Going Into Exile

August 16th, 2012, 10:24 am PST by Greg

As I was just mentioning some kind of professional journey, I guess this blog post is overdue…

My department has a joint Dual Degree Program with Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. To be honest, I really had my doubts about the program when it was created, but the more I see, the more I like it. There have been some difficulties, but certainly an overall win for SFU and the CS department.

We have visited ZU twice. When we got back the last time, I decided to put my name on the list for the faculty exchange that is part of the program: every year one person from each school goes to the other for a semester.

I had imagined that there was a multi-year waiting list, and thus imagined that the offer was somewhat abstract. The program director responded with “how about next year?”

So, I’m going to China for the ZU summer 2013 semester: end of February to start of July.

I’ll be teaching two courses when I’m there: a discrete math course for DDP students (those originating from both the Canadian and Chinese sides), and a web development course much like CMPT 470.

The discrete math course should be easy enough. I have taught MACM 101 here, and the course is basically that with a little extra. The Canadian students are just going to be thankful that I’m speaking English. The Chinese students are going to be worried about the English, not the math.

The CMPT 470-like course should be… interesting. First of all, the DDP students are already at SFU by fourth year, so the students in the course will just be rank-and-file ZU students. They won’t be the special cohort with extra motivation to learn English, and an international outlook. Just senior CS students who are willing to give a shot to a course that some foreign instructor is teaching in English.

Problems I see arising: (1) the whole development world at ZU seems to be focused around the big-vendor tools: Java, C#, C++, Visual Studio, etc. I’m going to arrive and insist on Ruby or Python (or similar), since that’s the way things are done in my world. (2) These students have spent their whole lives behind the firewall, and we’ll likely have pretty different ideas of what good web sites are.

Basically, I’m alternating between “wow, what a wonderful opportunity” and “what the hell have I gotten myself into?”

Life of a Journeyman

August 10th, 2012, 9:09 am PST by Greg

We were watching some No Reservations the other night, and Tony referred to himself as “essentially a journeyman chef”.

For some reason, the word “journeyman” stuck in my brain as one of those words that I don’t really know what it means but probably should. As usual, Wikipedia has an excellent description:

someone who has completed an apprenticeship and is fully educated in a trade or craft, but not yet a master. To become a master, a journeyman has to submit a master work….

And from Merriam-Webster:

an experienced reliable worker, athlete, or performer especially as distinguished from one who is brilliant or colorful

Now the idea was really stuck in my head, because it so perfectly fits a problem I have been having. Occasionally a student says something like “thanks, that course was great”. I have an uneasiness about the word “great” for a reason I can now articulate.

I see myself as a journeyman lecturer.

My courses are those of someone who is fully educated in his craft: they are fairly well designed and executed. But, they fundamentally present the obvious material in the obvious way and aren’t exactly mind altering. Basically, experienced and reliable, not “brilliant or colourful”. None of them are anything I would consider calling a “master work”.

This is exciting, because it means there may be a master work out there somewhere in my future, and I don’t know what it is yet. Note to self: find master work.

So I continued to read the Wikipedia article:

spending time as a wandering journeyman (Wandergeselle), moving from one town to another to gain experience of different workshops, was an important part of the training of an aspirant master

Traditionally, a journeyman well… journeys. A journeyman tradesman would put on the traditional costume and go out, hoping to make enough money working for a master to make his way to the next town. [Important point: the guys in that picture are not historical reenactors. There are still tradesmen in Germany who do this.]

Perhaps there is some professional journey I could take. Let’s come back to that.

[Forgive the gender-loaded vocabulary, but “journeyperson” just isn’t a word and wouldn’t have the same ring to it if it was.]

I’m taking it back.

August 9th, 2012, 11:59 pm PST by Greg

After almost a year’s absence, I have decided it’s time to bring the blogging back.

It seems that life may be getting more interesting, so there may be more to say.