Glenn Vanderburg

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Agility for students
Fri, 15 Nov 2002 (12:54) #
Last night I gave a talk on Extreme Programming and the principles of agile development to the Fort Worth IEEE/CS. It went very well -- the attendance was good, there was a lot of interest, and there were many good questions at the end. I was filling in for Dave Thomas, who couldn't make it due to a death in the family, so I was very glad it went so well. (I didn't want them to be disappointed with the second-stringer!)

The first question after I concluded was from a TCU Computer Science professor who said, "As an academic, what can I do to prepare my students for environments like this?" My first answer was, "Can we have lunch? Because the answer to your question is long." But then I gave her a short answer: teach your students not just to write code, but to read it, and read code written by other people, and then to add features to it to test whether they've understood it. She seemed happy with that (I gather she's already doing a lot of that, as well). But there is more to it than that. Here are some things I've thought of:

  • Teach the students the principles of emergent behavior, so they'll be comfortable with the ideas of evolutionary design.
  • Teach them about refactoring and the ways in which software is malleable. Teach them how this can be used as a feedback mechanism to incorporate what you learn into the design.
  • Teach them the history of engineering, and encourage discussion about where software development currently sits on the path to maturity that the other engineering disciplines have gone through.
  • Discuss the ways in which software development is similar to other engineering disciplines, and how it differs. Likewise, discuss similarities with art, craft, and science.
  • Teach them skepticism about tools, and explain how the state of the software development art (in terms of platforms, techniques, and paradigms) always runs slightly ahead of tool support, so those who aren't dependent on fancy tools have an advantage.
  • Teach students that we don't really understand software development that well, and the techniques they are learning today aren't necessarily the best way to do things.
  • You won't have time to teach them everything about computer science, but at least give them glimpses of the many things they don't know.

If anybody has any more ideas, please let me know. (Also let me know if you disagree with any of the ones I listed.) She's hip, she gets it, and we certainly need computer science professors who genuinely want to know the answer to the question she asked. I want to give her great answers.