Sometimes I feel very worried about the computing students we’re getting in my school. Yet at the same time I’m amazed at how we could achieve the top spot in Asia and 12th position worldwide in the Computer Science and Information Systems Rankings 2011 (2011 QS World University Rankings). Some of the users, both students and even some staff, that I had the opportunity to interact with leave me in utter shock that they could belong to computer science school.
What prompted this post, which I had actually wanted to write many times before, was an incident that happened today. Someone did not understand what a tarball is. Nevermind that, maybe some people aren’t familiar with that terminology. It might even be okay if some people don’t know what to do with a tar.bz2 file. It’s alright. I gave the command line needed to unpack this tarball. In response, I was asked again about what to do with the tarball. I sensed something odd. I reiterated that I had already provided the command line, the actual command to be typed in our central Unix login host.
Now, guess what I was asked in the next email? “… have to install a SSH client… and type in that command… ?” I could almost sense the person thinking: “You mean this is more complicated than double-clicking an icon?”
You know, it isn’t so bad if this person were a freshmen. It’s only the 2nd or 3rd week of the term (I think). But hey, this person is a group leader who is going to tutor freshmen in an introductory programming course.
This is so unbelievable. This is a C language programming course, and the work will have to be done on Unix hosts. I wonder if this person would even know how to use the gcc compiler. Or gdb. The way the email read, it seemed like our Unix login host was like a mysterious shroud of mystic magic to this person. Oh, our poor freshmen. Or maybe not… they might be equally hopelessly lost. At least some of them.
There’s one really funny incident that was related to me. It happened at my own helpdesk. A student had come up complaining that our Unix login host was making his keyboard hang. Yes, that’s right, the keyboard of his notebook. Our powerful server could remotely cripple his keyboard. Sounds absolutely ridiculous. But he insisted, and demonstrated it to the people at helpdesk. So that did he do? He was using Mac, so that had its own terminal and a CLI SSH client. He had SSH’ed into our Unix login host, and upon being presented the password prompt, was upset no amount of typing elicited any response from the prompt.
What happened? He had typed his password, but did not see any * characters being echoed back. He thought his keyboard hung. He didn’t even think of pressing Return.
This generation of users have only lived on the web. Password entries only happen on web pages, and * characters are always echoed back. A CLI password prompt that doesn’t echo back anything is totally alien to them.
This generation of our users are so dependent on helpdesk that you’d sometimes be totally awed by their lack of common sense and initiative. Actually sometimes I think it is also the fault of our helpdesk to have spoilt them.
This is happening here, in the top Computer Science and Information Systems school in Asia.