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25 February 2008




In the early 1980s TRW did a study for the US Air Force. One segment of the study was how to address the issue of not having enough US engineers to maintain the software critical to AF weapons systems, when more and more weapon systems were highly dependent on computers and software. It was clear then that the US educations system was not up to the challenge, as the high schools were not turning our enough graduates with the proper math skills and colleges lack the necessary students wishing to be software engineers. Plus the 18-24 population was forecast to be in decline. Also more students entering college were women, who preferred the soft sciences and humanities, not hard math courses of an engineering degree. It was an input problem that exists today

Engineers had to take those difficult early morning math courses in college. I will be the first to admit, my high school career did not prepare me for the rigors of engineering math. And, I took the easy way out by changing my major to radio-TV production. Something I have regretted for the rest of my career. I made up for it by taking every technical course I could in the Air Force, even attempting a masters degree in Micro Electronics. The head of the engineering department did not think that a masters degree in Social Science was proper preparation for an advanced engineering degree. However, I had already learned FORTRAN and how to write machine code for the RCA 1802 CMOS microprocessor, building my own computer with switches and flashing lights, before being chuck out of the program.

I am off course here, back to the subject. To be software engineer you have to take the math courses, where as IT guys and gals can be self trained. My fourth daughter has a masters degree in writing and publishing, but was convinced to become the IT person at a book publisher where she was a graphics designer. She knew more about how Macs work and communicate than the rest of the staff. She grew up a computer geek, using computers like most people use a paper, pencil and a ruler, or drive a car. Since she was born with a computer in her crib, using one is second nature!

And here is the rub. The last generation of geeks wanted to know what went on under the hood of a computer, many building their own machines. Todays geeks are just gamers, they could care less what is going on under the hood, they just want to get a copy of the latest game, or the next latest game machine. These are not future IT guys and gals they are part of a dumbth generation of users, not contributors. In China and India to you have to pass the math courses to graduate. All future engineers and IT guys and gals.

Oh, the Air Force solution -- use technology. Make programming and software maintenance easier by using standard languages and architectures across systems, and build common tool sets. Fewer people could be more productive. But, that really did not answer the total problem, as no one anticipated the number of software controlled devices in the civilian market, from toasters to satellites. At one time a Lincoln had more computers and more powerful computers than a F-16 fighter jet. Who new.

Oh, by the way Bill Gate is a self trained programer and IT guy. He left college before getting a degree.

Douglas Keachie

I'd agree. Today's kids have nowhere near the curiosity and trouble making capabilities of the mid 1990's, raised on DOS, thrilled to crash Win95 kids (not hard, but ridiculous to reinstall, teachers did not have what corps did, no one disk, one click solutions for reinstalls, thanks Gates).

You might want to peruse the Game Developers Conference materials, as there you will find all the technical intricacies you could hope for.

See some pictures at www.flickr.com/photos/keachie .

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