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NorthFace University

Jessica Sant
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Joined: Oct 17, 2001
Posts: 4313

So there's this new University out near Salt Lake City called North Face University. The only degree they grant is Bachelor's degrees in Computer Science -- you get a full degree in 28 months (Masters should be coming soon).

The school is sponsored by Microsoft, IBM, and Unysis. And so as part of your degree -- you also get Microsoft Certs (MCSD, .NET, etc), WebSphere certs, and Java certs too. [Degree requirements]

Its kind of an interesting concept -- more practical, less academic program, and you get a full degree (not just an associates in about 2 years). I just wonder if it concentrates TOO much on specific technologies (i.e. .NET, C#, WebSphere, Java) and not enough on general stuff (A.I., human computer interaction, Software design principles, etc) and what about non-geeky stuff? chemistry, physics, english, foreign languages, etc.

But granted -- with so many industry officials vested in the university, I'm sure they'll sculpt the student body to be just want the industry in general wants -- not just the IBM and Microsoft industry...

So anyway -- was just curious what other folks think of a school like this. A co-worker of mine and I had quite the discussion over lunch about it.

Here's an article on CNN about the school: http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/08/05/programming.u.ap/index.html
[ August 06, 2004: Message edited by: Jessica Sant ]

- Jess
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shankar vembu
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Joined: May 10, 2001
Posts: 309
Well, I personally would not enroll for these kind of degrees. IMO a university degree should primariy focus on academic/theoretical topics rather than specific technologies like .NET or J2EE. The specific technologies could be learnt by doing as many internships as possible.

The degree offered by this university reminds of a somewhat similar course that I took up around 4 years ago. It is called "Diploma in Advanced Computing" offered by CDAC, India. It is a full time course for 6 months. It was not a mere HTML training school. The entry was highly competitive (all India entrance exam + aptitude tests + programmins skills test + personal interview). The course curriculum was impressive too... latest offering being Operating System Concepts, C++ programming and Data Structures, Data Communication and Networking, Software Engineering, Web programming & Extensible Markup Language (XML), Database Technologies (using Oracle 9i), Linux Programming, Java Technology J2SE- Core Java, Java Technology J2EE-Enterprise Java, Windows programming using SDK, Visual C++ Programming using MFC, MS .Net, Business Communication, Project.

I am not totally against these ready-for-the-industry courses/degrees. But I would recommend a more formal training at the university level.

Regards.
Dmitry Melnik
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Joined: Dec 18, 2003
Posts: 328
Isn't it a sign of computer programming more becoming a trade? (like plumbing or car maintenence)

It takes bigger number of technicians, rather than engineers to have the work done. IMHO it's not a surprise to find those "trade schools" for programmers being open. At early years of existance of such schools, the degrees earned in there could be confused with the traditional degrees, I guess. But after a while people will sort things out.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
I have argued in favor of this for years!

First, the claim the the universities should teach "academic/theoretical topics" is a matter of semantics. A "school" should teach what it wants and if it meets the needs of the customers it will do well. The difference between a college, university, institute, and other classification has blurred. Sure it would be nice to have a consistent nomenclature, but it's not critical.

The claim I have been making for years is that Americans are over-educated, or better stated, mis-educated. Make no mistake, I agree that our public schools do a poor job of teaching. But our colleges don't teach the appropriate skills. The liberal arts view that a well-rounded person will go far is, in my opinion, misplaced in many cases. I've seen too many people from schools like Wellesley and BU wind up as secretaries and working in malls. Instead, we need more programs which emphasize the practical skills people will use. The stereotypical middle-class high school student will end up working as a paper pusher or in a Gap. Reader Chaucer isn't going to provide as much insight as other lessons.

With respect to software engineering, we need to recognize that the industry itself is changing. There will be automative designers and mechanics (roughly speaking). The 20+ people I interviewed from the CMU masters program in 2000 were all cookie cutter engineers who didn't know how to build anything other than the some e-commerce web site they all did as a project. So much for deep learning at a university.

The point is, not every kid needs a traditional BS/BA degree. Colleges have not adapted to that fact. FInally someone is responding to the market demand.

--Mark
stara szkapa
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Joined: Mar 27, 2003
Posts: 321
Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:
First, the claim the the universities should teach "academic/theoretical topics" is a matter of semantics. A "school" should teach what it wants and if it meets the needs of the customers it will do well.
--Mark


Ok, but why confuse people. People are confused enough. Why every "school" or "Instruction Course" has to be called University. How about we call this institutions "Monkey See, Monkey Do School"?

Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:
The point is, not every kid needs a traditional BS/BA degree.
--Mark


You lost me here. Are you proposing these fake Universities should not grant BS/BA degrees, or you want to allow them to grant some fake BS/BA degrees?

Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:
The claim I have been making for years is that Americans are over-educated, or better stated, mis-educated.
--Mark


Yes, the level of education is such that people are not able to read WebSpehere user manual, java manual, or whatever, and have to attend so called "University" to learn it. No wander why some people are over-educated, every time they have to learn something or read some manual they have to go to another University. People with real degrees from real Universities don't have this problem.
Tybon Wu
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Joined: Jun 18, 2002
Posts: 84
I think traditional universities should just eliminate the Bachelors and Masters degrees in Computer Science, and offer only a 10-year Ph.D. degree in CS. So, after graduating from high school, if your goal is to become a researcher/teacher in the theories of computing, then you would apply for the PhD program. If your goal is to get a job in the technology field, then you should apply for the more practical programs such as the one offered by North Face University. This way, it will be less confusing for the newbies fresh out of high school who mistakenly thinks that "B.Sc. in CS = job in IT", and the employers would get the right people with the practical skills they need.


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Mark Herschberg
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Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by stara szkapa:

Ok, but why confuse people. People are confused enough. Why every "school" or "Instruction Course" has to be called University. How about we call this institutions "Monkey See, Monkey Do School"?


This is an issue of marketing. Would it be nice if things were labeled appropriately? Sure. It would also be nice if cookies didn't call themselves "healthy" but it ain't gonna happen. A friend of mine went to Fisher College in Boston. It used to be an overpriced two year degree for rich Bostonians. My friend, being from Japan, read about the "rigorous academics program" as mentioned in the brochure and was quite disappointed to discover the school was not as challenging as she had hoped. I don't know of any solution other than the free market. Government standards are usually more trouble than they're worth.


Originally posted by stara szkapa:

You lost me here. Are you proposing these fake Universities should not grant BS/BA degrees, or you want to allow them to grant some fake BS/BA degrees?


The universities should grant a BS/BA as they see fit. If they are accredited, then they will grant an accredited degree. My point was very different. Not every kids needs to grow up and go to college. Sadly, college is viewed as a requirement for the middle class. I think that's wrong.

Originally posted by stara szkapa:

Yes, the level of education is such that people are not able to read WebSpehere user manual, java manual, or whatever, and have to attend so called "University" to learn it.


Well, the quote to which this was a reply followed on my previous point. You don't need a BA in art history to be a storage manager at the Gap. It would have to know how to hire people, control inventory, and do basic accounting. "Bigger picture" ideas are good, too, but should be more grounded for those who have more vocational careers.

--Mark
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Interesting thought. Do you propose the same for physics, management, economics, pre-law, sociology, chemistry, and nuclear engineering?

--Mark
Jeanne Boyarsky
internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30136
    
150

I think that is a great idea. The school is focused more like business training in hours and content. Interestingly enough Northface is including some traditional topics in their curiculum like logic/fallacies and physics.

As an undergrad, I went to Queens College - a "traditional college" - for CS. I am currently going to Regis University for grad school in computer information technology. The program is affiliated with Oracle and Sun. It encourages students to get an Oracle or Java cert, but doesn't require it or give practice labs. The classes also have a more business oriented feel.

I find the real world focus to be more useful. Even as an undergrad, I spent more time learning practical stuff on my own than I did at school. If students are better prepared for the real world, that is definitely a good thing.

Tybon has a good point about different tracks. Universities could split the theory from the practical stuff. The problem is that professors wouldn't want to. I still haven't been convinced that writing proofs makes me a better programmer, but many professors in a traditional university can argue this to no end.


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Jeanne Boyarsky
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Dmitry and the CNN article both mention the programmers vs designers/thinkers. I don't see how a traditional degree makes someone better at design. If anything Northface's program would make better designers as they would have more experience. And they can try out different things without having to worry about deadlines/maintenance/etc
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Jeanne Boyarsky:
Universities could split the theory from the practical stuff. The problem is that professors wouldn't want to. I still haven't been convinced that writing proofs makes me a better programmer, but many professors in a traditional university can argue this to no end.


I'm am 100% convinced. If you talk to anyone (in any field) thaty'll tell you 90% of what they do they never learned in college. So we do we teach it? Why is calculus required at so many schools, even though most non-engineers don't use it? Why are physics majors so highly prized in management consulting and in finance?

The answer is that there is value to abstract thinking. Calculus, for example, teaches symbolic manipulation. Management consulting and Wall St know college isn't going to teach you the practical skills you need, and yet the physicists they hire tend to take to the work better than others. This is because physics teaches a certain way of thinking, as does history, philosophy, CS, biology, etc.

I am the biggest proponent that CS != Software Engineering. That's chapter 1 of my upcoming book. However, I do think there is some value from a CS education that is applicable to software engineering. That value stems primarily from the abstract thinking a CS program teaches.

--Mark
Tybon Wu
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Joined: Jun 18, 2002
Posts: 84
Traditional university education definitely has its benefits, but that's not the argument here. During the early 90's, the information industry exploded. At the time, there was no MCSD's or SCJD's. Companies need programmers, and the most capable people were CS graduates. That's why at the time if you had a degree in CS you were pratically guaranteed a job. The IT industry were at its infancy, and the CS graduates were the pioneers who made it what it is today.

However, the industry is different today, and companies expectation changed too. As the industry matures, companies no longer need to settle for people with a general educational background (i.e. CS graduates) to learn and apply the technologies they require. Now, companies can choose people with EXACTLY the skills they need (i.e. J2EE, ASP.Net, PL/SQL, etc.), and can immediately work on projects and deliver results.

Unfortunately, traditional universities are slow when it comes to adapting to commercial needs, and the shift from mainly academic to commercial is what happened to programming. Therefore, alternatives are needed to satisfy market demands. Now, I'm only stating the realities of the IT industry and some ares of the software industry. I don't think this applies to other fields such as physics, economics, sociology, etc, where a traditional university education is still more suitable. The main point I'm trying to get across is that people who are interested in computers and programming today need to be more precise with their career goals, and choose the "right" education that will help them achieve their goals.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Tybon Wu:
During the early 90's, the information industry exploded. At the time, there was no MCSD's or SCJD's. Companies need programmers, and the most capable people were CS graduates.

...

Unfortunately, traditional universities are slow when it comes to adapting to commercial needs, and the shift from mainly academic to commercial is what happened to programming.... The main point I'm trying to get across is that people who are interested in computers and programming today need to be more precise with their career goals, and choose the "right" education that will help them achieve their goals.


I agree with all this but don't see how your conclusion follows. For example, in physics, if you don't have PhD, you can't join in the game. nevertheless, there is value to getting a BS in physics.

I agree that if you want to do CS, you need a PhD. If you want to do software engineering, a CS degree is a poor approximation to an ideal course. Nevertheless just as some people find a BS in physics useful, others will find a BS in CS useful. Demand will move future programmers from CS degrees to a new and improved degree. I see so ned for so draconian a measure as to restrict people from receiving such a degree.

--Mark
Michael Yuan
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Joined: Mar 07, 2002
Posts: 1427
The problem with Northface is that, after spending 60k in tuition money, its graduates cannot compete with programmers with similar skills that are being mass produced in trade schools from China to India. Also, would your .Net and J2EE skills learned at Northface be worth *anything* at all in ten years? Universities do not give you gold, it teaches you critical thinking so that you can turn stone into gold. Universities teach a broad range of skills (including social skills) so that you can learn whatever programming language of the day quickly and use it efficiently.

Well, I do not completely disagree with Mark. I think America does need job training schools (and I am OK if the government has to raise my tax to fund those schools). The Culinary Institute of America is a good example. But people who receive degrees from those schools should be recognized as such -- they are not Bachelor of Science since they do not learn any "science" (no math, no statistics, no physics or chemistry) there.


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Michael Yuan
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Joined: Mar 07, 2002
Posts: 1427
Also, NorthFace should stop calling itself a "university", which implies arts and science research and training. If MIT is "merely" an "Institute", NorthFace should call itself "NorthFace school of programmers".
Helen Thomas
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Joined: Jan 13, 2004
Posts: 1759
A CS degree used to be a safe guarantee of a knowledge of arrays, lists
and pointers and sorting algorithms but this is no longer the case as many interviwers would tell you. CS degrees now-a-days cover/ gloss over a wider base of knowledge in different disciplines. Neither does the CS degree guarantee "whack-a-mole" resume eliminations of those that don't vs. those that do have the qualification.

A new CS degree will probably give skills that need to survive a job for longer than 6 months like communication skills, multi tasking, planning assignments i.e.- fail to plan = plan to fail and so forth.
[ August 08, 2004: Message edited by: Helen Thomas ]

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Jeanne Boyarsky
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Joined: May 26, 2003
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Mark,
I do agree with the value of abstract thinking in calculus and discreet math. It also helps with figuring out algorithms, so it somewhat practical. What I'm not convinced about is how learning to write a proof in the language of math is helping with.

CS != Software Engineering is a good point. I did see one program that offers a Masters in Software Engineering. They are truer to what the program is trying to acomplish.

Michael,
I don't get it. MIT grants degrees. If Northface is granting a degree, what does it matter what they call themselves?
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Jeanne Boyarsky:
Mark,
I do agree with the value of abstract thinking in calculus and discreet math. It also helps with figuring out algorithms, so it somewhat practical. What I'm not convinced about is how learning to write a proof in the language of math is helping with.


The value of proof's is similar. No, you will probably never have to do any formal proof's on the job. However, there is sill significant value in proofs. For one thing, when we write subroutines, it is useful to think of pre- and post-conditions and understand invariants. This concept derives directly from proofs.

More generally, to do a proof, you need to understand your assumptions, your desired conclusion, and then figure out step by step what needs to be done to get from point A to B. That's also how we develop algorithms. It's the same type of thinking.

My algorithms class was based on proofs (we used the CLR Algorithm's book). While I haven't done any proofs on my algorithms, I have used the principles I learned form formally and rigorously understanding the basic algorithms in that book, to have general ideas about how my algorithms will behave.

--Mark
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30136
    
150

Mark,
Now why couldn't you have been there explaining that when I was in college
This explanation makes sense and directly ties proofs to programming (pre and post-conditions.)

Thanks!
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Jeanne Boyarsky:
Mark,
Now why couldn't you have been there explaining that when I was in college
This explanation makes sense and directly ties proofs to programming (pre and post-conditions.)

Thanks!


Hearing someone say something like that is what keeps me around this place. :-) I'm glad I could help.

For what it's worth, I didn't get it either back in college. If I could do college again, I would keep the following in mind:

1) Grades don't matter that much (unless you're applying to grad school).
2) Learning fact and information isn't that important either.
3) Seeing the big picture, the reasoning, the cause-and-effect, the forces in play, the type of approach is what it's all about.


--Mark
 
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