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The Perils Of “Academic Outsourcing”

Posted on | March 29, 2010 | 5 Comments

I’ve been having a very interesting discussion with a California CS professor. I happened to catch one of his students red handed putting their homework out for bid on a freelance programmer service. The irony is, the assignment was so simple that a quick search on any search engine would yield over twenty ways to accomplish it. What programmer can’t teach a cursor to navigate a simple maze? This is more code golf than actual work and it was worth $50 to one student to get out of it.

It seems to me that more and more CS students are in it for the money that a degree will earn them, not because they love to solve problems. Anyone that had any experience in nearly any language prior to entering a university could have solved this assignment. Anyone who loved to program would have seen the opportunity  to demonstrate their cleverness. This is stuff that most good programmers do in their spare time anyway. Yet, this kid was ready to pay fifty bucks to be rid of the responsibility yet reap the reward. When employed, will the kid just broker their work to outsourcing companies? Lets look at a hypothetical interview:

Interviewer: “Ah, I see you have a CS degree!” Interviewee: “Yes, I outsourced all of my homework and coursework and passed with flying colors. It was more expensive, but I was able to plan my own start up, acquire eleven patents and gained real experience in project management and economics. I now speak four languages and continue to employ a small staff that handles most of by busywork” Interviewer: “Yes, we have an opening for you. You applied for programmer, perhaps we should be considering you for project manager. You do have a NDA with the guys you use, right?”

That is scary on so many levels only because its actually likely to happen. I fired up the RSS crawlers, grabbed some available database dumps (mostly from Stack Overflow) and affirmed my theory. I’m going to confirm it, then publish it, I’m actually irritated enough to write a white paper. I hate white papers.

Comments

5 Responses to “The Perils Of “Academic Outsourcing””

  1. Corey Henderson
    March 30th, 2010 @ 9:08 am

    Yes, please write up a white paper! Then I can use it as a reference in one of the APA format papers I have to write for school.

  2. tinkertim
    March 30th, 2010 @ 9:47 am

    @Corey:

    One of the beautiful things about white papers is that you don’t have to follow a specific format :) However, if you get stuck on “proper” APA formatting, there is a great guide here.

  3. darkie
    April 1st, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    This is darkie from stackoverflow.

    You are indeed so true about this. Many of my classmates have been doing the same thing. Paying $200 for 4 assignments and getting away with an A. It’s frustrating at times to see other getting better grades than you and still not having any knowledge at all to get that grade.

  4. kalyan
    April 19th, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

    Though from an academic perspective, its wrong. Totally. But nothing much can be done in reality.

    The conscience to actually learn should come from within the student, without such an attitude, i doubt the momentary glory of getting an A will be of any help in long term. Mostly the only influence that can work anyone out of it are professors, the some who take extra effort to inculcate such an attitude, usually succeed, though not too much, but usually its better than zero success.

    But from a students perspective who can get things done, its usually a win-win. Because those little silly things pays in knowledge and cash.

  5. tinkertim
    April 19th, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

    @Kalyan – There is also the ‘big brother’ argument, (well, ‘big sibling’ to stay politically correct) where a student will often ‘bribe’ a sibling to accomplish an assignment for them. That’s a lot different, on many levels than hiring someone from freelancer.com to do your homework and write your papers. Its expected that an older sibling also has some concern for your well being, and will eventually refuse to do your assignments.

    I don’t even think its a question of momentary glory, I think its just a culture of apathy and I have real fears about how this might effect the industry in the next ten years. I’m far too young to be saying ‘Geez, kids these days!’ , and that’s exactly what is alarming me. I think we’re going to see a very sharp decline in competent systems programmers at exactly the point where they are needed the most.

    Part of this could be simple evolution. It is as normal to think “Why must I learn this when most languages abstract it away into oblivion?” as it is to think “Why do I have to calculate this by hand, won’t I have calculators in the real world?”. Its also no secret that coursework usually fails to stay even close to the real world. Still, its happening on a much broader scale.

    Maybe I am being a bit of an alarmist, it surely would not be the first time.

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