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Fred Brooks At SIGCSE

I attended the annual convention of SIGCSE (the ACM Special Interest Group On Computer Science Education) last week. I had two primary reasons for attending. The first was that our associate dean was strongly encouraging all lecturers to go. The other was that the keynote speaker was going to be Fred Brooks.

I have mentioned before that he was an old grad school professor of mine. In retrospect, that's as egocentric as describing  Billy Graham and Randolph Scott as "guys that used to live in the same town as me." He is an elder statesman of computer science. He is not as well-known outside the field  as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but that's at least partly because his accomplishments  were  before rock star status was conferred on computer scientists. But the accomplishments were significant. He helped develop the operating system for the IBM360 computer back when software development was a lot harder. He  wrote The Mythical Man Month, a seminal work on software engineering, and the only book on the subject that can be described as a fun read. He's also won a Turing award.

His keynote address, "The Teacher’s Job is to Design Learning Experiences; not Primarily to Impart Information" 
more than lived up to my expectations. It was lively and thought-provoking. He discussed various methods for implementing this philosophy, including the ones he used in his software engineering and computer architecture classes, as well as the flipped classroom.

The next day I had the happy accident of running into him on my way from my hotel to the convention center. I greeted him and told him how much I enjoyed his talk. I also mentioned that while he probably didn't remember me, I was in  his Software Engineering class in 1986. He responded very cordially and asked me some questions about what I was doing now. We had a nice little chat about various aspects of computer science education. He was very generous  to take the time to converse with me and solicit my own views about the teaching of computer science.

I have always felt fortunate to have had Dr.Brooks as a professor. I feel even more fortunate for my chance meeting with him. I am still amazed by my luck and his graciousness.