Why can't we just use Matlab?

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Why can't we just use Matlab?

Post by goodwine »

Attached is an email from a former ND ME student who graduated about 4 years ago. I sent him an email asking how important programming was in his job, and what follows is his response. (Note: if you read it, be sure to read *past* the second paragraph).

Some of you seem somewhat appreciative that I'm having the Matlab and C components to the class and homework. Others may wonder why I'm doing it, and others may even hate it. Regardless, I feel that it is *extremely* valuable, and this person's email corroborates that.

For the conspiracy theorists in the class: I only sent out one email to one person asking about programming. I didn't send out 15, and then pick the "best" response!

------- Forwarded Message


Great to hear from you - I am happy to answer your questions (and feel free to forward on to your class). Some of them may remember me, since I have recruited there at Industry Day for the past two years - then again, maybe not...

To give you (and your class) some background, I have worked at TRW (now Northrop Grumman Space Technology) for around 2 and half years. I work in operations for one of our defense satellites (DSP). Most of my day is spent babysitting the satellites, and occasionally I get to work on a launch. The reason I mention this, is that the computer skills required for my position are minimal. Mostly I write reports and analyze data, neither of which require much more than Excel spreadsheet and Macro knowledge.

Due to these general requirements for my job group, I seem to be the only person in a group of 25 coworkers with the ability to code, and because of this I have been called upon to do this on many occasions. Usually it has been because a piece of legacy code from a program everyone uses no longer works (and because "this stupid thing won't work" everyone is running around like the world is ending). It amazes me how many people use these programs with no idea how they work, and even more importantly, no assurance as to their accuracy! In my situation, being able to solve problems like this is a huge boost to job security, (and performance ratings). I can also tell you from speaking with colleagues that for the majority of the other positions here at Northrop (design, manufacturing, test and evaluation, etc...), programming is an enormously larger aspect of the work. For most of those positions, some programming experience is a requirement to even get an interview. So, in addition to job security and better performance reviews (read: salary raises), you also get increased mobility.

One last point: I have always been a believer that programming skills were a very necessary component of any engineering curriculum. Back at ND, I actually took Advanced Programming as one of my electives (to learn C++). It's my opinion that in addition to the knowledge and expertise gained by learning a particular language, there is also a huge benefit derived from learning to deal with computing systems at a core level. For example, during my time at ND, I became familiar with Matlab, C++, and Fortran90 (and since then learned JAVA in grad school). Since graduating, I have used all but Fortran90 in a direct sense (creating small programs, editing previous ones written in Matlab and C++). On many other occasions, I have taken on tasks that asked me to deal with languages I had not formally learned (C, Pearl, basic...), and in those cases my previous experience and overall comfort with the ideas and precepts of programming were invaluable and had a huge part in my success.

I've seen and heard horror stories of people brought to a new project, with no coding background, who have basically had to pick up a programming language on the fly. Most of those stories ended with a lot of migraines, ulcers, and in some cases a "long vacation" from the project. Other times, I've heard cases of people with backgrounds similar to mine who were able to pick up a new language in less than a week and immediately contribute to a new project. I think its very true that once you know one, adding another one isusually just a matter learning the new syntax and a couple tricks.

My advice to students is learn as much as you can in school when you can take your time with it - it will DEFINITELY benefit you in the future.

Best Regards,
Bill Goodwine, 376 Fitzpatrick
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