Programming, computer science, and math

I have made comments before about what I think is an over-emphasis on STEM topics. As a recovering biology major converted to a Psychology PhD and self taught programmer, I somehow came to this conclusion. Perhaps I am just jealous of where the money seems to go.

Anyway, I came across a very well written post by Alan Skorkin on this topic. Skorkin who makes his living programming begins by suggesting that he uses little math in his own work. He indicates though that he has become somewhat bored with his day to day work and in exploring more interesting topics he comes to the conclusion that innovative advances in the field require a stronger math background. He describes this as the difference between programming and computer science.

I thought this was inciteful and it clearly explains my own level of functioning. I am capable of getting a computer to perform the tasks that I want it to perform, but the tasks I require are quite concrete.

I guess my follow-up question would be – which individuals need to develop the skills to do what. Which individuals need the math and which need simply to get the computer to do the concrete tasks they need done? Maybe I have not changed my mind after all. I still think the question is what skills at what level are important for large numbers of students (e.g., all students going to college) and what skills are important for those individuals we hope will do great things in a specialized area. I think some of the STEM initiatives lose sight of this distinction.

BTW – The Skorkin blog is impressive in the quality of the writing and the interaction he seems able to generate with his readers.

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