Professor Qualifications

I recently saw a job post for a computer programming instructor. The post required that the applicant have a masters degree as well as four years of professional experience. I was a little shocked by this. Does four years of experience in programming really qualify someone to teach others? To become a Master Electrician in New York takes a minimum of 7 and a half years of experience. To become a Master instructor in Taekwondo can easily take more than 10 years in most organizations. Mastery of most tasks takes a substantial amount of time – and programming is no different. To make it more difficult, programming projects tend to be long-term – often taking a year or more just for the initial release. This means that during a four year term of employment with a company, a programmer may only actually work on a very small number of projects. When I think of a teacher, I think of someone with a breadth and depth of knowledge on the task. Someone who has mastered all tasks associated with the subject they are teaching. But after four years, I don’t believe that any programmer could be said to be a master. In fact, in most organizations, titles like senior engineer would be reserved for developers with far more than four years of experience. Why does any of this matter? It matters because it shows part of the problem we have finding qualified programmers to fill positions. After all, how can we expect students coming out of our universities to have any meaningful skill in development if their instructors never ascended above the rank of junior developer? How can someone who never made any meaningful contributions to the architecture of an application mentor others on how to do so? Instructors should be those most qualified among our engineers who have spent decades writing code – men and women who can tell you about several languages, talk about the evolution of programming through their own personal experience, and talk about how they solved a wide variety of problems. Instructors should have a portfolio of applications and organizations they have impacted and understand software engineering, computer architecture, and all aspects of the software development lifecycle. If we settle for less in our teachers we are setting our students up for failure and ensuring that we will continue to see more tech jobs outsourced to countries that can do a better job educating the next generation of developers.

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