Back to teaching

This month I had my first teaching opportunities in Gjøvik. Since I started in my new job after beginning of the academic year, I have no formal teaching obligation before next spring. Two weeks ago I got an SMS message while having breakfast. Nils called in sick and asked if I could jump in for him to give a presentation on basic network security for bachelor students enrolled in non-security programs. Sure, why not. We talked over his slides, I added some examples I liked, and hours later I entered an almost empty auditorium. Seats filled quickly as the clock approached the announced start of the lecture. Nobody left in the hallway, good. I started with a slide on firewalls, and noticed students trickling into the room. One, pause, four, pause, two. Some closed the door, some did not bother. I explained that a firewall could be compared to a door to a network. You could open and close the door to decide which packets to allow to enter the network, you could even lock it. At that point, I physically locked the door. Seconds later, somebody tried to open the door from the outside. Laughter in the auditorium, everybody was awake, and I got attention. Well, not everybody was awake. There were two students who managed to doze for the better part of the lecture – in the front row. I am sure there are more comfortable places to sleep in school. Some students made facial expressions that they seemed to follow my presentation. But mostly I felt like speaking to wax figures. Questions? None. Answers from students to simple questions I raised, e.g., „Has anybody heard about Caesar ciphers before? How many own a mobile phone? How many have a (new) passport (with biometric data)?“ No response, nothing. Pure fright in the faces when I made up a large number with 15 decimals and asked if that was a prime number (used in the RSA encryption algorithm). Translating from 15 decimals to a key length of approximately 50 bits seemed quite a foreign concept. Welcome back to academia. Do I expect too much? Do I scare students? Do young people only care about the stuff that is directly relevant for the final exam? Do we have a mismatch of expectations?

Second opportunity to teach was our department seminar. Sukalpa had invited me to give a presentation early after I arrived. So I decided to recycle some slides I had used for a presentation at University of Osnabrück some time ago, and update the concent. The topic was Software quality: state of the industry – experiences from a medium-sized enterprise. I wanted to share lessons learned from my time in industry. I knew from my earlier exposure to academia that there is an information gap between academia and industry, and that leads to difficulties in communication and missed opportunities for working together. It is not that one environment is better than the other; both are different, and being aware of the differences helps in understanding needs and expectations. I focused on environmental constraints in industry, people, processes, as well as tools supporting people and processes. People smiled when I told about tricking hero programmers into making comments on check-in („real programmers do not need comments“) by offering cake for less than kr. 10 pr. person. Some faculty attended and most of the PhD students in the department. We had a discussion about similar experiences from other companies and about efficiency of routines in an academic setting. I liked that. I even got invited to give a similar presentation for newly-minted software developers in the spring semester.

About Author: Hanno Langweg

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