Sunday, October 04, 2015

Walter Bright, Professor Branestawm and me (a #twistedpair post)

At the top of the front page of the personal wiki I use for my work notes, I have a quote from Walter Bright (author of the Zortech/Symantec/Digital Mars C++ compiler and creator of the D programming language) - "Ignore all the people who tell you it can't be done. Telling you it can't be done means you're on the right track." I think this quote, which has been the first thing I see every morning when I sit down at my desk the last few years, has probably subtly had a lot of influence on my approach to supporting teaching. YACRS, my class voting system, certainly started with lots of people telling me I was crazy to try and develop my own system, but is now being used by a lot of teaching staff at the University. However, long before I'd heard of Walter Bright, another great influence on my approach to life, and teaching, was Professor Branestawm, and the wonderful illustrations by W. Heath Robinson that enhanced the first book. Like Professor Branestawm I like to invent and make things, and I like the things I make to be functional and useful rather than just ornamental. (I also like to have lots of pairs of spectacles1.) For me the end result of education is very closely tied to imagination and invention, because whether I am looking at an aeroplane, a biological process or a piece of software2 it is the ability of my imagination to run through how it works that is true understanding, not knowing the words needed to communicate with another engineer or biologist. Deep understanding is a prerequisite for invention, and it is my ability to invent useful bits of software for education that (I believe) shows that I understand both software development and education.

This post was inspired by Steve Wheeler's #twistedpair challenge.

  1. In addition to my every day bifocals I have dedicated pairs of glasses for reading, using computers at home, using computers at work, reading at work, driving in bright sunlight and attending conferences. I do not yet have hunting for lost spectacles spectacles.
  2. I have degrees in Aeronautical Engineering, Bioengineering and Natural Sciences, but am now doing a PhD in Computing Science and working as a Software Engineer.