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Education Programming

A Commencement Speech For 2013 CS Majors 144

blackbearnh writes "Most commencement speeches are long on platitudes and short on practical advice. O'Reilly blogger James Turner has tailored a speech aimed specifically at the current batch of graduating CS majors. Among the advice that the 35-year industry veteran offers are to find a small company for your first job, but not one that is going to burn you out. Also, keep learning new things, but don't fall into the trap of learning the flavor of the day technology. Quoting: 'Being passionate about software is critical to being successful, because the field is a constantly moving target. What will net you $130K today will be done by junior programmers in five years, and unless you're constantly adding new tools to your belt, you’re going to find yourself priced out of the market. ... You are rarely going to get an opportunity to have your current employer pay for you to learn things, so learn them on your own and be in a position to leverage the skills when a new project comes along. But if you have a passion for technology, you'll already be doing it, and enjoying it without needing me to tell you to."
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A Commencement Speech For 2013 CS Majors

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  • by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:04PM (#43844979)
    Show up to work. 99 percent of success is being there.

    Be resourceful. Find ways to do your job without complaint or constantly and chronically asking for the next task to be done.

    Do these two things and your will be prosperous.

    (sits down to great cheers for having ended the speech in 30 seconds)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Here's mine:

      It is more important to drink at the bar with your bosses than it is to do a good job. And assume that someone is going to stab you in the back--so stab them first. If you can't climb the ladder, go to another company. Pad your resume if you need to. Survival of the fittest, baby!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's pretty accurate, I remember some speaker telling us once that "it's not the grades that you make, it's the hands that you shake"

        Then again, that wasn't a graduation speech, I guess that's not applicable here

    • Do your co-workers really just skip workdays? Really?

      Or is this some sort of over-the-top job-hunting strategy? Are you suggesting they sneak into an office and start doing work? That would make an interesting gradient of workers: Full-time engineers -> contractors -> interns -> and then that office ninja who doesn't officially work here, doesn't have a desk, but can be assigned to do things now and then.

      • In one of my past jobs I covered for other staff when they "couldn't be there". In two years at one location I worked one year of overtime. That is, I worked 2,000 hours of overtime in two years covering for people who, generally, just didn't feel like working. Oh, and this was at a location where 11 people worked. Shift structure was 2 people on day, 2 on afternoon, 1 on night shift, times 7 days a week. 392 total hours for the week and I averaged working 60 of those. So yeah some people just skip wo
    • You just gave the Cliff Notes version of "A Message to Garcia".

    • Here's mine:

      Be Indian or Chinese.

  • should also say don't go for the masters with out some real work to back it up.

  • by David Betz ( 2845597 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:06PM (#43844999)
    In the past 10 years how many CS graduated did you have to fire/have had fired because of their inability to learn something new? (i.e. because they need classes to hold their hands). Parent's shouldn't push their kids into a field about which the kids have no passion.
    • and schools need to be more trades / tech school like to much theory leads to skill gaps.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        > and schools need to be more trades / tech school like to much theory leads to skill gaps.

        Parsing error.

      • by Kaldaien ( 676190 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:34PM (#43845207)

        I don't know that I'd say that. Honestly, software engineering broke off from computer science for precisely that reason. I would like to see CS curriculum stay theoretical, and leave the implementation to software engineering degree programs.

        So many schools these days are dropping CS altogether and replacing it with software engineering, I would have to say that what you're asking for is effectively already happening.

        • How about we ditch the Software Engineering curriculum entirely, and stick with CS? Because standard software engineering practices produce nothing but a lot of paperwork behind overbudget projects.

      • Strike that. Reverse it.

    • I definitely saw that in my undergraduate experience. I'd say a good 90% of my peers never went the extra mile on anything; if it wasn't going to be on an exam, you can bet they wouldn't bother studying it. When it came time to collaborate with them on projects, all they did was drag the serious students down. It was so frustrating by the time I graduated, but fortunately I had a really nice professor who worked with me to publish two papers on my independent study.

      I really hope the slackers don't wind up w

      • research and theory = a poor setting to learn job skills and people in that setting may just do the min to pass and you can really see that in the filler and fluff classes.

        Kill Philosophy/History/Art etc and focus entirely on STEM and nothing else. as well have a more hands trades / tech track.

        The well rounded and a time overload of gen edus is pulling the tech schools down.

        • by Kaldaien ( 676190 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @07:10PM (#43845447)

          research and theory = a poor setting to learn job skills and people in that setting may just do the min to pass and you can really see that in the filler and fluff classes.

          I don't know how many times I can stress this. Computer Science is not supposed to teach trade skills, there are specialized programs such as software engineering for that purpose. At my school, many of the students who could not hack theory quickly dropped out of computer science and enrolled in either information systems or software engineering; the way it should be.

      • When it came time to collaborate with them on projects, all they did was drag the serious students down.

        Oh man, I *hated* group projects in college. Group projects were just a cheap excuse for a lame professor to pass the weaker students in the class without much effort. They were just licenses for the dumbasses to cheat off the students who actually gave a fuck. I guess you could view that as a life-lesson for the future workplace. But since the classroom didn't reflect actual working conditions in any other way, why start there?

      • by BVis ( 267028 )

        I think your 'lazy' peers are just ahead of the curve. They already know that going the extra mile in the working world doesn't get you anything. Your boss' job is to get as much work out of you as he/she can while paying you as little as possible. Your job (in addition to what you actually do) is to do as little work as you can for as much money as you can. It's not in your interest to go the 'extra mile'. You've busted your hump for an 'attaboy' and a big bonus for your manager.

        If the real world rewa

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by waspleg ( 316038 )

      It's not just their parents. I work in a public education. The entire system is set up to do that. I heard a show on NPR a couple weeks ago (Diane Rehm) about education "reform" and all of the panelists were saying the same thing: Kill Philosophy/History/Art etc and focus entirely on STEM and nothing else.

      The suits won a long time ago. College has been reduced to you paying for the training your corporate masters would rather pocket the money for (and in many cases not getting even that). Schools do no

      • by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:59PM (#43845375)

        Well yeah they push STEM, that's where the job/money/need is. Duh.

        As much as people would like to have a "classic" education and debate what the Greeks thought about spheres, it turns out that we need an educated workforce to function as a nation. I'd like to play games all day, but launching Kerbals to the moon won't pay the bills.

        The big question is CAN you even foster the sort of passion that helps people excel at STEM careers? If yes, then keep on pushing. If no, then we'll get a lot of mediocre programmers with a passion for philosophy. And hey, that's not a bad thing. It still pays the bills.

        A massive problem with colleges is that too many people are getting worthless degrees and can't get work out of college and are slung with hideous crushing debt. It used to be that having ANY degree would land you a cooshy job. Those days are over. (Hell, it used to be being able to afford college meant that daddy would line you up a cooshy job, but thankfully those days are over too).

        I'm still a big fan of artists, but I don't think they really need to go to college. And we still need a couple History/Philosophy/English majors. Just not this many.

        • by Jockle ( 2934767 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @07:06PM (#43845411)

          it turns out that we need an educated workforce to function as a nation

          But that's exactly what we're not getting. Instead, we get rote memorization drones who think they're intelligent because they graduated from our lousy public schools with good grades, and then those people go on to be accepted into a degree mill that will drain them of any and all money they or the government may have. Alternatively, they may go to one of those 'good' colleges, but they'll come out with nearly zero practical skills because they're just rote memorization drones anyway.

          • apprenticeship system can fix that and add real training. So you get people who know what they are doing not test crammers who can pass the test but not know that much.

            Well the old MS tests started some of the memorization drones and having questions that seemed to be set in setting that you would have hunt to find.

        • by burningcpu ( 1234256 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @10:44PM (#43846757)
          I'm working with a masters in a STEM field (Chemistry), and I make about 60% of the salary of the HR drone who happens to have a degree in History. The job market is so shitty for new grads in science that my company is starting chemists with undergraduate degrees at $13 an hour. This is not atypical for the industry, at least in my state. Trust me, I've been looking.

          My friends that went into the trades already have houses and are making families. Those of us that went into science are living with roommates and scrounging by like we're 20 well into our 30's.

          Don't get me wrong. There still are some good jobs out there. But similarly to what apparently (from my reading of slashdot) is going on in the software field, these positions require 15 years experience in a technique that is 12 years old.

          That $13 an hour job I was talking about earlier? We received 63 resumes for the position. 63. The pay was listed. As was weekend work and mandatory overtime required.

          Another interesting tidbit is that as health insurance continues to become a larger portion of the cost of the employee, the employers are experiencing a higher sunk cost per worker, shifting the sweet spot of overtime versus staffing up to higher OT values. My lab has cut two positions and moved to mandatory 45 hour base weeks, with mandatory additional overtime up to 55 hours.

          The number of part time positions that are capped at 39 hours per week are also increasing.

          Go into a trade. It isn't for dummies. Ignore your cultural bias.
          • Don't know where you are living, but you need to move near a chemical plant or refinery. Hourly chemical workers start at $20 an hour, salary chemists and engineers go for a lot more.

          • Wow, others might be giving you shit, but that just plain sucks dude. Have you checked out Chemists usually make more than HR drones, but HR managers is a different story. And if they've been at a company long enough with guaranteed raises, their position really doesn't matter.

            At least with a chemistry degree you could go chase that oil money in the Dakota's right now. Following the money is one of those ageless pieces of advice. And anyone can be trained up as an HR drone in a couple weeks.

        • A massive problem with colleges is that too many people are getting worthless degrees and can't get work out of college and are slung with hideous crushing debt.

          Or, to put it another way: A massive problem with college is that it is now High School Part II: Curse of the Monthly Loan Statement.

      • Schools do not teach entrepreneurship or independence

        I think it depends on the school. I have 3 degrees from 3 different schools. Some schools/classes were "cattle cars" where I sat in a lecture hall surrounded by 100 other students. Other classes were taught in a small conference room with only 4 or 5 other students.

        Do your research. Choose your school wisely.

  • That's ridiculous. None of the jobs that interest me offer anything near that much, even for senior management. I guess he is silently implying that you find a job that will bore the hell out of you but pay well.

    I'm not buying that, as a summa cum laude graduate, I want a job that challenges me. I could have settled for software engineering or even some mickey mouse IT degree if I cared about salary. Honestly, I think computer science is too lumped in with software engineering these days.

    • Re:$130k a year?! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:21PM (#43845113)

      See if you don't care about salary when you have a spouse and four kids to feed. And medical bills. And a mortgage. I'd say the majority of us in the software development and/or computer science would work different jobs if we didn't have these practical considerations. O'Reilly's speech was probably directed at the majority of people like us/you, not the rare few who can afford to go decades without balancing a desire for interesting work with a need to provide for one's family.

      Also, you may find that unchallenging implies uninteresting. So, unless you want to be bored, you probably can't avoid challenge.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So don't have 4 kids and a mortgage you can't afford?

        • I didn't. I can afford them. It's just expensive, which limits my job choices.

          Trading away personal freedom for the happiness / well-being of one's family is part of being a big boy.

      • Also, you may find that unchallenging implies uninteresting. So, unless you want to be bored, you probably can't avoid challenge.

        Which is why so many academics wind up staying in academia. It's not just those who "can't do" that teach, but those who find what the job market wants them to do uninteresting. Fortunately, I have a career in Computer Grahpics, which is challenging but ultimately does not pay as well as many generic software engineering jobs. I will never strike it rich, but at least I am doing something that I love.

      • If you start work at a place that doesn't challenge you, just as O'Reily's speech points out, you're going to rot, not learn any new skills, and you'll be priced out of a job.

        As a graduate, especially a smart graduate, he should definitely seek a place that will be challenging. And yes, you are EXACTLY right, after you gain responsibilities in life is the point you settle down and become the senior long-term developer for... whatever. Or, god forbid, go into management. But once you have a grey beard and

      • by unimacs ( 597299 )
        Salary is but one consideration and high paying + challenging is not mutually exclusive.

        I deliberately left a higher paying job for a non-profit even though I had a mortgage and two kids. Ultimately I'm happier for it even though I know I'd be making more money if I had stayed where I was. The work wouldn't be nearly as fulfilling or challenging. Still I'm not exactly poor and I'm content with my pay.
      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        sure, I'd care for a salary.

        but $130k a year? that's plant manager money around here. heck, it's more than that.
        that's over than average senior management money, right there. so what the fuck is it doing in a speech to graduates??

        if you're getting $130k a year without profit-bonuses from a hit product or something like that, then count your stars and save some of that cash.

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      It's really been a long time since I've taken a job because of the salary or I needed the money. Come to think of it, I can't think of a single job that I didn't go into because I thought it'd be interesting work. More often than not that was true, too. I've gotten to work at some very cool places over the years. Even my first job doing general IT and some programming support at a company that did dog track management software sent me all over the country and exposed me to a lot of challenges. Doing securit
    • There is always more than one way to do something.
    • Knowing a little about many things is better than knowing a lot about one (see above).
    • Be honest with yourself and others about what you know and, especially, don't know and be willing to research the latter.
    • Everyone is at a different place on the learning curve (see above).
  • by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:18PM (#43845105)

    find a small company for your first job, but not one that is going to burn you out.

    It may be easier to prove that unicorns exist...

    I think the key is to know when to get out... of course there can be other reasons for staying.

    • Re:Small companies (Score:4, Interesting)

      by David_Hart ( 1184661 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:48PM (#43845291)

      find a small company for your first job, but not one that is going to burn you out.

      It may be easier to prove that unicorns exist...

      I think the key is to know when to get out... of course there can be other reasons for staying.

      - Find a mature small to medium sized company with low turnover for your first job. It's a bonus if they are about to launch a new project using new technology. If you show enough enthusiasm, they'll happily throw you on it as a resource.

      What you want to get from your first job is a mentor who has been in the industry for a while and who is a professional. Someone who takes their work seriously and who isn't there just for a paycheck. Someone who will show you the ropes.

      I worked for a mature medium sized Oil Company for my first job. I learned how to be an IT professional, not just an IT worker, from my more experienced co-workers.

      • Medium companies tend to be categorized by a willingness to grow and improve, small companies are more about making the owner rich and very little cross training or employee development. Big companies of course are categorized by structure and roles. That's what I've seen anyways. It's possible to have a good small company experience, but you've got to be on your toes and have a bit of salesmanship even.

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        Avoid those companies which have had your predecessors leave because "they weren't allowed to learn anything new", or which see the group you are working in "as a holding tank for staff to move onto other projects". In each case, they'll be paranoid to make sure you don't talk to other employees let alone visit trade shows to network and socialize.

        Also avoid companies which have had layoffs. This ages a company - a company goes from being a toddler (a startup company learning how to grow), to a teenager (kn

  • Targetting 2013? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:32PM (#43845185)

    I'm sorry, but this is the vague timeless advice that isn't targeting the class of 2013. It gives no information that is insightful for today's graduates that wasn't also true for the last 30 years.

    Even start-up / small companies have been an aspect of the industry since... what? The 80's? Before that you needed some capital just to afford a computer.

    Why doesn't he address the upcoming death of the desktop? That China and India are developing a middle class and that China is graduating more engineers than the USA has citizens? The effects of large corporations steering large OSS projects into the ground? That the hardware has bottomed out and full computers only cost you $30. What about the consolidation of the Internet? Or how about the war on general computing? I mean, these are computer science majors, I imagine it's kind of a thing for them.

    • by unimacs ( 597299 )
      You're right, I think his advice is timeless and not particularly targeted towards the class of 2013. It's still good advice. The other topics you mention might be interesting (or maybe not) and have some relevance for them but I'm not sure they'd make good commencement speech topics.
    • I'd love to see your $30 "full computer".
      Keep in mind that a $25 RaspberryPi requires an SD card, power supply, keyboard, mouse and TV to be a "full computer" a person can actually use.

      • Headless systems exclude keyboard, mouse, and display and yet they still compute. A cheap SD card is ~$5.00 and a cheap 5v transformer is ~$2.00.

        Jesus Christ dude, quit with the nitpicking. And who doesn't have all this stuff lying about? Not CS grads, that's for sure.

        • So your China and India middle class are going to use headless systems with no other system to access it from? Good one.

          As for China's engineers...
          China is nowhere near graduating more engineers than USA has citizens. I doubt over 25% of their ageing population are studying engineering. They only have 4x the population of USA. Their growth rate is falling and tipped to go negative over the next 10-20 years. Their biggest age group is 40-50 years old.

          • . . . damn, you're right about the China blurb. I don't know where I picked that one up, but it's nowhere near true. The sentiment is that China is building universities and CS grads should be concerned about the competition, but yeah, sorry about that.

            But seriously, rasberry pi's are not solely targeting the Chinese and Indian middle class. Nor is Oracle going to steer their war on general computing (which includes the fading of x86) against raspberry pis by consolidating the Internet while hiring all the

      • A used computer maybe? (but then again, you can get a pretty powerful "full computer" out of the dumpsters nowadays - you can still do a lot with something like a P4).

    • Perhaps you're right that this isn't specific to 2013, however it still seems amongst the most pertinent advice to CS graduates in 2013.

  • true... true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dfn5 ( 524972 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @06:48PM (#43845293) Journal
    I've been an IT professional since '95. Unix admin / DBA / network admin / SAN admin / Release Engineer / etc. etc. This advice really speaks to my career. You have to have passion for technology and you have to be willing to learn new things on your own. I run into so many people who want nothing to do with technology when they go home. I feel they are in the wrong industry.
    • I've been an IT professional since '95. Unix admin / DBA / network admin / SAN admin / Release Engineer / etc. etc. This advice really speaks to my career.

      I have to wonder why, or even how, this was tailored specifically to computer science, though. Many of these statements are true of software engineering, and IT in general, but computer science is a theoretical field. So many of the things mentioned in this commencement really do not apply to someone who studied computer science to do research. We get the lowest salaries by far, which is made especially sad by the additional time spent in academia pursuant to an advanced degree, and definitely are not at ri

    • I've been an IT professional since '98. Network admin, deployment, project management, etc. The only thing I haven't done is compile an application (dev work not my bag of tea). I *used* to love technology until I've gotten burned out working 65+ hours a week. Even before my first child was born, The last thing I wanted to do was start working on my laptop or PC at home. I just wanted to drink and veg out in front of my TV. My brain is too tired and shreaded to think let alone be exited by anything else. Wh

  • I'm doing the same thing today for my $150k that my predecessors were doing for their $100k 10-12 years ago.

  • wow, how inspiring (Score:4, Informative)

    by decora ( 1710862 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @07:11PM (#43845453) Journal

    i thought commencement was supposed to be about life, the universe, and everything (TM).

    here i come to find out it's supposed to be career advice like you'd find on any thrid rate jobs website.

    thanks!!!! im glad i will spend 40 years with my head down in a cubicle, never thinking, never questioning, never acting on anything other than my desire to have a shit hot career and a fuckton of money.

    i mean, that's what "success" is, right?

    i'm pretty sure Steve Jobs book was full of practical, sensible stuff like that.

    • Well, did you expect him to tell them the truth about the current state of the field? Imagine how that would go down.

      "For the intelligent / hard-working / lucky among you who managed to perform several internships (paid or unpaid) during this economic downturn, and have secured your futures at MS, Google, Amazon, etc., welcome to the team! For those of you here through some sort of immigration and worked hard for your degrees, welcome to the team! For everyone else, look forward to being out of work for at

  • “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

    The question is, how to effectively communicate this to clients.

    • âoeA lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.â

      The question is, how to effectively communicate this to clients.

      I believe the tradition is with a contract that specifies sufficiently rapacious bill rates for situations resulting from lack of planning that it encourages planning, and failing that, provides enough money that you can take time off looking for the next gig.

  • disagree with this: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by buddyglass ( 925859 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @07:22PM (#43845525)
    "What will net you $130K today will be done by junior programmers in five years"

    That really depends on why you're getting paid a premium. Is it because you have experience with the current "hot thing", or is it because you are capable of crafting correct, performant and elegant solutions to hard problems? If it's the latter, then that probably won't be "done by junior programmers in five years".
  • More from the speech:

    Thank you,Dean Martin,
    President Sinclair...

    and members
    of the graduating class.

    I have only one thing
    to say to you today...

    it's a jungle out there.

    You gotta look out
    for number one.

    But don't step in number two.

    And so,
    to all you graduates...

    as you go out into the world
    my advice to you is...

    don't go!
    It's rough out there.

    Move back with your parents.
    Let them worry about it.

    Hey, everybody! We're all programmers. Let's never get laid!

  • Junior programmers will inevitably recreate what you created. It is then your job to grumble and start the task of putting proper locks in their code and running it in valgrind.

  • The current generation of kids (graduating since early-2000's onward) grew up in a consumerist economy: be the "one" and you'll be rich! Accomplish this by pursuing a degree in a field of study perceived as financially viable regardless of the greater economy's need for such "specialty."

    Too many kids graduate without being prepared for adulthood -- much less the responsibilities expected of them that goes in-hand with a commanding financial package. These kids dutifully do their homework but never trul
  • Well, the first thing to understand about this article is that it treats software engineering as a pure meritocracy.

    Maybe at some places it is.

    However, for me the important film is that timeless documentary, Office Space, which drummed into my head two things that I actually found to be true:

    1. If you are good at office politics, you will be called "a straight shooter with upper management written all over him," if you are merely good at creating software you will be "Mr. Samir Naga... Naga... Naga... Not g

    • by unimacs ( 597299 )
      I think the mistake some techie folks make is that they feel they should be judged strictly on their technical skills. Whether you want to call it "good at office politics" or "having people skills", ultimately the success of many projects depends on technical people being able to effectively work with non technical people to deliver a product.Those are skills that you should develop if you don't have them all ready.

      I may promote or give better opportunities to an employee that is really good at getting
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sorry guys (and gals - yes I know there are a couple of you out there), I won't play this game anymore. I recently have been faced with a life threatening (potentially weeks to months to live) illness (still trying to determine what it is). I have been chasing tech since the 80's and after first hearing I may not have long to live, I shit you not, I actually felt relief. I'll skip the rest of the drama, but it didn't take long in my thought process to decide with whatever time I have left, I am going to

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