Stanford 2025, the purpose of the elite university, Java, JavaScript


Stanford 2025, about.


A nice counterpoint to Lowen’s history in Creating the Cold War University [below]. In reading the About page, understanding who funded this and why they might have done that, I’m struck by the lifelong learning aspect and the conceptual abandonment of the “alumni” concept. That’s probably the biggest suspension of disbelief that one must have. Second to that though is that there is an argument to be made about whether autodictatism (generally the Unschooling Movement) is appropriate and to which domains of expertise it applies.  Rather than argue that, I’ll spend the time here to highlight a generation-scale ongoing experiment and debate that has been occurring at Stanford Computer Science for around twenty years.

The story runs like this: “back in the day” (of the ’90s), the discipline of Computer Science had a certain rite of passage at Stanford, Cal and probably everywhere wherein after the first intro course in a teaching language like WATFIV or Pascal, the student was immediately expected to undertake the data structures, compiler or operating systems course with mastery of the <satire>One True Language</satire>: C of Unix.  Many did not make that transition, which probably was the point of arranging the course sequence that way. Same pattern in Chem, Physics, and the B-school sequences.

In the era in question here, pre-Bubble I, Prof. Eric Roberts at Stanford, chose to migrate the introductory course to Java for pedagogical and practical reasons. Not the least was that there was demand for Java-centric knowledge in industry. Among the debates of the day, was whether an elite school like Stanford was supposed to be in the business of teaching “job skills in support of the IT trades” or whether the time and money being spent at the institution was better used to teach general principles, provoke the critical thinking and develop of timeless deep understanding.  MIT taught intro via Scheme in this era. Whereas nowadays the industry, and especially Google via the legal reminding system [cited below], understands that Java is a licensed product offering of Oracle Corporation with structured community availability and user feedback machinery patterned after the “open source” cultures. The argument was made at the time that Java, with it’s lububrious OO frameworks, “no pointer” memory model, garbage collection and “cannot crash” runtime engine was both better for teaching and the right set-point for the career path into industry.

I sketch this now because here, twenty years later, the debate is substantially the same: is the purpose of The University and the 4-year degree system about inculcating a desire for incremental lifelong learning as a “sense of self improvement” program [c.f. Parker, below], is it in support of career skills production of knowledge workers in the global economy, or regionally is it the training venue to the trades (crudely, is Stanford no different than DeVry [c.f. the Thompson & Smiley  pieces below]) or is there more to the brand, the venue, the institution, the traditions of the big schools & liberal arts themselves and their Enlightenment extensions into areas of practice?

I’m reminded of this debate both from the pointer to the Stanford 2025 outreach site and also because of some recent signal-type events which caused some notice in-industry. Stanford’s transition from Java to JavaScript for 2017-Spring.

  • I and my cohort learned it “old school.”
  • Today, many IT shop hire for Java and JavaScript skills, which are tested for in the interviews: can the prospect drive the compiler, show the code produced.
  • The transition occurred because [we] “couldn’t hire” C++ people, who where elsewhere in more specialized areas, and because of the effects of the Greater Taylorism in the industry: [we] didn’t need to any more.  JavaScript is good enough for “light programming” and Java for the “heavy coding.”

One can follow the Taylorism on into the future tense as the Function-as-a-Service devops-as-business models.  The lifelong learning, pay-as-you-go tutorials, continuous degree programs and micro-certification are just another aspect of Taylorism.  Why pay for a generalist C++ skill set when one can buy Java skills to suit the purpose? Why buy Java skills when one can get MOOC-certified JavaScript? Why buy programming expertise at all when Excel light skills will suit the purpose?  Why buy Excel when Google Sheets is “free” and in your browser right now? There are answers to these conundrums, but organizations do develop differently depending upon how they view the questions and evolve in path dependence from the answers they choose.


in archaeological order…


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