Software Engineering High School

It sounds like a movie title doesn’t it? Like Super Hero High for geeks. But in this case New York City gets a Software Engineering High School this coming Septembers for real. What’s it going to be like? It looks like Joel Spolsky and other software professionals including involvement from a number of major software related firms are involved from the industry side. From the academic side Mike Zamansky  from New York’s Stuyvesant High School and Leigh Ann Jervis DeLyser are involved. Leigh Ann is someone I have known for a while. She was my trainer when I helped grade the APCS exam a bunch of years ago. She’s being doing CS education related studies as a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon the last few years after being a HS CS teacher for a good while. So it is not just all industry people and not just all education people but people who actually know what they are doing in both fields. That makes it sound pretty good.

One of the goals of this school is increasing the diversity of people in the software engineering field. With not entrance exam (NYC has a number of outstanding entrance exam high schools – I attended one) this one will be open to students with an interest regardless of tests. This should open a lot of doors. It has challenges as well but interest from students and good teachers can overcome that – I have faith in that! I do worry about recruiting though. How many middle school students know that they are interested in this area if they haven’t been exposed to some computer science (not applications use) in middle school? Perhaps students (or their parents) will be attracted by the career possibilities. I hope so. The software industry can be a great place to work and not just for the money but the chance to make a difference in the world. Joel Spolsky expects the school to be overwhelmed with applicants. I hope he’s right but I worry by nature.

Besides students this school is going to need great teachers. The board and principal (they still need a great principal) will have to work hard to find the right teachers. I am more optimistic about this. I mean seriously I would love to teach at a school like this. What computer science teacher who loves the subject and loves teaching wouldn't? Will this strip the other high schools in NYC of all the best CS teachers though? Or will it attract enough new candidates from outside the area to really build a CS education community in NYC? Now THAT would be an exciting development. I really hope that happens.

Over time schools are judged in large measure by their graduates. This school intends to be a rigorous academic environment. That’s a good thing. We, and by we I mean the software engineering professional and academic communities, need this school to turn out a diverse, motivated, and ready student body who will attend great universities and really move this country forward in the field. So the CS and the other academic areas need to be top notch. Sounds like that is the goal. Retention will be tricky. Rigorous means that some students who are not used to rigor will struggle. The faculty will have to help keep them motivated and moving. That’s what good teachers do of course. Environment is key though. I firmly believe that if the environment outside of school is not supportive the culture and environment inside the school becomes even more important. I like what I read so far (there are other articles on this school out there) though.

Personally and professionally I hope to get involved in this school. I’ll want to make sure they are able to take full advantage of the new improved DreamSpark program for example. If you are familiar with MSDN Academic Alliance that is being upgraded to this new version of DreamSpark Premium with institutional subscriptions. And of course make sure they know about all the free curriculum resources at the Faculty Connection site. And we’ll see what else we can do to help over time. It’s going to be an interesting experiment. If it works it may be a model for more schools around the country. Wouldn’t that be something?