Monthly Archives: January 2013

Academics: Do You Program a Lot?

I know many Ph.D candidates and professors who can program and do program on a regular basis, but I didn’t really consider how often most of these students spend their time programming.

During an academic job interview, I was asked if I programmed a lot. Yes, I program. Do I do it a lot? Well, not exactly. None of the projects I currently work on rely on my programming skills, but I use programmatic thinking frequently. Like most computer science students, I write short scripts for frequently-used tasks. I build my CS361 web site using a shell script, Mustache and JQuery. I write 50-line Python programs to generate level templates for a research project I’m working on. I fix Javascript bugs here and there. I write R scripts to make my data analysis repeatable. But I don’t program like a programmer working in industry would program. I’m very much an end-user programmer, now. Not a novice programmer – an end user.

These end user programmers are the very people we usually assume have no formal computer science background but need to engage in programmatic thinking. Still – with all of this exploration and discovery, I would be hard-pressed to say that I program 50% of the time at work, even.

Most of my time these days is spent writing and designing materials, as well as assisting other students with analysis of their data; I also spend time preparing materials for the Software Engineering I class that I teach this term. Where in that do I find time to program? Generally, I don’t, so most of my programming is relegated to my free time. Perhaps I am not efficient with my free time. I often try to spend time learning frameworks and toolkits that I know about but haven’t worked with extensively or I try to find tools that may help me immediately or in the future. Lately, I’ve also found that I’ve been programming for the pure fun of it – doing projects in Processing or trying to learn live coding in Clojure.

Thus I come out of this post with two questions. How many of you out there have a programming background, but program now as an “end user”, that is, the software products that you build are not the deliverable, but instead they help you get other deliverables out the door? Second, how many people in academia program “a lot”, perhaps, let’s say, program for more than 40% of their work time and 40% of their free time?

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