Tuesday, January 8

RE: Where Are the Software Engineers of Tomorrow?

I found the article by Emeritus Professors Robert B.K. Dewar and Edmond Schonberg anecdotal and weakly supported.
I describe the argument flaws by quoting and commenting in-line in the rest of this post.




"For example, Bjarne Stroustrup reports from Texas A & M University that the
industry is showing increasing unhappiness with the results of this approach."


Here, the industry as represented by Bjarne Stroustrup is hardly impartial evidence.
Represented by James Gosling the evidence from the same industry might have been different.




"It [Texas A&M] did [teach Java as the first language]. Then I started
teaching C++ to the electrical engineers and when the EE students started to
out-program the CS students, the CS department switched to C++. [5]"



Hmmm, the conclusion here may be wrong due to many types of selection bias:

  1. The creator of C++ is likely to attract C++ inclined candidates.
  2. Students applying to an University where the creator of C++ teaches C++ will more likely be those keen on the programming language, and thus more likely to be good at it.
  3. It is likely that students taught by Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of the C++ language himself, are going to end up better C++ programmers than your average programmer in any language.

It is conceivable that a Computer Science department where Guido van Rossum teaches Python will attract and create lots of above average Python programmers, beating the crap out of their C++ and Java colleagues (the company of 'stars' raises the level of everyone else).



"At AdaCore, we are certainly aware of many universities that have adopted Ada
as a first language because of similar concerns."

Again, selection bias: on the one hand, AdaCore will obviously look more actively for such Universities; on the other hand, such Universities are more likely to establish a relationship with [an important?] Ada company and make AdaCore aware of their adoption.

This is surely not a rigorous scientific analysis.


The above paragraph, with no concrete evidence to support it, also seems to follow Bjarne Stroustrup's excerpt before it and suggest that, just like the switch to C++, switching to Ada results in students who out-program their colleagues programming in other languages.
No evidence of this is given in the article, and there are no scientific studies published on this.



"Ada is the language of software engineering par excellence. Even when it is not
the language of instruction in programming courses, it is the language chosen to
teach courses in software engineering. This is because the notions of strong
typing, encapsulation, information hiding, concurrency, generic programming,
inheritance, and so on, are embodied in specific features of the language."


This is a conceptual jump from personal views to universal ones. Plus, all the notions listed are features of Java, C# and plenty of other languages besides Ada.



"From our experience and that of our customers, we can say that a real
programmer writes Ada in any language."


Oh. Selection bias and anecdotal evidence again. Their experience and that of customers of AdaCore is likely of an Ada-centric universe.



"For example, an Ada programmer accustomed to Ada’s package model, which
strongly separates specification from implementation, will tend to write C in a
style where well-commented header files act in somewhat the same way as package
specs in Ada. The programmer will include bounds checking and consistency checks
when passing mutable structures between subprograms to mimic the strong-typing
checks that Ada mandates [6]. She will organize concurrent programs into tasks
and protected objects, with well-defined synchronization and communication
mechanisms."

There is no necessary causality relationship between being an Ada programmer and writing good C code. Although it is likely that [programming] languages determines the way we think, the relationship shown is more like that of being a good programmer and writing good code in either Ada or C.

From earlier statements in the article, it is difficult to hire good Ada programmers. When they find them, these [good] Ada programmers also write good C code. No surprises there.

In the end, there is also no evidence given that Ada is a better replacement for Java as an entry level language.


Sources:
Professors Slam Java As "Damaging" To Students
Computer Science Education: Where Are the Software Engineers of Tomorrow?

1 comment:

James Spada said...

So i was in Germany a month or so ago and am siting in the bar talking to this programmer, and i ask him such philosophical questions as what language he prefers and what is the best.
His reply, "they are like woman, every has their own preferences, some like blonds, some like red heads."