04 Dec

This has nothing to do with the math classroom. I was just talking to my husband tonight about our engineering school experiences and I thought of this anecdote.

I declared a major in Computer Engineering in 1993. I had some computer experience – I was a gamer, I knew how to e-mail, and I’d done a few little projects in Atari BASIC when I was a young teen. This experiences gave me just enough confidence to get a good start in my classes and persist with the engineering program.  I had to take a class on computer architecture in which we learned assembly language during my sophomore year, and I really did like the class and felt I did pretty well.  There’s one lecture that stood out in my mind.

The professor had just taught us about a memory address in which you could store the address of ANOTHER location that would actually contain your data, so it was a reference to where your data was stored.  I was trying to wrap my mind around this concept – so wait, the address 0xAA7FFE43 might contain the value 0xAA5B3D22 which is the address of the place that actually holds your information and what? And a friend of mine, sitting near the back of the room, raises his hand and says “Is that like a pointer?”  And the professor thought about it and answered yes, it’s exactly like a pointer.  And heads all around the room started bobbing up and down, and many of the other (almost all male) students mumbled “oh, pointers” to each other.  I had NO CLUE what a pointer was.  I did not have any idea what they were mumbling about.  I wondered what kind of strange planet I had just been dropped on.

Aside from my middle school Atari BASIC tinkering, I really hadn’t done much programming.  It wasn’t offered as a course at any of my schools, and I busied myself with enough high school activities and AP classes that I didn’t leave much time for learning more programming. I never really thought about learning it at the time.  Many of my classmates had taught themselves C and had written complicated and even professional software by the time they were sophomores.

I’m not making any judgments or excuses, but I notice that more males make time for tinkering, inventing, and teaching themselves about computers on their own, as a hobby, than females do.  I wonder why?  I think I, and really any of my classmates, would have had an easier time in engineering school if we’d done more tinkering earlier.

At the time, it just wouldn’t have occurred to me that it would be fun to mess around with computers just to see what I could do.  I do from time to time now.  I wonder why I didn’t find it interesting then.  I wonder if that tinkering spirit gets a kid a little bit of an advantage if they major in engineering.

If there’s a problem statement in there, I wonder what the solution is.


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Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Uncategorized


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