What is Meant by “Teaching Fundamentals”?

In my previous post I noted how students and professors are often talking past each other, where some the former want to learn immediately applicable knowledge and the latter want to teach long-lasting fundamentals. I also noted that there is no contradiction here, which begs the question what professors mean when the say they want to teach fundamentals? Students may hear “irrelevant stuff nobody cares about” but that’s obviously not it. So let me explain.

Continue reading “What is Meant by “Teaching Fundamentals”?”

The Place of Professional Certificates and the Significance of an Academic Degree

My Twitter feed is alight with comments on Google’s six-month “career” certificate, which, according to this SVP, Google will treat as equivalent to a four-year Bachelor’s degree. Predictably, a large number of comments are from students who conclude from their own disappointed experience that all college programs are crap. They cheer on Google. Also predictably, I didn’t see a single academic professional join and comment in the discussion.

Continue reading “The Place of Professional Certificates and the Significance of an Academic Degree”

On the Ordering of Nouns in Writing

Effective writing is important, or you won’t be understood and achieve your goal. An example is to get the ordering of nouns (or adjectives) in enumerations right. Let’s pick an example: In software engineering, a software feature’s implementation should be correct, complete, and testable. So a project goal could be “to ensure correctness, completeness, and testability of feature implementations.”

The following rules apply:

Continue reading “On the Ordering of Nouns in Writing”

How to Have an Impact as a Software Engineering Researcher

Over on Facebook of all places, I took part in a short discussion on how, as a researcher, to have an impact on practice. It is not a convenient answer, but in my opinion, if you want to have an impact, you should go into practice yourself. You can also send your students, but this creates a generational lag of research-to-practice transfer that can span decades.

One of the suggestions of how to have an impact was to perform action research. The idea is that you are creating change in an organization where you are performing said action research. However, action research is a research method whose purpose it is to help you build out and evaluate a theory. Unless you are into critical theory, action research does not have, as a primary goal, to change industry. It is just a theory building method.

Continue reading “How to Have an Impact as a Software Engineering Researcher”

Traditional Theory Building and Validation in (Computer) Science

Many computer science degree programs do a lousy job at teaching science. A high school student, entering university, often has a good idea what science is about, based on their physics and chemistry classes. At least, it involves controlled experiments. At university, this is rarely picked up, and computer science students are given the idea that programming something novel constitutes science. With that idea, they are often bewildered when I teach them rigorous research methods, in particular if those originated in the social sciences (like qualitative interviews or hypothesis-testing surveys).

The process of science
Continue reading “Traditional Theory Building and Validation in (Computer) Science”

The Real Problem with Pay-walled Publications

Pay-walled publications are just that: Publications that nobody reads unless someone pays the publisher’s fee. I have no problem with that, because I don’t read pay-walled work and don’t consider it published research and prior art that I should care about.

The real problem starts with researchers and editors who expect me to find, read, and consider pay-walled work as prior art. That’s an unacceptable proposition to me and an unfair one to the world.

Continue reading “The Real Problem with Pay-walled Publications”

How Not to Ask Your Research Question (And What to do About it)

In software engineering, the structure of research theses, most notably dissertations, is straightforward: (1) Formulate a research question, choose a method, build a theory, then (2) generate at least one interesting hypothesis, choose a method, and test the hypothesis as part of the theory’s attempted validation. A dissertation can do both parts 1 and 2 or just one of them, relying on or leaving stuff to others. The benefit of this structure is that it will be easily recognized by other researchers and make it eas(ier) to write great papers.

Continue reading “How Not to Ask Your Research Question (And What to do About it)”