The Eternal Debate: Code or Documentation for Education?
IMO, doesn’t matter if we’re all spending more time reading and learning…
IMO, doesn’t matter if we’re all spending more time reading and learning… All I care about is helping Chemists get better at developing and applying software.
I used to wonder why it was so frustrating to use previous generation tools to start solving new problems. E.g., using Perl/HTML to implement a website in the late 90s. All I learned from that was Python 2.3 and it took several years before I finally got back to coding in a lame undergrad research job. Cool that all of us budding Engineers got some real management experience in our minimum wage jobs while we wasted time in high school. Otherwise, we might all be writing Scala code like this.
(Yep, you’re gonna have to read between the lines here to figure out my message about what matters in the evolution of technology education. Trust me, it’s more fun that way. And yes, I’m combining stories from many people I’ve known over the years. Even left in some typos to make it clear this is a rush job.)
Now I think I realize that the frustration of working with weak technology was a little exciting and actually made me want to learn more, but it was always unclear what we all needed to learn as a professional community of Engineers, Researchers, and Educators.
Hence, in this blog post, I’m gonna explore some ideas of advancing technology education in all disciplines. Long term, hoping I can start further applying some of these ideas in Chemistry education at the primary school level by better leveraging code and documentation in new code-based teaching tools. Some of these products may even be useful to practitioners. I label these tools as purely digital microscopes.
Here’s my lame PoC. http://matthagy.github.io/PyLJFluid/
If we want people to learn to apply these tools, then we need to give them a bit of an incentive, even if it’s just really understanding how to build the next generation of better software while earning a living. Might seem a little lame if we’re always constantly refactoring code, but if we’re solving problems that matter at the same time, then maybe it’s an arbitrage that we can all learn to accept.
Personally, I hope one day to be just another lame PostDoc advancing this work by writing and deploying some grants. Hope to write code up until my eternal retirement.
Some of us, myself included, may just need to learn the appropriate way to manage the frustration of this constant evolution. E.g., everyone who thought Data Science was a terminal career path. As a Ph.D., trust me, you don’t get tenure in corporate America. You may even get something that looks like the opposite: a job that is hard to quit. You gotta keep evolving and adapting or you’ll be outcompeted by the next generation of professionals. E.g., Lawyers in the 90s.
IMO: It is lucky that I’m learning that writing just happens to be a great way to learn and let off a little bit of steam. As is serving as an Editor for any publication. I’m certain many OSS GitHub projects would love a new maintenance team?
Over time, the frustration may slowly evolve into motivation to help the organizations get more accomplished because the organizations supporting them are so important and people can be highly fluid between organizations when they choose to.
But then the hard challenge becomes finding out the appropriate arbitrage to deploy our limited resources. After all, even Bill Gates has more money than he knows what to do with. Wouldn’t it be a really lame way for Jeff Bezos to give away all of his excess money if all he had to do was write Bill Gates a check? After all, I heard Jeff Bezos says that he already said thanks to Bill Gates when Jeff took over the title. Thankfully the top title keeps getting lamer and lamer, at least in my personal opinion. And no one seems to know what to do with the fucking money! Even Google wants us to write them some grants.
Is it possible then that the story of how Jeff Bezos started Amazon after quitting his VP-level role at DESCO (a hedge fund) is just another historical rewriting? Or maybe that was just the only way to set up the appropriate arbitrage to get the best price for important books that some of his associates really needed, including my father and me. And later the academic research teams I’ve served in over nine years. We are all truly grateful for Amazon.
After all, do we even remember when the first Python manual was published? I wonder how long it took to write? Must’ve been expensive to get someone to do that dirty job and further the number of customers was highly limited. I remember paying $40+ for important books on Amazon back in the 90s and it always seemed like amazing arbitrage. Glad that many of these books are now free. Could we write some more that include interactive, OSS code?
And there could be an infinite number of Scala books since Scala includes macros. Hence, we can always extend Scala into something more unnecessarily complex to learn. Why with any luck, Scala may even become the next Perl. Who wouldn’t love maintaining a Perl/HTML website for their entire career? Probably someone just looking for something more complex to develop, with the minimal amount of discipline. Instead, we’ll need to write new programming languages for chemistry. I’m working on teaching the basics.
(Yep, you’re gonna have to take some time to learn anything from this stream of consciousness.)
More to come later…