breaking: Frank Bruni doesn’t know what he’s talking about

Given the way in which Mssrs. Brooks and Friedman consistently fail to cover themselves with glory, it’s hard to really bust out as a shitty Times columnist. But, boy. Frank Bruni is making a go of it.

Here’s Bruni, who appears to live three months behind the greater op/ed cycle, dusting off the hoary old idea that young people don’t have jobs because they’re taking the wrong majors.

I single out philosophy and anthropology because those are two fields — along with zoology, art history and humanities — whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level, according to government projections quoted by the Associated Press. But how many college students are fully aware of that? How many reroute themselves into, say, teaching, accounting, nursing or computer science, where degree-relevant jobs are easier to find? Not nearly enough, judging from the angry, dispossessed troops of Occupy Wall Street.

Let’s ask a different columnist, one with better qualifications than being able to assess the quality of foie gras, Paul Krugman:

Most stories about structural unemployment stress a perceived mismatch between the work force and employment opportunities: workers, so the story goes, either have the wrong skills or are in the wrong place. But as Bernanke pointed out in a recent speech, employment looks bad across the board: “The fact that labor demand appears weak in most industries and locations is suggestive of a general shortfall of aggregate demand rather than a worsening mismatch of skills and jobs.” As a result, he declared, the data “do not support the view that structural factors are a major cause of the increase in unemployment during the most recent recession.”

Given the credentials of Krugman and Bernanke, as compared to a guy best known for his cutting analysis of the fruit compote at Gramercy Tavern,  I’m inclined to consider that game-set-match. That piece by Krugman provides a handy alternative take to Bruni’s assertions of skills-jobs mismatch:  the failure of our monetary policy to respond to an unprecedented crisis by further loosening up credit markets, which could be achieved by buying long-term government debt and lowering interest rates, as well as by setting and sticking with a higher inflation target for the next several years. That’s an empirical difference between Dr. Krugman and Mr. Bruni. But it’s also a difference in blame: is the problem that students made bad choices? Or is the problem occurring far above their ability to control, at the heights of our policy apparatus?  I’m inclined to think the latter, and so does Paul Krugman.

A few important points:

  1. Facts matter. Bruni makes no effort to assess how many students are going into these majors that he derides. Given his article, ou’d think students are marching into philosophy in droves. But according to the NCES, in 2008-2009 there were about 12,500 BAs in philosophy granted. In education? Over 100,000. Come on, man. Check the numbers first.
  2. In fact, the top ten college majors are the picture of “practical” education— business, computer science, economics, nursing, politics and government. And education! At number five! Despite Bruni’s handwaving, data-free claims that not enough students are studying education. Yet we still have this unemployment scenario.
  3. “Practical” majors frequently aren’t. Claims about people going into the wrong fields are always based more on optics than on facts. It may sound pragmatic for business to be our number one major, but the educational metrics on business, education, criminal justice, and other popular fields are in fact quite poor.  This is demonstrated in the economic metrics as well– business majors make less than literature and architecture majors; educational majors flood the bottom of the chart. People like Bruni love to flog the narrative of too many students taking impractical majors– it comes off as tough talk– but that’s just not reality.
  4. Age is far more determinative of employment status than your college major. Looking at our current situation and declaring the problem to be a matter of skills mismatch, rather than a broad problem for all recent graduates, is poor social science and poor policy thinking.
  5. Skilled labor is subject to supply and demand. Yes, engineers make a lot of money. But there isn’t an engineer shortage in this country, and you can’t solve our problems by making everyone into an engineer. Even if everyone was capable of getting through an engineering degree, you’d just be flooding the market, driving down wages, and compelling employers to find different ways to sort candidates. When you have the larger economic metrics we have as a country, talking about changing college majors is shuffling deck chairs.
  6. Incidentally, according to Payscale, a website devoted to these issues, the median philosophy major in this country makes $75,600 at mid-career. In part, that’s because the most important part of a college education is not in fact the specific skills you pick up but the broader learning in problem solving, communication, critical thinking. In part it’s an artifact of the broader problem with this kind of thinking: college major is an incredibly kludgy designation. There’s just too little discriminatory value in it to be of much use; majors have vast internal differences in what they teach, the quality of the instructors, and (most importantly) the people within them.

One could well ask why the Sulzberger crew hired Bruni to be an op/ed columnist in the first place. I mean, if you think that the Most Dangerous Restaurant Critic in the Land needs a higher profile, you might consider sending his headshot to the Bravo network. But a column in the most influential paper in the world? Why?

The fact that our two most influential newspapers often seem to be in a competition to publish the most inane, data-free analysis isn’t one of our biggest problems. It isn’t a cause of our biggest problems. But it sure does speak to how thoroughly broken our system of professional and social advancement is.

Update: At one point, I accidentally wrote “interest rate” when I meant “inflation.” I’ve fixed it now.

193 replies
  1. 1
    Recall says:

    [Frank Bruni] graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1986 with a B.A. in English.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Bruni

  2. 2
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    I’ve got news for Frank Bruni. 30 odd years ago, I graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in history. My first job, right out of college, was with an employer that didn’t care what my degree was in, as long as I had a degree, because it signified that I was trainable, that I could learn, that my employer could present a skill set that I could pick up and utilize as my employer needed.

    That employer was the United States Army.

    Frank Bruni is an ass.

  3. 3
    Jeff Spender says:

    This is pretty much the point I was trying to make to a certain troll that shalt not be named yesterday.

    It’s bad across the board because demand is down. It’s why I’ve decided to get right back into the whole school thing to switch careers.

    I’m taking on debt, but at the very least I’ll be employable.

  4. 4
    xian says:

    Majored in philosophy, work on the interwebs. I have no complaints.

  5. 5
    Walker says:

    I understand and appreciate your point. However, computer science majors are having very little trouble in this market. Tech start-ups are hungry, hungry again, at a level we have not seen since the bubble.

    I am not saying that everyone should work in the tech area; this idea that society would be fine if everyone got tech jobs is a wet dream. But the claim that demand is down across all sectors does not appear to be true.

  6. 6
    PeakVT says:

    The link for “the top ten college majors” is wrong.

  7. 7

    It’s too late. Bruni is wrong on the facts, but he hasn’t backed the wrong horse, not politically, and his mistaken list is the face of the university future, because it’s the face of the university present.

    In thirty years you won’t be able to get a non-STEM first degree, except for business, from a land-grant university. There will be a few showy exceptions, like Ann Arbor, or Berkeley, for tradition’s sake.

    The state legislatures won’t stand for it. As it is they’re refusing to pay for post-secondary.

    Private colleges and universities, except for a few score deeply endowed ones, will already have vanished from the scene by then. There might be Bowdoins and Bryn Mawrs and Yales and Stanfords left, but the others will be gone.

    In 1300 a university meant you could get a degree from a faculty of Theology, or Medicine, or Law (canon, or civil) — choices, choices!), — careerist majors every one. In the England of Victoria, universities existed to feed curates to the Church, and bureaucrats to Whitehall. In that context composition in Greek trimeters was a vocational skill.

    It’s only relatively recently, and then only for a few decades, that the idea of mass post-secondary education in the name of allgemeinbildung has even existed. I got my degree (Classics, Phi Beta Kappa, thank you) during what turned out to be a temporary abberation.

  8. 8
    Jeff Spender says:

    @Walker:

    I think that if you’re going to school to be trained for a career any kind of science would be great. Computer science and physics go hand-in-hand. Chemistry and biology. Aerospace.

    A lot of the value I derived from my undergrad degree came from expanding my mind and learning new perspectives. Not exactly marketable for a job, but very important to me personally.

    That matters too. Perhaps more.

  9. 9
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    Claims about people going into the wrong fields are always based more on optics than on facts.

    I’d sub “bigotry” for “optics”, but yes. These are sneerers who just hate certain majors – even if, as Recall @1 points out, their own majors are not the practical kind they think everyone else should get.

  10. 10
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    Took my oldest and a friend of ours, Juniors, on a tour of the University of North Texas (UNT):
    – Third largest university in Texas
    – Largest College of Music in the nation

    The Dean of Admissions in the College of Music said that the percentage of music graduates that go into pre-med is higher than the percentage of students that go into pre-med from any other degree.

    It’s obvious that since Bruni doesn’t think, he has no idea how the thinking process works.

  11. 11
    Linnaeus says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    My first job, right out of college, was with an employer that didn’t care what my degree was in, as long as I had a degree, because it signified that I was trainable, that I could learn, that my employer could present a skill set that I could pick up and utilize as my employer needed.

    It seems few employers these days want to do on the job training. I’m pretty lucky in that one of my current employers does in fact do that, but from what I can tell during my ongoing job search, that’s quite the exception.

  12. 12
    Freddie deBoer says:

    @PeakVT: Thanks for the heads up. Fixed.

  13. 13
    Jeff Spender says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    I went for a BA in English because I only needed 27 300 and above credits to get the degree, which meant that I could spread 93 credits in any other department I wanted.

    Lots of science, history, and just about everything. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    I thought about going pre-med and going to med school, but my best friend recently finished his residency and I know a few more friends that are in the final years of their residency for their specialties as doctors.

    All of them said that it wasn’t worth it anymore to be a doctor. Within 8 years, it would be worth even less.

    So I settled on a Physician’s Assistant program.

  14. 14
    Walker says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    As a philosophy and math undergrad (who now works in a fairly well-known CS department), I am not one of these people who say “everyone should major in STEM fields”. However, where the liberal arts students have shot themselves in the foot is that many of them are not even STEM literate.

    Look at the distributive requirements at a typical liberal arts university. A STEM major generally satisfies the requirements with a legitimate liberal arts course that could count (or be a pre-req) to a second major or minor. However, many liberal arts students take specially designed courses that isolate them away from the STEM core, and which could not even be used in a minor.

    In my mind, this is a betrayal of the spirit of liberal arts. It also provides the political forces with ammunition to say that the liberal arts majors are worthless in themselves (which is not true).

  15. 15
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Correctamundo. I usta tell my fellow students that it wasn’t so important to obtain a degree in one of the more vocational oriented fields; getting that “sheepskin” was far more important. And, f’chrissakes, learn how to write! My own BA in Pol Sci and History made no damned difference in the availability of post-college employment. Neither major had anything to do with what I ultimately did, but that sheepskin sure opened a lot of doors. Bruni delenda est.

  16. 16
    Linnaeus says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    It’s too late. Bruni is wrong on the facts, but he hasn’t backed the wrong horse, not politically, and his mistaken list is the face of the university future, because it’s the face of the university present.

    In thirty years you won’t be able to get a non-STEM first degree, except for business, from a land-grant university. There will be a few showy exceptions, like Ann Arbor, or Berkeley, for tradition’s sake.

    I tend to think you’re correct on this one. Universities still pay a lot of lip service to the notion of a liberal education, but their actions don’t always demonstrate it. In my more cynical moments, I think it would be more honest if they just shut down non-STEM departments outright.

  17. 17
    Walker says:

    @Jeff Spender:

    Oh, I agree. I am just speaking from experience watching my students get jobs in this market.

  18. 18
    TooManyJens says:

    @Jeff Spender:

    All of them said that it wasn’t worth it anymore to be a doctor. Within 8 years, it would be worth even less.

    What was their reasoning on this? Was it some kind of “Obamacare will ruin us all!!” thing, or just a realization that cost containment is going to have to mean reining in doctors’ compensation (especially fee-for-service), or something else entirely?

  19. 19
    Culture of Truth says:

    Employment for college graduates over the age of 25 is around 4.5%

    But the important thing is bashing Occupy Wall Street, I guess.

  20. 20
    Splitting Image says:

    Krugman doesn’t even mention the fact that changes in the labour market, especially technological ones, can wipe out the benefits of a technical education very quickly.

    Take me for example. I lost my job a few months ago because I worked in the print industry. The writing was on the wall at that company for quite a long time, as it has been for newspapers and magazines all over the place. Fred Clark over at Slacktivist had the same thing happen to him a little while back. I worked a my company for ten years and my formal education had very little relevance to my position. It was almost entirely on-the-job training. This will also be true for my next one.

    When I was in university, the internet was only beginning to exist. I used an Amiga and a 2400 baud modem to log onto local BBS systems. Nobody at the time had any idea how pervasive the internet would become. Does even Frank Bruni think I’d have managed to weather the demise of print better if I’d pursued a different major back in the early 90s?

    Or for that matter, suppose for a minute that I chose to take a degree in journalism instead of studying philosophy as Bruni seems to think I ought to have done. Would I be better equipped to survive in the modern news media? Technological growth is not the only change that has happened to it.

  21. 21
    Brachiator says:

    @Walker:

    I understand and appreciate your point. However, computer science majors are having very little trouble in this market. Tech start-ups are hungry, hungry again, at a level we have not seen since the bubble.

    But not everyone can easily re-route himself into a tech career, or accounting, or nursing. Aptitude, interest, determination, are funny things.

    And demand is not geographically equal. A company I used to work for relocated to the Midwest from California, laying off hundreds of programmers in the process. Much of this was done to reduce labor costs, so very few veterans were asked to stay on board and relocate. Ironically, the company is having trouble attracting and keeping talent in a smaller market. But profits are still good, which apparently is the main thing. They also rely on a larger number of H1B foreign worker talent.

  22. 22
    jwb says:

    “One could well ask why the Sulzberger crew hired Bruni to be an op/ed columnist in the first place. I mean, if you think that the Most Dangerous Restaurant Critic in the Land needs a higher profile, you might consider sending his headshot to the Bravo network. But a column in the most influential paper in the world? Why?”

    I suspect they were hoping for another success like Frank Rich. But Rich came with a background in theater criticism and produced a lot of incisive columns by treating our politics as the kitsch theater that it is. But Bruni was a food critic, and the parallels to politics are not obvious—especially in an age where the substance of politics is the lie. I suppose a restaurant critic attuned to how decor, service, presentation, etc. run counter to the way the shit on the plate actually tastes might make an effective pundit, but I can’t remember reading a column of his that I even thought worth getting worked up over. He’s just has nothing to say.

  23. 23
    Flying Fox says:

    I’ve been hearing this bullshit about (read in the most annoying voice you can think of) “oh, you studied the wrong thing in college, you have only yourself to blame,” for YEARS and I am fucking sick of it.

    I looked at the comment thread to that op-ed, and it was even worse. No one knows what people in those fields actually do! It doesn’t matter what your major was, what matters is what you have to do in the course of learning. English majors learn how to write and edit, history and philosophy learn how to do research. I was a history major. To get a history degree you have to learn how to do research very quickly. Your college major has less to do with your future then you might think, but thanks to fucks like Bruni the myth gets perpetuated about useless majors.
    But most college students are trying to study business or econ or chemisty anyway, because they think they can get a high paying job quickly with those. At Colgate they used to warn us about that. Most of my friends are employed, and we all had ‘useless majors.’ Course, we all learned foreign languages too.

  24. 24
    chrismealy says:

    Economics is one of the worst degrees there is. It is not a practical degree. Almost nothing they teach undergraduates is anything the profs really believe. It’s all wrong. It’s the worst social science by far. Anthro and sociology majors learn a hell of a lot more about the world than econ majors. (Can you tell I got an econ degree and that I’m bitter about it?)

  25. 25
    Walker says:

    @Brachiator:

    But not everyone can easily re-route himself into a tech career, or accounting, or nursing. Aptitude, interest, determination, are funny things.

    I said this in the second paragraph to my post. I am simply remarking that demand is not uniformly down. As for H1-Bs, I (anecdotally, not data) get the impression that this is not as big a deal as it used to be.

  26. 26
    Interrobang says:

    I’m one of these supposedly unemployable liberal arts graduates (BA in English, MA in what essentially amounts to applied rhetoric), and I have a really good job with a software company in an incredibly specialised, esoteric field. My last job was also with a software company in another specialised, esoteric field. I’m a technical writer, and in my last job, I also did software and systems testing and troubleshooting. Just recently, I was writing on, as well as doing a lot of the backend management of, a proposal worth several million dollars in new business.

    One of the proudest moments in my career was when I was writing course content for a post-secondary certificate programme in occupational health and safety, and I turned accident causation theory on its ear by demonstrating that one of the causation models is a logical fallacy. Fifty years’ worth of orthodox engineering/STEM graduates had never picked up on that, but as a part of my supposedly useless liberal arts degree, I’d done a course on formal logic.

    I also used to do some work for a lawyer. I’ve spent my entire career to date working in several different specialist fields, yet I somehow manage to land on my feet every time. Funny how that works. It’s almost like a good generalist education is really useful, or something. Don’t sell the liberal arts majors of the world short.

  27. 27
    Jeff Spender says:

    @TooManyJens:

    They’re all liberally sensitive and support universal healthcare (one of my closest friends in the medical fields thinks lack of healthcare access will be the thing that brings the country down in the long-run).

    So it’s not unhinged quakery. It’s just firsthand knowledge of the market and what the trends indicate about its trajectory. Nurse practitioners and PA’s are starting to replace a lot of doctors in specialties like psychiatry, general medicine, and even now fields like cardiology and pulmonolgy.

    So, yeah, a lot of it is the cost-containment argument. Eventually, they’ll predict that the traditional doctor won’t even exist in medicine outside of very specific specialties because insurance companies won’t reimburse doctors when PA’s and nurse practitioners cost so much less.

    As my friends said to me when I started on this path, “If you can accept that a medical license doesn’t mean that you get to make healthcare decisions, but tow a company line because you market yourself to a business, you’ll live a relatively comfortable life.”

  28. 28
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Brachiator:

    They also rely on a larger number of H1B foreign worker talent.

    Yeah, that is (IMHO) one of the problems with tech. Constantly cut and downsize your workforce, hire a bunch of foreign workers, complain that there aren’t enough American-born tech workers, profit!

    See also ageism in Silicon Valley, and the distinct lack of non male (white, east and south asian) workers.

  29. 29
    MattF says:

    @jwb: A more specific example is Bill Grimes. Restaurant critic extraordinare during his tenure at the NYT, and, by the way, also a man who can write and who can think. That’s what’s missing with Bruni.

  30. 30
    TooManyJens says:

    @Jeff Spender: Yeah, that does sound dreary.

  31. 31
    RalfW says:

    I got a degree in Finance/Accounting. With honors.

    How long did I work in finance/accounting? Generously interpreting the notion, about 22 months after graduating.

    Now, 25 years later, I do use my training to help me craft the organizational budget for the small non-profit I direct, but honestly, if I had it to do over again…I’d have gotten the urban studies degree I really wanted but that “wasn’t marketable” (per the prof who ran the program! ie: you need at least a Masters in planning to earn any scratch).

    College is a rite of passage and, if done correctly, a training of the mind to think critically. Most of the degrees Bruni talks about should be associates degrees from vo-tech schools. You don’t need 4 yrs @ $25K/yr, and that at a state school no less, to be a decent accountant or linux programmer.

    I despair at the idiocy of people who, once upon a time, went to college themselves.

  32. 32
    Flying Fox says:

    By the way, I just want to add, as a Millenial, the liberal blogosphere, Balloon Juice included (Pandagon is also great about this) has pushed hard against the way the establishment has been scolding my generation, over things we can’t control. Thanks a lot. It means a lot to me. I’m glad there are people who are ready to rebut this crap.

    Maybe we can have nice things after all.

  33. 33
    jwb says:

    @Davis X. Machina: People have been complaining about universities in this way for at least a century, and I don’t sense any seismic curricular shift myself. You won’t even find conservatives uniformly backing a vocational model for the university. What we are headed toward, however, is a radical change in the way higher education is administered, and the two-tiered professoriate/adjunct split is only going to get worse as course delivery shifts increasingly online.

  34. 34
    Steeplejack says:

    @Jeff Spender:

    All of them said that it wasn’t worth it anymore to be a doctor.

    What is their reason? Money? Or they don’t like doctoring?

  35. 35
    Jeff Spender says:

    @Steeplejack:

    I explained why in comment 27.

    Money is, generally, a concern. You don’t go through eight years of med school and take on $300,000 in debt to make as much as a PA makes with 2 years of PA school and $60,000 in debt.

    My friend is a psychiatrist and he loves his job. But he understands in about ten years he won’t be able to practice because he’ll be crowded out of the market by NP’s and PA’s.

  36. 36
    Walker says:

    @Flying Fox:

    Because many of us are Gen-X. And they were saying the exact same things about our generation in the 90s.

  37. 37
    Linnaeus says:

    @Walker:

    Because many of us are Gen-X. And they were saying the exact same things about our generation in the 90s.

    Ding! Ding! Ding!

  38. 38
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Walker: H1-Bs are subject to the fall in aggregate demand just like any other category. This actually shows that the unemployment is not structural as Bruni claims it is.

  39. 39

    @jwb:

    You won’t even find conservatives uniformly backing a vocational model for the university.

    In state legislatures, you most certainly do. The rich can look after themselves, and do — that’s why God made them, and made thm rich, and they made Amherst and Williams.

  40. 40
    gaz says:

    I don’t know much about Silicon Valley, other than what I hear from a friend who owns a high profile company over there.

    I’m in Microsoft’s backyard.

    A) I’ve never worried about H1B. Any worry I had was assuaged by moving myself into tech positions that cannot be outsourced, like a senior architect position. Those are tough to outsource, as are development team leads.

    B) Anybody that has spent over 15 years in tech knows that a CS degree doesn’t count for bollocks. Universities have historically failed to properly teach effective CS, which is why outfits like MS will take someone with NO DEGREE and pro-experience over someone with a degree any day of the week. Also, due to the rapid advances in tech, a degree is obsolete by the time the ink dries on the diploma. In computer tech fields, YOU ARE PAID TO KEEP LEARNING.

    And anyone that remarks that tech growth is indicative of some larger economic success is ignoring the extremely volatile nature of the industry.

  41. 41
    Walker says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    No, what I meant is that I am hearing (anecdotally) that these tech companies and start-ups would prefer to have native talent over H1-Bs. Many feel that H1-Bs are not all that they could be. More importantly it is harder to get talent from overseas now that so many are staying in China and India to work at companies there.

    This is not a function of reduced demand.

  42. 42
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @gaz:

    And anyone that remarks that tech growth is indicative of some larger economic success is ignoring the extremely volatile nature of the industry.

    Or, that someone is an utter asshat columnist of the New York Times who has no fucking clue, not one, about the nature of anything outside of the NYT building.

  43. 43
    gaz says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: LOL. You make a compelling point. =)

  44. 44
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    A) I’ve never worried about H1B. Any worry I had was assuaged by moving myself into tech positions that cannot be outsourced, like a senior architect position. Those are tough to outsource, as are development team leads.

    And this is having effects further down the food chain. Companies are discovering that if they fill all the lower positions overseas, then they have no pool to promote into these positions.

    Either that or you off-shore your architect. And that is a company waiting to die.

  45. 45
    Brachiator says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    See also ageism in Silicon Valley, and the distinct lack of non male (white, east and south asian) workers.

    Agree with you about ageism to a large degree, but not about the rest. There is probably not enough women in tech, but at some of the most prominent companies I have dealt with, there have been a significant number of women large and in charge. I am also encouraged by the increasing numbers of women I see at places like CalTech. And although I cannot swear that it is statistically significant, among the workers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on one of my commutes, about 40 percent are women scientists and engineers.

  46. 46

    @gaz: Agree fully on the CS degree. I grew up when there was no such thing, and the first two generations in the field had all sorts of weird CV’s — Tim O’Reilly is Harvard Classics ’82, IIRC.

    Today a big firm like MS might have the vision, and the flywheel capacity of all of its billions, and an existing culture, that makes it possible to still take chances.

    Startups are so small, they don’t really worry about credentials so much as take what comes in through very informal networks.

    Credentialism is rife though, between those two extremes, and government is the worst, and public education the worst of government. IT in education is pretty much strangled by a level of credentialed incompetence on a bad day and blinkered mediocrity on a good one that would try the patience of a saint.

  47. 47
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Walker: OK I stand corrected. I have also heard anecdotally also, that it has become very difficult to get visas in India to come to the US. A grad student I know, who is just finishing up his PhD in ChemE, was stuck in India for 2 months due to background checks and such, when he tried to change his visa status from F-1 (student) to H1-B temporary worker. In fact universities now go via the J-1 route which the State Dept administers instead of H1-B which comes under the purview of Homeland security. The downside of J-1 visa is that you have to go back to your country for 2 years or go through an expensive J-1 waiver process to be able to apply for an employment based greencard.

  48. 48
    gaz says:

    I’d say that it’s a safe bet to characterize a lot of the current tech growth on the advance of cloud computing. It’s relatively new – and IT everywhere is ramping up infrastructure and software to make that happen, creating a lot of jobs.

    A huge portion of those jobs can be expected to dry up once the cloud boom is over, until the “next big thing” hits.

  49. 49
    gaz says:

    @Davis X. Machina: co-signed. Thanks for expounding on some dynamics I didn’t bother with.

  50. 50
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Brachiator:

    There is probably not enough women in tech, but at some of the most prominent companies I have dealt with, there have been a significant number of women large and in charge.

    OMG they sound like Tunch, be afraid be very afraid.

  51. 51
    Walker says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Credentialism is rife though, between those two extremes, and government is the worst, and public education the worst of government. IT in education is pretty much strangled by a level of credentialed incompetence on a bad day and blinkered mediocrity on a good one that would try the patience of a saint.

    This is very true, and I will not argue with this. And there are a lot of people who will say that HR departments are the death of tech companies.

    This is also why I said above that the issue is a lot less about STEM majors, and more about STEM literacy. Because in order to get these jobs you have to at least be trainable. And there are a lot of liberal arts students at universities these days who are not even willing to go that far.

    STEM education is a real issue. It is just unfortunate that it has been pushed into this less important issue about majors.

  52. 52
    jwb says:

    @Davis X. Machina: If I knew how to make real money on this, I’d put cash on the bet that in 20 years state universities will still have large numbers of liberal arts graduates, but the number of professors will be much lower (and part of their job description will be the ability to produce high quality online instructional content) and the number of adjuncts to administer and grade that online content at low rates of renumeration will be very high.

  53. 53
    esme says:

    Thanks, Freddie, for pushing back on the idea that philosophy majors are economically doomed with some empirical evidence. As a philosophy professor, I am so tired of philosophy being the whipping boy of the humanities, when there is no empirical evidence to back up this tired perception. Even my colleagues have internalized this idea.

  54. 54
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    Yes, cloud computing, web services, and mobile/social. Those appear to the be engines right now. I suspect that this will pull back after a while, but I do believe the high water mark will have shifted.

  55. 55
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I forgot to mention that the said graduate student, has a post-doc lined up at one the University of California campuses.

  56. 56
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Credentialism is rife though, between those two extremes, and government is the worst, and public education the worst of government. IT in education is pretty much strangled by a level of credentialed incompetence on a bad day and blinkered mediocrity on a good one that would try the patience of a saint.

    This reminds me of a story from WWII. A German general was escorted through the 8th Infantry Division lines to negotiate a surrender of his forces, and asked to see the credentials of the 8th ID commander at the onset of the negotiations. The general turned, pointed to a bunch of infantrymen standing around behind him, and said “these are my credentials”.

  57. 57
    Tehanu says:

    @Walker:

    It also provides the political forces with ammunition to say that the liberal arts majors are worthless in themselves (which is not true).

    The same asshole conservatives who love to bray about the “great traditions of Western Civilization,” yadda yadda, are falling over themselves in their hurry to deny a decent education — a real education, not just job training — to as many people as possible. Cf. Rick Sanctum Sanctorum calling Obama a “snob” because “he wants everyone to go to college.”

    I think a little reverse snobbery might be in place when you hear crap like this. I’ve got no problem with any kind of tech or medical major, or even accounting, but a business “degree”? Please. As near as I can tell the business majors of the world have perpetrated one of the most successful scams of all time — the idea that you’re “educated” if you’ve taken a bunch of courses in how to rip off marks — er, customers.

  58. 58
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Walker:

    Because in order to get these jobs you have to at least be trainable. And there are a lot of liberal arts students at universities punditubbies at major news organizations these days who are not even willing to go that far.

  59. 59
    gaz says:

    @Walker:

    And this is having effects further down the food chain. Companies are discovering that if they fill all the lower positions overseas, then they have no pool to promote into these positions.
    Either that or you off-shore your architect. And that is a company waiting to die.

    Meet the new problem, same as the old problem.

    During the dot com boom, a lot of retail jockeys and other people with no degrees and no experience outside of a little Visual Basic were given development jobs due to demand.

    Those people are back jockeying registers now (if they are lucky). They were replaced, partially by low-cost green devs on foreign soil, and partly by people with a bit more actual experience. The ones that survived took the bit of opportunity they had, and used the foot-in-the-door to get themselves experience and certification. Those people are still working in IT.

    H1B doesn’t bother me so much, at least personally. I’ve never been in a position that I’m aware of where I lost the opportunity to an outsource, or to an H1B.

    In the 90’s I took what skills I had to MS. During my time there I busted my arse (trial by fire, if you will) to polish my hobby into something professional. I got some credentials in the process. I had no degree, no certs when I started. In fact, I had a GED. LOL

    Right place, right time for sure – but I was smart enough to recognize that if I wanted to continue to reap this opportunity I had to make myself marketable. College never entered into it. Experience did, as did certification.

    ETA: the availability of H1Bs can make it harder for people to get in the door, but I don’t think that it spells doom for anyone who’s committed.

  60. 60
    Brachiator says:

    @Walker:

    I said this in the second paragraph to my post.

    Sorry, it wasn’t clear from your comment about economic wet dreams.

    I am simply remarking that demand is not uniformly down.

    in the aggregate, this does appear to be the case. Wherever people move, they find that the job market is weak. This is the case even though certain jobs may be in high demand.

    As for H1-Bs, I (anecdotally, not data) get the impression that this is not as big a deal as it used to be.

    Depends. A few years ago I went back to my old company as a contractor (long story, filled with irony), which maintained a small development arm in California. There were a large number of H1-B workers. No one who is a US citizen or legal resident has ever been hired as a developer since the layoffs and relocation.

  61. 61
    Walker says:

    @Tehanu:

    The same asshole conservatives who love to bray about the “great traditions of Western Civilization,” yadda yadda, are falling over themselves in their hurry to deny a decent education—a real education, not just job training—to as many people as possible. Cf. Rick Sanctum Sanctorum calling Obama a “snob” because “he wants everyone to go to college.”

    I used to work at a “Western Tradition” liberal arts school (good school, but left because it had financial issues). We have Santorum as our commencement speaker one year. Worst commencement speech I have ever had to sit through.

  62. 62

    OT

    And here is the brave new Citizens United world, where we all live to serve the money masters.

    “But what they’re doing to Claire McCaskill is nothing compared to what their special-interest agenda will do to you.”

    It will be an uphill fight. Republican interest groups are outspending Ms. McCaskill and other Missouri Democrats by a 7-to-1 ratio; Ms. McCaskill herself is being outspent by 3 to 1. Though she has raised nearly $10 million, the amount could be dwarfed by the unlimited money at the disposal of Republican-oriented groups.

    Someday, when the election is over, someone will discover that the benevolent dictator of the People’s Democratic Republic of Shitstain, bought his self a United States Senator and paid bad money for it.

    Wolverines!!

  63. 63
    Walker says:

    @Brachiator:

    in the aggregate, this does appear to be the case. Wherever people move, they find that the job market is weak. This is the case even though certain jobs may be in high demand.

    Weak job market is not the same as uniformly weak. But at this point I am splitting hairs, so I will shut up on this issue.

  64. 64
    jl says:

    Bruni says some odd things that is for sure, and leaves a lot out.

    Odd:

    ” I single out philosophy and anthropology … zoology, art history and humanities — whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level… How many reroute themselves into, say, teaching, accounting, nursing or computer science ”

    So, what are teachers supposed to study? Nothing but ‘teaching’? Any a few phil grad students I knew who studied logic moved into computer science very happily, and made some money, and did what they liked. So much so, I wondered if I should have stuck with philosophy, since I was interested in logic anyway.

    And, exactly where would a lot of computer science be today without foundations built by philosophical logic and what what seemed to be that very useless and arcane mathematical ‘logic and foundations’ field?

    Leaves out, besides completely ignoring macroeconomic effects on job market:

    Hello? Does anyone here know how difficult it is to get through a technical major on time these days? Anyone know any people trying to get through a four year program to be a biotechnician or microbiologist? In California, with cuts to state universities it has been tough for a decade, and has been getting tougher.

    These people are going to school so they can work in industry, healthcare as technicians, and it is hell for them, from what I hear, to get the classes they need. But Bruni would sniff and ignorantly declare that they are not working ‘in their field’.

    And he leaves out oa skill in demand, which few have: to be able to be able to research and read to master a topic, and to write clear narrative. That is, the kind of reading and writing skills that cannot be measured with standardized tests.

  65. 65
    Walker says:

    @jl:

    And, exactly where would a lot of computer science be today without foundations built by philosophical logic and what what seemed to be that very useless and arcane mathematical ‘logic and foundations’ field?

    Here, here. I was a math philosophy major who went into mathematical logic and then into programming language theory.

    I believe that the synergy still exists there, though logic in philosophy departments is very uneven these days. Where it has moved into informal logic and rhetoric, it has remained very strong. Less important for tech, but extremely important for critical reasoning.

    Formal logic in philosophy departments tends to be a mess these days, however. You have a few bright spots like para-consistent logic, but their approaches to modal logic or the philosophy of mathematics are more often than not still stuck in the 50s (particularly, pre-Cohen).

  66. 66
    jl says:

    @Tehanu:

    ” The same asshole conservatives who love to bray about the “great traditions of Western Civilization,” yadda yadda, are falling over themselves in their hurry to deny a decent education ”

    A real education costs money, and a powerful interests in the country have decided that they want all the money, right now, and not give any of it back, ever.

    A reason for difficulty in a lot kids I’ve talked with getting STEM degrees for technical work in CA is because of the cuts. Biology, microbiology, computer science, classes are expensive. The equipment is expensive, the instructors are expensive, the space demand because of the labwork is expensive.

  67. 67
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    @Walker: Because many of us are Gen-X. And they were saying the exact same things about our generation in the 90s.

    And, oddly enough, still are. We need to make sure Social Security is good and solid so the snootier kind of Boomers can all retire and hand the press megaphone to people who have more to say than “you’re slackers and your music sucks.”

    Usual caveat re: that’s not all Boomers, just the loud ones.

  68. 68
    Gian says:

    in response to the why be a doctor now question.

    the cost of the education, and the massive growth of the HMOs have made it substantially less rewarding financially to be a doctor.

    I’d imagine with rolling interest over and all that graduating with a half million in debt is rather a daunting way to start a career in medicine.

    (and I don’t have the source for it, but the average doc makes less now than in the 1960s as a result of the HMOs taking their cut of the proceeds)

    and try getting a loan to hang out a shingle to start your own practice with the half million in student loans.

  69. 69
    gaz says:

    @jl: What’s funny is CS is discipline that is as much forged in linguistics as it is in math.

    Noam Chomsky’s grammar hierarchy is well regarded in computer tech circles, particularly among people that design parsers and compilers. <– any math in that last bit is usually based around set theory which is often given short shrift in college math.

    ETA: Algebra is nearly universally useless in computer science.

  70. 70
    handsmile says:

    This insightful discussion on the respective merits of undergraduate/graduate curricula and its relation to an individual’s future employment brings to my mind this recent article: “Google Interviews: Would you get a job with the search giant?” It’s an extract from William Poundstone’s recent book, Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/tech.....arch-giant

    (Disclosure: My own academic studies were in philosophy and art history, and they have served me well professionally. True, those sheepskins are now a few decades’ old.)

  71. 71
    jl says:

    @Walker: Thanks for your comment.

    A lot of education is spotty. I sympathize with the commenter above bitter about the undergraduate economics degree. I saw in first year grad school the theory was just more of the same, except dressed up with math, so made a sudden swerve into econometrics (economic statistics), so now I have an official statistical science degree I can plug when I want to teach a course.

    But there is a lot of cross over from economics and game theory into computer science through agent systems, which is the name of a good intro book BTW in case anyone wants to check it out (MultiAgent Systems, Michael Wooldridge)

  72. 72
    jwb says:

    @General Stuck: It’s interesting to note when the trollbots are sent piling in on Times’ articles and editorial pieces, and the comments are almost unreadable on this piece.

  73. 73
    Skerry says:

    I am a woman. I graduated from a land-grant college with a MS degree in engineering in 1983. My career has been nothing but pushing against the male-dominated hierarchy. There are very few women in senior positions, either technical or managerial.

    Recently, due to illness, I found myself unemployed. I am coming off of disability and am having a very hard time getting back into the workforce.

    I am in my 50s. I am female. Damn near unemployable – with a Masters in Engineering.

    When my children started college, I didn’t encourage them to get a STEM degree.

  74. 74
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    Actually, programming languages correspond closer to category theory and that is given short shrift in college math. Set theory is heavily used in college math post-Calculus, so I would not say it is ignored.

    Saunders McLane used to give a talk every year and the joint math meetings railing against the tyranny of set theory, and how we should consider category theory as a feasible alternative for formulating mathematics.

  75. 75
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Brachiator:

    Are they scientists in fields other than CS? Everything I’ve read about CS specifically, (and based on my own recent in school experience) says that women are an inconsequential minority. And based off my own experience at Hackerdojo (hacker space in Mountain View) almost everyone there is male.

  76. 76
    jl says:

    @gaz: There are deep connections to logic and the line of work Chomsky started. I would not say set theory, but more along the lines of recursive functions and lambda calculus, which I never had an intuition for until I learned it from a linguistics text, so I am personally very thankful for unexpected interdisciplinary cross over, even if it may seem puzzling and disorderly to some pundits.

  77. 77
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @gaz:

    Agreed on the dot-com boom, when anyone who had any experience in anything was being sucked up. Which is why I think education is important, a lot of those people who didn’t have degrees and were self taught either sank or swim with that, and I don’t think it hurts to have a little bit of extra paper credentialing, just as an extra ace up your sleeve. My impression is that its too competitive now, what worked in 1998 isn’t sufficient.

  78. 78
    Walker says:

    @jl:

    But there is a lot of cross over from economics and game theory into computer science through agent systems, which is the name of a good intro book BTW in case anyone wants to check it out (MultiAgent Systems, Michael Wooldridge)

    Game theory is very big in CS right now for a lot of reasons. It is used heavily in the analysis of algorithms as an alternative to the traditional (but not always helpful) concepts of big-O analysis and the like.

  79. 79
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Skerry:

    Yeah, I think a lot of women here in Silicon Valley are in HR, accounting, marketing, etc rather than DBAs, developers, etc.

  80. 80
    gaz says:

    @Walker:

    Saunders McLane used to give a talk every year and the joint math meetings railing against the tyranny of set theory, and how we should consider category theory as a feasible alternative for formulating mathematics.

    I’ve heard this argument before, but not being a math wiz myself category theory isn’t my bag.

    I would be very interested in seeing somebody describe an LL1 grammar, an LLk grammar, a LALR grammar, and even a simple regular language grammar all coherently using category theory. If I saw that, I might count myself as a convert.

    ETA: Hell I’d love to see an NFA -> DFA transformation using something other than lazy subset construction.

  81. 81

    @gaz: I’ve got my Latin and Greek students working on the NACLO (North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad) very much in this spirit.

  82. 82
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay: I can only speak for the university where I work, but here the CS department is indeed overwhelmingly male (though happily there are some female students and faculty, including my former advisor.) They’re always attempting some sort of outreach to female students, but it’s hit-or-miss.

    In the Biomedical Informatics department where I now work – interdisciplinary, but unquestionably science, bringing together genetics/biology, CS, medicine, nursing, and a few chemists – it’s about 50/50, I’m very happy to say. Other sciences, not sure, but from what I’ve seen they’re much better than CS.

  83. 83
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    I would be very interested in seeing somebody describe an LL1 grammar, an LLk grammar, a LALR grammar, and even a simple regular language grammar all coherently described using category theory.

    Oh, I could describe it. Provided that you drop the coherently constraint. :-)

  84. 84
    Brachiator says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    I’ve got news for Frank Bruni. 30 odd years ago, I graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in history. My first job, right out of college, was with an employer that didn’t care what my degree was in, as long as I had a degree, because it signified that I was trainable, that I could learn, that my employer could present a skill set that I could pick up and utilize as my employer needed.

    This reminds me of Google’s old policy of giving a strong preference to people with PhDs, without regard to the subject. People were astounded by this. Others mocked it. Didn’t seem to hurt the Google, though.

  85. 85
    Marcellus Shale, Public Dick says:

    here is the thing about the numbers, if you can’t find a job as a business major, you call yourself a consultant, set up a convincing “web presence” and viola, you are working in your field.

    that business grad may be waiting tables “on the side”, but to the broad statistical abstract, they are a consultant.

  86. 86
    Dr. Squid says:

    Conventional wisdom 3 months ago? That was conventional wisdom in 1988. He really doesn’t pay attention, does he?

  87. 87
    Walker says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    That is an awesome competition. I work on some projects with Drago Radev, who is one of the people who started it. That competition is a “Golden Boy” in the NSF right now because it has been more successful than anything else in getting people into STEM who would have never considered it before.

  88. 88
    Skerry says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:
    I got my start in Silicon Valley. Moved back east about 15 years ago. I love engineering, but the field just doesn’t love me.

  89. 89

    @Walker: Drago and I passed emails this February when I made the dog’s breakfast of our team’s entry – in my defense we did NACLO this year very much on a flyer, and funding for our bus failed, so we switched to an off-site administration that very morning. He was a real mench.

  90. 90
    gaz says:

    @Walker: LOL, I’d only be stacking it against set theory, which itself is only barely coherent in terms of describing this stuff.

  91. 91
    jl says:

    @Walker:

    Also big cross over from game theory and economics into neurobiology.

    It turns out the the economic micro theory and game theory you learned in a good undergrad program, and any grad program worth the name does describe reality. And the classic ‘economic man’ DOES exist. It’s looking more and more like it is really really real.

    Except the classic economic man is not you or me, it is the various subunits in our brains which work like neural nets to do our decidering and ranking and evaluating.

    Problem is there are many of these selfish little single minded economic people scattered around our brain, and higher level parts of the brain try to harness them to forge a reasonably consistent decision making person.

    Check out Paul Glimcher’s lab
    http://www.cns.nyu.edu/~glimcher/pubs.html

    Or Colin Camerer at Cal Tech
    http://www.hss.caltech.edu/~camerer/camerer.html

    And psychiatrist Paul Ainslie has a higher level version of same theory.

    Anyway, more cross over that people like Bruni miss.

  92. 92
  93. 93
    gaz says:

    @jl:

    Problem is there are many of these selfish little single minded economic people scattered around our brain, and higher level parts of the brain try to harness them to forge a reasonably consistent decision making person.

    this sounds suspiciously like Behavioral Economics.

  94. 94
    Leah says:

    @jwb:

    Previous to his NYT food critic gig, Bruni was a political reporter there, and completely in the tank for George W.Bush in 2000. He was the same kind of lazy iconoclast then, determined to control any liberal knee-jerking toward Al Gore, which meant he ignored all the lies of the Bush campaign and endorsed the notion that Gore was a serial exaggerator. I wouldn’t trust anything he writes, even about food.

  95. 95
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    Yeah, recursive function theory tends to be that way. When Kleene proved the Recursion Theorem in the 50s he famously remarked that he had a proof, and you could understand that the proof was correct, but you would not understand why it is correct.

  96. 96
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @jl:

    That is, the kind of reading and writing skills that cannot be measured with standardized tests.

    Ooops. So much for preparing a work force for the real world based on crap sold by Neil Bush.

  97. 97
    gaz says:

    @Walker: Making Kleene sound an awful like like Joseph Smith and his tablets.

    Is it more scary for the fact that it works at all?

  98. 98

    I read that biography of Steve Jobs a while ago, which I’m not recommending because I didn’t really like the book but one thing of interest was what he had to say about education. Jobs apparently told his biographer that the reason he doesn’t manufacture Apple products in the U.S. is not because of unions or the cost of labor but because the lack of engineers in the workforce … and by engineers, he didn’t mean PhD’s, he meant a different level of engineer, people who could get the knowledge required at technical schools and trade colleges.

    I thought that was fantastical and if it were true, surely someone else in the tech field would have brought that up before now? Can anyone shed some light on this? I’m not an engineer, to me anyone who calls themselves an “engineer” has some kind of high-level expertise I can’t even fathom. The idea of “low-level” engineers is new to me.

    Anyone?

  99. 99
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Southern Beale:

    I think he means guys who can actually make things. As in fabricate them.

    We’ve exported a lot of that sort of thing offshore, because, frankly, our lazy moocher workers expect to be paid well for their efforts, and our Galtian overlords can’t stand that.

  100. 100
    Brachiator says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    Are they scientists in fields other than CS? Everything I’ve read about CS specifically, (and based on my own recent in school experience) says that women are an inconsequential minority. And based off my own experience at Hackerdojo (hacker space in Mountain View) almost everyone there is male.

    One company I used to work for, an accounting and tax company, was hugely diverse in its development department. Analysts and programmers were from all over the place. A couple of the most talented, Iranian American women, left to work for Microsoft. Lots of women managers in marketing.

    I worked for Google as a contractor for a couple of years, at a satellite office in Southern California. My boss was a woman, a Korean American. Many of the people I saw contributing to or heading up major projects were women, and this included people I saw on video conference calls, or who came down for face to face meetings. Again, a fairly diverse group, with only Latnos and African Americans severely under represented. Ironically though, the sales force was primarily young white men. One of the singularly most important persons, the office manager resposible for the office building, was a woman I admit though, that I have no idea how this stacks up when you look at the company’s total work force.

    As an aside, I am surprised at the number of Latinos involved in Mac development. I say surprised here only because the public stereotype is of young white geeky guys with money.

  101. 101
    gaz says:

    @Southern Beale:

    but because the lack of engineers in the workforce

    It’s been brought up for 2 decades.

    We don’t produce enough folks with engineering degrees. People were too busy getting useless degrees like an MBA

    /Ducks the inevitable flames

  102. 102
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @gaz:

    People were too busy getting useless degrees like an MBA

    Case in point: George W. Bush.

  103. 103
    gaz says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I was thinking that, but considering the audience, I felt it was safe to let it lie and count on implication =)

    Seems I wasn’t off base =)

  104. 104
    jl says:

    @gaz:

    Behavioral economics and neuroconomics are related fields.

    Behavioral economics does not use experimental tools to get inside an animal’s or person’s head, but works on a higher level, with evidence from psych and economic lab experiments with artificial economies.

    Neuroeconomics actually uses things close to micro economics 101 and game theory to model what the neural circuits are doing in the brain, and how higher order centers try, and sometimes fail, and sometimes very inconsistently coordinate all these centers.

    Very interesting stuff has come out of both fields. Both fields have shown that, for example, ranking, choosing and evaluating are different functions. Neuroconomics has shown they are done by different parts of the brain. Both fields have shown that they do not arrive at the same answers.

    Two psychologists, Paul Slovic and Sarah Lichtenstein got first hint of this with their finding of ‘preference reversal’ I think 30 years ago now.

    Behavioral economics is more tied to standard econ, and has been side tracked, I think into looking at the field as a catalog of imperfections in human decision making that depart from what the perfect human economic decision maker should do, according to economic theory. That is the big theme of vulgarizations of the field by Thaler and Sunstein, with their ‘nudge’ stuff (which is a hokey approach, IMO).

    Neuroeconomics is suggesting that ‘the perfect human economic decision maker’ is more of an artificial construct than reality. Nothing inside our bodies, brains particularly, really correspond to it.

  105. 105
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @gaz:

    Of course, in that case, one could argue that it was not necessarily the degree that was useless…

  106. 106
    gaz says:

    @jl: A fascinating post. I was not previously aware of Neuroeconomics. It even blows my spell checker so I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad. In any case, I see some googly action in my immediate future. Very interesting, this Neuroeconomics field, from the sound of it.

  107. 107
  108. 108
    jl says:

    @Southern Beale:

    ” The idea of “low-level” engineers is new to me.

    Anyone? ”

    The US is very backward, IMO, in providing post HS technical education, and technical HS educations that prepare people for direct entry into technical careers.

    I have heard from friends, and now students, who also say, due to cut backs, if you DO want to follow Bruni’s supposedly informed advice, it is difficult. Technical classes are jammed, hard to get into, and if you want to get a BS in order to become some one who can, for example standardize measurement equipment in labs or on shop floors or processing plants, or work as a technical microbiologists in healthcare or other industry, it is very hard to do in four, and now I am hearing hard to do in five or six years. At least in CA.

    The California State University System was the workhorse for decades that produced these people, as well as very good applied technical research, and they are getting cut to the bone.

  109. 109
    Brachiator says:

    @Tehanu:

    The same asshole conservatives who love to bray about the “great traditions of Western Civilization,” yadda yadda, are falling over themselves in their hurry to deny a decent education—a real education, not just job training—to as many people as possible. Cf. Rick Sanctum Sanctorum calling Obama a “snob” because “he wants everyone to go to college.”

    This is culture war stuff. Friday’s Rachel Maddow show had a segment about Santorum saying that California colleges no longer taught history. She easily demolished this nonsense. Then she quoted a correction from Santorum claiming that California colleges no longer taught survey courses in Western Civilization.

    This, of course, is another lie.

    But Santorum’s whine is really that evil colleges are seducing young people from religion and conservative values.

    I think a little reverse snobbery might be in place when you hear crap like this. I’ve got no problem with any kind of tech or medical major, or even accounting, but a business “degree”? Please. As near as I can tell the business majors of the world have perpetrated one of the most successful scams of all time—the idea that you’re “educated” if you’ve taken a bunch of courses in how to rip off marks—er, customers.

    And yet post after post here notes the value of more general degrees, including perhaps business degrees, as opposed to more specific, technical degrees. There is not a single best path, or a guarantee that any particular education strategy will ensure long term economic success.

  110. 110
    Walker says:

    @jl:

    Technical classes are jammed, hard to get into, and if you want to get a BS in order to become some one who can, for example standardize measurement equipment in labs or on shop floors or processing plants, or work as a technical microbiologists in healthcare or other industry, it is very hard to do in four, and now I am hearing hard to do in five or six years. At least in CA.

    This is a side-effect of how the CA university system handled cut backs. They take tuition money but do not staff classes to meet demand. So students take +4 years to graduate and end up spending more money. They did this in the early 90s as well when that state was dealing with the after-Cold War cutbacks.

  111. 111
    jl says:

    @gaz: A lot of old school economists hate hate hate everything about behavioral and neuroeconomics, because it blows up standard economic theory in a way that is hard to repair.

    For example the idea that ranking (ordering all possible consumption choices you could make), choosing (picking the one you will consume), and evaluating (setting the right price to buy or sell a consumption bundle) are done in different ways by different parts of the brain, and usually do not reach the same conclusion. Man that is like a mile wide tornado ripping through the heart of standard economics all the way from high theory to the MBA or legislative staffer doing a cost benefit analysis.

    Also, brain centers that do hyperbolic discounting is just as common or more common than those that do exponential discounting. Hyperbolic discounting might be better for hunting and foraging, while exponential is better for when you can store things. Squirrels switch back and forth depending on whether they are foraging for nuts or managing their stores. People are similar.

    Hyperbolic discounting leads to intertemporal decisions that standard economics deems grossly irrational.

    In a few decades, the idiologically driven narrow minded economics as we know it and people learn it in school, will be gone, and IMHO, good riddance.

  112. 112
    Tyro says:

    @Jeff Spender: All of them said that it wasn’t worth it anymore to be a doctor. Within 8 years, it would be worth even less.

    Lots of doctors say this, but that’s because they are spoiled whiners. What they mean is that instead of specialists making 500k-700k/yr, they’re more likely to make 300k-400k.

  113. 113
    Walker says:

    @Brachiator:

    There is not a single best path, or a guarantee that any particular education strategy will ensure long term economic success.

    Actually, i would say that there is a best path. That path is “being flexible and well-rounded”, which is exactly what a liberal arts degree (any liberal arts degree) is supposed to provide you. But that means STEM students taking challenging liberal arts course (and learning how to, say, write), and liberal arts majors taking challenging STEM courses. And that, unfortunately, does not always happen in practice.

  114. 114
    gaz says:

    @Southern Beale:

    (and @jl: I’ve heard the same, and cannot help but agree.)

    I’d like to add though that this whole “low-level engineer” thing as it applies to CS is maybe something of a misnomer.

    A plurality of CS workers do not have an engineering background. Many don’t even have any kind of STEM degree, or a degree at all.

    In the software tech field – a low level “engineer” is somebody that can write a few web pages (or maybe some app code) and took a couple of tests to get certified. There’s not necessarily any of the things you’d almost universally expect with engineers – rigor almost to the point of tunnel vision, attention to process (a woefully neglected area in most tech shops), etc.

    There’s a sort of standing joke in software tech “Thank god we don’t build bridges and skyscrapers”. See, over half of all software projects fail (def of failure in this case is pretty broad, and includes going over budget or under-delivering)

    Engineering in CS isn’t exactly engineering. In CS you tend to have to wave a dead chicken over everything. It’s a “soft science” at best (like psychology) and a black art at it’s worst.

  115. 115
    jl says:

    @Walker: Thanks for info. I am not with CSU, but I am deeply bitter about what they have done to the system. A lot of campuses do just as good research and teaching as some famous schools with big football teams, but you never hear about them.

    I have taught at CSUs in the past though.

    Hey, snoots out their, did Cal State LA not beat MIT, Stanford, Cal Tech, Berkeley and other bigshot schools’ ass in a couple of cross country solar car races recently?

    YES THEY DID!

  116. 116
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    Engineering in CS isn’t exactly engineering. In CS you tend to have to wave a dead chicken over everything. It’s a “soft science” at best (like psychology) and a black art at it’s worst.

    Actually, it is closest to higher level mathematics in most ways, which makes it neither science nor engineering. There is a reason it gets its own M in STEM.

  117. 117
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Southern Beale:
    I think its a convenient after the fact excuse. All tech companies that produce hardware have long since moved production overseas, its cheaper. That is what drives them.

    1. Move production overseas cause its cheaper
    2. Skilled tech workers die/drop out of hte job market/move on to other things
    3. Complain several years later that there’s a shortage of American born labor
    4. Profit, wash, rinse and repeat

  118. 118
    gaz says:

    @Walker: You make a valid point. And it’s probably why the T is there too.

    The thrust of my post was an attempt at some push back against the idea of referring to software developers as engineers, which I stand by. I think it paints an inaccurate picture of what software development is, and how it’s practiced.

    We’re not engineers. We just tell you guys that so you’ll trust all the shit we schlep onto your machines nowadays ;)

  119. 119
    jl says:

    @gaz: thanks for info on that. I will keep my eye on CS if I decide to change direction.

    My perspective, maybe due projects I have done in applied statistics and kind of students I deal with, is that there is a demand for people with technical training in bacteriology, microbiology, optics, all kinds of engineering regarding materials, heat transfer, electronic gadgets, mensuration, that require at some point a specific set of technical skills.

    You need a good generalist foundation (like being able to do your own research up to certain level, the readin’; and writing up reports, the writin’) which are also neglected due to ignorant columns by people like Bruni. But at some point you need both theory and actual practice at specific technical skills.

  120. 120
    gaz says:

    @jl: Definitely

    ETA: Software tech and hardware tech in CS are as different as night and day. Hardware tech IS engineering.

  121. 121
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @gaz:

    Interestingly, a lot of CS degrees are found in engineering colleges, where students have to take the usual pre-engineering coursework-calculus up the wazoo, a year of a lab science (usually calc based general physics) and some generic engineering courses (circuit design,etc). I went to a land, sea, air, space grant school, they’ve since branched out a little bit, but I honestly don’t think CS should be in engineering schools. There’s a certain prestige that goes along with engineering colleges, but really, I think it belongs with the liberal arts and sciences.

  122. 122
    eldorado says:

    fwiw – it’s much easier for tech startups and similar orgs to take a chance on non-credentialed computer talent with the emergence of social coding sites, particularly github.com. it makes it simple to showcase your work, coding style and type of projects to potential employers. nearly every job/project listing i am looking at these days wants my github account so they can see some work samples.

  123. 123
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @gaz:
    Everyone in Silicon Valley who is a developer calls themselves an engineer. Its weird, its the only field you can call yourself an engineer in without having a degree that says “engineering” somewhere in teh title.

  124. 124

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    Your take on the complaints seems a little more accurate to me than some other stuff I’ve heard but again … this isn’t my area so what do I know.

  125. 125
    jl says:

    Time to put my cynical hat on.

    Anyone notice that there have been a plethora, a virtual plethora, of independent minded, right thinking sensible hack columnists pumping out very concerned columns about the serious problems with our current educational system, from the very bottom to the very top?

    You notice that?

    I person might wonder if the for profit educational industry is gearing up to be an issue in the election. And gearing up for upcoming battles to undo Obama regulations that will lift a little finger to keep for profit colleges fro profiteering off of federal guaranteed loans, and misleading their students.

    one might wonder.

    Of coursd that would mean that people like Bruni and Brooks are paid hacks who are writing ignorant junk to the custom order of well heeled interests who can throw money around.

    But that can’t be true, right, they are honorable men.

    So, can’t be true. It is not true. I do not believe it for one minute.

    Edit: BTW, I do not think all for profit colleges are bad. I know good people who give me good reports, at least for math and stat education for a couple of places. But from what I read, a lot of them are rackets.

  126. 126
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Southern Beale:

    I’ll admit that I can be wrong, I’m just exceedingly cynical :P

  127. 127
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @eldorado:
    Oh definitely, I’m no fan of startup culture, but they are a lot easier to apply for than companies where you have to run the HR gauntlet. Also, mobile app development makes it easy to develop (on your own) portfolios of published software.

  128. 128
    Walker says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    Interestingly, a lot of CS degrees are found in engineering colleges, where students have to take the usual pre-engineering coursework-calculus up the wazoo, a year of a lab science (usually calc based general physics) and some generic engineering courses (circuit design,etc). I went to a land, sea, air, space grant school, they’ve since branched out a little bit, but I honestly don’t think CS should be in engineering schools.

    There is a lot of push back against having CS in engineering schools, especially with the rise of information science (a poorly defined area, but one that is starting to include a lot of the human-centric aspects of computing). Several universities are starting create Schools of Computing which are distinct from their engineering schools. But this is a slow process.

    My CS department is in such a school, and has its own Dean. This school covers CS, information science, and statistics. But we are also in the School of Engineering and most of our students come from there. And to top it all off, you can major in CS while still in the School of Arts and Sciences.

  129. 129
    gaz says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    Everyone in Silicon Valley who is a developer calls themselves an engineer. Its weird, its the only field you can call yourself an engineer in without having a degree that says “engineering” somewhere in teh title.

    Oh yeah. I so agree, and I do my part to push back against this. Because it’s not accurate. A developer is not an engineer. A developer is a different animal, in some ways more than an engineer (we wear a lot of different hats) and in some ways much less. I’m not making a value judgement here. A skilled developer is a rare-ish prize and they went through hell to get good at it – much like an engineer would, but often outside academia (academia isn’t suited to teach development). I’m not dissing engineers either, I respect the practice – but I’ll take the pepsi challenge with a 4 or 6 year engineering degree holder – practicing in my field (software development) – any day. It’s a different practice, with different rules and different skill sets.

  130. 130
    Walker says:

    @jl:

    Anyone notice that there have been a plethora, a virtual plethora, of independent minded, right thinking sensible hack columnists pumping out very concerned columns about the serious problems with our current educational system, from the very bottom to the very top?

    Oh, you are late to this game. The attack on the education as a professional discipline has been underway for a few years now. This makes me skeptical about a lot of reform stuff out there.

    And it is not just liberal arts here. The right wing say that they want more STEM majors, but then they also want to crank them out as cheaply as possible. Witness Florida’s (now recanted) attempt to downgrade all of the CS professors as teaching-only faculty with double course loads. Or these online teaching start-ups out of Stanford, which are less about actually teaching students and more about getting money from students who cannot afford to go to college.

  131. 131
    RSA says:

    @gaz:

    Universities have historically failed to properly teach effective CS, which is why outfits like MS will take someone with NO DEGREE and pro-experience over someone with a degree any day of the week.

    Is it a matter of teaching things badly, or teaching the wrong things, do you think? (I’ve recently become interested in CS education.)

  132. 132
    jl says:

    @Tyro: From what I hear from docs, and a radio report on MD income survey other day, you are over estimating by 50 to 100 percent.

    You must hand around with some celebrity doctors. A fee make that much, but not very many.

  133. 133
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    A skilled developer is a rare-ish prize and they went through hell to get good at it. I’m not dissing engineers either, I respect the practice – but I’ll take the pepsi challenge with a 4 or 6 year engineering degree holder – practicing in my field (software development) – any day. It’s a different practice, with different rules and different skill sets.

    Yes, because in many ways it is a skill set that is built from experience and not didactic instruction. There are fundamentals, to be sure. But you learn most of it by doing. That is why the better CS departments are moving to project-based instruction (which is my area of specialty).

  134. 134
    jl says:

    @Walker: You are right I have only been aware of it in last couple of years. Some of the goings on in the Bush II administration got me following it.

    But, I was referring to this latest flurry of concerned punditorials. Seems like they are prepping for some kind of specific campaign, either election or push to get rid of even the weak sauce regs that might be adopted (or were recently adopted).

  135. 135
    Walker says:

    @RSA:

    Is it a matter of teaching things badly, or teaching the wrong things, do you think? (I’ve recently become interested in CS education.)

    It is a little bit of both. Faculty need to retrain themselves to changing technology, just like professionals in industry do, and they do not always do that. More often than not, though, it tends to be the result of compartmentalized instruction: students work on pre-defined, heavily scaffolded problems, and cannot cope with the open-endedness of real world applications.

    I say this as a faculty member in a CS department. We know about these issues and are addressing them.

  136. 136
    jl says:

    @gaz:

    ” Also, due to the rapid advances in tech, a degree is obsolete by the time the ink dries on the diploma. In computer tech fields, YOU ARE PAID TO KEEP LEARNING. ”

    That is true of most fields, that are real fields of real expertise in something real. Even accounting.

    With stuff like management and standard issue applied economic, I’m not sure what to say.

  137. 137
    Brachiator says:

    @Walker:

    Actually, i would say that there is a best path. That path is “being flexible and well-rounded”, which is exactly what a liberal arts degree (any liberal arts degree) is supposed to provide you. But that means STEM students taking challenging liberal arts course (and learning how to, say, write), and liberal arts majors taking challenging STEM courses. And that, unfortunately, does not always happen in practice.

    Some of the people I most admire studied one thing, but had the guts to go in a totally different direction. A college girlfriend was a math major turned education major. Founded a school with two other women. Then went medical school via a program for people with non traditional backgrounds and became a kickass pediatrician. I can see how elements in her past education helped her, but still no one could have guessed her final destination.

    One of the best instructors I had in finance and business had been a linguistics professor. Discovered he had a knack for business and real estate. Taught a hell of a course in commercial property and was a particularly effective communicator.

    One of my former mentors had retired at a relatively young age from the railroad. Came back into the newspaper business as a part time accounting clerk, and became a customer service manager. His previous background in logistics gave him a leg up in understanding the transportation and delivery aspects of the newspaper.

    Maybe a common theme here is flexibility and a continuing curiosity, and an ability to synthesize previous education and work experience into new channels.

  138. 138
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Walker:

    Are you at Berkeley (where IIRC there are CS departments in the Liberal Arts and Sciences school along with the better known EECS dept in the Engineering school?)?

    I’ll admit, other than the fetish for ABET certification, I don’t really see the point of being attached to an engineering school for CS departments.

  139. 139
    Disgruntled Lurker says:

    I’m a little late to this particular party, but I wanted to have my experience logged into the record.

    I got my BA in philosophy and got about halfway through my PhD work at a (in Brian Leiter’s opinion) top-ranked graduate program. I dropped out about halfway through for reasons unrelated to academics.

    Critics are correct that, outside of academia, my education doesn’t dovetail with a particular job or set of jobs. And I will probably never have the chance to apply any of the specialized knowledge I have acquired (and forgotten).

    But I have been trained (and I do mean trained) to solve problems and to think about things generally in a very specific way: Rigorously, carefully, and thoroughly, and with clarity, and precision.

    Essentially, I have been taught how to think.

    I own my own business now (and it’s a real business, not just a nice name for unemployed) and I can tell you that the world is full of companies that suffer from a shortage of thinkers.

    At this very moment, I need someone I can train quickly and then hand over a whole laundry list of responsibilities. For various products, they need to be able to determine what can use stock photos and what needs custom photos (and what features need to be highlighted, how to describe a product clearly, which channels and venues a particular product is best suited for, whether demand is likely seasonal, etc, etc.

    It would help if they could understand concepts like price elasticity vs inelasticity, what products have substitute goods and which don’t, and how to think at the margin.

    The only person so far I’ve been able to find that can do all this was…a philosophy major. Unfortunately, they seem to have developed incurable, debilitating, near stroke inducing, migraines.

    Everyone else I’ve tried to train needs too much hand-holding, can’t apply what they learned in the past to a novel situation, etc. It’s like they are a monkey and can only be taught to DO THIS ONE THING every time. I need someone who can UNDERSTAND THE PRINCIPLES AT WORK and then apply those principles to whatever I throw at them.

    Anyhow, I think lots of businesses are in this situation. They need thinkers who can understand how the whole thing works and see the logical connections between the parts.

    That position isn’t always advertised in the papers, you have may have to go convince them they need someone with your skills. But thinkers are needed.

  140. 140
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    One big problem with the H1-B as administered is that it covers such a broad area of tech — one in which there aren’t the same kind of formal benchmarks as more long-standing professions. It doesn’t make sense that, say, people whose European startup gets picked up by Twitter as part of a talent acquisition get munged in with visa scalpers like Infosys.

    I’ve long argued that tech visas need to be restructured so that there’s a fast-track with stricter criteria (but no visa-based job lock) at the higher end, and a tighter quota at the lower end.

  141. 141

    @Jeff Spender:

    My friend is a psychiatrist and he loves his job. But he understands in about ten years he won’t be able to practice because he’ll be crowded out of the market by NP’s and PA’s.

    I don’t understand this for that particular specialty. All the current research into treating brain disorders – the stuff of psychiatric practice – is focused on how to adjust the biology that underlies the specific disorder, whether depression (unipolar), bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, to mention just the “big names” of disorders. This involves the use of medications and in some cases some surgical interventions (vagus nerve stimulation and deep brain stimulation as examples used for treatment resistant cases) that simply can’t be done by PAs and NPs. I say this having attended a symposium on psychiatric practice yesterday, so I’m not just being fanciful here.

  142. 142
    gaz says:

    @RSA:

    Is it a matter of teaching things badly, or teaching the wrong things, do you think? (I’ve recently become interested in CS education.)

    A little of both.

    Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo address this in a book they wrote called “Accelerated C++”. It doesn’t give a ton of background on the problem (they do that through speaking engagements, seminars, workshops, etc) but in that book they explain some of the problem, and outline a new way to teach C++ course material, which is presented throughout that book

    That book was the first thing I read that specifically changed my thinking about the way CS is taught. It’s a watershed text, IMO.

    ETA: If I * had * to say what it was, I’d say theirs problems with sequencing of course material, + emphasis on the wrong things, Like OO instead of GP and a lack of extensive methodology training (SCRUM, agile, etc)

  143. 143
    Walker says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    I am at Cornell. I just said somethings about the CA system because I know people there.

  144. 144
    gaz says:

    @gaz: s/theirs/there’s

    my fingers betray me.

  145. 145
    gaz says:

    @Disgruntled Lurker:

    Essentially, I have been taught how to think.

    This. Fundamentally, this is what college is. The rest is just window dressing.

  146. 146
    gaz says:

    @Walker:

    That is why the better CS departments are moving to project-based instruction (which is my area of specialty).

    Wow. What a great idea. That’s very encouraging to hear.

  147. 147
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: H1-Bs are not just used for tech, they cover almost everything from researchers (my example above) to models. I think they were misused the most in the tech sector by companies such as Infosys and Wipro and many other smaller body shops.

  148. 148
    RSA says:

    @gaz, @Walker:

    It is a little bit of both.

    Thanks, Walker and gaz. I’m a CS professor (like Walker); most of my undergrad teaching experience is with upper-level courses. I was curious whether others’ views matched my own.

    I’d agree that problem solving needs more emphasis, earlier on. I like new stuff that’s happening in CS education (when I said I’ve recently become interested in the topic, I meant in the research literature rather than just the practice, since of course I do it already). The Stanford courses, MIT’s opencourseware, Georgia Tech’s media computation, CMU’s center for computational thinking… It’s an interesting time.

  149. 149
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    Like OO instead of GP and a lack of extensive methodology training (SCRUM, agile, etc)

    I am pulling a blank on the GP abbreviation. Do you just mean general programming? OO isn’t the end all and be-all of what we do. If anything, map-reduce and cloud computing has seen a major push in functional languages.

    Methodology training is controversial. This is where you get the push back about college being “too vocational”. We manage to work it into the project-based courses, but it is not the primary focus of those courses. Particularly since a lot of that is beholden to fads (2 years ago, the game industry loved SCRUM. Now, not so much).

    The challenge is how to teach that stuff but stick to fundamentals. Case in point, I do not like using UML when teaching students basic architecture skills. Too much formalism for younger students, and until they build a big system, they do not appreciate it. Better to stick with something like CRC cards and get them in the habit of doing that before moving to more formal architecture models.

  150. 150
    Walker says:

    @RSA:

    The Stanford courses, MIT’s opencourseware, Georgia Tech’s media computation, CMU’s center for computational thinking… It’s an interesting time.

    It is interesting, but a lot of that is controversial. Depending on who you talk to, MIT’s opencourseware is a “failure”. And from what I hear from some people, the Stanford proposals are more focused on making money than actually innovating education.

    The computational thinking stuff is good, though. That is what I have been working on with Drago, who started up NACLO.

    The biggest problem we face as a field is SIGCSE. Everyone knows that this is a SIG filled with dog-and-pony shows and does piss poor pedagogical research. It is changing, but very, very slowly.

  151. 151
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @RSA:
    @Walker:
    Do you guys have a suggestion for a good book, with focus on problem solving on Monte Carlo Simulations?

  152. 152
    gaz says:

    @Walker: “I am pulling a blank on the GP abbreviation.”.. My fault. Generic Programming. It often directly contradicts OO practices. It means using things like C++ templates, and .NET generics (java2 has them too) instead of OO, or sometimes in tandem with OO to implement algorithms, often with more efficient results, but requires a whole different set of idioms than you get with OO by itself.

    “Methodology training is controversial. This is where you get the push back about college being “too vocational””

    Fair enough. Certainly, I’m one of those that’s on the side of training methodology. All of them. I look at it like modern psychology. Fraught with “trends”, first Freud, then Jung, and on and on. Turns out they all had something to bring to the table. Only by studying what’s out there can you take the pieces you need to solve the problem. Most shops use a defacto combination of practices in any case.

    As far as it being too vocational, I happen to disagree just because there is no one SILVER bullet, and yet a software project without methodology is a universal disaster. Methodology is fundamentally about managing risk, and managing project complexity (not code complexity, but project complexity). Until somebody comes up with a unifying theory of methodology they should be applied, teach them all, or parts of them all. Also the project based courses are probably a total win for the students, “vocational” or not.

    And on UML? It’s useless unless you are architecting an enterprise project, IMO. By enterprise I mean a quarter of a million and up in terms of development cost. Most devs could never even know what it stands for and their careers would be no worse off for that.

  153. 153
    Walker says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Not my area. My understanding is that this is an area with no one good book. People who teach a course on that stuff tend to take a bit from a bunch of different courses.

  154. 154
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    It means using things like C++ templates, and .NET generics (java2 has them too) instead of OO

    We do teach the concepts of generics and aspect-oriented styles (such as mixins) in higher level classes. Not all students master these, however.

    Also the project based courses are probably a total win for the students, “vocational” or not.

    I agree. That is why I teach them. And am delaying grading them while wasting time on this thread.

    And on UML? It’s useless unless you are architecting an enterprise project, IMO. By enterprise I mean a quarter of a million and up in terms of development cost. Most devs could never even know what it stands for and their careers would be no worse off for that.

    I agree. But a lot of schools will teach a course on UML and say “See! We are teaching software engineering!” Because they see it as a way to teach something that has some firmer foundational footing.

  155. 155
    jl says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I agree with Walker. Monte Carlo is used all over the place, in a wide variety of fields.

    Say what you want to use it for, and that might be enough info for a good suggestion.

    Edit: also what math level you want to start at.

  156. 156
    gaz says:

    @Walker: One thing I didn’t add, that I should have – because it’s implicit to my last response:

    Fundamentally to me, the measure of a STEM degree is largely based on how it prepares people to enter the field it covers.

    Understanding risk management is key to preparing a developer for the field of software development. Methodology is fundamental to risk management.

  157. 157
    RSA says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Do you guys have a suggestion for a good book, with focus on problem solving on Monte Carlo Simulations?

    Sorry, that’s not my area either, as interesting as it is–it involves a different style of thinking about problems and how to formulate them.

  158. 158
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @jl: I want to brush up on writing Monte Carlo simulations, my background is in Physics, Statistical Mechanics to be exact, I am trying to apply it to a problem in Econ/Finance. Its just that I haven’t done this stuff in a long time and I want to dust off the cobwebs in my head.

  159. 159
    gaz says:

    @Walker:

    We do teach the concepts of generics and aspect-oriented styles (such as mixins) in higher level classes. Not all students master these, however.

    I see that as a sequencing problem. I refer to “Accelerated C++” to make the case for teaching GP first and foremost, as Koenig and Moo are much more eloquent and credentialed than I. =)

    ETA: For the most part, from my view on the ground you guys are churning out horrid C++ devs, no offense, despite the harsh observation. Sutter and Strousup are still the most foremost authorities on C++, I wonder what will happen to the language when they finally die.

  160. 160
    eldorado says:

    i’m very pleased with the resurgence of functional style concepts, in large part because my time at university coincided with the switch from procedural concepts to OO and i think there was only one lisp course still being taught (and i was discouraged from taking it. stupid me). it wasn’t until much later that i discovered smalltalk and the family tree it inspired. now you see practical work being done with functional languages all over the place, and their concepts sprouting up in OO languages as well.

    i don’t have the qualifications to discuss cs instruction in general, but i managed to teach a graduate level course at a small private university on MVC concepts as they applied to web frameworks. my impression from that small set of students was that they hadn’t encountered much if any basic theory and had mostly gone through a series of classes on .net and java.

    my only concrete suggestion is that pointers should be introduced very early, to wash out the students that aren’t ever going to get it.

  161. 161
    Brachiator says:

    @Disgruntled Lurker:

    That position isn’t always advertised in the papers, you have may have to go convince them they need someone with your skills. But thinkers are needed.

    With all due respect, I think you are over thinking this.

    I am kinda joking with you, and largely agree with what you are saying here. But I also know people who run businesses well, but who sometimes underestimate the art of hiring and training. And I have seen good workers get frustrated because they have not been provided with a clear understanding of what they need to do and how to get it done, or given enough of what they need to get the job done well. In some of the worst cases, in large organizations, I’ve seen bosses sabotage employees. For example, they are told that they can’t talk to another department, or have to go through strange and torturous channels to get approvals for essential things that they need to get done.

    I am also kinda curious, what do “price elasticity vs inelasticity, what products have substitute goods and which don’t, and how to think at the margin” have to do with any specific job that has to be done? How are you supposed to get from the thinking to the doing?

  162. 162
    gaz says:

    @eldorado:

    with functional languages all over the place, and their concepts sprouting up in OO languages as well.

    My god, I could have written that post myself.

    Functional programming is my raison detre. Or at least it gives my life purpose. hehehe =)

    That post is full of win.

    btw, C++11 has lambda expressions

    VS 11 beta is free if u want to try it =)

  163. 163
    gene108 says:

    General observations on this thread.

    (1)Regarding low level computer programming jobs being outsourced: Part of the reason for this is to (a) cut down on costs, i.e. the amount a firm will commit to their IT budget is less than it was 15 years ago, which comes from about for various reasons from stockholder pressure to produce consistent margins to lack of domestic growth opportunities that squeeze profit margins (b) to reduce the fixed cost of maintaining an IT department, i.e. ramp up to roll out a product and ramp down, when the need is gone and (c) the end result is IT relying on contractors and outsourcing.

    (2)Lack of engineers: My mom’s been working in Electrical Engineering for 34+ years. She says most of the people, who stick in engineering are older. Younger folks start working in engineering, but jump to more lucrative fields, such as computer programming. If you really want to ramp up manufacturing, infrastructure development, etc. you need to have people willing to make a career of being an engineer. Most Americans that I know of start of in technical fields and then try to move more into management and the non-technical side of things.

    (3)Anecdotes by people on this thread indicate that folks are looking for work as non-technical, non-engineers, who happen to be STEM literate, but aren’t doing engineering work. Plenty of computer programmers have responded but no civil, electrical or mechanical engineers are popping up.

    (4) Computer programming is really a free-for-all compared to other science and technology fields and other professions. The certifications that have come up in the last 10-15 years are all industry created, where as the CPA Exam, Professional Engineering Exam, Professional Geologist exam and even beautician certifications are administered by government agencies. It’s not as easy to slide into engineering and science professions as it is to slide into computer programming, so to say someone can go from a Pol. Science major into computer programming doesn’t mean they can go from Pol. Science to mechanical engineering or chemistry. Computer programming has always been more open to people jumping into it, regardless of their prior educational backgrounds.

    (5)From my observations there seems to be a labor shortage with regards to the IT field. The difference between this and the dot.com boom is that companies aren’t as flushed with cash and optimism, as they were 15 years ago, so they aren’t as quick to hire folks, even if the demand is there.

    (6)H1-b’s are harder to get and U.S. government has become dreadful, under the Obama Administration, in having any consistent approach to getting H1-b visas approved. A person applying for an H1-b visa is literally dependent on the whim of an unaccountable bureaucrat working at a USCIS processing center or a State Department employee at a consulate. If someone’s having a bad day, then no visa for you, even if all your papers are in order.

    By computer programmer, I’m including everything from DBA’s, to developers, to QA testers to Software Engineers and any other sub-group that exists in IT.

  164. 164
    Matt says:

    @gaz: Why would anyone expect a CS degree to help with getting a job in software engineering? That’s like saying that getting a physics degree will help you get a job as a civil engineer. Yeah, the underpinnings are based on it, but software engineering/civil engineering are very different disciplines than computer science/physics.

  165. 165
    Walker says:

    @gaz:

    Understanding risk management is key to preparing a developer for the field of software development. Methodology is fundamental to risk management.

    I agree with this. Fundamentally, this is one of the major benefits of project-based instruction.

    For the most part, from my view on the ground you guys are churning out horrid C++ devs, no offense, despite the harsh observation. Sutter and Strousup are still the most foremost authorities on C++, I wonder what will happen to the language when they finally die.

    You are working on a flawed premise. You are assuming that we teach any C++ at all. A bunch of programs are structured with no C++ in it. This again is the vocational argument. Should we be teaching specific languages, or fundamentals present in all languages? Because C++ is often seen as a “flawed” language, it is replaced with “cleaner” languages for instruction. But then you have developers who do not have skills in a language that is highly in demand.

    I say this without taking a side either way in that particular argument.

  166. 166
    RSA says:

    Walker, gaz,

    I sometimes wonder whether computer science isn’t just too big a field to give students a good grounding in four years. When I look through our curriculum, it’s hard to say, “We should take out this and include that instead.” But it’s a complex topic–there’s still a lot of disagreement on exactly what the field is about.

    On the Stanford courses and MIT’s courseware: Right, by some measures these experiments have produced problematic results. To a first approximation, no one uses MIT’s courses. 35,000 people finished Stanford’s AI course (which is amazing and wonderful) but it also had an 82% drop-out rate. It’s not even clear that we’re measuring the right things, in a broad educational sense.

    The NACLO competition sounds very cool!

  167. 167
    jl says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Check out books by George Fishman, for good how tos of Monte Carlo. He has at least one intro, and one more advanced handbook.

    I am not familiar enough with financial engineering to know a good book. Monte Carlo Methods in Financial Engineering by Paul Glasserman has a huge number of good examples with intuitive talk throughs, but very light on implementation and numerical analysis issues. But it has plenty of references, which might be helpful.

  168. 168
    gene108 says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    I think they were misused the most in the tech sector by companies such as Infosys and Wipro and many other smaller body shops.

    Wipro, Infosys and other firms that sponsor computer programmers are meeting a market demand.

    End clients no longer want to maintain IT departments. They outsource* the IT function to Wipro, Infosys, IBM, Accenture, etc.

    To meet customer cost requirements, some of the work is done off-shore. In order to meet the work that needs to be done in the U.S., these firms bring people over on H1-b visas, because it allows multiple entry into the U.S. and can be valid for several years.

    H1-b’s pretty much cover every technical field out there, such as nurses, teachers, cooks, etc., but they are mostly used for computer programmers.

    The cap on H1-b’s is 65,000 new visas a year.

    I personally think H1-b visas are antithetical to outsourcing. With an H1-b visa, you basically are stating you will have a worker work in the U.S.

    Companies aren’t going to maintain IT departments anymore. If the outsourcing firm couldn’t bring people in from overseas, they’d just do more of the work overseas.

    *There’s a lot to be said for the pro’s and con’s of outsourcing certain work functions that aren’t in a businesses core area of strength. It’s just relatively recently that IT has come into this area, along with HR functions. Things like shipping and janitorial services have been outsourced for a long time.

  169. 169
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Wipro, Infosys and other firms that sponsor computer programmers are meeting a market demand.

    I am not disputing that, but I do know for a fact that they treat their workers poorly, no better than indentured servants. Infosys has all been misusing the L-1 and the business visas too.

    ETA: Their infractions make it difficult for other people who don’t necessarily work in IT to get visas, since the consulates now treat all Indian H1-b applicants as potential fraudsters.

  170. 170
    gene108 says:

    @RSA:

    Computer programming should be taught in two parts and probably become a 5 year degree, like accounting has basically become (for different reasons).

    The four years should be on theory, with a fifth year of grad. school for professional language specific finishing.

    Companies don’t want to train people in how to write .Net or Java or database development and schools don’t produce specialists in any one technology.

    There has to be some degree of change to this, because you end up with a schism of new computer programmers, who don’t fit into the existing demand for jobs.

  171. 171
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @jl: I don’t necessarily need a book on financial engineering. I have a book by Newman which is pretty good. Thanks for your suggestions, I will check them out.

  172. 172
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @eldorado:

    Meh, I’m not so big on introducing pointers early. My school still teaches C as an intro language (and uses it for data structures), and I think students get bogged down too much with messing around with pointers, rather than writing code.
    On the plus side, when it came time to learn C++, I felt like I got a lot more out of it than if I took it in an introduction to programming course.

  173. 173
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that, given the way the American educational system is structured, you’re never going to please everyone with CS curricula. There’s not enough time to teach everything. You’re always gonna end up short-changing students on *something*. Not being practical, being too vocational, etc. You can’t possibly teach every language, schools are always picking the wrong languages and technologies, and are either too far behind the times, or jumping on the latest fads.

  174. 174
    jl says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: thanks for mentioning the Newman book. I have to learn me some concepts from statistical mechanics. Looks good (some pics and answers in the back!) and I will note it down.

    Numerical Methods in Economics, by Judd, is a standard reference for economics, maybe you could look at that one, for more general info than financial engineering.

  175. 175
    Walker says:

    @RSA:

    I sometimes wonder whether computer science isn’t just too big a field to give students a good grounding in four years. When I look through our curriculum, it’s hard to say, “We should take out this and include that instead.” But it’s a complex topic—there’s still a lot of disagreement on exactly what the field is about.

    This part of the motivation for schools like us and Georgia tech moving to “vectors”. Fragment the CS major into a bunch of submajors while still guaranteeing a core CS education. It is either that or CS gets fragmented into a bunch of different departments.

  176. 176
    jl says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay: Why the focus on specific languages? I have learned and forgotten plenty of languages, each used for specific purposes.

    I thought the point was to teach skills needed for different languages (typed/untyped, Object Oriented, list processing, etc) appropriate for the task.

    But, I am a self taught, reluctant and pretty inefficient and crummy programmer, and know hardly anything about that part of CS.

    Edit: not totally self taught. Had two very intro basic courses in HS.

  177. 177
    Walker says:

    @gene108:

    The four years should be on theory, with a fifth year of grad. school for professional language specific finishing.

    You are essentially arguing for a one-year professional masters. Yeah, we do that.

  178. 178
    Walker says:

    @jl:

    I thought the point was to teach skills needed for different languages (typed/untyped, Object Oriented, list processing, etc) appropriate for the task.

    In theory, yes. But the performance-minded often find themselves focused on the minutia of a language in order to wring every last cycle out of it. Which is why you have game companies asking questions about how the C++ linker works in their interview questions. And then bitching when students cannot answer these questions off the cuff.

  179. 179
    RSA says:

    @Walker:

    This part of the motivation for schools like us and Georgia tech moving to “vectors”. Fragment the CS major into a bunch of submajors while still guaranteeing a core CS education.

    Yes, that’s very promising. A few years ago I talked with Colin Potts about Georgia Tech’s threads, and I liked the idea a lot. We’re very, very gradually moving in a similar direction in my department, I think.

  180. 180
    eldorado says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    i’m happy to concede the point, as i don’t have enough experience to properly evaluate it. and (at least in my program) calc ii/iii, engineering physics i/ii and diff eq are a pretty stiff bar for most students, along with the programming classes.

  181. 181
    eldorado says:

    some really great stuff in this thread. thanks everyone for contributing.

    i find this trend very interesting. any comments? http://thoughtbot.com/jobs/apprentice/

  182. 182
    jl says:

    @Walker: OK, yes. I forgot that part. I did ‘production’ programming exactly once in grad school. Used an untyped language to make data queries easier, used it to turn Q and As about what data the students wanted and write the appropriate JCL program to run the Fortran.

    In HS we had an ancient wheezing desktop computer that had rotating drum memory that a local business donated to get the HS started with ‘puters. I remember the teacher showing us how to write the code to utilize the drum rotations efficiently. It was ancient stuff even then.

    The poor teacher thought it was kind of cool simple way to teach us some neato whizzbang stuff. (Edit: the teacher had guessed wrong about what we kids would find interesting, and on an OLD uncool funny computer than mostly sat in the corner)

    Edit: And I should have said ‘desk computer’, the thing was built into a desk. It was the size of a cubicle desk, except with computer guts in the drawers.

  183. 183
    Brachiator says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that, given the way the American educational system is structured, you’re never going to please everyone with CS curricula. There’s not enough time to teach everything. You’re always gonna end up short-changing students on something. Not being practical, being too vocational, etc. You can’t possibly teach every language, schools are always picking the wrong languages and technologies, and are either too far behind the times, or jumping on the latest fads

    I find it interesting to note that Apple’s upcoming WWDC conference is making room for developers as young as 13, that 12 year olds were kicking butt at recent hacker conferences, and one of the founders of Instagram, the company bought by FaceBook for $1 billion bucks noted that he didn’t have super strong crazy programming skills.

    In short, I’m amazed at the ways in which some people seem to get through the system by bypassing the system.

  184. 184
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @Brachiator:

    Hmm…are they the exceptions, though, rather than the rule?
    And are there other factors that can help explain their success, other than not having any formal university CS background?

  185. 185
    angler says:

    Bruni’s b.s. is making the rounds in other fmrs but with the same easy, wrong answer to youth unemployment. If only kids didn’t major in anthro they’d find a job.

    Bruni:
    “I single out philosophy and anthropology because those are two fields . . . whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level, according to government projections quoted by the Associated Press. But how many college students are fully aware of that? How many reroute themselves into, say, teaching, accounting, nursing or computer science, where degree-relevant jobs are easier to find?”

    It took maybe 10 minutes on Google and some simple math, time and skills Bruni lacks, to find an answer.

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2007-08 (latest data), a whopping 0.5% of the 20.9 million students in college chose these two majors. Meanwhile education, business nursing and comp sci accounted for 40% of the total enrolment.
    http://nces.ed.gov/programs/di.....11_244.asp

    Students know where the jobs are, there just aren’t enough jobs. Meanwhile closing philosophy saves pennies.

  186. 186
    jl says:

    @angler: thanks for looking it up.

    ” Students know where the jobs are, there just aren’t enough jobs. ”

    And not enough seats, at least for things like nursing, at least in CA.

  187. 187
    Disgruntled Lurker says:

    @Brachiator:

    But I also know people who run businesses well, but who sometimes underestimate the art of hiring and training.

    Yes, training and hiring is difficult. And I readily admit that part of the problem is that I suck at it.

    I am also kinda curious, what do “price elasticity vs inelasticity, what products have substitute goods and which don’t, and how to think at the margin” have to do with any specific job that has to be done? How are you supposed to get from the thinking to the doing?

    Hmmmm…I’m not 100% clear on what you are asking here. The business involves buying out inventory and equipment from companies that are being auctioned off or otherwise liquidated, upgrading to new equipment, or whatever.

    The product could range from pharmaceutical equipment to the contents of a sporting goods store. I need someone who can not only help with the “doing” (e.g. creating ebay listings or strapping a piece of equipment onto a pallet) but can also figure out the best way to sell whatever I buy (quickly, for the most profit, with the smallest additional investment.)

    This first part is what I have relatively little problem training someone to do. What I’m in short supply of is people who can think dynamically enough to track all the variables that go into the second part. You have to decide what is worth paying to have overhauled, what should just be scrapped, what should be sold off immediately or it will soon be worthless, etc. And there is no way to be an expert on the all different things you are going to come across, so you have to be able to educate yourself very quickly on what stuff is, how it works, and what kind of market it has.

    Sell it all together? Piece it out? Clean it up? Fast nickle or slow dime?

    Learning how to answer these questions, regardless of what the actual thing for sale is, requires a kind of thinking that I have had a hard time finding.

  188. 188
    KS in MA says:

    @Davis X. Machina: Wow, that looks like fun!

  189. 189
    burnspbesq says:

    the failure of our monetary policy to respond to an unprecedented crisis by further loosening up credit markets, which could be achieved by buying long-term government debt and lowering interest rates

    I guess somebody has to explain the concept of the “zero lower bound” to Freddie.

  190. 190
    gaz says:

    @Matt:

    Why would anyone expect a CS degree to help with getting a job in software engineering?

    Sorry guy, but I think you need to actually read me a bit more before you attribute that expectation to me. I call 5 minute rule, and I usually don’t do that outside of meatspace.

  191. 191
    gaz says:

    jl & Walker, there was a point you guys have made to me implicitly and explicitly about set theory vs recursive function, and lambdas..

    I did not sleep in a holiday in, and I don’t hold a degree.

    Being self taught, I certainly have vast chasms of ignorance with respect to certain sub-disciplines of what I do, one of those being math.

    The reason I say set theory is
    A) I learned everything I know about language processing through understanding set theory.
    B) I don’t generally usually use recursion in parsing implementations, (although in some, but not all situations I’m doing the iterative form of recursion – certainly implementing FAs. Generally I build a grammar using bijective or injective functions over sets, so at least in terms of the functions I could see how this may dovetail with recursive function theory, and certainly lambda calculus, but I’m working over sets, and using them to describe patterns.

    So if I’m wrong on the field, that’s why, and I’ll definitely look into what you two have said in that regard. I tend to take my math as I can apply it, even if it means I skip something. I used to get in trouble in my jr high algebra class for reading calculus texts – because I actually needed the damned calculus! heh. It’s a gift and a curse. The gift is obvious, the curse is I’m often in my own little bubble when it comes to some of this, even if that bubble often coincides with what works. =)

  192. 192
    jl says:

    @gaz: You might be right about use of abstract set theory in computer science and programming theory, and I am not formally trained in it much either after I left philosophy, just what I got from econ and stat, and that isn’t all that much. I do not like set theory very much, so always look for approaches that are more intuitive for me.

    Maybe Walker will come back and help out.

    Edit: except, recursive approaches usually give you info on how to get a practical algorithm very quickly, which I like.

  193. 193
    Tehanu says:

    @Brachiator:

    And yet post after post here notes the value of more general degrees, including perhaps business degrees, as opposed to more specific, technical degrees. There is not a single best path, or a guarantee that any particular education strategy will ensure long term economic success.

    Well, you’re right of course. I was just spouting off because I’ve spent large chunks of my career dealing with ignorant, lazy MBAs who have zero interest in actually doing any work. All they really seem to want is to clamber up the ladder of pay and promotion as fast as possible, while kicking everybody else in the face.

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