I’m looking to do software development in the Cities this summer

I’m looking to do software development in the Cities this summer to enrich my teaching here at UMM. Any ideas or suggestions?

For years (over a decade) I’ve talked about spending a summer working in industry, primarily as a way of gaining some real-world experience in software development that I can use to enrich my teaching here at UMM. In my courses I bang on at great length about how teams work together to build software, but I don’t actually have a ton of personal experience of this kind of development. I’m not completely making it up; I’ve built a lot of software alone and in small groups, I talk to alums about their industrial experience, and I do a lot of reading. Still, it would be nice to actually spend a few months in that world to better ground and inform my teaching.

While our son was growing up, though, the idea of spending a summer away from my family really didn’t appeal. He’s now graduated from high school and is off in the world, so this has become a fairly realistic option. Consequently I’m talking to various friends, alums, and industry types in an effort to identify plausible opportunities.

I’m pretty flexible on this, but I’m definitely interested in doing development rather than R&D (the activity that my degrees and experience would tend to suggest). I’d probably prefer to be a member of an agile team rather than working primarily solo on a task. It would also be important that the job really just be a summer gig; my job here is more than enough to keep me busy, so I’m not looking for something that will bleed into the school year.

Anyone out there know of any opportunities that might make sense? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly (mcphee AT morris DOT umn DOT edu).

Many thanks!

P.S. In case you stumble here and have no idea who I am, a very brief synopsis: I’ve been programming since the late 70’s, and teaching computer science here at the University of Minnesota, Morris, since 1991. I have lots of experience with Java, also quite a lot of Ruby, Python, and Groovy. I’m useful with JavaScript and Grails, and have experience with Rails but it’s a little rusty. I was once quite competent at C and then C++, but haven’t used either in years. Most of my dissertation work (mid- to late- 80’s) was in Common LISP; more recently I’ve been teaching Scheme and Racket a lot, and also have some experience with Clojure, Erlang, and Haskell. I learn new languages, tools, and systems pretty quickly, as that is often required in my job. My primary research area has been evolutionary computation (EC), and I’ve led or assisted in the design and implementation of numerous EC systems over the years. I’m experienced in experimental design, data collection, and statistical analysis and data visualization. I’m an experienced writer and public speaker; my research is heavily cited and has won several best paper awards.

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Education is about interaction, not content

The scarcity of content through much of human history (remember when they used to chain books to shelves in libraries?) has allowed us to collectively confuse education with the delivery of content. It was about the lecture, in which rare and wondrous knowledge was imparted to eager young minds, not about the experience of discussing, wrestling with ideas, and building artifacts (be they papers or dance or sculpture or lab apparatus) that changed both us and our world.

The overwhelming flood of content that we are now drowning in clearly puts paid to those assumptions. The content is out there, free, waiting for us to find it and stuff it in our heads, with more on the way. “Free on-line class shakes up photo education” from Wired is a nice example of how the content space is changing dramatically, as well as implying that traditional face-to-face education is perhaps a doomed beast:

“I think we’re heading towards a place where we’ll no longer be able to charge for content,” says Worth. “And that scares the shit out of academic institutions.”

This does indeed scare academics and administrators, and excites lots of entrepreneurs who (often rightly) feel that they compete with traditional institutions in the content space. Those, both in and out of the academy, who worry are ultimately missing the point. Content was never what we should have been charging for, and if that’s all we were doing we were frankly doing it wrong. Our real value is in the life changing experiences. When I talk to our alumni, they rarely reminisce about specific courses, and even less often about particular content. What they remember are the things they built and the experiences they shared. They remember the love Margaret Edson talks about so eloquently in this 2008 graduation speech at Smith College:

2008 Smith College Commencement Margaret Edson from Smith College on Vimeo.

So those of us in the Academy need to get over our fascination with content and focus on the business of trying to make a difference in the lives of our students. And students and parents need to become smarter shoppers and look for schools that will give them the experiences that will make a difference in their lives. Any school can give you names and dates, facts and figures, drills and exercises. And so can the Internet. A good school challenges you to discuss, write, build, experience, and understand, which is something that people are a hell of a lot better at than books or web pages.

P.S. The Academy isn’t the only place where we’re struggling to figure out The Point. This excellent post by Vaguery on what coworking is and isn’t is extremely relevant and comes to many of the same conclusions: Experience and community matter. Hop on and stoke the engines, peeps; we’ve got places to go and things to do.

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