Tangibility and computer science
by Randy Gingeleski
3 minutes to read
Something I think every computer science student will eventually ponder is the tangibility of what they're doing.
Programming and algorithms definitely. Networking as that becomes increasingly wireless. Engineering as everything gets smaller or implanted into body parts.
(Image credit - David Icke)
My existential crisis
Well, an existential crisis is where you question the foundations of life. Not sure what the proper term is for questioning the foundations of this work.
When I first learned to code (C++ course in high school), it was like magic. I was thrilled with forcing the computer to obey my commands. Even if it was just making fizzbuzz print to console.
College beat that honeymoon period to death. Working on my own projects made me content.
Things got shaky when I did my blackjack certification (2014). I would drive home from class wondering if I’d “chosen” the right “path” in life.
Quotations there to combat the you-can-suddenly-be-an-astronaut-at-80-years-old-if-you-really-want-to argument with ambiguity.
When you’re dealing cards, your work is right there in front of you. Manipulating cards and cheques. You can gauge how well you’re doing by how pissed off the floor supervisor is. It’s a trade.
My dad is an electrician, also a trade. You can touch (sometimes) the results. We’ll drive by some train yard, he’ll say he made all the lights work.
Computer science is… in the computer. So:
- If there’s no power to the end device(s), your work might as well not exist.
- Someone can attack your server.
- Hack your server.
- Back up to even a gold disc or M-disc, you have relatively limited storage.
- Back up to a disk, failure is not out of the question. Even without moving parts.
- Can you physically protect either of those?
- Back up to the cloud, it’s still not forever and not secure.
These aren’t all bulletproof points, but were what I struggled with at that time.
Maybe you have too or maybe they look like UNIX beard ramblings.
(Image credit - The SANgeek)
Relating to computer science tangibly
This is where I am now.
Code, bits, bytes - it’s like molecular architecture version 2. Evolving a lot faster than we can organically.
Most of your work might go unnoticed. I imagine the average Facebook user can’t begin to understand how much logic and creativity makes that service possible. They’ll still go on there 20 times a day, living vicariously through their “friends.”
Your work might get phased out. Maybe you worked on the AOL web browser a decade ago, now it’s webmail and clickbait for older people. You were still part of how most people got online for years.
(Image credit - ExtremeTech)
Computer science makes it possible to call the police or fire department from virtually anywhere.
To track and disable truck engines from flying laser beams.
There’s now some level of programming and networking at play in just about anything. Microwaves, phones, TVs, cars…
One person’s contributions can play a key role in affecting millions or billions. Helping save lives or the world.
It was really stupid of me to get into a rut about this when I did.
If you’re in a spot like that now, just look around. Our present way of living relies on computing.
That’s pretty tangible.