Don’t learn Rails!

You’re currently a computer science student and you think web engineering is a nice career choice? Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Digg. Isn’t a web startup a good idea to get rich quickly? Think again!

In the year 2000 the mentality was similiar.

A year ago, Yahoo invested in Right Media, a New York company developing an online advertising network. Yahoo’s investment valued the company at $200 million. Six months later, when Yahoo acquired Right Media outright, the purchase price had swelled to $850 million.

What changed? According to Right Media’s co-founder Brian O’Kelley, very little, except for the fact that Yahoo’s rivals Microsoft and Google were writing billion-dollar checks to buy online advertising networks, and Yahoo felt that it needed to pay any price to keep up.

“I have to say I giggled,” O’Kelley, 30, said of Yahoo’s acquisition, which earned him $25 million. “There is no way we quadrupled the value of the company in six months.”

This excerpt is from Dot-com fever stirs sense of déjà vu. A more famous example than Right Media would be Skype.

EBay acknowledged this month that it had overpaid for Skype by about $1.43 billion

Assuming a cyclical up- and downswings we’re currently near the top of an upswing, like we were seven years ago. This means we will experience a downswing in the next few years. The “bubble will burst again”.

If you think about learning Rails (or any other web framework), because you think about a startup after graduation, think again!

The situation will be different then. It may be harder to find investors who throw money at you. It may be close to impossible to find someone to buy your small company that is rapidly running out of money.

Don’t misunderstand me! There is nothing wrong with learning Rails, if you want to create an interactive website and from what i know Ruby is pretty handy programming language. A web startup may still be a good idea. Just don’t expect to get rich quickly with this.

In short: Don’t bet your career on web engineering just because Facebook is so cool!

Published in: on October 17, 2007 at 10:43 am  Comments (14)  
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Who is this Alan Turing guy?

dead Snow WhiteAn half-eaten apple and a dead body in the bed. A scene from Snow White and how Alan Turing died over fifty years ago. The coroner concluded suicide by cyanide. Today the Alan Turing award is the highest academic prize in the computing world – the Nobel prize of computer science.

The scourge of his last days was his conviction as a homosexual. He was excluded from governmental cryptographic work for “security reasons” and focused on quantum physics in the last years.

In school the young Alan had a hard time, because he only the hard sciences appealed to him. He flourished, when he finally reached university and was particularly fascinated by the Principia Mathematica and how Gödel shattered that approach. Then he learned about the Entscheidungsproblem stated by Hilbert some years ago as one of the ten big problems in mathematics. This ultimatly lead to his invention of the Turing machine. Though Church also solved the halting problem with his lambda calculus, the Turing machine proof is easier to understand for most people.

When Britain joined the second world war, Turing joined the cryptoanalysis headquarter Bletchley Park and helped to break the german Enigma code. He was a lead developer of the “Bombe” a electronical device to decipher german naval communications.

His experience with electronic devices and his idea of the Universal Turing Machine made him one of the first to dream of “building a brain”. Shortly after the war he tried to build this machine, but got too frustrated with politics. He shifted to neurology and physiology and was an injury away from the Olympic marathon team.

Instead of building computers he focused on using them. He made some important contributions in what he called “the mathematical theory of morphogenesis: the theory of growth and form in biology”.

Alan Turing memorial Unfortunatelly now follows the sad end, you read in the beginning.

You can find a memorial of Alan Turing in Sackville Park, between the University of Manchester building on Whitworth Street and the Canal Street ‘gay village’.

Published in: on October 2, 2007 at 9:09 am  Comments (5)  
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Top 3 female computer scientists

Computer science needs more women, but it’s not as there haven’t been some already. I proudly present the three most important female computer scientists.

Ada LovelaceIn 1815, a time when women were discouraged to participate in science, Ada Lovelace was born as the daughter of the poetic Lord Byron. Her mother got her homeschooled in math and science. When she was 27, she translated an article about Babbages Analytical Engine and added a description to compute Bernoulli numbers with it. The Right Honourable Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace wrote the first program in history.

Ten years later the “Enchantress of Numbers”, as Babbage called her, died from cancer. She envisioned the use of computers back then. Maybe Babbage could have promoted his machines through her writing skills, if she had lived longer. The computer revolution could have taken place a hundred years earlier.

A hundred years later a women called Grace Murray Hopper joined the US Navy. There she worked on some early computers and created the term “debugging”, when they found a moth in the computer relays. Shortly leaving the army she helped to build the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC. The Cobol programming language is mainly based on her philosophy to use english instead of machine language. “Amazing Grace”, as she was called sometimes, was a good presenter, often getting standing ovations after lectures.

Leah Culver planning her laptop etchingThen there is Leah Culver. Well, Leah didn’t make an important contribution to computer science apart from getting a degree. She just had this cool idea to laser-etch her laptop and got declared the sexiest geek of 2006, what gives me the possibility to catch you with a sexy picture.

The first women to win the Turing Award (the Nobel prize of computer science) is Frances Allen. “Fran” is a pioneer in the field of optimzing compilers. Her current title is IBM Fellow Emerita, “a position at IBM, which doesn’t require or allow any useful work, in terms of strategies in the company’s current business.”

Do you agree with my placement? Whom would you put at place four and five?

Update: more women in computer science

Published in: on September 6, 2007 at 3:04 pm  Comments (19)