THE LEGACY OF COMPUTER SCIENCE
Gerald Jay Sussman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
We have witnessed and participated in great advances, in transportation, in computation, in communication, and in biotechnology. But the advances that look like giant steps to us will pale into insignificance by contrast with the even bigger steps in the future. Sometimes I try to imagine what we, the technologists of the second half of the 20th century, will be remembered for, if anything, hundreds of years from now.
In the distant past there were people who lived on the banks of the Nile River. Each year the Nile overflowed its banks, wiping out land boundaries but providing fertile soil for growing crops. As a matter of economic necessity the Egyptians invented ways of surveying the land. They also invented ways of measuring time, to help predict the yearly deluge. Similar discoveries were made in many places in the world. Holders of this practical knowledge were held in high esteem, and the knowledge was transferred to future generations through secret cults. These early surveyors laid the foundation for the development of geometry (“earth measurement” in Greek) by Pythagoras and Euclid and their colleagues around 350 BC. Geometry is a precise language for talking about space. It can be taught to children. (Euclid’s Elements has been used in this way for more than 2000 years.) It makes the children smarter, by giving them ways of expressing knowledge about arrangements in space and time. It is because of these Greeks that we can tell a child, “If you build it out of triangles it will not collapse the way it does when you build it out of rectangles.”
The Rhind Papyrus from Egypt (c. 1650 BC) is the earliest document that we have that discusses what we now think of as algebra problems. Diophantus, another Greek, wrote a book about these ideas in the third century A.D. Algebra was further developed by Abu Abd-Allah ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi (c. 780–c. 850) and others. (Note: “algebra” = al’jabr is an Arabic word meaning “the recombining of broken parts.”) Algebra is also a precise language that gives us the ability to express knowledge about the relationships among quantities, and to make deductions from that knowledge, without necessarily knowing the values of those quantities.
For a long time people were able to predict the motions of some of the heavenly bodies using ad hoc theories derived from observation and philosophical considerations. Claudius Ptolemy wrote the Almagest, a famous compendium of this knowledge, in the second century. About 350 years ago Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Leibnitz, Euler, and their contemporaries turned mechanics into a formal science. In the process they
When you’re applying to work for a technology company, you need to show clear enthusiasm for technology, even if you’re not applying for a technical role. This is because technology companies want all their employees to be strong ambassadors for their products.
And if you are applying for a technical role, it goes without saying that you need to have a passion for technological innovation.
You might be asked about your passion for technology in specific application questions. IBM, for example, asks applicants for all its schemes (including sales and business roles) to show how their skills and achievements point towards a true interest in tech. If there is no specific question, you need to convince recruiters of your passion in your answers to other application questions about why you want the job, or in your covering letter.
Here are some tips on writing about what you find fascinating in the tech sphere, with help from IBM hiring team lead for IBM’s Consulting by Degrees programme, Tim Longdon.
Showing your passion for technology if you DON’T have a tech background
You might think that if you don’t have a technology-related degree, don’t have the latest smartphone or don’t know any programming languages that you’ll be scraping the barrel for things to write about, but that’s simply not true. Tim says: ‘Everyone has experience with technology. The difficulty can be in recognising where your experiences happen.’
So, how do you find examples that demonstrate just how keen on technology you are?
Tip 1: Think about what technology does for you. Consider how technology has made your life better. ‘Showing how you adopt and use technology in an interesting way is a good start,’ says Tim. ‘For example, do you use wearable tech to improve your life? Does it amaze you that you can keep hundreds of books on your Kindle? Or maybe you’ve been impressed at how something simple like a smartphone app to pay for car parking has made an annoying process effortless (no need to find spare change anymore!) and you have started to think about other ways in which you could apply technology in a similar way. Even using WhatsApp to organise your social life represents a convenient solution to something logistically complex, and the fact that you have thought about a personal problem and applied a technology-related solution will help us see that you “live” technology.’
Tip 2: Think about other people. When you’re ‘passionate’ about something, you want to share it with others, so thinking about how you have shared technology is another way to find examples to demonstrate what technology means to you. ‘Passion is about deliberately bringing technology into your own life or the lives of others, and not just using it because it’s there,’ says Tim. ‘Perhaps you taught an elderly relative to order groceries online. What benefit did you recognise in doing that?’
Once you have decided on your examples, you need to explain why these experiences have made you want to work in technology. Make a really clear link between the benefits/things you have enjoyed about using technology and what you want in your career. For example, you could explain that you got a great sense of satisfaction from helping the elderly person order their groceries online, and so you think you have the motivation to work in an IT consulting role where you would be persuading people to adopt technology that simplifies things for them. ‘Most importantly, can you express why these technological advancements are meaningful to you and why they might have triggered your interest in working for a technology company?’ says Tim.
Showing your passion for technology if you DO have a tech background
Tip 1: Don’t just list your skills and knowledge… show you have applied them. Tim gives an example: ‘As well as knowing programming languages, how might you have developed a solution using them? If you have envisaged or even created a technology solution to an everyday problem, whether at home or in your studies, that will stand out. Don’t just say, “I know programming languages x, y and z” – that doesn’t show passion and doesn’t stand out. If you were self-taught, then yes! Or if you’ve used that skill to solve a problem, yes again!’
Tip 2: Personalised and memorable examples are more likely to get your application into the ‘yes’ pile for the next stage, so strengthen your answers by giving detail about what the problem you aimed to resolve was, how you applied your skills and what motivated you to try solving the issue. ‘If you have chosen to teach yourself certain technical skills, then tell us why you chose them and what it meant to you to personally develop a skill that was not required for your degree course,’ says Tim.
And finally, remember…
Don’t be tempted to stretch the truth or exaggerate your interest. Any experiences you choose to write about in your application are likely to be brought up again by your interviewers as you get further through the selection process.
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