Fitting Education to Develop Minds and a Real Career

May 17, 2013, 3:27 p.m. ET | WSJ | CLINTON STALEY.

As a professor of Computer Science with an undergraduate major in Mathematics and English, I have deep respect for the humanities, and for "language and critical thought" to use Mr. Glasser's apt phrase. However, as a dual citizen of CP Snow's two cultures, I am dismayed at how often each devalues the other.

Engineers are too often guilty of dismissing the humanities as intellectually soft. But for their part, humanists have a tendency to dismiss engineering as some Dickensian school-of-facts. If coding is a mere "technical skill set", then please explain to me why students, including excellent humanists, are often literally reduced to tears by the intellectual difficulty of learning this skill set.

Having taught coding and the deeper reasoning of algorithms, software design, etc that build on the fundamentals of code, I can testify that it is no more reasonable to expect someone to just pick up coding ability from a bit of OJT than it is to expect a poor writer to just brush up on their writing with a bit of help from their first employer and thus become an excellent communicator. Code is like writing in that if you haven't learned it in school, you're unlikely to pick it up on the job unless you happen to be innately good at it and are an energetic autodidact.

Also, coding is not a transient skill. The essential creative reasoning process needed to code is much the same despite a half century of evolution in software. Yes, programming languages change. But just as writing transcends any one human language, so coding transcends the particulars of any one programming language. Coding requires deep creative and quantitative reasoning ability, which is why Mr McDonald, and many other employers, value it so highly.

last updated may 2013