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6:04pm on Friday, 13th May, 2005:

Au Revoir


I had lunch today with some of my old pals from the Computer Science department (only in the Square 3 "restaurant"). One of them is buying a house in Normandy and is angling for early retirement; one of them is quitting and going into dairy farming near Limoges; one of them is retiring on time and on schedule but already emigrated once to live here (he's Canadian). Talking to them, it seems there's been a real drop in what today's Computer Science undergraduates are up for, compared with 25 years ago — or even 15 years ago.

Example: when I was an undergraduate, in my third year we had 25 lectures on denotational semantics. In my second year, not only was I taught the Lambda calculus, I had to write an interpreter for it — in a single page of BCPL. We had to write SECD machines, Turing machines, and for our third-year project we had to write a fully-fledged compiler (well, interpreter) for a genuine programming language. Nowadays, only one, perhaps two students a year could actually write a compiler even if they were taught (which, given the failure rate that would result, they're not).

The same person who used to teach semantics is teaching first-year students about databases. This is a man with two PhDs, whose 1984 book Logics for Artificial Intelligence is still in print, and who has four papers in journals being published in the next 12 months. Yet he's having to teach SQL to first-years because the third-years aren't able to follow his lectures any more? What a waste!

And I thought it was just in my field that things are getting worse and worse and are never going to get better...

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).