Ovid (publius_ovidius) wrote,

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Professor Bush

So I was thinking about my last post where I listed the name of numerous people who were forced out of their jobs for the crime of disagreeing with the the White House junta's policies. These people, as I noted earlier, were generally career military, diplomats, or other government officials. Their jobs routinely entailed that they support and defend policies which they might not agree with. That our administration has gone so far as to alienate them says a lot about how extreme many view White House policies.

Who reads what I write? Most of us are programmers, bank tellers, baristas, waitstaff, book sellers and maybe a hooker or two. If we screw up -- give someone the wrong change, forget their order, give them herpes -- the world does not recoil in horror. People do not die if my boss gives me bad specifications. I cannot even begin to imagine the awesome weight of responsibility on the shoulders of the brave women and men who serve our country.

And this is why, after Bush leaves office, I think he should be a college professor. One time I was frustrated trying to write some code in C when I realized I wanted to take a class in the language and learn in a structured environment. So I called up a local college after failing to find a class teaching the C language and someone who introduced himself as the head of the computer science department informed me that they do not teach C. Seems it's an obsolete language and object-oriented programming is the future.

Oh really?

This guy lives in an ivory tower and is presuming to know what my work in the trenches is like. This is why I am so careful about hiring people fresh out of college. Some of them are great but others have lofty ideals about how things are supposed to be and those charming little ideals get eaten for breakfast when you're faced with budget constraints, tight deadlines, incomplete or incorrect specifications.

In the case of this professor's comments, just about any programmer whose been around for a few years and worked in a few languages (particularly languages in multiple programming paradigms) can tell you two things:

  1. C is not obsolete
  2. Object oriented programming is not the future

(Side note: The latter assertion may be a bit more controversial to programmers who only know C++ or Java, two partially object-oriented languages. However, once you've worked with functional or logic-oriented languages, you realize that there are problems that are very difficult to solve with OO code but are trivial with a little dash of the lambda or first-order calculi.)

So how did this professor get this so horribly wrong? It's simple, really. His primary goal is to teach students. He also has to keep abreast of the latest research in his field and those latest changes typically don't involve things such as switching from a quick sort to a merge sort at the bottom of nested loops in C.

Programmers in the field have different goals. We have to deliver software to our customers. Sometimes we keep abreast of cutting edge research in our fields but we're probably more interested in new tools in our field which will actually make our lives easier -- not esoteric discussions about traits versus Java interfaces. After a while we learn to use these tools when it's clearly practical to do so. If a programmer's boss hears about a great new "XML database", the programmer is right to be sceptical.

And that's what's going on in the White House. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and others seem to be locked in an ivory tower. They have this nifty theory that if we kill enough of the right (or wrong) people, the world will be a better place. Unfortunately, those in the field who have honest, practical experience keep telling them that they're wrong but the White House doesn't listen. The White House claims that we're winning in Iraq when the Pentagon says we're not. Ask yourself why several military lawyers requested reassignment away from Guatanamo because they knew that ignoring the prisoner's basic rights was wrong. Ask yourself why L. Paul Bremer, a man with no military experience, thought it was a good idea to turn the entire Iraqi army into unemployed men with guns -- a move that helped fuel the insurgency though the people working with him tried to get him to change his mind.

And this is the problem. People with strange ideas about how they would like the world to act who have no idea what the real world is like are making decisions and refusing to admit that maybe, just maybe, killing everyone you don't like is not a good idea. Maybe instead of guessing how the world works they should go out there and actually talk to those who don't have to guess. Or maybe they should learn that "plays well with others" is not just for Kindergarten.

Note: Not all college professors are as bad as the one I cited. Many have extensive industry experience and bring practical knowledge to the classroom. I always liked those classes the best.

Tags: politics
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