“That’s Academic!”

As I’ve noted on my showcase website, my Grandpa used to say, “School is like a gold mine.  You get what you dig out of it.”  It took me a long time to grok what he meant by that.  But, after activating cellphones for a year and realizing if I didn’t get a college degree, my life wasn’t going to improve much, I began to understand.

So, I went to school and I studied.  First Film, then on to Computer Science.  In my Computer Science courses I worked hard to understand topics such as x86 assembly, topics that other students were all, “When are we ever going to need that?” about.  I worked to learn them because I thought I needed them to be successful in industry.

Now, I get there are different priorities in Academia Vs. Industry.  Academia is about papers, Industry is about products.  When I went back to Graduate School I didn’t have an understanding of that so, well, I remember being in a hallway talking to a fellow seasoned veteran who came back to school, asking him if he knew where his rear was after taking some exam.  He said he didn’t know and he also said, “You know something?  I thought when I came here I was going to teach these people a thing or two.”  “These people” meaning University Professors.  I don’t recall if I told him at the time he wasn’t alone in his line of thinking but, he wasn’t.

I don’t know how we both were so naive in our thought process before going to Graduate School.  After all, if we knew so much why were we there trying to earn our advanced degrees?

Academia didn’t care about what I did in industry.  But, my professional experience was useful because I was able to put together projects with speed that impressed both my fellow students and my professors.  But it wasn’t the product that was important, it was the theory that led to the creation of the product.

What I find sad is, how little the Industry I’ve worked in cares about Academia.  I’ve heard, “That’s Academic!” used as a slur or as a way to deride an idea or approach.  I’ve seen intuition used to solve problems instead of facts and critical thinking.  And I’ve seen unmaintainable code bases emerge as result.

Knowledge.  Understanding.  Ideas.  Research.  These come from an, what I would call, Academic mindset and I know Industry would do well to pay attention to Academic knowledge.  Not just shooting from the hip to make a product.  Not piecing together code from open source websites to make what you’re trying to make go.

I don’t know people’s reasons for getting into Software Engineering and I don’t want to cast aspersions about.  But I’ve hit this attitude that Academics aren’t important enough times that I do want to push the argument that Academics do matter.  How ever the Academic knowledge is acquired, it does matter.  Especially if you want quality, maintainable, efficient code.