Josh's cousin, so my cousin-in-law, I guess, is taking an intro programming class. He was struggling with a project and asked if I could sit down with him and look it over.
Inside, I was of a panic. The class was learning Java, and I haven't used Java in years. I mean, sure, it's an intro class, so they're probably still learning about loops or if-statements. I felt fine about helping him with programming concepts, but I was worried I was going to look at the computer slack-jawed and blinking to match the cursor because I wasn't up on the things built in to the language.
Outside, I said sure.
Aside from worrying about my own competence, I wondered whether someone who needed help on an intro programming project was really right for computer science. People say I must be smart when they find out I'm "in computers," but really it's a certain kind of mind. I'm good at thinking this particular way, which has turned out to be very advantageous at this time in human history. I've encountered people who were not so inclined. We used to joke about the kids who transferred from the Computer Science department to the Computer Information Services department, where there was more setting up networks and less coding. We would sneer at their backs and say they just couldn't hack it. They were not one of us. Being computer science majors, we really did not have a lot of opportunities to sneer at anyone.
More likely, it was just not for them. And if you don't enjoy it, why continue? What if you really like setting up networks?
Only once did I meet someone who just did not get it. He was an older student who would come into the computer lab where I worked as a monitor for minimum wage. Mostly, I did homework or played games, but some people would timidly ask if I wouldn't mind helping them out with some homework. And I did, because it was generally a welcome distraction. Usually the kid would nod thoughtfully for a while before finally nodding more confidently and saying they thought they had it now, thanks.
But this one guy. He had a really hard time with concepts that are pretty basic to programming. And he either did not actually understand, even when nodding semi-confidently, or his brain just refused to retain any of it, because I was explaining the same things the next week. I would never recommend to someone that they ought to check out the CIS department instead, but this guy was not going to make it.
I don't know my cousin-in-law all that well, but I was afraid that he was going to be a repeat of that old guy who would never really grasp the idea of a while loop. So yeah, I worried that I was not going to be able to help with the assignment, while also thinking that maybe he just didn't have the right kind of brain. I think you can call that cognitive dissonance at the very least, if not outright arrogance.
But I told him to come over, let's see what we can do.
He said he'd been to see his professor, a grad student, about this project three times. Apparently, the teacher and everyone he'd met in the computer science department basically acted like if you didn't immediately understand everything, then the best you could do would be to go down the hall to CIS. I apologized for my people, who can be a bunch of nerd-jerks, while being sort of amazed how quickly my own nerd-jerkdom had been shown to me.
So we looked at the assignment and his code. Mostly, he was having a hard time picturing the way the code was all supposed to work together, the flow of it. The code he'd already written looked fine. We talked about what the different parts did, and he went from a thoughtful nod to a confident nod in no time.
At one point, he said that despite the unhelpful teacher, he really enjoyed this stuff. He said he liked the organization of it, which made my eyes light up in recognition. Ah. He is one of us.