What’s The Value of College?

CNN: Surging College Tuition
CNN: Surging college costs price out middle class

Not long ago I found myself working alongside a brilliant college dropout–A young junior programmer who was just plain gifted when it came to software development. I was very surprised that he hadn’t completed a degree of any kind. It made me wonder why I had, without much consideration, put such high value on a four-year degree.

A recent InfoWorld article, 15 hot programming trends — and 15 going cold, touches on the issue of rising tuition costs and the questionable value that they bring.

I attended Ball State University — a place hardly known for being an engineering college. It was a nearby school with a Computer Science program that did not cost as much as IU or Purdue. For someone like me, it was attainable. While I enjoyed my time at Ball State, and I learned much, very little of my Computer Science education turned out to be directly applicable to my career. Sure, I learned formal concepts, design practices and perhaps a little about requirements gathering and QA (very little). Some of what I thought I knew had to be unlearned, as I came to realize that things operate differently in the “real world.”

Ultimately, as someone with an inherent interest in writing software, I suspect that everything I really needed to know could have been learned in a year of dedicated study. The rest comes from workplace experience.

The problem, of course, is that if I hadn’t gone the college route, spending 4+ years working on a Bachelor’s degree, I would never have been able to land my first job interview. And it was that first job where I really learned how all this stuff that I knew really came together in a real business environment on a project of significant size.

Through the years, I’ve met great, good and awful software engineers with varying backgrounds and educations. Many of the best software developers attended college, but graduated with a degree in something unrelated (History, Art, New Testament Studies, English, to name a few). These people gravitated to Software Engineering and Development through various means, some of them going on to pursue certifications and other training.

My experience hardly reflects any kind of comprehensive analysis, but I don’t hesitate to say that most of the software engineers with undergraduate degrees in non-CS fields are among those that I consider excellent.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when droves of students gravitated to Computer Science because they heard that it was a great career to pursue. While I happen to agree that it is a great career, I don’t think it is a career for just anyone. It requires a certain type of interest and motivation. Perhaps it is because some folks enter Computer Science undergraduate programs for the wrong reasons, but I have observed all ranges of skill level from those with CS backgrounds. I’ve found myself shocked (more than a few times) by the poor quality of code created by developers with formal CS educations. I once was asked to help debug some code written by a colleague that had compilation problems. It didn’t take long to find the problme: A 2,000+ lines-of-code function that caused the compiler to choke.

Doctors, Teachers, Lawyers, Accountants–These are all people who require specific degrees and certifications. I know that I don’t want to have my eyes checked by a self-trained Optometrist. In software fields it is different. After a software engineer has some experience, it seems that his or her degree becomes afterthought. Unless the subject of college comes up during a lunch conversation, rarely do I actually know the formal education or degree of a colleague. What I do know is that person’s quality and volume of work. Don’t get me wrong–there are things that may be taught in a Computer Science department that are absolutely necessary. Knowledge of algorithms and design patterns is important. It should be noted, however, that knowledge and application are different beasts.

I wonder–If college costs keep rising at such a staggering rate, at what point does the return on investment lose its worth? With companies hard pressed to find good software engineers, and with a greater percentage of the population unable to afford a 4 year degree at even a semi-respected university, when will the traditional model change? There are so many options–from certifications to local technical schools that are available at a fraction of the cost. At some point it seems that a college degree becomes more of a social status symbol than a true reflection of one’s talent or ability.

We’ll have to begin to ask ourselves: Which candidate is right for the job? Is it the one fresh out of college with a CS degree and a 3.8 GPA who lacks experience working with others on a project of scale, or is it the non-college-route self-taught programmer who has proven talent that can be seen by way of open-source contributions?

Occasionally I have seen job postings for software engineers which claim to require a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. I have to wonder: What does the hiring manager believe he or she might get from the engineer with a Master’s Degree that differs from the engineer with a lowly Bachelor’s Degree? In my experience, most Master’s Programs a little more than the same programs that undergraduates complete… The only difference is that the students in the program have already completed a four-year degree (and that degree could be anything).

This isn’t to demean formal education. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t change my time at Ball State University. No way! I was fortunate, however. When I went to Ball State, college was merely ridiculously expensive. Today it is insanely expensive. In 10 years, it will be unattainably expensive. When that happens, where will the software engineers come from?

High Output = High Output of Defects Too (So go easy on ‘em!)


ImageWe all know that software defects are pretty much inevitable. (Right?)

A bad developer may produce a fraction as many defects of a great developer. I’m guessing Linux Torvalds has written more bugs that I could write in my entire career… And yet, to say that this means I am a better software developer would be absurd.

Inherent in this fact is an easy truth to understand but a difficult truth to respond to: The developer with lower output of overall contribution likely has a lower volume of defects tied to his or her name (or commits), while the superstar developer may be put in that less-than-fun situation of accepting responsibility for a defect a little more frequently than anyone would like.

The obvious reason for this is the simple fact that with great output of success comes a greater output of defects (even though, percentage-wise, the great developer may create significantly fewer). A less obvious reason for this is that the great developer–the super-talented one whose volume of output is consistently astonishing–is much more isolated from peer-review of other teammates. Those who don’t understand or work at a pace behind that of the great developer are less apt to offer insightful peer review. Also, the most talented developer on the team may be the most demanded upon (and when we believe in Software Ninjas, we’re setting ourselves up for problems).

There may be good reason to go easy on the guy or gal who must humbly own up to that defect that made its way into production. If fingers must be pointed, its the entire time that should be reviewing the work of their peers.

SSH User Annoyance & Solution

I’m in an environment where whenever I ssh to a machine I have a different username than that of my main machine. For example, the username on my desktop of “Some.Desktop.User,” whereas all the Linux environments I ssh to use the username “Some.Linux.User.” I’ve typed “ssh <host>” countless times, only to be annoyed when I realize that the password I am being prompted for is for “Some.Linux.User,” which does not exist on the host. Of course I should have typed “ssh <host> -l Some.Linux.User.”

To make life a little easier, do this:

In ~/.ssh create a file named config. In that file add the following:

Host *
User Some.Linux.User

Likewise, if you have a number of different accounts on different servers, you can do something like this:

Host servername.domain
User Some.Linux.User.1

Not exactly a super secret tip, but a useful time saver.

Obligatory Social Media Advice to the ‘Younguns”

Social-Media-IconsI’ve seen a few good posts and articles that make attempts to explain to young ladies—teens and preteens—the consequences of their posts online. Many of these are very good, with many great points. This is my own attempt. Don’t get me wrong: I love social media. I’m a fan.

Thirteen to eighteen can be strange years of life—this is nothing new. What is new is the technology available, and the way that a single poor choice can do to ruin a reputation. During these years, kids have the ability and know-how to make choices with lasting consequences. They do not always have the wisdom that should be used with such powerful, lasting tools at hand.

I remember being a teenager. (There I go… I sound old with one short sentence.) It wasn’t THAT long ago! I also remember saying things like, “I don’t care what people think about me!” and “As long as I’m true to myself, that should be all that matters.” Neither such statement is, was, or has ever been true. Every teenager who has ever said such things (most of them) thinks he or she is the first one to come up with such an idea. Also, every teenager who ever said this actually does care what others think.

It doesn’t change in adulthood. I care what others think of me. You bet I do! I care what my boss, my family, my neighbors, and my colleagues think about me. Why wouldn’t I? I want them to think that I am loyal, hard working, and kind. Heck, I want them to think that I am smart and handsome! I may be neither, but the desire is certainly there.

While it is important that we don’t allow unfair criticism to impact our personal values and sense of self worth, there is always good reason to take heed of what others may think: Reputation.

I have daughters—not quite to the age where this is yet a problem—but its coming, and its coming very soon. Unlike many parents, I’m fortunate enough to be tech savvy. On the computers in my house, and on my wi-fi, there will be little if anything that goes on without my knowledge. I know how to block certain sites and how to track access. I know how to obtain passwords. Will I snoop on my daughters? You bet I will!

I’m also up on the current trends, so I guess I’m lucky enough to know all about Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine and Ask.fm. Not long ago I set up an Ask.fm account to see what it was all about. I was bothered—repulsed, actually–by the creepiness of it. If ever there was a tool to allow strange folks with malicious motives to stalk young people, this is it.

In our house my wife and I have established a rule, and to be fair (at least in the eyes of naïve children), this rule will work both ways: No password are to be hidden from one-another. Other than surprises–i.e. gifts–there is never a good reason to keep secrets from immediate family. Sure, they’re young, but it is important to establish such rules early on. Dropping a new rule on a kid when he or she turns a certain age is not likely to go over very well.

To some this may seem like an extreme move. Even the most involved parents that I know sometimes say that children need their privacy. I certainly agree that I don’t need to be breathing down their necks at every turn (nor could I). When it comes to one’s online presence, however, this is necessary. Too many parents have no idea what their kids are doing on the phones, iPods, or tablets that they received for Christmas. Some think that simply disallowing Facebook and Twitter accounts is sufficient, without knowing that the kids have already moved away from these social networks in favor of others that the parents aren’t hip to.

I’m not foolish (well, not always).  Monitoring devices and network access is far from foolproof. At some point there will be nothing I can do to ensure that my children aren’t doing something stupid by way of social networks or text messages. The best I can do is explain the possible consequences and teach them to be smart, safe, and be aware of their reputation.

I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to say this: A single picture, a single bad text message, or a single bad post can do much to solidify one’s reputation. It can do a great deal to lock in the type of person you are perceived to be—And perception is everything! The unfortunate thing about a reputation is that the negative is much more easily locked in by a few bad choices, while it takes much diligence to maintain a good reputation. We’ve all made bad decisions, but until recently, such bad decisions weren’t so easily disseminated to the masses.

Others have probably heard this advice: Before posting or sending something, ask yourself, “Is this something I would want my grandmother to see?” (Or how about “Would I want my teacher to see this?” There’s a good chance—a VERY good chance—that one of your teachers will see it.)

The above is good advice. Great advice, actually. Unfortunately, most teenagers aren’t thinking of this question as a prompt of appropriateness. They are thinking of the near-term benefits, along with the perception that the “old people” are clueless (old, in their minds, being anyone over the age of 25). (I’ll say it again: If your parents don’t, your teachers can and will see your posts.)

As I peruse Instagram, I am sometimes stunned by the amount of junk that kids post, and the lack of any self-filtering used. In the case of young ladies, it seems that many of them are eager to get likes on their pictures, as they try their best to look attractive and appeal to the boys at their schools.

The duck-lipped-smoochie faces are everywhere. The bikini-selfies, posted with some sort of idea that, while a young lady just happens to be wearing her swimsuit, she really just wanted to post a picture of where she was at—or her new hairstyle—or a new gadget is not the exception. It is the norm. I suspect that many such pictures are posted with the idea that plausible deniability is along the lines of, “Oh, I didn’t realize people would see it that way.” (Yeah, right.) Maybe its true. Maybe the ever-trusting mother will say, “Oh honey, you didn’t know better, but some people may see that the wrong way.”

Here comes the standard disclaimer (I tried not to, but alas, I must): I’m not a prude, but…

What? You don’t believe me? I’m not a prude! Really!

Many, many people—countless more than a kid can imagine—see these pictures. It doesn’t matter what privacy settings may happen to be. Any image can be copied and passed along. I’m reminded of how infuriated Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson were when their now-famous home video became public. The best way to avoid having it ever seen would have been to not create it in the first place.

With social media, the situation is a little different. The people posting these pictures want them to be seen, at least by some audience. As we all know, however, when it comes to anything on the Internet (including text messages), no such posts will ever be as private as one may hope. I’m sure that telling teenagers to refrain from instant messaging isn’t very easy these days. And even the best, most involved parent cannot look over a kid’s shoulder all day long.

Anyway, here are a few things I would like to point out to any young ladies who may happen across this post. I could say all the things that any of us heard growing up: Trust me, I’ve been there…, I know more than you think I know…, Adults aren’t as stupid as you think…, This is for your own good…, What would (insert relative’s name here) think of that picture?

I hope, for the sake of my own children and for the sake of others, that some amount of this advice becomes commonplace enough that tweens and teens begin to take heed.

Nothing is Private

I know that you think you and your boyfriend will be together forever. You won’t be. When you break up, do you really want him to have that picture you sent? If he does have any such pictures, you can be fairly certain that all of his friends do as well. If he hasn’t passed the picture along to his buddies, he will when the two of you break up.

That picture you sent to the love of your life a year ago will go viral. Maybe not to the degree of Charlie Bit My Finger, but to a much greater degree than you ever imagined or desired.

The Grandma Test

Here’s a better question to ask yourself, even better than asking if you’d want your grandmother to see it: Would you want your future husband and children to see it? Long after middle school and high school, after all the silly mistakes that we make along the way, and after those blunders (you hope) are forgotten, the Internet doesn’t forget. You can try to delete your accounts and remove old posts, but it’s all backed up and cached somewhere. More importantly, you cannot delete the accounts and posts of others. Once that picture or video you sent is out of your hands, it’s out of your hands for good. Sometimes you’ll be on a job interview. Do you really want to wonder if a potential employer happened across that thing from years ago? (Employers Google candidates. Its true. They do.)

You know what you’re doing–Admit it!

You posted a picture of yourself with the caption “I love my new hairstyle!” It just “so happened” that you were standing braless, or in a bikini, when you posted that picture. Maybe 2 guys from your school pressed the like button. Maybe 10. Maybe 100. You’re secretly thrilled, because you know—admit it—that they aren’t liking your hair. Teenage boys can be vile, filthy creatures. On this I will say it without reservation: TRUST ME!

Now that you have posted the picture, for all to see, and you got a like from Billy Smith, that cute guy in your math class, you may have some sense of pride. This is what you were seeking in the first place, right?

What if Billy asks you to the semiformal dance? You are going to meet his parents—His mom and dad, maybe even grandparents—who may or may not have their own Instagram accounts (or maybe they check his phone messages—and maybe he doesn’t even know it). Do you really want his mother’s first and only impression of you to be as that girl who posts and sends provocative pictures of herself? I’m sure the duck-lips that you made while taking the picture will be the least of her concerns.

As for Billy, what are his thoughts about you? Is he someone who likes you because you are funny, pretty, and charming? Or has Billy gotten the idea that you’re exactly the kind of girl who is going to satisfy his teenage-boy urges?

Billy will never admit it, but he’s thinking of pretty much one thing and one thing only. I’ll let you in in case I’m being too vague: Billy thinks that any girl who would post a picture of herself wearing next to nothing, and get away with it, probably has parents who will allow her to stay out late and do whatever. And Billy is fairly certain that his semiformal date has pretty much already said yes to his planned advances.

Maybe you’re okay with Billy having such ideas. Maybe that’s the kind of young lady you are. If you aren’t my daughter, it isn’t my place to scold you. But what if you aren’t ok with this? What if you’re just a young lady who, like most teenagers, wants to know that she’s pretty. And maybe that bikini pose that resulted in100 likes on Instagram provide that kind of boost to your self-esteem.

I’m not ridiculing you. We all want to be liked. We all want to be attractive! I love it when I post a family picture on Facebook and someone comments, “What a great looking family!” I’m no different. There’s a certain satisfaction in being complimented in such a way.

→ Back to Haunt

Here’s another question: How is your self esteem going to be when Billy dumps you a few days later, and shares that private picture you sent to him while getting ready for the dance to all of his friends? (Hint: It’s going to be in bad shape.)

Or what if Billy turns out to be a downright nasty dude, far worse than you could have imagined, and he follows up with a comment on that Instagram picture you posted with a detailed account of what happened after your dance? It could be all lies, but the people seeing such words along with a promiscuous picture are going to assume that its all true. Even before you have a chance to delete his awful comment, it has already been seen by your friends, family, and others. This is far from embarrassing—It’s devastating.

“But Billy would never do such a thing!”

Are you sure?

The Creeps

Let’s not forget about the creepy old men out there. It’s tragic, but true. There are some very bad people in the world, and your lack of experience may lead you to a strange conversation. You’re young. You assume the best. Maybe those kind messages you received lead you to go meet this guy. He told you he’s in college, and that he just turned 19. He even sent some pictures to prove it! Yikes. This goes beyond ruining your reputation. It could ruin your life. It could wreck a family. I’m not trying to play up the possibilities for the sake of creating some worst-case, only-in-the-movies scenario. The reality here is frightening enough. Don’t ever so much as even consider meeting someone in person who solicited you on the Internet. Please.

Bullying

Finally, bullying. I’ve seen it myself, and sometimes from surprising sources. It might seem funny to post a picture of that zit-faced nerd from you biology class. Maybe the number of comments you get from such a post, along with the “hilarious” comments, offers some sort of thrill. It puts you on a pedestal, somehow bumping you up a bit on the cruel social ladder of high school. You’re way-cool. You’re in the cool crowd! You’re social status has put you in a position of high-school pecking order above the nerds! I could go on and on about bullying. There’s something about the detachment of a post that makes those who wouldn’t typically bully in-person behave much differently. It makes bullying easy, but no less cruel.

That nerd, he’s a real person with real emotions. He’s more than a hash-tag. He’s seen the post, and now we must suffer through all the hurtful comments. His offense? Nothing that he ever had any control over. Maybe he already felt bad enough about the crummy clothes he has to wear. Maybe his family cannot afford anything better than thrift store purchases. Maybe his mother passed away, and his father is doing the best he can, and the nerd, let’s call him Jimmy, has enough difficulty in his life without being publicly ridiculed for little more than not fitting in.

Is the emotional dismantling of Jimmy something that you want to be a part of? You may not realize it yet. You won’t know if for years to come, but that boy you made fun of may turn out to be the best marriage material out there. Jimmy-the-nerd may turn out to be the nicest young man you never knew. Be nice to Jimmy. Sit with him at lunch. He may turn out to be an amazing young man.

Finally

I know all of this sounds a bit surly. It probably even sounds like the foolish voice of some “old guy” who doesn’t get it. It’s worth saying, in any case. Apologies for targeting the females out there. All of the above advice is equally appropriate for you men, but I’m a father with daughters.

Where’s the Alternative OS?

windows-8-logoAs much as I love Linux (Fedora is my distro of choice), I remain frustrated that no company–at least none that I know of–is doing much to really compete with Windows or Apple. Linux, in my humble opinion, as a desktop OS, remains something usable by the few who enjoy getting their hands dirty with an OS–those that have technical expertise beyond that of the average user.

Windows has had a death grip on corporations and schools (from elementary through university) for many years now–basically as long as computers have been showing up in schools. That grip isn’t something that will likely go away any time soon. By supporting a vast array of hardware, obtaining a vast majority of users, and continuing to improve (with a few backsteps like Windows ME and Vista), Microsoft has done what others have failed to do. Apple is great, sure. I am a fan–but the company has chosen to not even attempt the kind of hardware support and third-party distribution that Microsoft has.

Sure, there were the early days when the Apple //e had some foothold in the classroom, but that is ancient history. Some colleges have labs with Macs, and many college students use Macbooks. Any college with a Computer Science program of any value uses some sort of Unix, but these are the techie computers, often restricted to a lab where only the software folks go.

I’ve tinkered

with Windows 8 a few times now, most recently attempting to help my mother with hew new Windows phone. I have to confess, I was impressed with that Windows phone. It had all the clean usage of an iPhone without the clutter of Android. The interface is intuitive. Its good. Very good!

Windows 8 on the desktop–now that’s a different story. I’m not alone when in saying that the Windows 8 desktop experience is awful. It isn’t simply because its a paradigm shift from what I am used to. Personally, I think Microsoft’s big mistake here was in assuming that the same paradigm used for tablets and phones could translate to the desktop.

Several months ago I attempted to help my sister with her new Windows 8 computer. She wanted to transfer some files and set up Outlook Express to pull email from a Gmail account. Basic stuff… It should have been really easy. I wrestled with the interface for a couple of hours, and in the end, I never succeeded in getting her email set up right.

It is almost embarrassing to admit, because something like this is the most basic of tasks. It should have been straightforward, easy. I understand that Windows 8.1 addresses some of the user interface complaints, but this was prior to its release. It was difficult to navigate without a touchscreen. It was difficult to find file locations. Heck, it took me a long time to simply figure out how to make a shortcut! And finding where a file is saved–yuck.

I’m not one of those anti-Microsoft-no-matter-what people, but Windows 8 on the desktop has really left a bad taste in my mouth. It is a far cry from being a developer’s OS, and the few people I know who have bought new computers with Windows 8 installed have been extremely frustrated by it.

Chromebooks seems to be picking up in sales, but these small, stripped-down machines offer only basic features. They aren’t for gamers or power users. They are designed to be inexpensive laptops to meet the most rudimentary needs of the average computer user.

Tux, the Linux penguin

Over 20 years have passed since the introduction of Linux. There have been countless distros, and more continue to be created. Red Hat proved that an open-source company can be a success. Most servers run Linux. Ubuntu has made great strides in creating a distribution that comes close to being usable by the average non-techie. But Linux for the average user remains something that is often discussed but never achieved.

As for Apple–I love my Macbook. I think it is the finest computer I’ve ever touched. OS X is an amazing desktop OS, but it comes at a cost. When a consumer can buy a similarly powered Windows laptop for a fraction of the cost of a Mac, there is little chance that Apple will take over in the desktop/laptop market. Sure, that $2,000 Macbook costs a lot more, but rest assured that the device is extremely well built and will last for well over 5 years. I cannot say for sure what the average lifespan of a Dell, Toshiba, HP or Sony Windows laptop is, but I do know that when people pay $400 for a laptop, it is an antiquated, slow device from the get-go. When it comes to buying a computer, the massive difference in price is pretty much the decision maker.

Even with the public frustration with Windows 8, Chromebooks, Macbooks, iMacs, and Linux desktops seem to have made only a small dent in the sales of Windows computers. (The one place where Windows 8 is great–the phone and tablet market–is, ironically, the are where Microsoft continues to fail to pick up steam.)

I’m not Microsoft-bashing. I really liked Windows 7. It presented a clean, understandable UI. It worked–very well. It was a better OS than Windows Vista in every way. So why Microsoft would abandon the desktop interface that they spent years making the masses comfortable with stumps me.

It seems that given the current state of affairs, with most people being flummoxed by Windows 8 on the desktop, that Red Hat, Ubuntu or even Google is poised to release a great operating system that really competes for the attention of the average computer users. So where is it?

Google seems to be hung up on getting users tied in to their entire Google+ network of stuff. Chromebooks pretty much require a Google account, which ties in to just about everything under the sun. Chromebooks seem to me to be little more than a physical connection to Google+. They aren’t designed as devices that can stand alone without a network connection. Gaming? Fuggetaboutit!

Sure, Ubuntu has made strides in making its Linux distro usable by the average user, but it isn’t all the way there. Most users don’t know what sudo apt-get does, nor do they wish to. As for Fedora–I love it–as do many fellow geeks–but one must be very comfortable with Linux to even think about using it. It doesn’t pass the mom testnot by a long-shot.

As far as Apple goes–They’ll never open their OS to other vendors. It just isn’t how they do things. One of the reasons Mac computers are so stable is because they have the advantage of controlling everything inside, from hardware to software. Microsoft has, and has always had, the challenge of supporting everything. I wouldn’t expect to build a computer, picking out a motherboard, processor, memory, hard drive, hooking it all up, and install OS X with any success. Windows, on the other hand, has to support this expectation.

Linux offers a great amount of power and control to the user–perhaps a bit too much, when it comes to creating a desktop OS for the masses. There is no consistent user interface. There are countless desktops and configurations, but nothing unified. While the Linux community sees this as a positive, the average user requires an interface that is consistent from computer to computer. Linux is free and open–always has been, always will be. In some strange way, the most positive aspects of Linux are detrimental to its usefulness by a wide range of people on the desktop.

Love it or hate it, I don’t think Windows 8 is going to be the downfall of Microsoft or its overwhelming hold on the desktop market. There is no real competition. Corporations aren’t going to switch to Linux or Apple overnight. They may not upgrade to Windows 8 any time soon. Why would they? There is comfort in knowing that the behemoth company behind the computers that a company invests in will survive to continue support and enhancement. As successful as Ubuntu has been, does anyone really think the average C-level executive has even heard of it?

I was thinking about creating my own list of things that need to happen before a Linux based OS can compete for real market share, but others have already done it. Here are a few links I found. (For the record, I don’t presume that it would have to be a Linux OS to offer Microsoft real competition.)

I’d love to see Red Hat get serious in the desktop market. Now is the time to do so.

ZDNet – 5 Things Desktop Linux has to do to beat Windows 8
udemy: Ubuntu vs. Windows
Could this be the year of the Linux desktop?
12 ways Windows 8 dominates the OS competition

The Art of Editing, or Should Writers Use the Singular “They”?

MTR:

I found this post when I noticed a link to my blog. Good post on the commonly used singular use of ‘they’.

The Art of Editing: The Art of Editing, or Should Writers Use the Singular “They”?
Singular Nouns with Plural Pronouns

Originally posted on change it up editing:

ID-100144779I recently completed line editing a dystopian novel. After going through my edits, the author wrote to me with several questions, prefacing them with this statement:

“I made the mistake of not pestering my last editor on details like these. I’m not making that mistake again.”

He was absolutely correct to question something he didn’t understand, and I assured him that I would answer any queries he had. After all, how can writers improve their writing if they write in a vacuum?

One of his questions concerned pronouns and antecedents:

I’ve read about the use and acceptance of gender-neutral pronouns. I prefer gender-neutral pronouns when I talk. You seem to be correcting against the use of gender-neutral pronouns in my writing. May I ask why? Is the world about to go to war over this? I really wish it wasn’t an issue, but apparently it still is. Does using gender-neutral…

View original 1,170 more words

Met a Real-Live Author Today

What’s a Real-Live Author? I suppose many of us, even those of us who fancy ourselves wannabe writers, tend to think of authors as the people with books that are published by Real-Big Publishers. In more generous terms, an author is probably anyone who writes stuff. Such a definition, of course, is a little feel-good. I’ve written a number of articles for magazines that have ISSN numbers and copyrights and contracts with a bunch of words. So I don’t hesitate to call myself a writer. I write. I’ve been paid for it (albeit in negligible amounts).

I’ve often wondered if I have the chops to have any fiction work published. Today at TEDxRaleigh I was pleased to see a Real-Live Author: Daniel Wallace. I had to cut out of the conference a bit early. I didn’t want to bother the guy, but when I saw him standing there I knew I had to ask say hi and ask a couple of questions. He couldn’t have been more friendly, and my questions, likely similar to questions he gets very often, were answered with genuine interest and sincere advice. There’s something satisfying about meeting a person who has had extreme success (Big Fish–a movie most people know–is based on his novel of the same title) who is just a real person.

My questions, naturally, had to do with how to get fiction published. Silly question, perhaps. I’m sure all published novelists get such questions frequently. Perhaps constantly. In any case, his advice was seemed excellent.

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