[Beowulf] Re: about clusters in high schools

Andrew Piskorski atp at piskorski.com
Fri Jan 27 22:37:50 EST 2006


On Fri, Jan 27, 2006 at 01:43:52PM -0600, Tom Zickuhr wrote:
> Concerning programming languages not being required by Engineering 
> schools, here's what I've learned as part of my AIAA activities.
> 
> The ABET certification is now emphasizing more soft skills such as team 
> work and presentation skills.  This leaves fewer hours for technical 
> classes.

A whole CLASS on "team work" or "presentation skills"?  As fundamental
to an ENGINEERING curriculum?  God save us...  Or rather, let's hope
all the engineers we import from India and China save us - from faulty
automobiles, process plant disasters, collapsing bridges, etc. etc.

> The simpler engineering analyses can be done with a spreadsheet and
> fairly complicated work can be done with Matlab/Mathcad.  There are
> plenty of commercial systems for CFD and FEA.  In the squeeze, the
> schools have dropped programming.

Since when is Matlab not a programming language?

It is entirely appropriate that an undergraduate curriculum use a
programming language like Matlab rather than C or Fortran.  Most
engineers will NEVER program in C or Fortran (nor Pascal or Java)
after college, and rightly so.

Learning effective use of one or more higher level languages, on the
other hand, would serve them EXTREMELY well.  A scripting language
like Tcl, Perl, or Python would certainly be useful, but a math or
statistically oriented language like Octave or R probably has better
synergies with the rest of the engineering curriculum.

The only improvement - and it's a big one - would be to teach with an
Open Source language like Octave or R rather than a proprietary one
like Matlab or S-Plus.  Among other advantages, that way the engineers
can easily take all the code they wrote in school with them and USE
it.

Ages ago when I was a Process Engineer, I wrote a whole bunch of
Bourne shell, sed, and Awk code (plus a touch of Perl later on), but
although I knew some C (and was learning more), I never touched it
once on the job, and never had any reason to either.  If I'd actually
learned one or more of Tcl, Python, Perl, Matlab, Octave, S-Plus, or
R, they DEFINITELY would have been useful to me.  C, Fortran, or Java,
no.

My experience is that unless they're working as a full-time
programmer, 95+% of engineers in industry don't and can't program
anything but Microsoft Excel.  (And while a few of those build
excellent spreadsheets, the majority quickly end up with
unmaintainable messes as soon as they try anything that's not
completely trivial.)  And that's CRIPPLING, even though most of them
don't even know it.  I saw this effect in my own classmates, in
myself, and with nearly ALL the engineers I worked with in industry.

-- 
Andrew Piskorski <atp at piskorski.com>
http://www.piskorski.com/
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