Things They Won’t Teach You In School

Disclaimer: at least at my school. And in years of lurking the Internet.

#1 – Libraries (and making them too)

Most people will NOT teach you libraries. Anything from Qt in C++ to Django in Python is going to be less likely than assignments to roll your own. Of course, some fields, like graphics and compilers will use more standard tools and libraries (OpenGL, ANTLR/yacc/bison).

Now, making your own library? I’ve rarely seen that being emphasized in discussion on the Internet but you will surely write code that will be used by somebody else. In a way, many people make libraries for each other everyday — it’s just not the primary idea.

How do I learn it?

Create your own. Look at others. Documentation is about 50% of using a library, so writing it should be 50% of making a library. Look into your language documentation libraries, like Doxygen for C++ and Javadoc for Java.

If you think about it, operating systems are like the O.G. libraries. They’re just such a part of the system that they have their own club now.

#2 – Build Systems

I find it strange how people do not cover build systems as a first-class…. well… class (double pun). It should deserve it’s own semester class, in my opinion. How many times do you use a build system and you are required to understand your dependencies and how they fit together? In my short experience in working, build systems are everything, from the compilation and customization process all the way up to deployment and support.

How do I learn it?

C++ has no good universal build system. The closest one is CMake or Visual Studio. Solutions like Meson are up-and-coming, but often have larger dependencies like Python.

Java is probably the best example of having build systems with Maven and Gradle. It’s easier to integrate with libraries since repositories are well-established and JVM is a cross-platform blessing.

Start with a continuous integration tool and actually use it — TravisCI, Circle CI, and Jenkins are popular for open-source.


#3 – Rigorous Testing and Validation

Testing and validation may be covered, but people will not usually go into the differences between dumb mocks and spies and why you should care. It appears that testing is often a big part of the deployment process for larger companies. Additionally, static analysis may be used at more careful organizations in aerospace and hardware work. The balance between the perfect ideals of correctness and soundness and “just work, damn you!” is something that you’re not often to get formally trained in.

How do I learn it?

Learn the difference between unit and integration tests, and if you’re headed for an OOP place, maybe they’ll be using something like Google Mock/Google Test or EasyMock/Junit.

Explore standard debugging tools and some basic static analysis tools. For starters, try Cobertura and FindBugs in Java. If you’re really interested, learn a little more about your language’s type system and the benefits and downsides it has.

#4 – Critical Diagnosis and Debugging

Nobody teaches you to how to diagnose a bug definitively because we’re not there yet. The tools vary too much across industries — heck, even debugging formats are not standardized across platforms, and if they are, they’re not de facto standards.

For all our formal knowledge about static analysis and correctness in the years of academic research, it appears that rigor has not bled into the blood of common CS discussion. Somewhere, people are using FindBugs at top companies, and people are not being taught the working and practical use of it.

How do I learn it?

No idea, but algorithms and experience just seem to help. Tools can help with diagnosis. Tests, static analysis are a part of the process.





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