I joined the Class of 1979 as an electrical engineering (EE) major. My interest was thus piqued by the November 2023 PAW article “Higher Educating.”
It was a transitional time for EE, and the department name reflected this: electrical engineering and computer science. Computer science has of course long since become a department in its own right.
We majors were expected to master programming languages (PL/1 and IBM 360 Assembler) largely on our own. While timesharing (3270 terminals) existed, it was hard to get access, especially as an undergrad. My computer work was all done using punched-card input, green-bar line printer paper output, three tries per hour to run your program (“batch mode”), and the necessity of physical presence at the Computer Center.
Princeton is obviously not a trade or vocational school, but the retrospective fact is that my training in electrical engineering was too abstract and unmotivated — I was not prepared for industry expectations. I almost couldn’t get my first job in the field! The on-campus job interviews were always positive — I “presented well” — but at the all-expenses-paid on-site interviews in Silicon Valley, I invariably washed out when tested on circuit theory. Yet I graduated cum laude.
For this reason, I applaud the new real-world focus of the introductory STEM courses described in the article. Most people have no idea what engineers do, and like civics, people should have at least some idea. It impacts them in countless ways.
I eventually found my way into a successful career using database technology, leveraging the training I did receive in how to think.