Farewell, Distributed Systems Class of 2011.

Here is the message that I wrote on the forums, after my final lecture to my third year Distributed Systems class. I demand a lot of my students. Most of all, when they leave us to go out into the world, I expect them to have some knowledge. All of us, everywhere, who educate, know how precious knowledge is and how special it is when someone finally gets it. I’ve said a lot of this in lectures, and to individuals, but I always like to say one last thing before we turn off the lights and go in our separate directions.

A few of you, for reasons I don’t understand, sat the exam but gave me no, or almost no, assignment work. An even smaller group handed up nothing, ignored the exam and STAYED ENROLLED. I don’t understand why this is. I now have to fail you for either not doing anything or for minimum performance requirements. I hate doing that, but I’ll still do it, because I have to.Most of you handed up everything and tried everything. Fantastic! Thank you! After having discussions with you in the collaboratives, I’m convinced that the vast majority of you understand what we’re trying to do in this course and I thank you for your attention and continued participation.

Sometimes, for some people, what let them down was their ability to tell me what they knew. My advice is that you should always be working on the way in which you can describe and share your knowledge. The majority of marks in the examination were lost for loose descriptions, confusion of concepts and, in some cases, blatant and desperate attempts to arrive at the correct solution by writing everything you can think of. Focus on telling me what you know to be right and spend less time on trying to fool me. smile

A number of you will hit the workforce next year – you will need to be able to communicate your knowledge and convince people that you know what you’re doing. Maybe your excuse to yourself is that you’re not that interested in DS. Well, fine, but don’t expect everything in the work world to be fascinating and amazing.

(I love teaching but marking exams is one of the least enjoyable jobs ever – but it has to be done, done well and done in a way that supports all of the other activities that lead to it. A lot of things are like this.)

Alan Noble put it really well when he described what the Google Engineers did. They don’t just sit in their offices and code, they go out and talk to their colleagues and other business people. They communicate. They share ideas. They can put their knowledge into practice as coders and as communicators.

Let’s finish on a positive note. When you check your marks, if you’ve passed this course then you can rest assured that you’ve demonstrated enough knowledge to have earned your pass. You know enough about distributed systems that you can work in an industry where these concepts become more important by the day, towards a future that will make extensive use of the underlying principles that you learned here.

If you did pass, how did you do it? What can you learn from it that will increase your chances of success in the future? People say that they learn the most from failure, and I think that’s true, but unless anyone got 100% for everything, you can still improve. Was there something I said that can help you improve that in the future? I hope that at least some of it has been useful.

Now, if you didn’t pass, why was that? Were you doing too much? If you could get into this course then you have the aptitude to pass but we know for a fact that life often gets in the way. You need to allow yourself enough time to study for these courses and put enough work into the assignments and examination preparation. If you have a supp, study as hard as you can and try and get through it. If you come back next year, start from scratch and do everything again, as if it’s for the first time.

We are, above all, scientists. If have a set of possible actions and a set of possible outcomes, how do we select our actions to select our desired outcome?

We have covered an introductory set of knowledge in a fascinating, growing, active and exciting area of research and practice. It’s now up to you to make use of that knowledge.

I’m not teaching third year in 2012, as I’m working on a new degree program, so I may not see many of you again. If I don’t, I wish you the very best of luck in the future, wherever you go and whatever you do.

One Comment on “Farewell, Distributed Systems Class of 2011.”

  1. billb says:

    That’s a great note. Thanks for sharing it!

    Also, consider this your requested nudge for a comparison of good and bad presentation material for technical content. It’s after Tuesday! 😉


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