Posts Tagged ‘education’

Google interviews

From an interesting blog post about the level of depth during a Google technical interview:

They also sent me an email with advice. It can be summed up as “You should know everything. If it’s to do with computers, you should know it. Here are 5 books and 4 fancy algorithms you should read. You must also be intimately familiar with all these basic-ish algorithms. This is your two week notice. Good luck. Oh and take a look at these videos too!”

I have a few friends who work at Google, and they are all top-notch engineers and thinkers, so it’s not a coincidence. Any good organization has a technical screening process that covers more than just the basics, and it looks like Google is no exception. In fact, the above note makes it seem like they go out of their way to ensure the candidate comes prepared to show their best, something that not all companies do. In this case, the important thing to note is that Google is more interested in smart software engineers than simply web developers.

Edit: For whatever reason, the linked blog is down. However, the cached version of the blog can be found here (cached by Google… so meta).

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With the news today about a proposed overhaul of college financial aid that would create a dependence between aid programs and the affordability of an institution, there is a sense that the trend of migrating more collegiate-level education to the online classroom will continue at an accelerated pace.

In order for an educational institution to improve affordability and value for students, they drastically need to either cut costs, improve enrollment using the same resources, or both. Online education has the potential to reach whole new markets around the world, as shown by the recent example of Sebastian Thrun‘s class Introduction to Artificial Intelligence. The Stanford professor allowed anyone to enroll for the class for free and taught the exact same course material and handed out the same homework assignments as the paying students. The response was overwhelming, to the tune of more than 160,000 students world-wide. Some students created an online study group on the aggregation website Reddit. Here is NPR’s story about Thrun’s class on All Things Considered.

That this is more affordable to an institution is unquestionable. Once the lectures are recorded, universities need only provide the server capacity to handle student clients from all over the world. Online tests and homework assignments make the job of grading that much easier. Humans need not be involved once everything is in place.

The benefits of online education are numerous, but two points stand out above the rest: the lowering of educational costs, and the ease with which quality education will reach parts of the world (and the country) where this was not possible before. One of the greatest causes for concern with a young family is the kids’ college fund. Wages have to keep up not only with inflation, but with already-astronomical and still rising educational costs.

Thrun’s experiment in reaching students around the world made him realize the importance of reaching such a wide and socio-economically disadvantaged audience. He has now started an online university called Udacity, offering free online coursework to anyone around the world. Other initiatives have been in place for longer, such as the Khan Academy, MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative and the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

Initiatives like these indicate that the established providers of quality education are about to see a rapid rise in competition for students and their tuition fees. As the competition heats up, there is a push for more conventional universities to shift to a more technology-driven curriculum in order to lower their cost-per-student. It may be easy to dismiss faculty concerns as threats to entrenched interests, but there are some genuine concerns.

Once the material has been recorded and uploaded, universities have little incentive to update the material as often, given the relatively higher cost to re-record lectures and keep the material fresh. There would be a disturbance in the environment that fosters bidirectional exchanges of ideas and the organic atmosphere between students and instructors that tends to improve lecture styles year-over-year. The material and focus of the lectures may not be as dynamic and responsive to student needs as the semester progresses. Finally, there would be a threat to the teaching profession as fewer professors are hired, reducing the amount of fundamental research done at the university.

Indeed at Stanford University itself, there is a renewed sense of urgency to provide a more diverse portfolio of online coursework such as their Center for Professional Development and the Stanford Engineering Everywhere programs. It remains to be seen whether the online classroom will ultimately prove to be a great boon to education, but it is clear that the upside in the short-term far outweighs the downside.

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Today, I taught a guest lecture for a graduate class at the University of Texas at Austin. The topic was Over-Sampling Data Converters with Mismatch-Shaping. The talk covered some basics of delta-sigma modulators within the context of a DAC and multibit quantization, and then explored various mismatch-shaping schemes.

For me, it was a good learning experience on how to present to those unfamiliar with advanced concepts. Historically, my presentation audiences have almost always consisted of peers already very familiar with the material. This was an entirely different approach, as the backgrounds of the students varied widely. One thing to remember is to limit the scope of a discussion to as narrow a range of new concepts as possible, so as to maximize the focus of the audience and enable the presenter to adequately devote attention to each detail. All in all, it was a worthwhile endeavor.

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