Computer science programs at universities around the world are said to fail to teach students the practical skills they need to deal with on-the-job issues as software developers. That’s not new or unique to our field: The gap between academia and jobs plagues every field from medicine to law. Computer science is no different.
Still, we are glad to see positive examples of increased alignment between the world of academics and the world of software development and engineering. In one example, the Outercurve Foundation has accepted the Microsoft ChronoZoom project, which deals with teaching students how to manage an open-source project and how to work on managing a community and growing a brand new Web application, with third-party application acceptance.
The Outercurve Foundation is a non-profit organization launched by Microsoft in 2009, under the original name of CodePlex, with a stated goal to promote sharing code between companies and open-source communities.
The ChronoZoom Project, supported and funded by Microsoft Research to visualize “the history of everything,” will also help students learn how to work in a distributed team, something that we know is common across the enterprise. The teams are located at Moscow State University, University of California, Berkeley, and other colleges.
Separately—and about as far, philosophically, from Microsoft’s initiatives as can be imagined—the Free Software Foundation has launched an initiative, the Education Team, to bring open-source software to schools and universities so that students can learn how to manipulate code and support projects.
These initiatives help a younger generation of developers, engineers and innovators think about the way projects are built early on. Projects like these help companies hire ready-to-work software developers instead of graduates who have impressive degrees but no real practical training.
We’ve also brought you the story, in past issues and on SDTimes.com, about the software craftsmanship and apprenticeship movement. There’s also New York City’s new Academy for Software Engineering, a high school that will not only teach students how to program, but also how to understand the trends in software and technology.
Let’s keep those academic partnerships coming.
Read-only (we hope) telematics
In 2000, a programmer friend of one of the SD Times editors spent time building a personal computer, bracing it in his trunk, and stringing wires underneath the carpeting of his car. His motivation was to build an MP3 player integrated into the car’s electronics, but over time, he began obsessing over analog-to-digital signal processing boards. His desire was to implant such a board under the hood, and then read all that telematics information from the OBD-II port into the PC for analysis and performance tuning.
Fast-forward a dozen years, and Ford is essentially building some of those same information-access capabilities into its modern vehicles, going beyond the simple telematics display that in-dash systems have traditionally offered into the realm of the modern smartphone or tablet.
If Ford and Bug Labs have their way, every Ford owner will be able to purchase in-car apps, just like they would for their favorite smartphone. Those apps will likely perform functions we never thought a car could perform: detecting weather patterns, road conditions, traffic, or just giving us a view of gas mileage on a second-by-second basis.
Ford and Bug Labs should be praised for their work on the OpenXC research platform, which is specifically designed to let developers build applications for automotive use. Because the platform is designed to be read-only, we are hoping that it will be a safe interface as well.
We’ll admit to being slightly paranoid about malicious strangers breaking into vehicles through after-market remote-start systems, or through built-in WiFi or Bluetooth. Even worse, we fear that malware might gain the ability to compromise an automobile’s operational electronics or safety features.
Another concern, of course, is distracted driving. Laws in states like California and New York requiring the use of hands-free phones haven’t stopped drivers from continuing to weave all over the road while they press bricks to their ears.
With that said, we admire the work being done in this area. Let’s hope it’s safe and used responsibly.