Local Tech and Local Learning


A couple of weeks ago I took twenty four of my first year students up to Catskills Conf. As usual it was a great weekend. I particularly enjoyed this years talks.

I found one talk particularly engaging. Jordan Koschei gave at talk titled Digital Terroir. Terroir refers to the natural envorinment in which a wine is produced - the ground, the climate, everything. It's why wine (and foods) produced in one location taste differently than the same things mamde elsewhere. I first heard the term used with respect to wine but it's also true for coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, and I'd say even the New York bagel.

Jordan talked about how terroir can be found in local crafts, music, art, and literature and wondered if his products, as a software developer exhibited the effects of terroir. Do web sites created in the hudson valley have their own flavor different to those made say, in Seattle, NYC, or California? It's an interesting question. Unfortunately, Jordan found the answer to be no.

His post is still very much worth reading as it's really concerned with uniqueness of community in a flattening world.

I wonder if Jordan would have gotten different results if he excluded the most popular frameworks, Bootstrap, Zurb etc from his survey.

Regardless, it got me thinking. While the products might not show regional differences, does the process?

Do programmers, or teachers for that matter develop styles based on where they're from and how they were trained and taught? It's not so farfetched an idea - it's clearly apparent in sports. I fenced and coached fencing for many years. It was at times apparent that certain students were from certain coaches or "schools" of training. You could tell from how they fenced and their philosophy of how to compete.

I'm guessing that early training does contribute to a developers style at least to a point but that's topic based. People who start off in Object Oriented toolsets tend to solve problems one way while people who start off with functional programming approach problems differently. It's like a conversation I had with a friend of mine who was on the American International Mathematical Olympiad team in the lat 90's. He told me that one of the things he found interesting was that the American competitors typically looked at problems first and foremost as algebra problems while the Eastern European competitors were just as or more likely to approach them as geometry problems.

I'm wondering if it can be more teacher or local culture based. I've heard from more than one former student that they follow a development loop or cadence that they got from me and that it's unique in their current workplace. I've heard similar things about other approaches to problems that I've tried to model.

Going beyond me, what about the team of CS teachers at Stuy? That school has it's own culture (as do all schools) and I think I've had some influence on the other teachers there. Is there a StuyCS "school of CS teaching" that is similar but different to other "schools of CS teaching?"

What I find particularly interesting is that we might be able to get some answers, at least on the teacher side of the equation in the coming years. We're hoping to roll out our teacher certification programs at Hunter very soon and I'm going to be relying on my Stuy teachers to work with me to teach our first few cohorts of teacher candidates.

Will those teacher candidates show that there is indeed a unique character to our way of developing CS teachers and later to their ways of teaching their students? Time will tell. Maybe we'll find out if indeed teaching and programming has some roots in terroir.