[Cascavel-pm] Followup On Java As "Damaging" To Students

Nelson Ferraz nferraz em gmail.com
Terça Janeiro 22 04:37:28 PST 2008

Who Killed the Software Engineer? (Hint: It Happened in College)

A conversation with Robert Dewar is enough to make you wonder about
the future of the American software engineer. Dewar, a professor
emeritus of computer science at New York University, believes that
U.S. colleges are turning out programmers who are – there's no nice
way to say this – essentially incompetent.


One of the most ill-considered steps that universities took was to
adopt Java as the most widely used language in introductory
programming courses, Dewar says. Driving this change was a desire to
make CS programs more popular.

He recalls a discussion among the NYU faculty several years ago when
they decided to switch the introductory language from Pascal to Java.
Pascal had never been that successful in industry, yet this lack of
market acceptance didn't matter; learning Pascal tended to promote
solid programming practices.

"They taught Pascal because it seemed to be pedagogically the best
choice," Dewar says.

Yet the switch to Java was made "purely on the basis of perceived
student demand." To be sure, it's a popular code for Web applications
and is relatively easy for novices to navigate. Yet it is exactly this
ease that goes to the core of what's wrong with today's CS


It takes a person with a very specific set of inclinations and talents
to be a computer programmer, Dewar notes. It's these specific people
who colleges should gear their CS programs for – not the mass of
semi-interested people who use pre-built libraries to create
uninspired apps.

"Most of us who got into programming really did it because we find it
fun. We find the intellectual challenge fun. We find being faced with
tricky problems, then figuring out interesting algorithmic solutions,
fun. We find clever data structures that solve some interesting
problem fun."

"Maybe it's not fun to a bigger audience, but computer science
education should be more about finding those people who like that kind
of fun, and catering to them, rather than [making it all easy]."

"If people find it boring to compute some interesting value, then run
that program and get a value of 42 when it should be 83, and figure
out why they've gotten 42 instead of 83, if they find that tedious and
boring, they really aren't the kind of people we need."


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