In a certain University’s Computer Science program, you have a choice between following a “Theoretical Computer Science” track and a “Computer Engineering” track. The theoretical track starts with Scheme, moves into ML and Haskell, and drops into languages like Joy
along the way for constructing certain proofs.
The practical track is a fairly standard JavaSchools
approach, starting with Java, moving smoothly into Java with generics, and finishing with a big XML bang.
Most students entering the program have no trouble selecting the best track for themselves. The vast majority take the engineering course, mostly motivated by the promise of being sent into the bowels of BigCo on work terms
. They pack into cavernous lecture halls and memorize design patterns, then spend days typing up verbose “Hello World” programs on their Dell laptops. The highly nerd-oriented remainder tend to jump into the theory track. They’re the ones reading “Good Math, Bad Math
” over WiFi on their MacBooks.
A lonely few don’t know quite what to do. They might want to start a company, they might want to become consultants, and they enjoy a little recreational computing. They’re the ones who read raganwald
, as a matter of fact. To help them out, the administration has constructed a little aptitude test.
They are placed in a testing hall, and each applicant is given two numbered envelopes. They are told that each envelope contains instructions. They are to follow them as best they can. The proctor calls out “Open the first envelope,” and they get started.
Inside is a piece of paper torn into large shards. The paper has writing on it, but you can’t read the instructions without piecing the paper back together. The students busy themselves with the puzzle, and in a few minutes almost all have fit the pieces back together and can read the single sentence on the page: “open the second envelope and follow its instructions.”
Well, this is a time limited examination and they immediately open the second envelope. Inside is a single sheet of paper with writing on it. And do you know what? Most of the applicants follow its instructions: they write their name and student number on the back of the paper and hand it into the proctor. These students are immediately sent into the Computer Engineering track, where they go on to be fine members of our profession: intelligent and practical.
A few, however, open the second envelope and their eyes light up immediately. Without pausing, they tear the page into strips, reducing it to a problem they have already solved
The proctor guides these students gently from the room, and they are marked down for Theoretical Computer Science.And we got Sheena