill necessary for programming, but it's awful. Especially when the bug is a mistake that is unrelated to the topic of the homework.

I remember pulling an all nighter trying to figure out why my problem set didn't diff correctly. I must have spent 20 hours on a single bug.

A missing semicolon tells you only one thing; In all likelihood, there are many things wrong with your code.

In most other subjects, there are ways to get most of the feedback in one go.

You know if it will be right or wrong before you even turn it in.

Most student-written test suites I've seen are not nearly this thorough.

Sure, but that is all about attention to detail. It isn't really about how smart you are rather how much effort you put in.

Depends on your personality.

There is another problem. Computer Science just doesn't sound that interesting.

Say you could learn to build aircraft engines, understand how the economy works (which has a huge influence on people's lives) or learn how to make a computer print "hello world" on a terminal screen and how to efficiently store data. Most people wouldn't choose the latter. It's actually quite hard to describe what computer science is and why it is a science.

The problem with pure computer science is that it isn't even that interesting to the uninitiated. Who the hell wants to grow up to balance binary trees, derive proofs around number theory, and poke and prod at heaps of linear algebra?

Or the other end of the spectrum, where you are a cube-dweller, who shuffles endlessly to Scrum meetings, does email, enter garbage into JIRA, and once in a blue moon gets to write a little code that might possibly be executed as part of some faceless, soulless enterprise monstrosity.

Yes, for most people CS == IT. And IT doesn't sound very exciting.

Also, in the end, big companies like Google and Facebook are IT companies, or advertisement companies, and they are after your private data. I guess most people would rather choose a more noble goal in life.

And finally, tools created by big companies such as Google docs perform worse than wordprocessors of the 90s. Yes, they allow collaboration now, but still, they are perceived as slow. In people's minds, IT is not progressing much.

It's interesting you say that too, because a lot of those "flashy" jobs end up being very similar to a computer science job anyways. There are typically thousands of people designing a jet engine, and individual teams and people are assigned minute tasks of the process (especially engineers). The work goes from "designing a jet engine" to "sourcing proper bolts for a small part of the jet engine".

Say you could learn to build sites like facebook or google, understand how the internet works (which has a huge influence on people's lives) or learn how forces bend metal and how to calculate some break even point. Most people wouldn't choose the latter...

Honestly CS major is typically a joke compared to math (real math, not "CS is math" math), or physics. Comparing the hardest CS classes you'll do in undergrad to the likes of PDEs, Complex & Real Analysis, advanced QM, General Relativity, etc, it's just no comparison.

I took ML in person at UIUC 4th year / graduate cross-listed level, and the 3rd year Stanford algos course on Coursera (supposed to be identical to the material in the actual course, yes yes though feel free to laugh b/c it's Coursera). These classes were interesting, but about as challenging as typical second year math/physics classes. They are peanuts compared to senior math/physics classes.

That said I still think CS is more challenging than most majors, it's just that the "few" is much more highlighted because there is very high demand. Certainly way higher demand than math/physics, and more demand than other fields that are still reasonably challenging like engineering, pre-med, etc. It's definitely the field where some reasonable increasing function on both demand and difficulty is maximum.

And my own experience is that I learned coding and using Linux on my free time several years before entering college, where I studied engineering, which required no little effort. Programming is hard, I'm not denying it, but so is everything else if you plan to get paid doing it.

In my experience it is much more stressful and hard to learn these things for a course, because you're not interested in them but HAVE to use them in order to do something (e.g. hand in your assignment with git).

Now I'm looking at git again in my free time it's a pretty nice tool, and I can't imagine that I loathed it so much when I had to use it for a course.

It's incredulous how people can find git daunting; especially the simple usage most make of it. Yet, I constantly see people refer to such simple and easy to use CLI tools as an obstactle in CS courses, not a helpful tool. Welcome to the fulfilled prophecy of the movie Idiocracy. This is why MIT had to stop teaching SICP and why many courses uses Java instead of C... Good luck learning pointers and assembly then. Good luck ever knowing how to create and manipulate data structures, how to create a filesystem, database, OS, scheduler, etc; or how to develop/improve and implement algorithms used in ML and AI (to be fair, this is math... and which is why programmers need to stop avoiding math, it's another issue, but related. stop avoiding complexity, because it's a fucking big and scary monster lurking beneath everything you're working with, just waiting in the dark...)

What we need is people who understand the complexity we constantly throw more shit on top of; it's only going to get worse the more data points and networking we have to deal with. Pretty soon we're going to have a massive network of autonomous vehicles on physical, country-spanning networks of roads. For this we need systems people. Not front-end developers. The sad thing is that most programmers are absolutely useless when shit hits the fan.

I'm not saying git is a useless tool. I simply think that if a course expects more than common knowledge of the tool, it should teach it too.

You can't expect someone without git experience to fix broken repository.

Furthermore, I think that there are too many tools programmers are expected to know, and git is one of those. Git is a nice tool, but I don't think that 'real programmers know git' is true per definition. Above all, git is a TOOL; and one could use SVN or mercurial to achieve the same in most circumstances (of course sometimes SVN is an inferior choice, because it's not distributed).

I agree with the rest of the post though. There are reasons to prefer C above other programming languages. However, I think the best approach would be to learn the C-style and learn multiple similar languages, to be aware of the differences.

It's great that this was part of an assignment. Git is a fantastic, incredible tool. Along with testing, it's one of the skills I figure is just as important as the things you learn in university, but which typically isn't taught there.

No, everybody hated it. I didn't learn git. There was a weekly assignment, and I ended up mailing the TA every other week at the day of the deadline because I broke the repository again (thankfully, he was very understanding and helpful). Maybe this is a consequence of how the assignments were structured. I don't remember exactly, but there was no introduction and the workflow was not the typical add, commit, push one.

> Programming is hard

The programming people do most of is incredibly easy. Stop perpetuating the myth that programming is hard. People have changed careers to programming using week-long courses. No, they're not working on OS design, they don't contribute to the Linux kernel, but they work as programmers.

Don't kid yourself people, most of you work on CRUD shit. For every systems prgorammer there's a thousand front-end monkeys. Most of you work at such a high level it's basically just lego, glueing components together, with your hundreds of .JS files in your project, none of which you wrote. This is what most of you actually do. Complete packages like Rails... a six-week course can change people's lives (not a bad thing).

There is programming that is hard, it's just that that is not the type of programming most people do, and it's becoming more and more rare.

> There is programming that is hard, it's just that that is not the type of programming most people do, and it's becoming more and more rare.

One major difficulty in programming is maintaining consistency and stamping out ambiguity. When you throw together dozens of libraries to create a new one, the problems of inconsistency/ambiguity are as hard to solve -- or possibly even harder -- than in your own code.

The really sad thing is, that as simple as most of the CRUD shit that we're slaving away at all day is, it is beyond the capacities of perhaps 30-40% of the populace - and I'm being generous in that estimation. You get out there in the world, and there are a lot of very, very limited people out there.

If you've got an 85 IQ and memory deficits, it's going to be a real struggle to even be productive slapping together static HTML pages.

If you regularly experience grief in a subject, theN YOU SHOULD NOT CHOOSE THAT FOR A CAREER. You could be doing it for 30-40 years. Why make life miserable if you have a choice.

I've often heard people make "sensible" choices like these in undergrad. In their minds, it's a few years of toil that will yield an abstract form of an easy/successful life because "3. ??? 4. Profit", but for some reason they don't come to terms with the fact that their reward will be more of the stuff they hate, with longer hours and more pressure.

I agree with you that people should probably choose a career in something they're good at, but I think that's separate to the issue of making life easier for people entering the subject from nothing. The CS courses I've seen are different from those in other subjects in that they assume a whole lot more background knowledge, which is a pretty exclusionary assumption to make. Stopping this is no bad thing.

All this is true, and yet when I was a young'un, Engineering had a plenty high dropout rate. Higher than CS I think.

Yep, 66% or more dropped out.

TBH CSE has some of the best toolset available to the general public. It also has one of the lowest cost of entry as well. Compare a misplaced semicolon that throws a compiler error to, say a miswired electronic component, which most likely kills the chip and possibly other chips connected to it... and the fact that a breadboard offer no "syntax checks" to make sure signal input is not connected to power signal... I say CS/SWE has probably the best toolset out of all engineering disciplines.

> The grief factor of learning to code is on a different scale to every other major. One missing semicolon will take your whole tower down, and you realise this in the first day of practical exercises.

Only somebody with zero experience with wet lab chemistry or biology could ever write the above with a straight face.

At least you can fix a missing semicolon. If you screw up a long-running organic synthesis, or you kill your bacterial colony around generation 2,000 all you can do is start the whole thing over.

You will not be screwing up an organic synthesis or killing a bacterial colony in your 100- or 200-level biology course.

The author's point was that the early unforgiving nature of programming could possibly be a factor in the potential lack of growth in the field.

Speak for yourself. I definitely goofed up syntheses and badly botched biology labs in first- and second-year chem and bio courses.

Hah, seriously? This is a very bizarre perspective. Sure, CS is a lot of work but I would hardly describe it as more difficult than any other STEM field. I was effectively a triple major in college (graduated, went back for a double major post-bac degree in different fields) and against Chemistry and Mathematics I'd describe Computer Science as the easiest of the three.

As for git, that only takes a few days at most to learn to the level you need to use it in school, at least if you're even remotely technically minded.

In undergrad CS courses I learned about, oh, databases, algorithms, data structures, inheritance, and so on. In undergrad math courses I learned vector calculus, abstract algebra, linear algebra, numerical analysis, differential equations, etc. In science courses I learned organic, physical, and inorganic chemistry, some of quantum mechanics, how to use instruments ranging from: mass spectrometers, gas chromatagraphs, infrared spectrometers, UV-Vis spectrometers, flame emission spectrometers, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometers, as well as cramming "free time" during the weeks/weekends with lab time. If anyone came up to me and asked "so, do you think studying computer science is more difficult than vector calculus or quantum mechanics" I'd laugh in their face.

No, CS is not uniquely difficult among college majors. I'd say there are a few major factors why CS majors haven't grown at the same pace as others. One is that the number of CS majors ballooned in the '90s when the industry started blowing up, and it's been a bit inflated since then. Another is that a CS education is treated as a necessary and sufficient pre-requisite for becoming a software developer and it's really ill-suited for that. Software dev. is not scientific work, a lot of what they teach in CS programs is not hugely applicable to being a good developer, and a lot of what you need to be a good developer isn't taught in Universities. Parallel to that, you can jump into the industry "running" if you just start coding and getting experience and learning while doing. That is often a superior way to build your skillset, build your network of colleagues, build your resume, and start making money instead of digging yourself into student debt. So a lot of people who enter the industry go that route. That also has it's problems but on balance it's probably the better route for most people.

I don't agree with that. Just an anecdote, but programming was always the easy part for me. Boring, abstract and arcane concepts, algorithms (that you probably will never have to program by hand outside of university anyway) was the reason I've chosen engineering instead. Also, downplaying difficulty of the other disciplines only shows the lack of knowledge in them.

>The grief factor of learning to code is on a different scale to every other major. One missing semicolon will take your whole tower down, and you realise this in the first day of practical exercises

>In fact, every exercise in CS has this problem. You add a new thing (eg inheritance), and it breaks. But not only that, it might be broken because of a banal little syntax problem.

That can be said for math as well, switch a + for a - at any point and the whole solution crumbles down, or use the wrong method of resolution and you are in for a world of pain.

>Oh and learn git, too. And Linux. Just so you can hand in the homework.

Again, comparing that to math, learn all the different notations used just to understand what the problem asks of you.

Point being that any scientific course require a part of self study to get what you are doing. Although I can certainly agree that the way CS is taught now interwines many basic things that should be on their own course and could do with some reorganization, even though it's hard for universities to keep up with the way most of current day tech advances.

The difference with math is, you can get partial credit.

There's no reason you can't receive partial credit in CS. If assignments are being graded solely on whether or not the output is correct, I'd say it's a flaw in the curriculum. FWIW, I do not remember this being the case when I studied CS in the mid-90s.

Just as counter example, all the assignments for my OS class at top-20 CS university were graded using a set of a few hundred tests that were hidden from us. For example, the first assignment was to implement a thread scheduler and over the years the course had developed a few hundred tests on which our grade was based. We were allowed to submit our solution three times, and we would be told how many tests we passed, but not why we failed any specific tests or what those tests were, with the highest of our submissions being our grade. The incentive of this process was two fold: first, it forced us to learn to write our own good tests and not rely on the TAs to spoon feed us exactly what we needed to do (in fact one student wrote a test that broke the reference solution and was added to the test suite for the next semester), and second it is completely intractable to expect a few TAs to scan through several thousand lines of code for each of a hundred students to discover how "close" to being correct their implementation is. Bugs are hard enough to find in code you wrote, let alone code written by an undergraduate just learning how to write systems code for the first time. In my experience TAing for both math and CS classes, finding bugs in students math assignments is significantly easier than finding bugs in code.

Ok, but you ARE receiving partial credit. It wasn't all-or-nothing, as was implied above.

It was a combination for me, depending on the lecturer. I had some papers where up to 15% of the paper purely depended on output being 100% correct (you lost percentages each time it failed, and got 0% if it didn't work in the end).

I also had some papers where your grade was based around functionality, where there were several milestones, so as long as you got it partially right, you got some marks. For instance, in one paper, we had to implement RIPv2, but we got partial marks if we only got parts of the spec working.

Then there were papers where you had a final goal, but even if your code didn't even compile, they'd take a look at it and if you were on track, you'd get partial marks. For example, we had a paper where we had to control a helicopter reading data from a rotary encoder and other inputs, and use PID control. We had our PID control backwards so the thing wouldn't even fly, but the code was otherwise correct.

In my low level CS classes we handed in a source code print out. The printout was graded, not execution of the program. Partial credit was given. Even in higher level CS, partial credit was given.

In practice, you don't have to know any of these things to be (or at least pass for) a programmer. Work at a large company, someone else takes care of the build. Use a git GUI app/IDE to take care of source control. Don't use anything new.

Of course, you probably won't progress very far career-wise (or maybe you'll become a manager...) if you never venture out of the little box. But the amount of effort you'll have to invest to reap a solidly upper-middle class income is pretty minimal.

If you spend 2-3 years in industry and don't get fired, you probably know how to code well enough to satisfy your employer. And at that point you're probably gonna get more (career) value working on soft skills like planning projects, managing expectations, navigating bureaucracies, etc.

Ugh. That was me.

At age 14 I used to copy BASIC into my Atari 600XL, QBASIC into my old 5150 and 486 PC, some HTML in the 90s, some Python, Perl others here and there.

So I tried to go for CS about ten years out of school and Java got me.

My brain just doesn't seem to like programming.

> One missing semicolon will take your whole tower down

That is not true. You do not put your "whole tower" back together again when you move cursor and type the missing [';'].


I guess GP was thinking of programming in punch card languages, where one incorrect hole punch could mean you'd have to redo the whole thing.

Punch cards easy try toggling in a program using the front panel switches which I have had to do a couple of times on PDP/11's

IMO the difference with math is, you are the compiler, the linter, and everything else as well.

With programming, you have plenty of tools that detect errors for you. With maths you sometimes will only see the error after somebody else (like the tutor) point it for you.

Therefore you can be much more efficient when programming than when doing proofs and other maths stuff.

Except with economics, as you point out :)

Hm, I wonder if there is a inverse correlation between number of JavaScript frameworks and enrollment numbers :-)

Suddenly it makes sense to me why so many programs are switching over to Python for every course they can that is not domain-specific, like graphics or architecture.

Perhaps you have never seen the trails of broken dreams leading out of introductory proof-based math classes.

yes, I still remember never getting fortran to do anything. C++ was easy to pick up. funny how picking one bad class can kill a subject for you.

For me, maths was a much bigger stepping stone than programming. When I came to uni, I was basically already equipped with most of the programming knowledge I needed to enter the workforce. I learned it quickly and easily. But maths - man, that's a different monster. It's one thing to see that you missed a semicolon, another to understand what singular value decomposition and principal component analysis and Stoke's theorem mean.

If you think the programming tools are the hard point, I have a proof assistant and program extractor to show you.

> Oh and learn git, too. And Linux. Just so you can hand in the homework.

They should know linux/unix/gnu before they start on anything cs related.Are you really suggesting the people that don't know anything about computers should be taking cs?

Git would have made debugging the missing semi colon a lot simpler because it makes the divide/conquer approach simpler.

Slight note about Dan Wang picking 2005: That was the peak of CS degrees awarded because it's 4/5 years after the height of the dot-com bubble. So the upward bump in the mid-2000's is somewhat explainable as an anomaly.

I think his point 1 is underrated. CS degrees are flat because aptitude is flat.

You can compare CS degrees to other degrees over time at nsf.gov:


We have more grads than ever, but they are dumber than ever (we have the data to prove this), getting less difficult degrees.

I have a bad feeling that we are running up against some diminishing returns on education and hiding it with numbers like the total number of grads. The number of grads for difficult degrees and the quality of grads seems to be another story.

> In 1970s 1-in-2 college grads aced Wordsum test. Today 1-in-6 do. Using that as a proxy for IQ of the median college grad, in the 70’s it was ~112, now its ~100.

More stats: https://medium.com/@simon.sarris/why-is-computer-science-enr...

Re: the choice of 2005 as origin, if you rebase on 2009, then CS degree growth looks on par with other STEM fields. Thus I think is's misleading to say CS majoring is "flat". At a certain end-to-end view it is, but that obscures that it crashed, and is now rapidly growing, not that it's been stagnant and unchanging.

In the early 2000s it was widely perceived as the economically smart thing to go into a technical field other than CS, especially petroleum engineering, chemical engineering, and similar areas, or maybe even better, a non-technical field like law. They had higher pay and were seen as more stable employment options. CS employment was seen by many people as unlikely to ever fully recover from the dotcom crash, partly because of mass outsourcing. So unsurprisingly, new enrollment numbers were low, and some departments at smaller schools even closed. Then from around 2005, CS began to be seen as a lucrative again, and enrollment has been steadily rising every year since then. Universities have responded likewise by reopening CS departments, hiring more faculty in existing ones, and increasing class sizes (so enrollment growth is actually considerably outpacing faculty growth).

This does not look to me like a market that fails to respond to economic incentives, but exactly like one that does respond. Maybe it ought to respond even faster, although if it did in general, the CS-degree crash of the 2000s might've been even deeper than it was.

>if you rebase on 2009, then CS degree growth looks on par with other STEM fields. Thus I think is's misleading to say CS majoring is "flat".

No, what you described is called "misleading with data" at best and "lying" at worst. There is a clear dip in CS on that plot that is suffered but none of the other points. Moreover, the growth is below the rate of increase in college graduates.

The clear dip in CS is what the rest of my comment is about. The point is that the entire premise of the original post, which claims CS enrollment is "flat" by cherry-picking a specific benchmark year and ignoring huge movement between that year and the present, is indeed "'misleading with data' at best", because CS enrollment is not "flat". If you pick an earlier or later year, you get different narratives.

The post then spends a bunch of time musing on why CS enrollment supposedly doesn't respond to economic incentives, even though responding to economic incentives, i.e. rising and falling together with tech booms and busts, is precisely what the data shows it doing.

Edit: better said here, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14441423

You're right, saying it is "flat" rather than "lackluster" might have been better. I apologize for that.

Did you read the post you are accusing of "misleading with data"? He describes that exact phenomenon the sentence after you quoted. It's completely ridiculous to cut out context and then him out for not mentioning the context you just cut out.

>mass outsourcing

winrar! Came here to say that. ctrl-f says you're the only other person to remember it.


Yes, I know it seems silly now, but this was a very real scare that CS would be a worthless degree in the future. I was dissuaded from majoring in CS during the height of this, but ultimately changed my major back to CS when I realized that I was actually really good at it.

In that time (early 2000's), even if you had a strong interest in computers, you'd be pushed toward Computer Engineering instead of CS. Business school was a popular alternative with MBA enrollments peaking in the early 2000s.

Where I went to college, UMBC, Computer Engineering covered enough of Electric Engineering and Computer Science that it set you up for either a career or further education in either. In my opinion, it was the best value.

I did in fact have considerable pressure from family to change my major from CS to some form of Engineering in this time frame, ideally some "hard-science" engineering like Chemical Engineering. CS was seen as a dead-end, easily exportable coder job, and well-meaning relatives really wanted me to get an engineering degree instead.

> The number of grads for difficult degrees and the quality of grads seems to be another story.

This is why I never believed the "There is no STEM shortage" stories. They were mostly based on the assumption that all STEM grads were qualified to work in STEM. That's not true in any field where you can complete a degree with a C or D average.

I find it unfortunate that some of the larger software companies filter out applicants based on the school they graduated from, but I understand it. The companies have to have some sort of filtering mechanism, because many colleges clearly do not.

>The companies have to have some sort of filtering mechanism

There's no one to hold companies accountable for having a unjustifiably high or low filter. And frankly I don't think anyone outside of CS has gotten those filters right any more than CS has. An incorrect filter turns into "Well, there's no one qualified to work for us" or "Well, all of these candidates failed to do the job" which leads to incorrect assumptions about the labor pool, which is what's going to bias your hiring decisions.

There are companies out there hiring for A+ students that would be just as well off with a C or D average student because what the company is doing day-to-day is too far from what university was like.

Well this is why a free market is great, if you think all these companies are doing things wrong, start your own and outcompete them.

Feel free to write me a check for the millions of seed money I'll need.

Do you actually need millions for a software consultancy? You're hiring people who wouldn't be employed elsewhere. You could pay them less and cut prices to your clients and everyone would come out better.

I mean you've spotted what you claim is a clear inefficiency. Your guys could be taking the jobs that Infosys and gang are taking.

>Do you actually need millions for a software consultancy?

Yeah, I'd need millions to be convinced to do something I absolutely don't want to be doing.

In that case even with millions you would hit a roadblock. Even the prospect of a huge reward doesn't always cure burnout.


Poiknoik quite literally used the "bootstrap" argument in a non-ironic way to describe an actually real systemic problem .

You are assuming the companies care enough. Their current strategy is petition the government to open offshoring quotas. That's much easier and cheaper than actually figuring something out.

> This is why I never believed the "There is no STEM shortage" stories. They were mostly based on the assumption that all STEM grads were qualified to work in STEM. That's not true in any field where you can complete a degree with a C or D average.

This is true IFF we assume that gpa accurately reflects qualification to work in industry.

There is a difference between getting a C or D average because you don't care about school, and getting that because you can't do any better. Unfortunately the two are hard to separate, and even if the grad didn't care about school - it doesn't mean they will care about work.

I was in the boat of not caring about school (although I did get a B) and it worked out - but anyone following that path should understand its an up hill climb.

There is no STEM shortage because salaries haven't risen for those already working in the field.

They certainly have risen in tech, the T part of STEM.

NYC and SF are small islands compared to the rest of the country. Salaries are flat for everyone else.

> NYC and SF are small islands compared to the rest of the country.

"Salary" is the wrong metric to consider. The "interesting" metric is "salary minus cost of living". And this is stagnating even in NYC and SF, since the costs of living are rising.

> NYC and SF are small islands compared to the rest of the country.

Not in terms of tech jobs.

Yes, even in terms of tech jobs. Software just isn't as big a deal outside of these places.

I think the point is a huge number of tech jobs are within these locations. The SF bay area has something stupid like the top 3 cities when it comes to tech jobs. Throw out all the locations with the most jobs and surprise, salaries suck.

Well, I wouldn't say salaries "suck" outside of well-known tech centers like SF/Bay Area and NYC. They aren't great, though. Even in the Bay Area, at least, the salaries of engineers still pale in comparison to the salaries of managers and executives.

Maybe not suck as compared to a lot of jobs, but the problem with software development seems to be that salary growth rises rapidly up to a plateau and then basically stops. The opportunities for salary growth past a certain point require risk-taking such as starting a company, consulting in some very specific niche, or what have you. It's still better than the lack of wage growth in other fields, I'm sure, it's just not something that was explained to me AT ALL when I started down this long road many years ago.

Absolutely. Even the so-called "parallel track" technical equivalents to management generally have a lower pay scale and smaller bonus pool. In terms of career development and growth it's almost always better to be on the non-technical career path once you're at Lead Engineer or higher. Even director-level people on the technical side of the tree are generally viewed as (relatively) more expendable and lower-status than their equivalents on the non-technical track.

> Even in the Bay Area, at least, the salaries of engineers still pale in comparison to the salaries of managers and executives.

Depends on where you work. If you work at an actual technology company that "gets it", they'll have parallel management and individual contributor tracks where you can make as much as a director-level person as an IC, or more.

Emphasis on "can make" is due in this case. It's still a different dynamic with respect to status and a different pay scale in general (that is to say, exceptions of course exist).

But you will never likely be financially stable due to your housing situation.

At the risk of sounding foolish, but isn't it easy for a company to filter out applicants in technical fields, simply by asking technical questions?

But that takes the engineers you already have and puts them in interviews instead of engineering.

Yes, and that's what they've done at every programming job I've ever had.

Now there is a mini industry around getting people over that very low bar. FizzBuzz was a temporary patch, now we need a real fix.

Re: the Wordsum test, I can't believe it is seriously used to assess IQ. If we assume that all participants know all of the words used, then maybe it would have some merit. But so many of the words used are either archaic, little-used, or culturally specific to North America that you could only reasonably expect a well-read and/or well-educated (and therefore wealthy) American person to know them.

It still likely correlates well with IQ. That's the whole point of IQ. A bunch of different cognitive tasks like solving puzzles and memory tests tend to correlate very well with each other. I'd be very surprised if wordsums didn't predict IQ very well.

It's hard to believe a person of high IQ is not going to be well-read and/or well educated.

The only point about this test is it's specific to native speakers of English, but if you were born in North America than it surely applies to you even if your parents speak another language.

> It's hard to believe a person of high IQ is not going to be well-read and/or well educated.

What of high IQ individuals who are born into low- or middle-class families, who didn't have their parents read them 19th century British novels, and therefore don't know what a dowager is?

They would go to the library of their own accord.

You don't need your parents to read things for you.

I think you forgot class here

Who gives a hoot about IQ in 2017?

That doesn't match what I see in the ground. I get 10-20 interns a year on my teams from big state universities and liberal arts schools with CS and stem degrees.

They tend to be awesome. The best ones outperform most of the consultants you find.

More people than ever, especially on HN.


Nothing you say relates to IQ stats about the median grad. If CS enrollment was up, it would push the needle I'm sure. It's not. You may as well be saying, "What do you mean most wine is bad? I drink good wine all the time."

I'm getting a random lot of 20 kids from average schools. Surely, if IQ is dropping significantly amongst the general population of CS students, I'd be seeing that?

The author's point was that college IQ was dropping, and this explained the lack of rise of CS enrolemt. Simce CS is objectively harder, only a lower portion of college students can now do it.

That's their hypothesis. So their hypothesis isn't that CS student IQs are dropping.

Is your company actually selecting 20 kids at random, or selecting 20 from the best of the ones applying?

Are you also comparing this over a long timeframe? 112 in the 70's -> 100 now means less than 1 point every 3 years. You probably can't notice a difference that small year over year.

Of course, "the plural of anecdote is not 'data'," is the first thing I would say. I know someone who just went through the process to hire a half-dozen interns, some from top schools, who (frankly) would argue with you. There are a thousand possible reasons for this but I think the best course of action is to dispense with that, personal, line of reasoning.

> Who gives a hoot about IQ in 2017?

What does 2017 have to do with IQ?

Actually I think IQ is more relevant now since we have lots of incompetent people holding degrees.

Interesting that in the nsf data it shows that during the 2000-2004 time frame the number of CS grads rose and then peaked in 2004, while the number of CS women grads during the same time frame was flat, and then dropped in 2004.

'04 was just post dot-com bubble, though. Sad if those numbers haven't picked up since then. We badly need people who are doers and not just rent seekers or mid-level functionaries.

institutional education is subject to diminishing returns at every level of the process. it's a fractal of diminishing returns.

the "college for everyone" experiment is grinding our society into paste and generating enormous debt burdens for an entire generation. time to end it.

those with aptitude for programming can learn programming without a college degree. let's find out just how flat aptitude really is. all we know now is that aptitude is flat in the institutional environment.

What's interesting to me about that data is the high rate of biological and agricultural sciences grads, relative to all other sciences. CS grad rates seem to fall right about where they should on XKCD's Purity Scale [1] (if CS had been included in it). 2004 was an outlier for CS, but it has reverted to its mean since.

But bio and ag sciences are beating out Psychology, which is a bit of a reversal. Biology isn't easy, especially not any program with a requirement for organic chemistry. Could that be b/c the big midwest and southwest universities (Iowa, Texas A&M, etc) have large bio/ag programs to support that industry in their region?


Although biology and organic chemistry are much harder then CS anything, they can be learned in school and from school resources only. No one expects you to already come in already knowing how to code or configure linux. If you are good students willing to work, you will learn them, period. With cs, you are expected to already know a lot that was not taught in school - meaning that all kinds of cultural and social effects play the role (who your parents and friends were).

Also, there is a lot less myths about biology around. Nobody assumes you have to be some kind of nerd to learn it, nobody assumes there is special in-born ability for it totally different from all other kinds of intelligence (like is often implicitly assumed even with things like operating system configuration), there is much less cultural bullshit about "hackers and their culture" around.

Organic chemistry looks complicated but it is, by and large, just an enormous amount of memorization. The kind of complex systems reasoning you have with any non-trivial computer science isn't there.

By contrast, even though it is the same subject matter, chemical engineering is (correctly) perceived as being vastly more difficult than chemistry because it requires reasoning about complex system-level behaviors that has no analogue in chemistry. This creates the oft-observed effect that being skilled at chemistry has surprisingly low correlation with being effective at chemical engineering despite being the same domain.

Most programming jobs are easy, it takes effort and luck to find one that is not. Things like system administration and configuration are largely about remembering thing. There are some aspects of it that are harder and require being good at math - by you dont need them on practical jobs and they are still easier then real math.

But realistically, a.) memorizing that much is hard b.) my friends who studied chemistry said that it becomes much easier when you understand how it works.

trying to learn organic chemistry by memorizing mechanisms is like trying to learn maths by memorizing derivations... it might work for an intro course but you will quickly hit a wall.

chemistry and chemical engineering has very little to do with each other, despite the name. chem eng is focused on scale up while (organic) chemistry is focused on novel mechanisms

I haven't personally taken organic chemistry, but several of my friends who have taken both organic chemistry and algorithms have said that algorithms is by far the harder of the two. So I tend to disagree that biology and organic chemistry are harder than anything in CS.

Have degrees in both and agree. The amount of work require to get a B in data structures would get you an A+ in biochemistry.

Physical Chemistry on the other hand...

Eh, my college girlfriend majored in Chemistry while I was CS and Math. P. Chem was certainly a huge challenge, but I never got the sense that she was smarter than me, just maybe more determined in certain ways and better at memorizing shit. She got a 4.0 and was valedictorian, but she dropped any elective classes if they looked like they would not result in an "A" for her--I especially remember her dropping Calc II, for example. So she got her 4.0 by successfully gaming the system, whereas I never got overly focused on grades as the ultimate marker of successful learning.

Btw, I have done quite well in life, not sure where she ended up; probably chasing some other kind of "grade" these days, lol.

That may depend on school. I have seen opposite - chemistry requiring much more work and being harder. I never found algorithms particularly hard.

I have no particular opinion on harder/easier. (There is a lot of memorization in organic chemistry earlier on because you don't have the tools to come up with answers from first principles at that point.)

But, unlike CS, there isn't this assumption that you've played around with organic chemistry and/or chemical engineering in your spare time if you want to major in it in college.

As someone who graduated with an engineering degree from one of those large Midwestern universities, yes. There are millions of acres of farmland and tons of ag companies who are making developments to eek out another 1% yield. At my university, the ag and life sciences college was only recently overcome by engineering to be the largest college.

In Michigan the universities have a lot more focus on automotive because that's what runs the state. Agriculture runs a huge portion of Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and other nearby states.

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