Academic versus industry

Monday April 3, 2017

It happens: you follow a course at university about a subject that seems interesting. However, you find out that actually working on it is horrible. It usually is not the subject that causes this by being vague or just too cutting edge, more commonly the tools or implementations chosen by professors kind of suck.

Currently I am taking a course on service oriented architecture. At the same time, I am doing a design project at a Large Company featuring service oriented architecture. This seems to be a great combination, having both theory and an application context would greatly enhance the learning process. Sadly, the course contents do differ from the practical application up to the point that only the concept of service oriented architecture is the same. When mentioning the technologies the university teaches us at the Large Company they reply with something that can be summarized as “don’t use that”.

This is just one example, but the problem is not only with this course. There is a difference between the way the academic world looks at technology and the way companies (which have to make money) look at the same thing. The standpoint of the industry is the easiest to explain: in industry tools should Just Work.

Academics are naturally more interested in theory and usually teach tools they use themselves, which sounds perfectly acceptable. However, there is a bigger problem: professors have to teach courses about subjects they are not that familiar with. Especially the latter results in poor education and often poor choice of tooling, simply because they don’t know better.

So why are we, as students, stuck with barely usable academic tools? Especially when the (very) large majority of us will not pursue an academic career, but instead go to work for one of the numerous Large Companies?

If you read this and you are involved with any form of computer science education, please reconsider the choice of software, tools or frameworks you force onto students. Ask around and try to find out what is relevant in industry and what works for students. After all, your course should be about teaching a subject. If you need to teach students a practical tool, it better be something they can use later their professional career, instead of something they will never use again.


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