Ethnography

Yiftach Nachman

Ms. McMurtrey

English 206

November 7, 2016

Ethnography

Introduction:

Ever since I was a young child, I have been interested in the way that computers work. My curiosity for knowledge to learn more about computers was not only for just how a computer works, but it was for anything that computers were involved with. This ranged from how computers communicate to how the internet works. I remember that as a child, one of our desktop computers stopped working one day and I decided that I would fix it. So I opened the Disk Drive and put a peanut butter sandwich in it. Now although by putting the sandwich into the computer I ended up ruining the computer even more, in my mind I was trying to fix the computer. I wanted to be able to work with the computer and see if I could try and fix the problem. Since then, I have done everything I can to learn as much as I can about computers. As said by Chris Bradford, “Each mistake teaches you something new about yourself. There is no failure, remember, except in no longer trying. It is the courage to continue that counts” (Quotes About Trying (162 Quotes)).

As a student in the Software Engineering program in the Schmid College of Science and Technology at Chapman University, I started to develop three primary questions. Why do so many students decide to major in Computer Science or other related majors? Is there a certain quality or personality trait that many of these students at Chapman University share? Are there health problems that can develop due to the working environment of Computer Science majors? These three questions resonated with me to the point that I decided that I will conduct my own research to find some type of answer to my questions.  

History and Statistics:

Experts call the past 50 years the Computer Revolution, as the world has had huge advancements in technology, and especially with computers. The first university that offered computer science as a major was the University of Purdue, in 1962. Soon after, other universities began to offer Computer Science as a major. Today, virtually almost every large university offers Computer Science as a major or at least offers classes to learn a little bit about computers and programming. This major was primarily developed because people realized that the world needed a strong programming workforce. This realization was a product of some advances that were invented during the early 1900s, when Charles Babbage created the analytical engine. Then, during World War II, the world moved from analytical to digital computers primarily because the Allied forces were trying to find better ways to capture German communication. Alan Turing was able to do so by creating the first electronic digital computer, the Enigma machine. In turn, this allowed mathematicians to have more accurate pinpoints of enemy positions which helped the Allied forces win the war, bringing the world into the Digital Age.

In the last 50 years, the world has only become increasingly dependable on technology. As said by the Association for Computing Machinery, “the possibilities for future developments are expected to be even greater than they have been in the past.”(5) The application of smart machines seems limitless today. Computers allow the world to become more advanced while at the same time making the world extremely dependable on them.

The dependence on computers and technology has made the world need people to major in computer science. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as the US Department of Education surveyed Americans from 1970-2010 to see the general trend of the major. The graph below illustrates that the number of students who decided to major in Computer Science from 1970-2010 has only increased.

(Degrees in Computer and Information Sciences)

Over the past 20 years, the global community realized the potential computer science  has to disrupt the way we operate on a daily basis, and so this field migrated to high schools as well. As a result, there has been an upwards trend in student participation in STEM (science technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Due to the expanding significance of computer science, one in every four schools in America offers computer programming class to their students. Recent studies show that nine in ten parents want their kid to take computer science courses and, although 22 states do not count computer science credits towards math and science high school graduation requirements, there has been an upwards trend in the amount of students taking programming classes in high school and then majoring in the field in college (Blurbs and Useful Stats).

Interviews:

I interviewed two students in the Computer Science program at Chapman University. One of these students is a first-year student and the other is a soon-to-be graduate. In addition I interviewed a high school student who is interested in majoring in Computer Science next year and is applying to Chapman University. The primary goal of the interviews was to see why they decided to major in Computer Science and if they think there is a certain personality trait that goes with Computer Science majors. Lastly, I interviewed a current employee in the field to understand whether expectations meet reality.

One of my interviewees, Cristiano Firmani, told me that he decided to major in computer science for several reasons. The first was that he was born with no heartbeat, but due to advanced technology, the hospital was able to save his life. This story sparked his passion for technology and ever since he was little he has been interested in computers and how they work. He taught himself two programming languages in high school and has built two computers. He told me a funny story about the first time he tried to build a computer; Christiano almost burned his house down when he was trying to connect the fans to the computer. By connecting the wrong wires he caused a spark, which in turn lit some papers on fire, but thankfully he was able to react quickly and put the fire out. After telling me this anecdote Cristiano quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” When he quoted this to me I realized one primary thing, that he has the same personality trait as I do and as many computer programmers do; we are unyielding in the the face of hardship.

The other Chapman interviewee, Aaron Weinberg, had different reasons for majoring in Computer Science. His primary reason for majoring in computer science was because he was an avid video gamer as a kid, and he always wanted to learn how to make them. As a child, his dream was to program video games and have his own gaming company. He also decided to major in Computer Science because in high school he was in a Robotics club, and wanted to learn how to build bigger and better robots. During the interview, I realized that he didn’t seem too excited about the fact that he was about to graduate from Chapman and when I asked him why he told me, “I am excited to graduate and go work but to me, college wasn’t about receiving the degree. To me, college was about more information about what I love to do. I love computers and college made me become more knowledgeable about them.” He also told me that although he is graduating and receiving a Bachelors of Science degree, he will never stop learning about computers because that is what he loves to do.

From my interviews I’ve realized that computer scientists have a unique blend of characteristics. First, they have the innate desire to learn more than is needed. These individuals will  take the extra step in order to understand more about a topic not because they need to but because they want to; they are life learners, curious, and inquisitive individuals. Second, they are incredibly strong-willed, unrelenting while encountering challenges. Many programmers have these traits as they are needed in order to excel in a complex and continuously changing field.

My high school senior interviewee, Nitzan Nicole Bartal, is currently attending University High School in the Irvine Unified School District and plans to study Computer Science in college next fall. During the interview, she talked about her experiences growing up that lead to her fascination with computers and programming. Foreseeing the future significance of technology, her parents always encouraged her to learn about computers. Eventually she taught herself Python, a programming language. Throughout her life, Nitzan found different ways to teach herself more about programming languages. In the summers, when all her friends went on vacations with their families, Nitzan went to summer camps where they taught her about computers and programming languages. Nitzan’s enthusiasm and drive to learn more further strengthened my realization that computer scientists are self-motivated individuals that always strive for more knowledge, even if that knowledge is difficult to attain or understand.  

During all three of my interviews I also asked if they have experienced any health problems due to the environment they work and study at. None of interviewees have experienced any health problems other than Aaron who had to get a stronger prescription for his glasses which he has had since he was three years old. From my own experience, I realized that I have developed several health problems that I would not have if I wasn’t staring at computer screens almost all day. One of these is the fact that I had to get glasses when I turned 15. In addition, I was exercising much since all I did was sit and stare at a computer. Researching these health effects, I found that compared to other majors and careers, computer science requires a relatively low amount of physical effort. People who work in the field of computer science tend to sit at a computer for many hours a day. This can have a negative effect on the individual’s mental health and body. Dangers include strokes due to blood clots that form after sitting too rigidly, which can travel to the brain; sleep apnea due to fluid restraint in the legs that moves to the neck during sleep; high blood pressure due to lack of physical activity; cardiovascular disease due to an inactive lifestyle; heart failure due to a fluid collection in the lungs; fluid collection in the legs from lack of walking; and colon cancer due to the shut off of blood vessels and muscles in charge of fat burning (Teller, Swizec).

After all that research I decided that I need to interview someone who has been in the field for many years to see what he has to say about the health problems caused from the environment he works in. I interviewed an individual who has worked in Dell for 25 years in a project managing capacity (requested to stay anonymous). I first asked him his opinion on significant characteristics for computer scientists. He told me that the programmers who end up being most successful are the ones that strive to learn more. “The problem with knowing a programming language is that there is always more to learn about the language. No one knows an entire language. The guys that I have had that are good programmers are the ones that teach themselves more languages and adjust to the way the world is changing. If people use a certain language more like today it is Java; several of my programmers have taught themselves the language in order to be able to work on more projects.” I found this to be very interesting since I did not know that programmers continue to teach themselves more languages. Later in the interview I asked him if he has seen any health problems from working at a computer desk for a long time. He informed me that while some people develop low-risk health problems, there is a new trend where programmers cycle through short periods of work and sleep. This helps their work efficiency and their general health.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, from both my primary research and my secondary research I have found possible answers to my questions. My three driving questions were:

  1. Why many students are studying computer science today?
  2. Is there a certain personality that is associated with Computer Science major students?
  3. What are health problems that can develop due to the working environment of Computer Science majors?

From the interviews I conducted I saw a pattern emerging for these answers. First, I realized that my interviewee’s passion for computer science stems from personal experience. Each individual had their own story about how technology and computers changed their lives early-on. From these anecdotes I understood that since people today interact with technology on a more intimate basis, they see the impact it has on everyday life. This experience is irreplaceable, as their passion developed from real life and not from theory they learned in school. They are the living proof of how computer science can impact the world, and since today technology surrounds us more than it has in the past, it is not surprising that more individuals are intrigued by it. Additionally, I noticed a distinct set of characteristics that computer scientists share: a tenacious desire to gain more knowledge outside the traditional field perimeters and a passion for problem-solving, regardless of the level of difficulty. I recognize these qualities in myself as well as in my colleagues now that I am immersing myself in the computer science major at Chapman. Finally, due to the fact that my interviewees have not experienced any health problems, I cannot conclude for certain that the working environment can cause significant health problems. Regardless of the difficulties in this field, it is certain that major contributions to the world will be made by computer scientists, and the computer science major will continue playing an important role in the future.

Works Cited

“Blurbs and Useful Stats.” CSEd Week. Computer Science Education Week, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

https://csedweek.org/resource_kit/blurbs

“Degrees in Computer and Information Sciences Conferred by Degree-granting Institutions, by Level of Degree and Sex of Student: 1970-71 through 2010-11.” Degrees in Computer and Information Sciences Conferred by Degree-granting Institutions, by Level of Degree and Sex of Student: 1970-71 through 2010-11. National Center for Educational Statistics, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_349.asp

EMPLOYMENT PROJECTIONS — 2014-24. N.p.: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 Dec. 2015. PDF.

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecopro.pdf

“Facts & History.” Facts & History | About Chapman | Chapman University. Chapman University, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

https://chapman.edu/about/facts-history/index.aspx

“Liberal Arts.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberal%20arts

“Quotes About Trying (162 Quotes).” (162 Quotes). N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/trying

Teller, Swizec. “Why Programmers Work At Night.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/why-programmers-work-at-night-2013-1

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