The Secret Lives of Faculty: Background

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I submitted a proposal for a talk to OSCON titled "The Secret Lives of Faculty." The Twitterable blurb went like this:

This presentation will introduce open source practitioners to the secret lives of computing faculty in higher education. We will introduce the kinds of students we teach, the curricula we teach to, and the metrics by which we are evaluated.

This post will be the first in a series that explores this topic. The goal is to provide a starting point for dialog and debate about how to best encourage and support faculty in higher education as they consider how best to leverage open source in their classrooms.

I'm on the new side as college professors go. I'm not quite ivy-covered yet, as Tom Leherer would say. That said, I've paid attention as I've made my way through graduate school, and have (surprisingly) learned a few things while studying and teaching at several institutions around the world. Unless you have made a point of talking to academics about their jobs, it is possible you don't have a sense for what the professional life of a college professor is like.

Yes, we have long breaks. No, we don't loll around all summer drinking Mai Thais.

We drink mojitos.


Humor aside, this series will introduce a series of topics related to the ebb and flow of a faculty member's career, and explore how those rhythms do (and don't) mesh well with open communities and their practices. Topics will include (in no particular order):

  1. Getting There. What is the process that leads to employment at the college level? What sacrifices are made, what are the challenges, and what are the benefits of "making it through?"
  2. The Calendar. Although you might have the general idea (semesters/quarters, breaks, etc.), this doesn't take into account the responsibilities that come with that structure.

  3. Curriculum. Specifically, what do we teach and why do we teach it. (Or, if you prefer, "Why we can't just teach them all Insert Trendy Language X Here to make you and your colleagues in Recruiting happy.")

  4. Evaluation and Advancement. Once one finds themselves employed as a "professor," the next chase is for tenure. Tenure is that magical, golden prize that "guarantees" employment for life. But what is involved in getting there, at what cost, and to what end?

  5. Innovation. What forces work to speed or slow innovation at the tertiary level? What role can the community play in helping make excellent educational opportunities happen?

Some of these topics will be explored in collaboration with others, and in all cases, my hope is to kick off discussion and debate surrounding each of these topics. The goal is to provide a lens into the professional lives of faculty that is relevant to the open source practitioner who would like to see more eager, energetic college students engaging and supporting the open projects that they hold dear.

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Matt is passionate about the design and development of usable languages for embedded control. You can some of his work at, a rallying point for parallel programming on the popular Arduino platform. However, most of the time Matt keeps himself busy as a member of the faculty at Berea College.

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