Just Because You Think Windows Sucks Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Have To Know It

| Editorial

Doing the Hard Stuff

I must admit several things in order to be plain here. Part of my dream was driven by Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. When it came time to repair a shuttle engine, built a tri-corder from vacuum tubes or mentally calculate slingshot equations around a star, Spock could do it. I wanted to be that guy.

Star Trek's NCC-1701 Star Ship Enterprise

The other thing I’ll admit is that there are a lot of very smart, talented, and motivated students all over the world. I’ve met many. Read about many more.

That said, I’m hearing a lot of stories about young students who just want to get by with the minimum. Rationalizations abound. There’s no need to know everything. There’s no time to dream up their own problems and test the code on their own computers. Word problems that invoke spaceflight or science seem tiresome. Every effort is made to get by with the minimum of effort. A few, here and there, cut many corners because they can’t wait to get on with life. After all, everything seems so easy on TV.

In one of my Background Mode podcasts, I asked astrophysicist Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann how long it took from her freshman year of college until she landed a faculty position. Answer: 16 years of continuous work: Masters. Ph.D. several Post-doc appointments.

What Employers Want

From my own career experience, I can affirm that any reasonably sized company has broad computing needs. There will be pockets of every kind of computing endeavor. Java and Python on Linux. macOS on MacBook Pros used by the engineers. The IT department will generally favor the all-embracing enterprise solutions provided by Microsoft. There may be a massive and complex SAN system. There will be a security group that lives and breathes Linux. There will be engineers working on a giant contract, and the decision was made to use C++. Payroll needs an experienced Oracle guru. Positions posted on the internet.

Because of this, employers are looking for graduating students who have a broad range of skills. Ones who have matured enough to see themselves as beginning to take on the responsibilities of a seasoned, talented employee who can handle a wide range of challenges with many different tools.

Snark about operating systems and languages might impress others in school, but out in the real world, vision, motivation, talent, depth of knowledge, and real skils rule.

The emergence of advanced technologies such as digital movie making, artificial intelligence, robots, genetic research, biophysics, interplanetary spaceflight, augmented reality, virtual reality and autonomous systems means that the skill levels required have reached enormous heights.

Someday, and probably soon, a door will open. Be ready.

12 Comments Add a comment

  1. Jamie

    Oh, I know it, and I agree. I’ve been using it for nigh on 20+ years at this point for various things, and virtualization is a miracle. I guess the problem is that most folks don’t want to be bothered to learn even one system (at this point, likely iOS or Android) let alone multiple ones. 😉

  2. geoduck

    Or, in the words of the great Robert Heinlein

    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

    Specialization is for insects.

    Lazarus Long in Time Enough for Love

  3. John Martellaro

    geoduck: The perfect Robert A. Heinlein quote. Thanks for that. If we ever meet, I’ll buy you a beer for that one.

  4. MacFrogger

    Great perspective John – and good advice for any “student”, which in reality is all of us as we travel on our journey through life. The corollary to this is: the best teachers are those who instill in us a lifelong desire to learn…

  5. iGrouch

    Language Bias:

    Q. Where is the best place for Java?
    A. Locked up is a washing machine with the Aharonov–Bohm effect!

  6. pjs_boston

    After using Macs in the late ‘80’s, I spent 20 years using Windows, 10 of which was writing Windows software.

    In 2007, I finally plunked down my money for a MacBook Pro. I was blown away by how pleasant, straightforward, and reliable macOS was to use. The phrase ‘It Just Works’ has real meaning for users coming from windows. The recent news stories about reliability problems with Microsoft hardware are no surprise to longtime Windows users.

    Having said that, I strongly agree that Mac users should use Windows, for two reasons:

    1) Windows still runs on the majority of PCs. Any person who considers themself a professional must absolutely know how to use and maintain Windows.

    2) Regular use of Windows, being exposed to its myriad of little glitches and malfunctions, is the best way to prevent one from taking macOS for granted.

  7. Old UNIX Guy

    Can I mostly agree but slightly disagree here? 😉

    For students / 99% of the people out there … agree. However, I work in scientific research computing and Windows is completely irrelevant. I (and most others) have a Mac for my desktop / laptop. The HPC cluster is Linux, of course. I have basically not used Windows since 2004. Again, I work in a tiny “niche” area, but man do I love it!

    However, even in my “niche” world I have to mainly agree with John’s premise … for example, after 20 years of using Perl to write my mainly SysAdmin type scripts our group has made the decision that Python will be the preferred language going forward. There’s things about Python that drive me nuts (indentation controls blocks – it’s Guido’s way or the highway – very Trumpian) but I’m learning / using it nonetheless…

    Old UNIX Guy

  8. Rick Allen

    Great point’s John. The whole meme of “Windows Sucks” is old and tired. Its really just a spoiled brat attitude. For me windows is necessary as I work in the investment industry doing database administration and programming. I am the one person in my office running windows 10, and I can say it works just fine. The Robert Heinlein quote is true. A craftsman must be able to use any tool that can get the job done.

    • pjs_boston

      In my professional life, I used Windows for 20 years and write software for it for 10 years.

      Yes, Windows works, but it has serious issues with stability and performance over time. Let’s also not forget the security issues.

    • pjs_boston

      In my professional life, I used Windows for 20 years and wrote software for it for 10 years.

      Yes, Windows works, but it has serious issues with stability and performance over time. Let’s also not forget the security issues.

  9. wab95


    Excellent points, all taken.

    I think that there is a converse to this as well, namely the responsibility of the industry (MS, Goggle, Apple – all) to minimise the learning curve between systems by adopting and adhering to industry standards. If one decides to switch car manufacturers, one does not need to learn a fundamentally different mode of vehicular operation. The core operating principles of cars are the same.

    In evolved industries, we see a convergence in standards, even if the products themselves differ in capability and use case. This is essential if those industries wish to survive, if no other reason than that the demands of their target markets require it. The inertial hurdle created by a completely different system for an essential technology, like a PC, is a barrier to its adoption. This is likely even more the case in professions that themselves are complex and rapidly evolving, and in which a technology like a PC or tablet is merely one of many professional tools.

    Besides, these competitive companies should want to facilitate switching between platforms if they want to steal and increase market share. Core operating principles are key.

    As for power user level OS mastery, even in high performance professions outside of IT, my observation is that this is uncommon, and in most cases, unnecessary.

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