What We Want is to Talk With Siri, Not at Siri

Talking to Siri

A Note from Our President

If this group represents the next generation of software developers and designers, then our future is bright.  

CQL just completed our 2017 Summer Internship Program.  We were blessed with ten incredibly talented, forward thinking, and results-driven students. Among the ten were three valedictorians and others who finished at the top of their class. 

They came to us from schools such as the University of Michigan (4), GVSU (2), Calvin College (2), Northern Michigan (1), and Kendall (1).  When we knew that we would have ten joining our NextGen team this summer we decided to have them sit next to our leadership team. Our goal was that these two groups would inspire each other.

It worked. We are inspired.

For any high school or college student wanting to gain a perspective on how to be a great software developer or designer, they can listen to the perspective from Natalie (one of our NextGen team members) shared below.

– Mark Lardieri

Professors Tell Us ‘We Need You in STEM’

On the first day of my introductory programming course, our professor presented a diagram to the 400 student lecture. ‘We need you in STEM’ he told us, as he pointed to bars illustrating contrasting average salaries of computer science majors and anthropology majors. He expressed how heavily tech companies are recruiting at the moment, and especially women. This field, that I had known nothing about before setting foot on campus two weeks prior, was suddenly incredibly enticing.

I could succeed easily after graduation! I could solve puzzles for a living! While certainly exciting, I also wondered if studying Computer Science meant giving up on other creative or intellectual pursuits.

I was, and still am, excited about the prospect of studying Computer Science, but I worry when I am asked ‘why I would waste my time taking a Spanish class’ or am told that ‘engineering is the only program worth doing’ by other students. 

I worry that we are training a generation of doers instead of a generation of thinkers, who will be unable to pivot and adapt as the tech industry evolves, and the boundaries between technology and human experience continue to narrow.

Thinking Beyond the Code

I would challenge engineering students to think about the technologies they love to use. Consider what about a great interface makes it great? There is a demand not only for technology to be well engineered, but for it to be intuitive, humanly nuanced, and aesthetically beautiful.

As interactions with artificial intelligence become more common, our expectations for artificial intelligence increase as well. In order for the technology sector to continue infiltrating our homes, study and work environments, and social interactions, we need intelligence that does not feel artificial. 

We Want to Be Able to Talk With Siri, Not at Siri

There is a history of success when we examine examples of cross discipline collaboration. Steve Jobs claimed that ‘technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.’  I worry that perhaps the current model of a technical education is further from Jobs’ vision than it should be.

The question lies in how to promote and cultivate creative coders and empathetic engineers. I suspect that a cultural shift is required along with a change in curriculum and credit hour requirements. I believe that we need to emphasize the need for excellent communication skills just as much as we need to emphasize a strong math background for engineering students. We need to value intellectual curiosity as much as we value GPA and exam scores.

More than anything, I want to advocate for inter discipline collaboration and intra discipline diversification.

That first programming course I took ended up changing my trajectory as a Liberal Arts student at the University of Michigan. I found programming to be fun, challenging, and incredibly powerful. Learning how to code gave me a new structure with which to think and solve problems. In retrospect, I do think we should be telling students that we need them in STEM. We should tell them that we need engineers who can speak, we need developers who can write in English and code, we need fully fleshed thinkers designing technology other humans want to use.

Natalie, CQL NextGen Team, 2017

Closing Thoughts from Our President

I appreciate Natalie’s thoughts, as it speaks to the importance of having a broad perspective when working in the creative field of software development and design.

Our industry thrives on a diversity of thought, and that comes in the form of an openness to cultural, gender, socio-economic, physical and political differences.  The industry needs to do a better job recruiting this diversity into our work.

Natalie is a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan, where she is studying English & Computer Science. And we all feel lucky to have had her on our team this summer.

– Mark Lardieri