Friday, November 4, 2011

Side Effects

Last month we hosted a CS Extras event at Keynetics, inviting all CS students, but focusing on freshman and sophomore students. The Keynetics team put on a great presentation. They focused on describing what kinds of things students can expect in the workplace, what a typical work day/week/month is like, why they love their jobs and the industry, what tools they use, etc.

The November presentation itself was a success, but I wanted to focus on how small events like this can indirectly result in long lasting returns.

To someone on the outside an event like this might seem like a waste of time or a futile effort. "How will talking to 20-60 students for 2 hours increase the number and quality of software professionals in Idaho?". This is a great question, and one I constantly ask myself as it can often feel like we are fighting an uphill battle.

This presentation, and the events following it helped solidify my motivation and confidence in our program.

At the BBQ after the presentation, two students told me they had been considering switching to an Electrical Engineering degree, but now they were motivated to stick with Computer Science and excited about the opportunities. That provided a warm fuzzy feeling and I was more than happy to take that as ample justification for the event. But that isn't why I'm writing this.

It wasn't until two weeks later that I realized the full impact of the event. This is a circumstance of one small act of giving turning into something much bigger than itself.

Amit, a professor at BSU, told me that the students came back to class and asked him about automated testing (which was mentioned in the presentation). As Amit uses tests to verify the students programming assignments, he was able to expose an interface the students could use to run his tests against their programs before submitting them.

If you work in the software industry, you understand the significance of that last paragraph. We now have first year CS students that understand the value of automated testing and how it can be applied to almost any program. This is a fundamental career skill that will not only help them with programming tasks in college, but that they will take with them into the work force.

We have a situation where one event, that was easy to coordinate, and took only a few hours of each volunteers time, instilled a process that will likely stick with these students (and possibly the curriculum) for years and years to come. In addition, the benefit of the presentation has now filtered to all students in that class, not just those who attended CS Extras.

Perhaps I'm being too optimistic, but these are the kinds of positive side effects that you just can't plan for but that can make the entire endeavor worthwhile.

To keep up with CS Extras events; like our Facebook page, subscribe to my blog, or watch the ITC website for event updates. To volunteer, post on the ITC LinkedIn discussion group and I will contact you.

Update: Be sure to check out the comments on this post, more good side effects.


Amit said...

What is even more significant about this story is that those students were freshmen in my CS 1 class. Literally, two months into their first Computer Science class.

J.D., thanks for a great post!


Conrad said...

Another thing that came from this presentation is the Boise State University Computer Science department will have a new elective course on web development next Fall.

Amit and I discussed it after the presentation and barring administrative officialism, I will be teaching an evening class as adjunct faculty. This adds to the already great CS program. There are many companies in the valley (including Keynetics) which primarily do web development, so this serves to benefit the students and local software companies.

Good post J.D.


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