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Google Blogger: Vietnamese HS Students Excelling At CS 291

Posted by timothy
from the pho-great-justice dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A Google engineer visiting Vietnam discovered a large portion of Vietnamese high school students might be able to pass a Google interview. According to TFA (and his blog), students start learning computing as early as grade 2. According to the blogger and another senior engineer, about half of the students in an 11th grade class he visited would be able to make through their interview process. The blogger also mentioned U.S. school boards blocking computer science education. The link he posted backing up his claim goes to a Maryland Public Schools website describing No Child Left Behind technicalities. According to the link, computer science is not considered a core subject. While the blogger provided no substantial evidence of U.S. school boards blocking computer science education, he claimed that students at Galileo Academy had difficulty with the HTML image tag. According to the school's Wikipedia page, by California standards, Galileo seems to be one of the state's better secondary schools."
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Google Blogger: Vietnamese HS Students Excelling At CS

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  • Probably a good half or more of "good" high schools just plain ignore programming and CS, and the people who pass the Google interviews learned most of what they know in college, whether from lectures or from working through it while doing homework and projects.
    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      And there is a good reason for it, not to be blunt you could could probably hire a dozen coders in Vietnam for the cost of a single American. Do I think this is right? Nope and I think we should be a lot more protectionist like China and India but until that day comes one has to face reality and the reality is most CS is gonna end up either overseas (or thanks to scams like "How not to hire an American") or H1-Bs. That's just the way it is.
  • by tjb (226873) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:18PM (#43267503)

    What does an HTML image tag have to do with computer science or being a good software engineer?

    Heck, I've been working as a professional software developer in the semiconductor industry for 13 years, can sling C, Matlab and various assembly languages all day long, and think I have a pretty good theoretical grounding, but I'm not terribly familiar with HTML or Java or PHP or whatever the cool kids are using these days (now get off my lawn). I mean, good for them and all, but it seems like a rather hokey standard to judge students by.

    • by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Monday March 25, 2013 @12:00AM (#43267677) Homepage

      I think the the HTML reference comes from several links deep, not specifically, but topically:

      Of the two classes described, neither teaches computer science. The first teaches keyboarding and use of Microsoft applications, while the second teaches website design. While the website design course claims to teach the use of "HTML programming code," this is a misuse of the term, as HTML is a markup language rather than a programming language and requires no understanding of algorithms or program design.

      http://blog.carolynworks.com/?p=572 [carolynworks.com]

      Which was summarized in the article like this:

      Teachers often refuse to teach real CS because more often than not they don't understand it. Instead, they end up teaching word processing and website construction, while calling it CS.

      http://neil.fraser.name/news/2013/03/16/ [fraser.name]

      So essentially he's saying that US CS curriculum is so bad, students can't even do html, which actually isn't programming anyway, it's just a kind of text formatting.

      • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

        Teachers often refuse to teach real CS because more often than not they don't understand it. Instead, they end up teaching word processing and website construction, while calling it CS.

        Which is funny, considering how people aren't willing to pay programmers the salary market scarcity demands. I expect next they will be complaining that there no people who could be programmers accepting a teacher's salary instead.

    • well IT is not CS and not all IT work is programming or needs the full CS load of theory.

  • by jrumney (197329) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:19PM (#43267511) Homepage

    If that blog post is an example of what gets past Google's interview process, then I am not at all surprised that 11th grade high school students could also get past it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've gone through Google interviews before. Their questions are rather poor for identifying any true creativity or ability to learn new things, basically just testing with CS brain teasers and annoying algorithms. eBay was even worse - their Java architect asked moronic things like "name 15 Java keywords as fast as you can" and their C++ architect intentionally focused on way-too low level concepts like how compilers constructed vtables (which having worked on compilers I knew, but given his attitude of w

  • Not Blocking Per Se (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KeithIrwin (243301) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:30PM (#43267561)

    What's happened is that the national standard for computing education in this country (which have been adopted by most states) are set by a board of specialists who all specialize in the use of computers in education. They don't specialize in computer science. There are no computer scientists on the board at all. As such, they recommend that teachers teach the sort of skills which make the computer useful in reinforcing learning in other subjects because that's what they specialize in. So, for example, they might recommend that students learn how to use spreadsheets in middle school because it helps them in analyzing experimental data in middle school science. Or they might recommend that students learn how to browse the web because it helps them practice reading and study skills. But they don't recommend learning programming because it is outside of their specialty and they likely don't understand how programming can be used to reinforce learning in other subjects (which I would argue that it can be used very effectively to do so for many subjects, especially math and science).

    If we want to change this, we need to get state level boards of education to adopt different standards. That's how change will happen.

    • If we want to change this, we need to get state level boards of education to adopt different standards. That's how change will happen.

      Except that many of the state Boards of Education are grappling with such esoteric topics as the validity of evolution or the value of pi.

      We're doomed.

      • by Bremic (2703997) on Monday March 25, 2013 @12:29AM (#43267775)

        How many skilled programmers are willing to work in schools for the pay that is offered? It's a prime example of if we want kids to have access to knowledge in their schooling, then we need to attract teachers who can impart that knowledge.

        Unfortunately in the first world there seems to be a trend to offer as little as possible for education, figuring I suppose that if the next generation is uneducated they will be cheaper to employ.

        • Being a skilled programmer doesn't necessarily mean being a skilled teacher, especially when it comes to the basics of programming. It can actually be quite difficult for someone to teach to others the things which come easiest to them. However, your overall point that we don't have a surplus of skilled computer science educators is true. But even without that, forcing at least a little basic computer programming on kids, even with unskilled teachers, is a lot better than letting them do without. I'm pr

        • by bertok (226922) on Monday March 25, 2013 @04:44AM (#43268693)

          Figuring I suppose that if the next generation is uneducated they will be cheaper to employ.

          Assuming a giant conspiracy is rarely the correct answer.

          I suspect that it's simply a side effect of a society's path towards modernisation.

          First, lets go back to the fundamental problem: I, as a professional programmer with a CS degree, would make 3-5x more income doing work in the industry than I would as a teacher. This isn't even skipping the side-benefits of a teaching career such as long holidays, I get more free time as a consultant or contractor than I would as a teacher and still make truckloads more money. This is typical around the western world, and not just in computer science, but many other areas as well.

          It wasn't always so! Not so long ago, roughly around the time my grandparents were teaching classes, they were in a "respected profession" that made them one of the best incomes in their home town.

          So what changed? Well, progress did. Essentially, the problem is that most other jobs became more productive, often at a staggering rate. A machinist today can make more widgets with better quality than he could a hundred years ago because of automation and better tools. A factory makes more products. A manager managing workers oversees more productivity. A programmer can work on computers millions of times faster than the first computers, using abstract high-level languages that are vastly more productive to use than assembler was.

          All of this has translated into increased income (due to increased productivity) for just about everyone, except teachers, because education has remained largely stagnant in terms of productivity for centuries now. Class sizes are still "optimal" at roughly 30 students per teacher. There is no way to teach certain material to average students before they're old enough, so the process can't be sped up either. The kids get one year older in exactly one year, like they always have! No new technologies have come about either to enable a typical high-school teacher to effectively teach even 300 students, let alone thousands.

          Of course, that's not entirely true: new technologies for teaching more efficiently have come about, they just don't look anything at all like a typical classroom, because that has insurmountable scalability problems. Instead, things like the Khan Academy, wiki text books, Wikipedia itself, and the like are slowly starting to make progress towards more efficient and scalable education.

          However, none of that translates to increased teacher pay, which is not unusual, because even though it looks like an intellectual profession, in terms of productivity it behaves a lot more like manual labour. A good teacher can teach better, but not more. This is the problem, not some giant conspiracy. The market prices manual labour with low wages, because automation is more efficient and produces more value.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:43PM (#43267625) Journal

    They know they are going to get all the outsourced jobs from the US. A US student, on the other hand, has to find something not so easily outsourcable.

    • by crutchy (1949900)

      eventually it will be the other way around; americans will be answering phones in call centers and manufacturing shoes for asians.

  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:48PM (#43267643) Journal
    As far back as 1991 I went to "computer camp" - a two week long overnight camp for elementary school kids that was a charitable outreach from our local Army base. During those two weeks, we learned some BASIC and LOGO, did our very first "hello worlds" - and also did some nifty science-camp stuff, like making our own ice cream by hand (and thus learning how salt lowers the freezing point of water) and getting some hands on fundamentals in networking. (Oh token-rings, how we don't miss you.) All for the low low cost of free - although I think I did have to test into the camp.

    Not defending the US education's system's oversight in this area, but I bet if Google interviewed some kids at a US engineering high school, they'd have better results.
    • Yeah, we used to teach our kids LOGO and BASIC back in the 80s and early 90s. Now we teach them MS Word, Powerpoint, and Internet Explorer and how to upload videos to YouTube (which is "learning multimedia" in much that same way that the other things are "learning computer science"). We used to do those things. I learned LOGO and BASIC in my elementary school in the early 80s. But you don't find them done any more.

  • One data point... (Score:5, Informative)

    by pongo000 (97357) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:51PM (#43267657)

    ...does not prove anything.

    he claimed that students at Galileo Academy had difficulty with the HTML image tag

    OK, repeat after me: Computer science is not about programming/scripting languages. It is about the methodology and theory of developing programs, applications, and computational systems. To tell you the truth, I don't cover HTML in my computer science curriculum (and yes, Texas has a full-blown CS curriculum), mainly because CS isn't web development.

    • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday March 25, 2013 @12:35AM (#43267795)

      Call me a cynic, but I don't think this story is what it seems to be.

      It wasn't more than a couple weeks ago that I read another Microsoft PR piece attempting to influence Congress into increasing the number of H1Bs they can use. For some reason this new story immediately made me think "You know, if Google was going to try getting more H1Bs, this is pretty much how I'd expect them to go about it."

      Google's just really ham-handed and ineffective when it comes to attempting to influence public opinion - witness Brin's bizarre "cell phones are emasculating" statement.

    • I assume there's some context missing. Perhaps the statement would be more accurate as follows;

      he claimed that students at Galileo Academy, who had completed a web page authoring subject, had difficulty with the HTML image tag

    • He also said that they don't understand loops and conditionals. I think that the author is pretty clear that web development isn't CS, based on several of the other articles he linked to (like, this one [carolynworks.com]). But students who have a solid understanding of programming and are used to consulting reference material for how particular commands or functions work would be highly unlikely to be stymied by IMG tags if they were to try to create some. It's not exactly a complex concept. People who have trouble with

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      you'd probably still would understand the img tag in 10 seconds, no?

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      That's software engineering.
      Computer science is another thing entirely.

    • by dcollins (135727)

      "Computer science is not about programming/scripting languages."

      They are not identical. But programming is a necessary requirement for computer science -- in the same way that the alphabet, vocabulary, and grammar are necessary requirements for literature.

  • by capt_mulch (642870) on Monday March 25, 2013 @12:03AM (#43267693)
    How can you tell when you've had a Vietnamese burgle your house? Your VCR is gone, but your homework is done...
  • by Barlo_Mung_42 (411228) on Monday March 25, 2013 @12:19AM (#43267749) Homepage

    My kid spends way too much time imo learning cursive. They make her do a lot of her work in both cursive and print which seems like a waste of time when the number of hours spent in class keep shrinking. They should be learning to type and print; forget about cursive.

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      What else would you like a 6-year-old to be taught? Numerical analysis?

      • Kids ought to be taught languages -- especially pronunciation of hard to learn sounds such as the trill the r in spanish; the various "ooo" sounds in french; chinese tones. Kids are language sponges - we ought to stress languages: Chinese, French, Arabic at that age.
        • by loufoque (1400831)

          Kids can't even speak English correctly, and you want them to half-learn a bunch of useless languages instead of doing something that is fundamentally useful like learning to write with a pen?

          • I'm not saying that primary school children shouldn't be taught English. Obviously they need to be able to read and write - but children up to the age of 10-12 are wired to learn new languages. This is when it should be started, not in high school or college.

            Knowing several human languages (as well as programming languages) is, IMHO, an essential skill set.
  • fake, as always (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 25, 2013 @12:55AM (#43267851)

    Vietnamese here, I have read that article a few days ago in my language. It is very likely that the school selected the best students in the whole school, put them in one 'class' for the test. It's commonly accepted here to do anything so you won't "lose face" and appear better than you really are. We have a proverb for that, "Show the beauty, hide the ugly".

  • Wouldn't it be clever for the pro-H1B visa lobbyists at Google to plant news stories about how gifted foreign workers are?

    If the argument is "US ed bad, Foreign ed good" and therefore "US workers bad, Foreign workers good" necessitates liberalizing H1B visas, well it just writes itself.

    Not saying that /. is just a plant for Google PR hacks or nothing. Ok, maybe I am.

  • U.S. labor is expensive, so teaching every kid here programming at young ages will do very little for their job prospects (companies will still prefer H1-B's). It's one thing to talk about how our education system is falling behind, etc, etc, and another thing entirely for the country -- and the companies within it -- to actually hire American workers when they can get them cheaper overseas. If not outsource entirely.

  • by tlambert (566799) on Monday March 25, 2013 @01:25AM (#43267937)

    This whole thing is disingenuous.

    That might have been acceptable to present as an interview question (before it was disclosed), but those kids would not have passed the interview process on a single question, nor would they have even passed the single session interview which used that question, if they took 45+ minutes to arrive at it.

    An interview session typically lasts 45 minutes in total, and the point of presenting the problem is to gauge the persons problem solving ability, and their ability to think in terms of their ability to apply CS tools to solve the problem optimally. Taking the full 45 minutes for a single solution would not cut it, even if they ended up with the optimal solution. If they knew the question because someone had leaked it to a jobs board, then immediately solved it optimally, then the immediate response of the interviewer should be to vary the premise to make it a related but slightly different problem. If they didn't solve it optimally, and the interviewer had them iterate on their solution to optimize it, that's the best possible outcome, as far as an interviewer is concerned, as it speaks to the persons thought processes and problem solving capability.

    They also would not have passed the educational bar. There are a lot of self-taught programmers who are brilliant at it, but who can not work on teams because they lack the common terminology for algorithms and so on. So they are able to solve a problem in isolation, but they are unable to communicate this information to their peers, and neither can they document it in such a way that a future engineer can pick up where they left off when changing requirements force an incremental update to the design. Without that critical communication, it's impossible to make minimum necessary changes to accomplish a goal, while remaining cognizant of the side effects. So there is typically a degree requirement, and from the fact that you have a degree, you are expected to know things like "big O" notation, and a set of 20-30 algorithms by name so that you recognize them when they are used in code you are later asked to maintain.

    It's great that he bought them a teacher for a year by pulling $1,200 out of his personal bank account, but this emphasis recently on Slashdot of trying to get everyone to be a programmer in elementary school is misguided and misses the fundamental point that you can not narrowly focus an early education and expect to have people come out of it with the ability to retrain in other careers should their career become obsolete.

  • Wow... I can't believe the ethnicity breakdown listed for that school... 74% of students are Asian, 12% Latino and only 3.4% Caucasian!
    And from the Wikipedia article... "Math scores remain one of Galileo's best academic strengths"... Lol.

  • How much of this HS is teach the test???

    What the point of being able to pass the test but not really knowing about day to day work. As the test is more of a high level over view with questions that most programmers who have been working for years may not be able to pass as they don't think much about what that test covers.

    • If the test is an accurate reflection of what one needs to know then "teaching the test" is not a bad idea.
  • So, the programming problem posed in the article is:

    "Given a data file describing a maze with diagonal walls, count the number of enclosed areas, and measure the size of the largest one."

    Who wants to take a stab at an algorithm for that?

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