Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

Is what I do technical?

We are trying to design a master degree in Information Technology. To me, this sort of program should be a professional master degree, that is, it does not lead naturally to a research career or a Ph.D.

My business colleagues argue in favour of research methodology courses. Apparently, students need to learn how to conduct interviews and such. In any case, I then pointed out that my master degree did not contain any such course. One of my business colleague then said a deadly thing:

Of course, you got a technical master degree!

This got me really angry. Really, really, really angry. I do not think I ever got so angry in my life.

For the record, my master degree was in Mathematics at the University of Toronto. Is Mathematics technical? If technical is to have a “practical” connotation, I can tell you that none of my graduate courses were technical. Are fewnomials practical? I think not.

But the deeper implication was that anything having to do with Science was technical. That is, it deals with nuts and bolts. And I think that it is squarely wrong. From my view point, business is far more technical. And I ran my own business for several years. The business side of things was always the boring-but-easy component.

There is a distinct feeling in North America that business is king, and science & technology are things monkeys or foreigners can do. Yet, in my experience, it is a lot harder to design a usable web application than negotiate a business deal. I believe that India and China are getting a sweet deal by doing our science & technology while we focus on business. A very sweet deal indeed.

I think that Amazon, Google, Cisco, Microsoft and so on, thrive because many of their engineers have a deep knowledge of Computer Science. Kill the science and you kill the business.

But even if you discard science. Writing good source code is hard. Very hard. And it is not hard for technical reasons, not any more than painting, movie-making and sculpture are technical challenges.

In any case, I believe that North America is headed for a wall if it fails to recognize that its prosperity is due to culture, science and technology. And given that 40% of all students at my school go for a business degree, I am nervous.

See also my post Career Swings where I wrote:

I cannot believe that in 2015, we’ll all be lawyers, business managers, salesman, and medical doctors. I cannot believe that technology will stand still and mathematics beyond basic algebra will be a lost art. I cannot believe my two sons will have business degrees and make three times my salary by managing a bunch of underpaid Indian programmers.