Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Back to School

IMG_20130322_081358This year we welcome freshmen to the school that’s 8th in Computer Science and Information Systems according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2013. I don’t know if we were very good at scoring points, or we’re really that good. But regardless, we should be quite proud about our achievement.

University is a whole new world, and I hope our students will seize the unique new opportunities to learn, explore, and enrich themselves. These are things beyond the classroom and formal curriculum.

This is not secondary school, junior college or polytechnic anymore. It’s time to get cracking, embark on new things, the last chance to do so before getting started on full-time career.

One of the workshops we organise in orientation week is an introduction to Unix. It wasn’t really needed a long time ago. Not because people were more familiar with Unix then. For some reason, even though people are not worser off in terms of familiarity now, they are now more “shocked” to be thrown into a Unix environment. So much that a Unix workshop was deemed useful to ease them into the Unix environment before their first programming class.

This year, like we do every year to prepare and update our materials, I wondered if it would still be useful to draw comparisons with MS-DOS in explaining directory structures and basic file operation commands. We suspected that people nowadays might not even know what MS-DOS is. It turned out to be fairly accurate.

Another conversation with a student about RS-232 serial ports also surprised me. Yes, I know computers don’t come with serial ports nowadays, but I thought people would still be familiar with them. Apparently not! As someone with networking background, where all our devices are basically configured through a serial console at the most rudimentary level, I was bemused that RS-232 has joined the growing list of technologies that people have forgotten about.

I wonder if this is a sign that I’ve fallen into the “old generation”, dabbling in technologies that no one cares about anymore. But it can’t be. Our network boxes all still use serial consoles. RS-485 is still used very much in building management systems and industrial control applications. These may be old, but they are still current.

At the other extreme, there are very modern stuff that we use in enterprise IT that many students also don’t know about. At the onset of the personal computer era, servers in a corporate IT room were simply bigger, clunkier, more expensive versions of what consumers could put in their home.

Today, enterprise data centres run so many technologies that are generations ahead of what lay people know about. For example, while most IT savvy consumers will know about and probably use desktop virtualization technologies from the likes of VMware, most people don’t know about virtual SANs (or even about SANs at all).


There are many things to know. There are many things that are not taught in academic courses. It’s ok not to learn them all, but it would be useful to at least know about them. This is the last chance to do something different so that you can differentiate yourself from others in your graduating cohort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View Comment Policy