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ENG 1113: Unit 1 Reading Supplements

 Needed: Techies Who Know Shakespeare
Ellen Ullman

From: Vesterman, William. Reading and Writing Short Arguments. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006. 


[begins on page 194]  High technology companies are so desperate for programmers, according to recent reports, that they are luring students out of the classroom with well-paying jobs.  It’s the schools’ fault, say people in the industry and some computer-science professors. Students aren’t being taught the skills they need and therefore don’t see the point of getting a degree.

            [start of page 195] But critics are forgetting that the very idea of the computer science degree is a relatively recent point on the short time line of the computer industry. Historically, most programmers had plenty of education-computer science degree itself.

            Computer programming has always been a self-taught, maverick occupation. Except for a brief moment in the late 1980’s and early 1990s—what I think of as the Dilbert era—no one thought that programming was something you should learn in college.

            Prospective programmers spent a great deal of time in school, but they typically studied something other than computers.  Aside form a few famous dropouts—like Bill Gates, Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak—the profession has always attracted the very well-schooled.

            Physicists and mathematicians created the industry just after World War II and became the first programmers.  As the need for such skills grew in the 1970s, business and government had to look beyond people with doctorates.

            Fortunately, that demand coincided with the end of the 1960s, when all sorts of overeducated people were on the loose, looking for a way to earn a living.

            That’s where I came in: I’m a member of the generation that came to computing as a second, third, or fourth vocation. My first boss had two master’s degrees in social science and had spent years as a Sufi dancing disciple. My next boss, a former bartender, had a master’s degree in library science. The head of technical services at the same company had a Ph.D. in anthropology, and she hired people who had completed all but their dissertations in linguistics, archeology and classics.  In this crowd, I felt like the dunce with my undergraduate degree in English.

            We had all taught ourselves computing. For us, it was just one more difficult subject to learn. No one was intimidated by learning another computer language—or anything else for that matter. What we knew was how to learn, which is all that one can hang on to in a profession in which change is relentless.

            The generation of programmers who followed us, were, well, disappointing. They had engineering and computer science degrees, and none of them seemed to have read anything but technical textbooks. They stood mute among us when we said the occasional phrase in French.  They looked confused when we alluded to Shakespeare or Proust. If today’s would-be programmers are fleeing the sort of education that these people received, well, that’s wonderful.

            A good friend of mine finished engineering school in the late 1980s. He managed to get his degree without having studied much of what some still call Western civilization.

            Poignantly, he knows he’s missed something. He is now a principal of a startup company developing E-mail services for the World Wide Web.  [start of page 196] My friend is building connections around the planet, and he is ashamed that he has never even studied a foreign language.

            I don’t mean for these stories to persuade aspiring programmers to drop out of school. Quite the contrary, I hope it might make students and professors realize that programming instruction can take place in a few classes, and students can spend the rest of their time studying foreign language, literature, linguistics, philosophy and history of science.

            Schools might as well give up on teaching the latest skills, since those skills will soon become obsolete anyway. Instead, they might stress subjects that foster a flexible and open mind. Programmers seem to be changing the world. It would be a relief, for them and for all of us, if they knew something about it.




When in Doubt, Just Choose C
Kelly Hartnett

From: Vesterman, William. Reading and Writing Short Arguments. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006.


[Starts on page 201]  If someone were to ask me what skills I have developed the most in my classes thus far at Rutgers, my answer might surprise those outside the school. Writing skills? Seeing as how I have never had to write a paper for the psychology major and not one paper for the communication major, nope.

Public speaking? Maybe if I ever take that class, but it’s not a requirement, so next skill. Group work? Can’t recall any group projects, for which I must say I’m thankful. Instead of these skills, which I will be using the rest of my working life, I must sadly say I have become an expert at taking multiple-choice tests.

Yes, that’s right. Throw a Scantron my way in a packed auditorium, and I will tear it up.  I don’t let that annoying sniffling person behind me or the people climbing over me get in the way. When in doubt, I just choose C. Sure, the professors say they hate giving them and try to make them as analytical as possible, but come on now, If you ask people in the working world how often they are tested by multiple-choice questions, I think the answer would pale in comparison to how frequently we receive them now.

Whose fault is it that the majority of our college grade-point average is based on a process of elimination? The professors, who often care more about grant money for their next research project, or the administration, who puts up gigantic color video screen in the stadium that is used from the six home football games? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-Division I, and I don’t loathe all my professors’ teaching styles. It is hard to do anything but give multiple-choice tests in a lecture of 300 students. However, especially in psychology, the classes rarely ever get small enough to have a meaningful discussion, and listening to a professor read the PowerPoint slides  you already have printed out makes it difficult for many to find a reason to go to class. It’s almost as if they don’t want you to question anything and could care less if you read that book you shelled out 70 bucks for or not. Cramming or a midterm and a final do not promote learning whatsoever. Those with doctorates in psychology should know this above anyone else.

It has been said only 10 percent of what you learn about a job is done in the classroom. My question is why can’t we change that? Many of my fellow students have no clue what’s in store for them past Rutgers. Maybe if courses covered more than just the facts, they would have a better understanding of what they want in a career. Joining groups and clubs will help you network and hone those people skills, but seeing as how most students spend more time in class and studying than going to weekly meetings, there is still a lot of room for growth in the classroom. [start of page 202] If you step back and think about what you have actually learned in your liberal arts classes here at Rutgers, you might be asking yourself, “How will this transfer to the real world?” The truth is most of it won’t.