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Education Programming

The Case For the Blue Collar Coder 233

Posted by timothy
from the cue-the-call-for-unionization dept.
theodp writes "U.S. tech talent shortage discussions tend to focus on getting more young people to go to college to become CS grads. Nothing wrong with that, writes Anil Dash, but let's not forget about education which teaches mid-level programming as a skilled trade, suitable for apprenticeship and advancement in a way that parallels traditional trade skills like HVAC or welding. Dash encourages less of a focus on 'the next Zuckerberg' in favor of encouraging solid middle-class tech jobs that are primarily focused on creating and maintaining tech infrastructure in non-tech companies. Dash also suggests 'changing the conversation about recruiting technologists from the existing narrow priesthood of highly-skilled experts constantly chasing new technologies to productive workers getting the most out of widely-deployed platforms and frameworks.'"
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The Case For the Blue Collar Coder

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  • by concealment (2447304) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:20AM (#41583627) Homepage Journal

    This makes sense to me. Most of the best programmers I've known are guys who otherwise would be installing air conditioners, fixing big trucks or re-wiring buildings.

    Coding is not a profession. It's a skill, which is a part of a series of job descriptions and career paths, but in itself it's a form of knowledge more like what an electrician has than what professionals like architects, doctors, lawyers and assassins must know.

    Apprenticeship is an excellent idea since most of the "best practices" can't be taught at a school, and apprenticeship allows people with applied skills to shine, instead of schools where those with excellent detail memorization shine. Most of the best programmers I know either never went to school for it, or didn't do all that well at school.

    Bring back the hacker aesthetic. Professions are for those who want to super-specialize and master specific high-level skills. Hacking is something anyone with the gumption and dedication can do. As the world expands into mobile devices, ordinary people are writing code every day.

    That being said, CS needs to find a new career type that might belong to professions. I suggest "product architect" (like Steve Jobs) and "total systems integrators" (like what the Google guys do, interoperability) for those who will need college degrees or equivalent and a professional mindset.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's all well and good until you find out they've been using floating point for currency calculations, and they can't figure out why their bubble sorts are so slow.

      I've worked with programmers with associates degrees. Some bad; some good. I'm not entirely against them, but I would not want an entire team made up of them. They have huge blind spots that CS grads don't have.

      • by mikael_j (106439) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:38AM (#41583753)

        And I've seen guys with Master's degrees in CS and systems science using floats for currency calculations. I've even been the one to clean up after them, despite the fact that I dropped out of college and by the standards of some people should be the one using hash tables where I should be using lists, floats where I should be using decimals, shouldn't know what a modulo operator is, shouldn't have a clue when it comes to how the quicksort algorithm works, should never even have heard of big O notation...

        Just as you shouldn't assume that everyone without a degree is completely lacking in skills you also shouldn't assume that a degree somehow makes someone competent, there are hordes of developers out there who took CS in college in the late 90's because they thought "computers = big money" and somehow managed to graduate. Hell, looking at a lot of the guys I went to HS with who went on to major in CS in college I suspect most of those just thought "I like computer games so why not study something with computer in its name?", I even had a few people like that as classmates in college (gotta love being the only one in a four man team actually writing code, the others all volunteered to write the documentation)...

        And no, I don't think I'm a "rock star coder", I'd consider my skills as a developer to be pretty average. A decent enough CRUD and business coder who writes some slightly more interesting code in his free time.

      • by luis_a_espinal (1810296) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:14AM (#41584737) Homepage

        That's all well and good until you find out they've been using floating point for currency calculations, and they can't figure out why their bubble sorts are so slow.

        I've worked with programmers with associates degrees. Some bad; some good. I'm not entirely against them, but I would not want an entire team made up of them. They have huge blind spots that CS grads don't have.

        You see that also with people with BS degrees, and I know about those (and a lot more) when I got my AA degree. Truth to be told, I knew more about programming and CS when I left community college than my sophomore/junior peers when I transferred to a 4-year university... and I met quite a few senior students and even grad students who couldn't picture an array of pointers to structures with function pointers as fields (not that you want to do that every day, but c'mon a senior CS student or grad student should have no problem visualizing that.)

        I got a BS in CS, went to grad school and now I'm trying to go to grad school to switch into a more hardware oriented degree. I have 17+ years working on this, and I can say with great confidence that most "enterprise" programming tasks do not require a BS-level education in computer science.

        More importantly, a good community college can provide, via a AS degree, all the tools needed to do work : systems analysis and design, structured and object-oriented programming, all that mixed with an intro to the basics of algorithm analysis (without the proving part), hands-on RDBMS, basic network/sysadmin skills and other fundamental skills like using/setting source control and bug tracking systems and technical writing.

        You are right when you say you don't want to work with a group made solely of AA/AS graduates. I know; I started my career with a AA only, and I know for a fact that such a group needs more senior members to give technical direction.

        But, for IT and the typical enterprise programming, we really do not need to know about the pumping lemma, prove the equivalence of turing machines to lambda calculus or the differences between micro kernel and monolitic kernels or proving some something on the structure of bizantine problems.

        Blame it on the dot-com that we had a push for MOAR!!!(10+1)! 4-year degrees for web page design, which in turn converted most CS 4-year programs into Java/.NET vocational schools (where a person can graduate w/o even understanding what a pointer or a segfault is.)

        The correct thing back then would have been to promote more community-college level vocational education as 2-3 year AS/AAS degrees. It would have been the best for the career, the nation and for all the students involved.

        I love CS, I love my degree, I love my grad education, and God willing, I will get my Ph.D, and I love my line of work. But hell that I will ever propose that a BS degree is the minimum required to work on IT/enterprise programming.

        I pray to ${DEITY} that this will become a firm step in the right direction.

      • Take a look at the kind of code that you see out of graduate students before you assume that degrees have any meaning at all. I am talking about people who receive PhDs in computer science, but who cannot get beyond the "one big loop with one bit switch statement" organization of programs. This includes grad students who work on "systems" rather than "theory."
      • They have huge blind spots that CS grads don't have.

        I'm sorry, but in the internet age this is not necessarily true. There are very good coders (and software engineers) out there with little or no formal college education who still have enough interest in computer science to study on their own. For a motivated individual, the only benefit education-wise of getting a 4-year degree at a university is the opportunity to surround yourself with people of similar interests.

      • by sjames (1099)

        It's no different than a poor craftsman in any trade. If the guys with degrees actually understand that IEEE floats are not sufficient for all computation that involves a decimal, why do so few languages natively support arbitrary precision?

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:34AM (#41583723) Journal

      This makes sense to me. Most of the best programmers I've known are guys who otherwise would be installing air conditioners, fixing big trucks or re-wiring buildings.

      There is a substantial amount of math and logic that should be used as a foundation for programming. I know the coworkers that would otherwise be installing air conditioners when I ask people if they thing we could use a more functional-type language for a new project instead of an object oriented language. You're usually met with blank stares.

      Coding is not a profession. It's a skill

      This could be said about anything that people pay you to do. Anything.

      which is a part of a series of job descriptions and career paths, but in itself it's a form of knowledge more like what an electrician has than what professionals like architects, doctors, lawyers and assassins must know.

      What? Look, I think you're trying to discuss what you feel is the percentage between creativity and regurgitation in each of the above subjects. And I will tell you right now that all those fields are diverse with jobs that require more than one of the other. If you want to say programming requires more creativity and that's something that cannot be taught then at least give me a compelling argument for that.

      Bring back the hacker aesthetic. Professions are for those who want to super-specialize and master specific high-level skills. Hacking is something anyone with the gumption and dedication can do. As the world expands into mobile devices, ordinary people are writing code every day.

      If only you could see the spaghetti code I've seen. Ordinary people are free to write code, in fact I love that and I hope that continues to expand. But when you're talking about commercial grade software being written for a company that is being sold to people for real money ... that's when I start to cringe that "good enough to tinker with in my home means good enough to be deployed to millions of personal devices across the world."

      That being said, CS needs to find a new career type that might belong to professions. I suggest "product architect" (like Steve Jobs) and "total systems integrators" (like what the Google guys do, interoperability) for those who will need college degrees or equivalent and a professional mindset.

      Personally I value my liberal arts college degree and I think my employer does as well. I can communicate better with customers and I now understand much more of the world now than I did in high school (when I thought I knew everything).

      You're free to apply to jobs but when you're going up against people who have rigorously studied mathematics, logic, philosophy, English, etc you have to be ready to show an employer what you're made of before your application is automatically rejected by some routine resume sorting algorithm. It's not that those algorithms are correct, it's just that employers are too lazy to spend two hours with every single person on the planet trying to find the right applicant. Instead, if I didn't go to college, I'd buy a virtual private server and be going to town on developing things that look good so I can show them off. Honestly, I think it was easier, more fun and more eye-opening (yet way more expensive) for me to go to a liberal arts college. It's your life, so do what you want. You can tell the recruiters they're doing it wrong but then again it's their job and that's their decision. This sounds like some very talented hackers venting about the problems with entering into the workforce.

      • If only you could see the spaghetti code I've seen. Ordinary people are free to write code, in fact I love that and I hope that continues to expand. But when you're talking about commercial grade software being written for a company that is being sold to people for real money ... that's when I start to cringe that "good enough to tinker with in my home means good enough to be deployed to millions of personal devices across the world."

        Have you seen the wiring put into houses by people who are "good enough to tinker with in my own home" when it comes to electrical work? It makes spaghetti code look straightforward. I've known several people who were very good "handyman" electricians. If you needed one new outlet run, or a single light fixture added, they were very bit as good and reliable as a certified electrician. But, if they wired more than five or six circuits in a house (usually only happened if it was the house they owned and lived

        • by _Ludwig (86077)

          you would usually have to rewire the whole house in order to figure out what outlets and fixtures were on what circuits.

          You never heard of a breaker finder?

          • Yeah, I have. I suppose you could work that way, but it really is a pain to have to track every outlet and fixture in every room so that you know for sure that that circuit breaker you thought only had one small item on it is not already operating at close to its capacity because the amateur electrician (who knew where he ran everything on every circuit) had put something that draws a lot of juice on the other side of the house on that circuit because there was nothing on it.
      • by concealment (2447304) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:26AM (#41584193) Homepage Journal

        I enjoy your comments on the site, so you'll get more than the standard drive-by response from me.

        There is a substantial amount of math and logic that should be used as a foundation for programming. I know the coworkers that would otherwise be installing air conditioners when I ask people if they thing we could use a more functional-type language for a new project instead of an object oriented language.

        First, I'd like to make it clear that I am not scornful of these fields. Air-conditioning installing, building wiring, etc. are not devoid of creativity and intelligence requirements.

        In fact, like programming, there's a huge gulf between doing it and doing it right that is determined by degree of intelligence and creativity.

        You may find that intelligence level is the difference between the blank starers and the thinkers, if you look back over the years.

        Look, I think you're trying to discuss what you feel is the percentage between creativity and regurgitation in each of the above subjects. And I will tell you right now that all those fields are diverse with jobs that require more than one of the other. If you want to say programming requires more creativity and that's something that cannot be taught then at least give me a compelling argument for that.

        I'm not communicating effectively here. I'm not trying to make this a comparison of creativity levels, or regurgitation, except to say that I think education over-emphasizes regurgitation, which is not the skill that differentiates an excellent programmer from a hum-drum one. This was a statement I made in support of the apprenticeship idea.

        Professionals are different from all other careers in two crucial ways: first, they must be able to handle a huge amount of detail and balance those details against one another; second, they are responsible for greater impact than most others, and as a result need to have critical thinking, leadership and human perception skills that are not normally required.

        I'm thinking of doctors, lawyers, CEOs, architects and probably a few other groups here. I don't know if creativity is what is needed; most jobs call for inventiveness, or the ability to apply different forms with a bit of fudging so that new uses arise. But so does life itself.

        Are we shuffling too many people into these professions? Yes, unquestionably so, just like we're sending too many people to college. This doesn't mean we should forget what these professions actually require, especially since most who attempt them fail.

        If only you could see the spaghetti code I've seen. Ordinary people are free to write code, in fact I love that and I hope that continues to expand. But when you're talking about commercial grade software being written for a company that is being sold to people for real money ... that's when I start to cringe that "good enough to tinker with in my home means good enough to be deployed to millions of personal devices across the world."

        Why do you assume I haven't seen similar forms of spaghetti code? The first workplace skill I mastered was Lamaze breathing so I could avoid shouting expletives when looking over other people's projects. However, I'd be lying if I said these people were not well-credentialed. Some came from what are considered good schools and had good resumes, and make more money than just about anyone else.

        Ordinary people are going to be writing more code. For most coding, what is required isn't a mystery. In fact, it's well known and well publicized, so that cut-paste-and-modify programming will continue to be the norm. If you haven't looked at the average web developer these days, you might take a peek, and you may see where programming is going. Mastery of libraries, frameworks and commonly needed syntactical devices has replaced the roll-your-own coder.

        You're free to apply to jobs but when you're going up agains

      • by ThorGod (456163)

        Personally I value my liberal arts college degree and I think my employer does as well. I can communicate better with customers and I now understand much more of the world now than I did in high school (when I thought I knew everything).

        Liberal arts degree, 'eh? Your comment's great, but there's one too many "now"s in this sentence! XD

      • by FlyingGuy (989135)

        There is a substantial amount of math and logic that should be used as a foundation for programming. I know the coworkers that would otherwise be installing air conditioners when I ask people if they thing we could use a more functional-type language for a new project instead of an object oriented language. You're usually met with blank stares.

        So very sorry but I must take exception with this. The "substantial amount of math" comes down to the 4 basic operations. Even partial differential equations come down to it with lots of looping. Really good programmers are not mathematicians for the most part. Really good programmers understand the machine and mathematicians dream up equations that do "something" and then explain in terms that can be translated into code.

        And as to the bit about functional -v- object oriented languages, your tipping you

        • So very sorry but I must take exception with this. The "substantial amount of math" comes down to the 4 basic operations. Even partial differential equations come down to it with lots of looping. Really good programmers are not mathematicians for the most part. Really good programmers understand the machine and mathematicians dream up equations that do "something" and then explain in terms that can be translated into code.

          No reason to apologize, without exceptions we wouldn't have any conversations, discussions or debates. I find it incredibly interesting that you seem to consider some parts of programming to be mathematics and you can even go so far as to say that "really good programmers are not mathematicians for the most part." I will quote Donald Knuth [progfree.org] since he is much wiser than I:

          Therefore the idea of passing laws that say some kinds of algorithms belong to mathematics and some do not strikes me as absurd as the 19th century attempts of the Indiana legislature to pass a law that the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is exactly 3, not approximately 3.1416. It's like the medieval church ruling that the sun revolves about the earth. Man-made laws can be significantly helpful but not when they contradict fundamental truths.

          Understanding the machine is very important as well but any programmer should know mathematics first and foremost. I use logic daily in w

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:55AM (#41583867)

      Another thing lacking in the traditional CS route is understanding of the business one is coding for. I managed projects for a large taxing authority. We found it much more productive to take existing employees who understood the various tax procedures and workflows in the department and train them to program versus hiring CS graduates and train them in tax policy and procedures. People from the "floor" have a totally different insight than management and CS graduates and their insight leads to much more efficient ways of doing things. Of course, the people we pulled from the floor did have an aptitude for programming and desingFor the record, we also hired some CS graduates, depending on specific skill sets needed.

      Business IT shops would do much better to consider apprenticeship programs. What is taught in most CS programs did not transfer well into what we needed most. My recommendation to students wanting to pursue a career in IT would be to get a business administration degree with various CS classes as electives (or even minor in CS). That is, unless, you want to work for the big tech companies, in which case, I would flip that and go CS with a minor in business.

      At least that is how it works in the Midwest of the US.

      • by BVis (267028) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:46AM (#41584413)

        Training existing employees in needed skills represents a conscious desire to improve the skill set of your existing employees, so you gain ability without the expense and hassle of finding someone new to hire. It treats your employees like assets to be improved, not liabilities to be minimized.

        Unfortunately, ISTM that most employers would rather rip off an arm than provide training for their employees. Their logic is that helping employees to expand their skill sets only leads to freshly trained employees that quickly leave because they can make more money/improve their working conditions/get away from a horrible manager by going to another employer. The problem is, while it's short-sighted, they're right. Keeping employees happy is expensive, complicated and time-consuming. Lots of times, it requires a change in the corporate culture. It's hard to go from treating your employees like liabilities and cost centers to treating them like assets. It's *very* hard to convince employees that the culture has genuinely changed; they'll assume it's just another case of management saying all the right things while not actually changing anything of substance, which they have more than likely done before.

        In an ideal world, companies that treated their people like shit would quickly find themselves without employees, having had said employees leave to go to another employer that treats them like human beings. (The free market in action, no?) The trouble is that, in practice, the employee is at a severe disadvantage when it comes to how their employer treats them. Their employer basically controls their entire lives (literally, in the case of employer-provided health insurance). Wage slavery is a real thing, and the norm. Most companies treat their employees just well enough to keep them from leaving immediately, which results in employees doing just enough work to not get fired. Management does not want to provide the employee with more ammunition in the battle by making them more marketable as employees; they like them right where they are. Yeahh, I'm going to need you to go ahead and come in on Saturday, mmkay?

      • We found it much more productive to take existing employees who understood the various tax procedures and workflows in the department and train them to program versus hiring CS graduates and train them in tax policy and procedures.

        I write software in the retail industry. Aside from having worked in retail in my younger years, I know how to write quality software. What I have learned is that to get the best software, I need to sit and talk to an expert in the problem domain. If I were writing tax software I

    • Coding is not a profession. It's a skill, which is a part of a series of job descriptions and career paths, but in itself it's a form of knowledge more like what an electrician has than what professionals like architects, doctors, lawyers and assassins must know.

      W

      T

      F

      ????

      A "skill" isn't a "knowledge", it's an application of knowledge. Not everyone who knows how to operate dangerous equipment should be allowed to do so. Not everyone who knows how to cut gemstones can cut them reliably.

      Furthermore, there's at least a myth that mid-level coders will someday be senior coders and in an era where even the entry-level people are expected to know and do everything, the whole idea of a static "mid-level, semi-skilled blue collar coder" is just plain absurd. Unlike, say, appre

      • Most people in the field consider programming to be a craft - a combination of art and science, just like the traditional (non-software) profession of architect.

        Traditionally, blue collar work has included artisans and craftsmen, and as I recall that's where the apprenticeship method started.

        Although the traditional dividing line between blue- and white-collar trades was how sweaty you got (literally, since blue shirts are easier to launder), the ultimate difference is in how much autonomous decision-making

    • by LordNimon (85072)

      We already have apprenticeships, but we call them internships. If you have a demonstrable natural talent for coding, companies will claw over each other to hire you as an intern. I know, because not even half of the interns we hire were even remotely productive, but the others could write their own tickets.

    • Maybe. But if you're going to go with blue-collar coding, you'll need to stop with the uber-coolification of programming.

      I'm talking about stuff like the obsession with adding functional programming to Java. Java's a perfectly good language for the blue-collar programmer. It lets you check and find a lot of your bugs at compile time. The static nature of the language lets your IDE give you Intellisense-type (code completion) features, very handy for the blue-collar programmer.

      A very General Motors factory l

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's been a blue collar job for most of us ever since I've been coding professionally (since about 2000).

  • Why would we want more un/under educated programmers? Programming is applied Math and very few high school students are going to be equipped to do it well.

    • by cnettel (836611) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:31AM (#41583711)

      Programming, in this sense, is applied method calling into your supporting libraries and framework. It has more similarities to designing a nice-looking Word template or using Excel in not overly creative ways. If a programmer of this kind ends up designing her own algorithms or even worse a full class hierarchy, it will surely end up on thedayilywtf. The thing is, they should not need to. You don't expect a household electrician to rewire stuff with a new transformer design just because it seemed fun to do for one specific customer and maybe 10% more efficient. You do standard stuff in standard ways. It's not trivial, but it's all done within well-defined bounds.

      I would never want this kind of a job, but if you consider how many things that are still done manually in one way or another by people having GFLOPS on their desktops, it's also obvious that cheaper and more plentiful access to people able to just crank out code to do stuff has a tremendous value.

    • Why would we want more un/under educated programmers?

      Because there is a lot of work that needs to be done that doesn't require a degree in computer science and people with those degrees tend to be expensive. You don't want under educated people but there is a cost to having over-educated people as well.

      Programming is applied Math and very few high school students are going to be equipped to do it well.

      Computer science is math whereas programming can be a bit more abstract than that. Programs are a set of instructions to a machine and sufficiently abstracted it really doesn't require deep knowledge of math for someone to do useful work. While ultimately an

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      To drive wages down, that is what this is really about.

    • Yeah, it is. So's bartending.

      Face it, the level of math knowledge that you need to be a competent programmer is really not that high. Probably no more than what's required of carpenters or electricians. (There are some math-heavy sub-fields, like crypto or 3D rendering. But most of us don't need to delve into them.)

      I'm sure that a carpenter could benefit from going to college and taking courses in math, physics and engineering. Would it be worth 4 years of his life + $100,000? Probably not.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        I think everyone that wants to equate programmers with plumbers or electricians need to actually to go out and do these trades for awhile and ONLY THEN come back and try to feed us this line of bull.

  • by Big Hairy Ian (1155547) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:25AM (#41583669)
    Been in the business for over 20 years now. The only issue I have makes getting jobs difficult as too many companies wont touch you without a degree.

    BTW The closest my school had to Computer Science was a couple of Commodore Pets and a maths teacher who thought all that was involved with CS was logic. Ah well where there's a geek there's a way :)

  • Of-course (Score:4, Interesting)

    by udachny (2454394) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:30AM (#41583697) Journal

    I have been arguing this [slashdot.org] for quite a while [slashdot.org], there should be more apprentices and fewer university graduates with insurmountable debt, however this is not going to happen given the labour regulations, tax incentives, even inflation. All of these prevent jobs from appearing. A businessman doesn't need an incentive to hire people, his incentive is to make more money, it exists already. What he needs is not to have incentives to do things that are not actually useful to him. A business could have a bunch of apprentices, if it was possible to pay them a very low wage. As things stand (never mind the inflation, which kills savings and jobs), the labour law makes it illegal to hire people below minimum wage while still allowing to have students as 'apprentices' who have to work for free. All this does is incentivizes the kids to go to higher education, where they don't actually need to, while working for free as apprentices, while getting deeper and deeper into debt. Instead the kids must be able to skip school entirely and learn the trade at work making a little bit of money, that would give them an incentive to show up and do the work, while not getting into debt and learning the skills. This is something that businesses have always done before governments screwed this up.

    • Maybe as individual programmers we should hire apprentices.

      They could fetch coffee, make copies, and clean up compiler warnings behind us.

      • by Alex Belits (437) *

        clean up compiler warnings behind us

        Die in a fire. If you are not writing your code in a way that does not produce compiler warnings, you are doing something seriously wrong.

    • there should be more apprentices and fewer university graduates with insurmountable debt

      When we graduated college, an old-timer said something to the effect of, "Now that your degree program is over, your education can begin."

      What followed for the lucky amongst us was finding people in our industries who could teach us from the benefit of experience. Education tries for comprehensive and lacks in application; an apprenticeship teaches application.

      Both are necessary, but one can be had by cracking a book on

    • Tell me how governments are preventing the hire of apprentices? Companies are free to hire anybody they want to as long as they abide by labor laws so I am not sure what your complaint here is. Are you upset that the government enforces a minimum wage and that these apprentices would need to be paid a minimum wage? Surely if these apprentices brought any value to your organization at all then they would be equal in value to the cost of the guy making your burger at McDonalds or greeting you at Wal Mart.
  • by O('_')O_Bush (1162487) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:43AM (#41583779)
    Sure, this would be great if programs required no math, were short, single threaded, didn't require complex algorithms, and didn't require interfacing to other things... but that isn't how programming works in the real world. If your design can be done by someone with the education levels or mental faculties of a welder, it can be done by outsourced talent more cheaply anyways.

    What we need is more specialized, difficult, and deep CS programs, not programs that people can sleep through and come out of with little technical knowledge beyond Java application development.
    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      Unfortunately that's all businesses care about nowadays - you're more likely to get a job because you know how to use Visual Studio than you are if you know how to program effectively. Today much of the technical expertise is being eroded in 2 ways:

      Developers being given RAD tools where coding is more "if you do this it just works, don't think how it works, just trust it does". This is particularly relevant in the .NET world where Visual Studio isn't a tool to help you code, its a tool that defines your env

    • If your design can be done by someone with the education levels or mental faculties of a welder, it can be done by outsourced talent more cheaply anyways.

      Apparently you have never tried welding if you think welders are dumb. (hint, it's really quite difficult to do well and requires a LOT of training)

      That said, there is a lot of coding that is not practical to outsource. I am not a programmer professionally but I do some coding here and there as a part of my job. I'm not about to write a linux kernel or anything like that, but some simple coding to do my job more effectively is useful. Should I have to go get a CS degree before writing a few macros or a

    • Sure, this would be great if programs required no math, were short, single threaded, didn't require complex algorithms, and didn't require interfacing to other things... but that isn't how programming works in the real world. If your design can be done by someone with the education levels or mental faculties of a welder, it can be done by outsourced talent more cheaply anyways.

      What we need are a small number of software architects with C.S. degrees, and a large number of code monkeys with trade school educa

  • Germany - 1960's (Score:5, Informative)

    by MadMaverick9 (1470565) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:48AM (#41583819)

    They've had that in Germany since the 1960's.

    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematisch-Technischer_Assistent [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A highly misleading post, not least since the link is in German.
      Yes, MTAs have been around for quite a while, but they require either a "Realschul" Diploma or a full-blown Abitur (says so in the linked article), which more often than not includes material that's usually taught in freshman years at colleges in the States.
      So, it's back to the main point, namely, that you need to go to college for at least a year in the States. Then you might as well finish your CS degree.

    • I think Fachinformatiker - Anwendungsentwicklung is more fitting

  • Dash also suggests 'changing the conversation about recruiting technologists from the existing narrow priesthood of highly-skilled experts constantly chasing new technologies to productive workers getting the most out of widely-deployed platforms and frameworks.

    Wait, no more bleeding edge hacking? What in the world is left for the sales drones to do?

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:56AM (#41583877)

    IT / tech needs apprenticeship not years of college with big skills gaps.

    And the tech schools get dragged down by having to be part of the college systems and some of the college time table.

  • There is to much put on degrees and the name of school over real job experience and NON degree classes.

    There are lots of people with degrees and big skills gaps and lot's people who have real skills but no degree or a tech school degree.

  • degrees take to long and can cut out people who are not college material. But can do the job / handle Community Colleges and tech schools as they are a better fit for people like that and are have more hands on learning.

    Also degrees are a poor fit for continuing education in the IT field.

    Also there is a lot fluff and filler in a degree and it can be cut down to maybe 2-3 years or better yet for some parts of IT a mixed 1-2-3 years of class room and on the job apprenticeship.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Which leads to the contractos I have to deal with. They have no idea how anything actually works, just the knowhow of which button to press when in some program. If anything breaks they are lost, firing up wireshark and watching packets on the wire is totally beyond them. They would not even know what to look for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:14AM (#41584049)

    "U.S. tech talent shortage discussions tend to focus on getting more young people to go to college to become CS grads"

    THERE IS NO TECH TALENT SHORTAGE. What there is, is disinformation about what one needs to really
    know to really program. Plenty of unemployed and students out there who have figured this out.
    But they are blocked out of the market by both employers, employment agencies and state unemployment offices
    who don't have a CLUE as to the nature of the skills needed and have created a ridiculous artificial set
    of evaluative criteria.

    In addition, there are brilliant programmers out there with no degrees or associate's degrees or liberal arts degrees.

    Also, you do NOT need calculus to program or be a software engineer.
    You do NOT need Dykstra.
    You do NOT need to know how to write a compiler.

    There is no "Blue Collar".... there are competent skilled programmers, reasonably skilled ones, screw-ups, and Ivy League graduates with big degrees who would not last a 10th of a second in real world programming. I know, I've worked with all of them.

    There is one key JOB REQUIREMENT in this field. The ability to deal with the unknown, to learn and to adjust. Period.

    Reading and communication skills are paramount too. Above all else.

    From a retired Software Engineer of 32 years experience

  • by Jartan (219704) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:17AM (#41584091)

    The problem with looking at coding this way is too many people will fail. When you're looking for a vocation/apprenticeship the last thing you want is something risky.

    It's also way too volatile. Training to be a "microsoft .net programmer" is insane. You're whole profession could get flushed down the toilet instantly.

    All that education is necessary to constantly retrain yourself.

    • Training to be a "microsoft .net programmer" is insane. You're whole profession could get flushed down the toilet instantly.

      Unfortunately, it seems like many degree programs are going in that direction as well.

  • by bistromath007 (1253428) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:18AM (#41584101)
    What I mean: the article says "let's not forget that we can do this, too!"

    Can we? I've... never heard of anything like this. Which annoys me, because I'd really like to do it. I want to learn coding, but I am not a self-motivated hacker stereotype. I need a project given to me, and if I'm operating without guidance, there is a ceiling on the types of problems I can solve in a timely fashion. I'm not stupid, but I'm not brilliant either, or at least I haven't been called that since high school, (which I dropped out of) and generally programming is considered something only a supergenius should be allowed to do, especially by programmers.

    I know this isn't true, as I've taken a programming course once at a community college and did well and enjoyed myself. But taking a course means I get to do a bunch of stuff that I never use because I can't find work related to it, if at all, and so I forget it. An apprenticeship is the only way I can think of that would supply me with steady work to cement the skills in my head. As far as I know, apprenticeships do not exist, because those who would be masters usually believe in the old-school cowboy hacker DIY-elitism. The most help they'll offer is "here's a book about a language you might be able to understand. Get to work, you pleb."

    What work? I have no idea what I want to code! Just give me something.
    • by hackula (2596247)
      Apprenticeships? No. Internships? Oh yes. Internships are an easy way to learn about solving real world problems. Of course, you cannot expect to get spoon fed. Programming just does not work like that.
  • by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:19AM (#41584117)

    You mean the next undergrad to drop out of college thinking he can change the world with one hot idea? Education would be wasted on the next Zuckerberg. Just introduce him to some venture capitlaist with money to burn and let the wheel of fortune spin.

  • Same old whine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:42AM (#41584361) Homepage Journal

    Beware anyone who calls your profession a "priesthood", because he operates under the assumption that he is entitled to more than you, is either jealous or contemptuous of your market salary and wants to put you in your place. For whatever reason our culture regards doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, and CEOs as deserving the benefits of scarcity, but it is a huge problem when you can't you hire a computer nerd for less than six figures. If you aren't an extrovert, you don't deserve to be on top of the status hierarchy.

    We already have vocational technology education, but it's widely regarded as a joke. Putting it in high school isn't going to change that. And if you have the knack for it, learning programming or learning computer maintenance is easy. After all, every time the subject of college degrees come up, there are always people very adamant that they didn't need one, and that "the best people I know didn't go to college". So if it is unnecessary, why are they arguing for "blue collar" programmers? These people argue "nature" in one breath and then "nurture" in the next. Dash is actually saying that the self-educated or non-degreed don't deserve to be considered "white collar" professionals.

    Dash also makes the mistake of conflating programming with "IT", something the Slashdot peanut gallery is also apt to do. I'll leave that stupidity for a different flame war.

  • Uh, shortage? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun (571051) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:48AM (#41584435)
    There's no shortage of tech workers, which is why you can't get college bound kids interested. Off shoring + H1B Visas has seen to that.

    I'm pretty skeptical of this entire story. In my experience whenever anyone talks about retraining blue collar workers for tech work it's just a desperate attempt to deal with the fact that robots and outsourcing have made these people obsolete, and we want to pretend there's something for them all to do besides starve...
  • I actually regard the fact that someone could say this as a great example of why computer science education is broken. The reality is that there's a tremendous amount of REALLY BAD code out there, written by C.S. Majors and non-C.S. Majors alike. I'm minded of one case where a self-taught perl programmer in a company I worked for absolutely could not figure out why his code to convert a few megabytes of data was taking days to run. Turned out he was appending to a string in order to add a few bytes to it, and every time he did it perl was copying the string to a new location. Simply by "pre-allocating" the string we cut the run time down to a couple of hours. This would have been obvious to him if he'd ever coded in C, or taken a data structures class. But he hadn't. Things like data structures, algorithms, and most importantly security are hard. They can't be taught in a trade school, because people in trade schools lack the necessary background. In the case above, I tried to explain to the guy the whole concept of "big O", and quickly discovered that he didn't know what a factorial was, nor a logarithm, and was a bit sketchy on the concept of geometric expansion. Please don't dump more half-trained programmers on us. We don't need them, and those of us who do understand information theory (with or without degrees) will spend way too much time fixing their errors. I'm not saying everyone needs to be a CS major (my B.S. is in Philosophy, my masters is in Theology, and my Ph.D. is in New Testament.) I AM saying that there should be a requirement to learn some basic skill before you're allowed to write code for a living.
  • by blind biker (1066130) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:53AM (#41584493) Journal

    All developers, programmers, researchers - we're all blue collar. People working in administration and accounting are considered white collar.

    As a scientist, I don't feel insulted to be "blue collar". I'm fine with that.

  • by XDirtypunkX (1290358) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:56AM (#41584523)

    Part of the reason I don't think an apprenticeship model works for teaching programming is that by its nature it is a scholarly profession. I don't mean that in the ivory tower way, I mean that programming is largely research based and requires an active mind. You need meta-skills of the kind that allow you to assess, filter and process a lot of information, but be able to focus in on and find the particular bits that are relevant to you. Doing an university degree often teaches this skill indirectly and some people develop it themselves though natural dedication (autodidacts). I don't think an apprenticeship style of learning gives people the time or inclination to do this. More practical experience and mentoring is definitely valuable, but it shouldn't be the sum total of a programming education.

    I also think that there is also a defensive thinking mindset required to properly produce robust software that requires a certain level of formal knowledge as well as practical experience. Degrees at the moment don't necessarily teach this, but you do see a lot of software written without this knowledge and quite often it becomes obvious that it's only going to work *some* of the time and quite a lot of this software comes from people with a weak formal education (but not all of it).

  • To build a house, you not only need the architect, but the guy who hammers nails and lays flooring. Similarly, to build a program, you don't necessarily need to know much about virtual void functions, but you'd better be able to handle integers, strings, arrays, if-then statements and loops. These are the hammers and nails portion of the industry.

  • When I grew up in the 1980s, computer jobs were treated as some sort of blue-collar skill suited for autistic personality types that were incapable of relating to other human beings. "Respectable" people were supposed to go into law, medicine, or business. Before resumes became computer-searchable, "respectable" people avoided mentioning computer skills, since employers were turned off by technical jargon.

  • If you pretty much just sit at a desk or talk, you are white collar. If you are vigorously using your arms or legs in a factory, etc. you are blue collar. Coding is always white collar by this definition.
  • This is perhaps one of the most insightful articles I have ever read. I guess it also highlights my beef with Computer Science curriculum at the University level: it doesn't teach real world coding but coding to solve interesting theoretical or mathematical problems. It doesn't take a solid foundation in mathematics to be able to learn to code. I think learning to code much in the same way as one learns to be a machinist is a fabulous idea and making computer programming a blue collar, skilled job is lon
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:47AM (#41585193) Homepage

    What he really means, in a nutshell: "Programmers are paid too much."

  • The word "computer" before WWII basically meant a clerk computing insurance or ballistic tables at desk with an adding machine and/or pencil. These clerks were almost always female, while their supervisors or officers were men. As the adding machines evolved into vacuum tube behemoths, the female clerks ofter did the wiring, switch settings, punch card or punch tape preparation, and even the coding. So coding developed a "taint" as being female, clerical and not quite white collar.

    One consequence was
  • If you know mostly what you'd like to to, have a chosen path to get there, and time and $$$ to do it this model would probably work very well.

    The problem is, I have NEVER seen that in my 15 years of developing. The technology landscape is constantly evolving, we need developers that know how to learn to do stuff ... not know how to do stuff. Assumptions and business requirements change, often daily. Developers need to communicate with businesses, persuade them to make good decisions (why I like developer
  • Sometimes businesses have great ideas that they need coded but can't afford expensive developers.
    They need the cheap blue collar coders to just get it done and working.
    Once they get it working the business starts making money and expanding beyond the original programs ability. That is when they bring in the expensive developers that can program it the right way so that it can be secure and handle everything the business throws at it.

    We need both kinds of developers. The cheap ones help create jobs
  • On education and "complex skills" http://www.abelard.org/asimov.php [abelard.org]

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