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Bricklaying v. Programming

Joseph Newcomer complains about how universities prepare computer programmers by comparing it to getting a B.S. in bricklaying.

In the freshman year, we teach the students about bricks. The kinds of bricks. The sizes of bricks. The purposes of bricks. Plain bricks, glazed bricks, outdoor bricks, paving bricks, fire bricks. Each exam tests their knowledge of specific kinds of bricks and what they are used for. In the sophomore year we introduce them to Brick Theory. How bricks are made. What goes into the mix. The effects of impurities in bricks, both negative (defective bricks) and positive (coloration). We teach them the chemistry of bricks. The proper firing temperatures for different kinds of bricks. They learn how to analyze brick performance (breaking strength, water permeability, robustness and other considerations in Analysis of Bricks). They finally understand why some bricks come with three little holes in them (they knew about the existence of these in their freshman year, but not why they are present).

In the junior year we explain about how mortar puts bricks together. Since they now have more background, in two semesters we start with basic mortar theory and work down to optimum blends of mortar for various purposes. They learn about curing time. They learn about brick-mortar combinations. They learn about pointing, and why it is necessary. They know how to determine the bonding strength by measuring the forces that are required to split two bricks that have been mortared together. In the senior year we introduce them to systems. We talk about the costs of field deployment of brick-mortar systems, including installation and maintenance, long-term issues such as system robustness under weather, salt, and other stress conditions. And we have a senior project. Each group of students gets to build a three-block-high, six-block-wide wall, using bricks and mortar of their choice, and explain why they made these choices.

They graduate. They have a B.S. in Brick Science. Their first assignment: “Build a decorative brick wall”.

This is reminiscient of Eric Raymond’s Tale of J. Random Newbie which I discussed in my slashdot book review of his book.

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