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A well-planned, well-stated vision March 6, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Faculty Life.
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My work place is currently the epitome of chaos! Nothing is going according to a plan, things and people are mixed up, and there’s no one who really cares! Why should I care then? I never belonged anyway! Not to Egypt as a country, not to my hometown, and certainly not to my faculty. I used to say to myself that I have a penchant for business venues, and that my love for studying can be always fulfilled by reading and research. Then why the hell should I care if students say they’re not given certain classes? Or if the faculty labs are a miss that has to end in sight? I shouldn’t care, because I don’t belong, and I keep drifting more and more away from the place and the mood. What really troubles me is that I want to be in the place and the mood, and I want everyone to work hard to make the place better, including me. The problem is I don’t have the stamina anymore, they don’t have the desire anymore, management doesn’t have the global vision for the place, and we all don’t know what to do with this situation! I want to be proud of the place I learned and worked in, and I don’t want the students to graduate saying they didn’t learn nothing. The real problem is that even with the staff that’s trying to deliver a message, the message is lost to students who don’t have a vision of what they should learn here, and how they should learn it. If I can talk about myself; then for example the distributed database systems course is a disaster waiting to happen for them and a picnic for me. They want to learn practical things (at least those who DO WANT TO LEARN!), and DDBS is a course more about design than implementation. But then, both departments are studying it, and designing a DDBMS is more of a CS department arena. IS department should be concerned more about setting policies and strategies for correct system functionality. What should I do? Give them SQL Server 2005 in the lab with no real point to make? Tell them how to make policy decisions? Or tell them how to build a query optimizer? I don’t have the grand plan, and even if I have it I don’t have the power to carry it out.
I spent 3 hours last nights rolling the subject in my head over and over, knowing that my colleagues – if they know what I was doing – would joke at how stupid I am and how my life is empty, but all I really want is to work according to a well-planned, well-stated vision. I don’t want to make the plan at this stage of my career because of two reasons; the first being that I too have a life and a research of my own to work on, and the second being that the stage where I’m obliged to make that plan will eventually come, and I want to learn from someone how to do it!

Class Discussion March 3, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Faculty Life.
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In the class of this week (I have only one course; distributed database systems; to teach this semester and over two days I give 7 classes,) we had a discussion about whether or not database systems are becoming obsolete. I told them it’s a possibility and the debate is considerable about this issue, they asked me then what technology is competing, and I said technologies like data warehouses and data marts are examples (most of them don’t hear about data warehousing until after graduation.) Then they asked the obvious question any self respecting Egyptian student would ask :D, which is why are they studying databases and distributed database systems if they are obsolete. I said they’re not obsolete, but new technologies are always trying to find a solid market share for themselves to justify their costs. An example I gave was Cobol; which is still deployed in some big corporations and organizations despite database systems being the norm of the era. Then we asked ourselves; why do such big organizations keep old fashioned technology. The lengthy discussions lead to us making the conclusions that there are three reasons why:

  • Whenever an organization is thinking of deploying Hi Tech for the first time, it goes without saying that they will pick the most up-to-date technology there is. This means that the chosen technology is highly expensive because it’s cutting-edge. The investment in this technology becomes a part of the organizations assets.
  • Migration from “supposedly” obsolete technology to more top notch technology may result -in addition to and extensive transition time- in possible loss of data that’s very valuable to the organization.
  • Most people don’t like change! It’s a miracle people accept Hi Tech solutions as it is, but to force them to adapt to the very quick pace of technological advances is beyond reasonable! After all, old habits die hard. I, who should be quick to adapt because I was born and educated in the Hi Tech era, still find it very hard to change my home page from Yahoo! To anything else, even if it was more informational!!

The importance of the discussion was not due to us making any breakthroughs or novel discoveries; I’m pretty sure more sophisticated outlines of the situation are already established in business and systems sciences. What made me write this entry was that I really was content to push them for once to discuss things despite the fact that they were aware what I’m saying is:

  • Out of the main point of the class.
  • May not be included in the final exam!!

Not that I don’t trust students to be interested in anything rather than making the grade, but I know from experience that they don’t get excited about things easily. There is no wonder in their minds about science and how and why things are what they are. To feel that we make the closest thing to a seminar in an undergraduate class made me feel good about my decision to choose a course that I can provide ideas about on the fly without having to go to the books to know the answers. That’s a real pleasure, even when I’m pretty sure than practical-wise, they’re most probably (or at least a subset of them) better than me.

Another day March 2, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Faculty Life.
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It’s been a very trying day at work today; Sunday is a day in the week in which I have work from 8 to 12, then a break, then some more work from 4 to 8. I can’t blame anyone for this; I did it to myself as I was the one who set the timetable. Actually, the only three problems I have with such a day are:

  • I repeat the same things four times!
  • My back hurts by 6 o’clock!
  • I have four hours of spare time that I either spend alone or with colleagues; not that spending time with my colleagues is that bad; but I’d rather stay alone than keep talking and most likely say all the wrong things, despite the fact that I’m constantly training myself to talk less. Another fact is that they’re all younger than me; sometimes much younger, and I don’t find that situation gratifying at times (because they make me feel soooo old :D)

As for today in special, I had fun because the section was about the twelve principles of distributed database systems. I found myself to be fluent although I didn’t read the chapter, I found myself engaging my students in problems and ways to overcome them, and I found myself to not be that cynical anymore. It’s true I said things that should put me in the blacklist (as if I was ever on any other list!!!), but overall I talked in favour of hard work always paying in the end (at least I hope it does!)

At the end of the day, I met a former student of mine; Nehal; who was the first caller in Calls, and I had fun talking with her n our way home. She asked me at some point: “Why didn’t you try to pursue a career in another venue besides academics?” and it didn’t take me much time to come up with the answer; I love studying, and I love understanding things and making people understand or at least willing to understand. Although it would be nice to engage myself in some practical venues just to keep in touch. But my greatest passion is to read anything and everything that manages to be interesting to me. That’s the point me and Ahmed Elsumm were making at one of our conversations; that what keeps you going and excelling at your job is for you to be passionate about it.

I’m falling asleep now as I’m talking, so until next time.