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A Career in Computing

24 replies on 2 pages. Most recent reply: Nov 15, 2009 10:34 AM by Mianzhan Lin

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dave barry

Posts: 3
Nickname: circularq
Registered: Apr, 2007

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 9, 2009 10:00 AM
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Regarding differences between software development and engineering, there isn't any in the way we practice it. Engineering is building products to solve problems, to make our lives easier. Automation via developing hardware, or customizing that hardware by developing software, is done mostly to solve problems of efficiency and to delegate responsibilities.

And regarding software development being indeterministic like the world of subatomic particles, I think we do have a definite theory for quantum physics even if it's not complete (hence the mystery of indeterminism). So in fact nothing is undefined. If it becomes undefined, it becomes magic. Moreover, if we use quantum physics to solve our problems, to live a better life, it becomes engineering! Ditto for software development of course.

Lastly,my take on the question about learning C++ or Java would be learn both/either, but look towards learning the basic way of how automation technology works, and then look to expand it throughout your life because computer engineers/scientists are ever innovating!

Larry Richards

Posts: 1
Nickname: lbrichards
Registered: Jun, 2009

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 10, 2009 9:28 AM
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Thanks for this post, Bruce. I was actually one of those questioners who wrote to you for advice way back in 2002. (You responded quite thoughtfully, by the way) I fall into the category of people who just have to program because it's in my blood. Ironically, it has never been a part of my formal job description, but somehow I've always found an excuse to solve problems by writing code. Writing, refactoring, and testing code are pure intellectual joy. If I could do it all over again, I probably would have majored in CS in college, and gone straight into a programming career. But that was 1981, and didn't realize that my passion for writing software was any more than everyone else. Sometimes it takes people years to discover their natural inclinations. So here I am almost 2 decades into a non-programming career, but spending a good 10-20 hours a week writing code. A big motivation to keep up is not to fall behind the fast-paced development of the internet these days, with Django, DOM scripting, CSS, Google Web Toolkit, Google App Engine, Python 3.0, ASP.NET, developments in C#, etc. I haven't figured out a way to monetize these skills so far, but I'm sure they'll be of value eventually. Perhaps after I've retired from my "day job"...

l moon

Posts: 1
Nickname: lmoon
Registered: Jun, 2009

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 10, 2009 11:38 AM
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Long time ago I have been suffering this problem.Row ,thank Bruce,I can make choice and I know what I am going to nextstep.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 10, 2009 11:42 AM
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> And regarding software development being indeterministic
> like the world of subatomic particles, I think we do have
> a definite theory for quantum physics even if it's not
> complete (hence the mystery of indeterminism).

This is not a proper description of quantum mechanics. It is not incomplete. One of the core principles is that you cannot know both the exact speed and location of a particle. The more you know about one, the less you can know about the other. Quatum physics doesn't say "we don't know" it says "we know that you can't know." This fact has been verified innumerable times at extremely high levels of precision. In fact the computers we are using to communicate depend indirectly on this principle.

Quantum physics is extremely unintuitive. Most of the things that we take for granted such as the idea that objects are always in one specific place at a given point in time do not hold at quantum scales. Therefore, it's very difficult to make real-world analogies based on quantum mechanics that make sense.

Michele Simionato

Posts: 222
Nickname: micheles
Registered: Jun, 2008

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 11, 2009 12:19 AM
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> > And regarding software development being
> indeterministic
> > like the world of subatomic particles, I think we do
> have
> > a definite theory for quantum physics even if it's not
> > complete (hence the mystery of indeterminism).

I wanted to comment about this, but I thought it was off-topic. But since you are already there ...

Quantum mechanics is not incomplete, and actually is
not even indeterministic: the Schroedinger equation
is perfectly deterministic! If we could know the
initial state we could (in principle) determine the
evolution of a quantum system at any moment. The problem is
that it is impossible to fully specify the initial state
by measuring observable variables, because of the Heisenberg indetermination principle. You can specify
an initial state by hand, solve the equation and see
the consequence on physical observables such as the
average position and momentum; you can also
estimate the error on the position and the error on the momentum. But you will never get a precision better
than the Heisenberg inequalities.

> This is not a proper description of quantum mechanics. It
> is not incomplete. One of the core principles is that you
> cannot know both the exact speed and location of a
> particle. The more you know about one, the less you can
> know about the other. Quatum physics doesn't say "we
> don't know" it says "we know that you can't know." This
> fact has been verified innumerable times at extremely high
> levels of precision. In fact the computers we are using
> to communicate depend indirectly on this principle.
>
> Quantum physics is extremely unintuitive. Most of the
> things that we take for granted such as the idea that
> objects are always in one specific place at a given point
> in time do not hold at quantum scales. Therefore, it's
> very difficult to make real-world analogies based on
> quantum mechanics that make sense.

Agreed.

Kay Schluehr

Posts: 302
Nickname: schluehk
Registered: Jan, 2005

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 11, 2009 3:31 AM
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> Quantum mechanics is not incomplete, and actually is
> not even indeterministic: the Schroedinger equation
> is perfectly deterministic!

But the measured events are not and the QM can only predict their distribution. So the QM can't tell us what we will measure when we try to observe a single event. It is a pretty strong claim that we will never improve beyond this state of ignorance which is the same as obtaining that the QM is complete - the QM is also incomplete as a physical theory because it doesn't contain gravity and all attempts to unify it with gravity have lead to complicated and unconfirmed auxiliary constructions. However we don't even know if QM + gravity are complete and fill right now the universe with auxiliary matter because we don't know better.

It's interesting where a discussion about a "career in computing" leads to. The fundamental unpredictability in computing is rather connected with the halting problem and that for many classes of problems we don't know whether some instance of a class has a solution or not. I know this is also true for our careers and learning new stuff is not a solution when the god-like market has no demand for it, something that might change suddenly or even not.

Michele Simionato

Posts: 222
Nickname: micheles
Registered: Jun, 2008

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 11, 2009 5:37 AM
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> It is a pretty strong claim that we will never improve beyond
> this state of ignorance which is the same as obtaining
> that the QM is complete - the QM is also incomplete as a
> physical theory because it doesn't contain gravity and all
> attempts to unify it with gravity have lead to complicated
> and unconfirmed auxiliary constructions. However we don't
> even know if QM + gravity are complete and fill right now
> the universe with auxiliary matter because we don't know
> better.

Of course, in that sense no theory in Physics is complete,
since there is always room for improvements and new
discoveries. However I assumed (perhaps incorrectly)
that the OP was using the term "complete" in the
Einstein's sense (QM would be complete if we had
knowledge of "hidden" variables). However the
Bell Theorem ruled out hidden variables:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_inequalities

> It's interesting where a discussion about a "career in
> computing" leads to. The fundamental unpredictability in
> computing is rather connected with the halting problem and
> that for many classes of problems we don't know whether
> some instance of a class has a solution or not. I know
> this is also true for our careers and learning new stuff
> is not a solution when the god-like market has no demand
> for it, something that might change suddenly or even not.

Well, the theme of knowledge which has no market value rings
a bell to me ;-)

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 11, 2009 10:19 AM
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> But the measured events are not and the QM can only
> predict their distribution. So the QM can't tell us what
> we will measure when we try to observe a single event. It
> is a pretty strong claim that we will never improve beyond
> this state of ignorance which is the same as obtaining
> that the QM is complete.

As Michelle pointed out, theories in physics are never really complete. The point we were making is that QM doesn't just say, that there are questions we don't know the answer to, it says that we can't know. The deeper you get, however, you start to understand that what it really says is that the questions we are asking don't really make sense. It would be like me asking you "what nation is the earth's atmosphere located in and when?"

I don't know about how Michelle feels about this and he's more qualified that I to speak of these things but my personal feeling is that the common understanding of QM which basically says "and then the waveform collapses" (i.e. 'then something happens') is a basically dodging the question. It leads to this popular idea that things don't have a state until we look at them or that there are parallel universes spawning at every moment. All of this really comes from our desire to interpret QM in terms that make sense given our experience of reality. The work being done in quantum computing depends on qubits being both on and off at the same time. That is, these states are truly not mutually exclusive. The 'waveform collapsing' therefore, is more properly described as a large object destroying the superposition a.k.a decoherence.

So in a nutshell, QM doesn't really say we can't know where a particle is and it's velocity. It says that the question is not sensible.

John Wellbelove

Posts: 72
Nickname: garibaldi
Registered: Mar, 2008

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Jun 15, 2009 6:02 AM
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There is of course the Bohm interpretation which describes an alternative, deterministic, view on quantum theory.

Quotes from Wikipedia

In the Bohm interpretation, every particle has a definite position and momentum at all times, but we do not usually know what they are, though we do have limited information about them. The particles are guided by the wave function, which follows the Schrödinger equation.

The Bohm interpretation is an interpretation of quantum mechanics. In other words, it has not been disproven, but there are other schemes (such as the Copenhagen interpretation) that give the same theoretical predictions, so are equally confirmed by the experimental results.

Mianzhan Lin

Posts: 1
Nickname: linmianzha
Registered: Nov, 2009

Re: A Career in Computing Posted: Nov 15, 2009 10:34 AM
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Great! Thank you so much for the advicing or we can call it chatting on the programming and life. It helps me a lot really about my career and my future! Thanks again and I will keep my eyes on the update of your blog or your article on this web.

By the way, I'm a guy who is major in Eletronic Information Engineerring. Now work on J2EE after one year working on C/C++.





Mianzhan Lin

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