writing skills Re: [Beowulf] Re: about clusters in high schools

Timothy W. Moore twm at tcg-hsv.com
Mon Jan 30 08:27:55 PST 2006

It is true that students require good writing skills.  When comparing my
course requirements with the current I found technical writing and
public speaking as having been added.  I did not have to take either and
wish I had.  My thesis probably would have gone much faster and I would
not have been so nervous at the defense.

Regarding teamwork...I saw no classes on team building, campfire scenes,
etc.  My son was home for the weekend and I discussed his classes and
teamwork.  He said the profs break the classes into teams for
collaboration.  When I was in school, we did that anyway.

I think the topic has deviated...I did not intend to create a firestorm.
I merely voiced an opinion/observation.  It is a tragedy when engineers
and scientists rely more and more on canned software for their problem
solving.  I have written data acquisition sw, finite element programs,
and programs to solve problems that no package on Earth could do.  There
is a tendency for young engineers to use these packages, produce a
solution, and promote it as the gospel because "that is what the code
said." There is an old saying....Garbage in, Garbage out!
Engineers/Scientists degrade their skills by relying so heavily on these
packages because their knowledge and understanding of the algorithms
does not exist. It is true that not all engineers require such knowledge
but some day they might.

I went through an exercise to try and hire a good young engineer a few
years ago.  I wanted to unload, reduce the hours I work, and start
traveling with my wife.  I gave up the search because I wanted an
engineer (US citizenship required) with programming skills.  Some of the
applicants asked "What is FORTRAN"?  The only applicants with
programming skills were the engineers educated abroad that answered the
ad out of desparation.

On Mon, 2006-01-30 at 07:26 -0800, Jim Lux wrote:
> At 10:26 PM 1/29/2006, Andrew Piskorski wrote:
> >On Sun, Jan 29, 2006 at 04:01:08PM -0800, Jim Lux wrote:
> >
> > > I'd even go so far as to say, many engineers SHOULD BE PROHIBITED from
> > > programming in their professional career (unless they're in the software
> > > development business).  Better they should learn how to write effective
> >
> >An interesting thought, and I think I agree - in the context of
> >programming fundamental to their engineering responsibilities.  (E.g.,
> >"design this widget", "calculate the parameters of this process".)
> >But the ones who should be banned from such programming are the ones
> >who took a good programming class and didn't get it.  If at all
> >possible ALL engineers should be exposed to it.
> In the same sense that all engineers should have to take metal shop, and 
> even machine their hearts out at home, but not be allowed to machine the 
> production item.
> >And remember, a lot of work - and computer programming - engineers do
> >is NOT fundamental to their responsibilities - it just makes day to
> >day tasks, problem solving, and friction fighting a hell of a lot
> >easier.  More on that below.
> >
> > > specifications and test cases so that someone else can do it better.  Yes,
> > > being an engineer means you're, by nature, a jack of all trades, and we're
> > > justly proud of it, BUT, from a business standpoint, machinists should
> > > machine, artists should art, and engineers should engineer.
> >
> >Except that I have heard plenty of stories of an engineer not being
> >allowed to just go in and spend an hour machining some damn one-off
> >part he needs, because the union rules say, "Only machinists are
> >allowed to machine, nobody else."  Instead, write up a work order,
> >then wait for two weeks.  And the engineer who DOES know at least the
> >basics of machining has an advantage, and in many cases is simply a
> >better engineer because of it.
> That's not uncommon, but the two week wait is an institutional problem, and 
> the fix is not necessarily to have the engineer go in and machine their own 
> stuff.  The fix is to make the system so that it can handle the fast turn, 
> one-off jobs quickly. I've worked in both big and small shops, with and 
> without machinists, and the all around best is the big shop with machinists 
> who can work from "paper napkin sketches".  I like to think that my own 
> machining skills help me draw a better napkin, but, frankly, the end 
> product will be much better if the machinist does it, and, during the time 
> they're toiling, I can be off doing something else productive.
> >Computer programming is analogous - but more so, because computing is
> >much more widely applicable than machining...
> >
> > > All should know what the other one can do and how they do it(and
> > > should have done a bit, so they understand WHY they shouldn't be
> > > doing it).
> >
> >Yes, absolutely.  But when it comes to computer programming, most of
> >the working engineers I met did not even reach that basic level of,
> >"Know enough of the basics to know when and how to call in an expert."
> >
> > > >> Learning effective use of one or more higher level languages, on the
> > > >> other hand, would serve them EXTREMELY well.  A scripting language
> > > >> like Tcl, Perl, or Python would certainly be useful, but a math or
> > > >> statistically oriented language like Octave or R probably has better
> > > >> synergies with the rest of the engineering curriculum.
> > >
> > > I'd be happy if engineering students all learned english grammar and
> > > spelling and could write an effective 2 page essay.
> >
> >Except that's not properly part of an engineering education at all, it
> >is a PRE-REQUISITE for an engineering education (or for any university
> >level education at all for that matter).  If an engineering program
> >must teach how to write an effective two page essay, it's engaging in
> >remedial education because grades 1 to 12 have completely dropped the
> >ball.
> Not necessarily.  A decent liberal arts basis in K-12 might give you the 
> ability string together sentences and paragraphs for a couple pages (and 
> most high school graduates CAN actually do this reasonably well).  It's 
> that this skill needs regular practice, and it needs refinement for the 
> engineering idiom.  What we are NOT talking about here is cranking out 
> "journal paper"-like things, which a number of college programs do just 
> fine with.  It's the 2-3 page memo cranked out in a couple hours 
> describing: here's the problem, here's what were doing, and here's why we 
> think it's a decent idea.  Summarization and distillation is the key.  I 
> get plenty of 30 page reports filled with gory detail, but that's not 
> something I can send to a half dozen people and get their quick comments on it.
> >But we weren't talking about that, we're talking about teach computer
> >programming to engineernig students, and about the wisdom of DROPPING
> >computer programming entirely in order to make room for instruction on
> >"teamwork" and "presentation skills".
> Hmm.. that's an interesting tradeoff.  Traditionally, one would have 
> learned teamwork in elementary school ("plays/works well with others") and 
> presentation skills would be acquired in some sort of debate or theater 
> arts class (or, at least, the ability to get up in front of a group and 
> speak intelligently and coherently).
> >If that is in fact actually occuring at some university somewhere (no
> >specific examples have been given, only generalities), then I suggest
> >that it has absolutely nothing to do with better teaching engineers
> >what they really need to learn, and everything to do with lowering
> >standards and dumbing down the curriculum.
> I don't see it as dumbing down, per se.  Good teamwork and good 
> presentation skills are just as difficult as good engineering.  It's just a 
> realignment, or, perhaps a recognition that more skills are needed to be a 
> success than you can reasonably teach in 4 years?  Part of the problem is 
> that industry, in general, is less willing to do "on the job training" for 
> such generic skills.  In today's lean&mean efficient organizations, every 
> worker body needs to be actively contributing to the bottom line, 
> today.  Not building skills for some future time, when, gods forbid, 
> they'll be working for another company anyway.
> >Open source is the friend of education in ways that closed source code
> >simply can't be, therefore educatuion should be somewhat biased in
> >favor of selecting open source programming langauges and other tools,
> >where feasible.
> I'll go for that, providing that closed source is available where 
> needed.  Actually, most closed source vendors provide their tools on very 
> attractive terms to education, which creates a problem when all the 
> students come out used to using the $100k/seat tools.
> These are all tasks that someone with programming skills is much
> >better equipped to attack than someone without.
> Sure, but maybe that's peculiar to the particular job.. and for that job, 
> programming skills are needed.  On the other hand, another engineer might 
> be designing piping to bring the process chemistry in and out, and for that 
> engineer, programming skills might not be necessary.  And yet another 
> engineer might be liason to the marketing folks, and for that role, 
> teaching skills might be most useful.
> Jim

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