Friday, January 22, 2010

Teachers and the value of formal education

Question: is it clever to drive for half an hour and drive back another half hour to listen to a 90 minutes lecture?
If the teacher is worth it, yes. At Politecnico di Milano I found out that very often the professors are not in their position because of some random event. And what is true for school and university professors is usually true for other kinds of teachers, like consultants and coaches.
When I give advice on php applications, I do my best to distill knowledge from my previous experience, like a good teacher would do. The focus in every technical subject is not on giving fish, but in teaching how to fish.

You probably want to improve yourself and your career if you're reading here. So, what a teacher or a mentor gives you in order to become better?
  • interest for the discipline: maybe the most important  job of a professor is stimulating interest and passion about his subject. I am glad that many teachers I encountered during my education left me with a desire to deepen my understanding of computer science. Many did not - maybe I would be a little more knowledgeable on history if I did not become fascinated by it only half the way in high school, because of the way my teacher conducted lessons. The only thing I remember before the year 1000 is that the Roman Empire was formerly a republic.
  • Insights which we could take years to arrive to: the fact that, as engineers, we focus on the technology-independent algorithms is still one of the best lesson I have learnt during this semester. Or let's talk about the importance of conservation laws...
  • Solution to a question in a few seconds as an authoritative source. However, we should not abuse a teacher's time: even the best professor may be wrong or outdated sometimes, and other students have the same right for teacher's time as us.
  • Goals which are adequate to the industry standard. If you are very interested in the discipline, maybe you'll want to expand those goals.
  • And yes, a degree which should be useful when you apply for a job.
And what you invest in a teacher?
  • money: subscription to the high school or university, or fee if he's a private teacher, Agile coach, etc. In Italy nearly all the universities are public and I am in range to go everyday to the best  technical university of the country (this may only be luck); this means that I will graduate debt-free and I am scared by seeing people in US taking a 50,000 or 100,000 dollars loan to cover education expenses. Wouldn't you think that Harvard isn't lucrating on subscriptions? At least MIT created Open Course Ware.
  • Time to schedule and show up at encounters such as lessons and exercises sessions. If you are very familiar with a subject you may skip lessons altogether to save time, but beware of spending more time in catching up with the lessons than the one you saved by skipping them.
  • Will to work hard instead of sleeping all morning.
Courses in database systems, computer science, software engineering... are probably the smartest way to become a qualified, all-round software developer. Today I am going to the last semester lesson at 14:15 CET.

    1 comment:

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