[Courses] [Careers] Almut's meanderings among electronics, psychology and programming

Mary mary-linuxchix at puzzling.org
Fri Feb 18 09:21:29 EST 2005

On Mon, Feb 14, 2005, Almut wrote:
> So, I ended up maintaining what grew into a complete data evaluation
> package -- I'd always been willingly integrating ideas and wishes
> people had uttered.

Do you know if the package is still around? Was this before or after
Free Software got mindshare? Did you ever consider releasing it? :)

> Despite all the freedom and fun I had in this environment, first time
> in my life, I seriously started thinking about my career, and whether
> I could possibly go on like this until retirement.  Problem is - in
> that scientific field - you only ever get time-limited contracts,
> usually 1/2 - 5 years.  Then you have to look for some other job, move
> to some other place, etc. (depending on what you find, of course, but
> usually there's not much choice...).

What kind of psychologists get to stay in one place? Only the kind who
do clinical work?

> Currently, I'm mostly writing "glueware", i.e. tying together existing
> apps and data formats into a coherent workflow that people can
> actually use to solve their daily problems.  This can manifest itself
> in both backend and frontend tasks, and both low-level and high-level
> stuff.  Rather often, it also involves complex, tweaked webserver
> setups, and database stuff.  Project size is typically medium.  I find
> this kind of work thrilling, because you often have to creatively
> combine all your knowledge to solve a task that initially seemed
> nearly undoable.  And if you're good, the challenge is followed by
> some sense of achievement, within a reasonable stretch of time.

What counts as medium in this area? How many people would work on a
medium project and how long does it take to get it done?

Also, does your company have an ongoing relationship with clients, or do
you go in, build a workflow, and that's the end of the relationship?

> I generally very much enjoy what I'm doing now, and I wouldn't mind if
> things went on like this for a while.  The tasks are very diverse and
> challenging, and the vast majority of my co-workers have come to
> accept me as an equal (well, they better do, or else they're gonna
> solve their next Perl problem on their own! ;)  Even my (engineering!)
> clients are accepting me as a woman in this field, once they see that
> what they get is in no way inferior to what they'd get elsewhere.  I
> typically work on my own, or in small teams (2-3 people) where I
> usually play the senior role.

How many women are there among the engineering clients?

> Writing dummy programs just to practice has always bored me to death.
> Somehow, I need to feel I'm doing something important, rewarding,
> useful to myself, and so on, instead of reinventing the wheel, or
> adding some marginal improvement or gimmick I don't really need.
> After all, why should I write my own editor, graphics program,
> desktop, window manager, MUA, webserver, HTML templating system,
> programming language, ... when there are plenty of good ones to choose
> from?  I guess I don't have a good answer...  How do others feel about
> this?

I think this is a problem for some people, but there also seems to be a
substantial number of people who are perfectly happy to re-engineer
things because they think they can do it better.

Also, while there are really mature Linux server programs now, there's
still a way into a lot of other programming tasks via the enormous bug
lists :) But it's a team effort and there is a ramp-up.

I think these days a lot of hackers get involved in projects socially:
ie they hang out on the project IRC channel of something they like using
and eventually they're helping other people, and then they find out that
there are some things they can't help with because they're not done yet,
so they start to hack... The community factor helps motivate them.

> So, if you plan to get into programming, why not study psychology? :)
> OK, semi-seriously, if you prefer the unconventional approach: in
> research you'll likely find many ways to engage in programming.  It's
> fun.  And even with only moderate savviness you'll feel like a king, I
> tell ya whut. ;)  You'd better be an autodidact, though, as there are
> hardly any experts around to guide and teach you...

Did you ever wish you did have an expert around to guide you (or to
compete with)? Do you have one in your current work?

> [1] Not sure whether "tutorial" is the correct English term. I
> couldn't find an obvious 1:1 translation...  The German word is
> "Tutorium".  It's neither a seminar, nor a lecture.  Maybe exercise or
> just class?  It's something an experienced student leads, attended by
> around 5-20 lower-grade students, where problems that have arisen
> during lectures, seminars or homework are being discussed, and
> sometimes, exercises are being worked through...  Any suggestions for
> its proper name?

That would be called a "tutorial" in Australian universities. However,
there are tutorials all the way through undergraduate. In more senior
tutorials it might be more of a discussion between equals.


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