Monday, December 17, 2007

If I Were Better With bash

There's an interesting question posed on the O'reilly FYI blog: what would you do if you were better at bash? There is a prize for the best response: the deadline is tomorrow, so hurry if you're interested!

I was a little surprised at the responses. The responses fit into two groups. The first group of responses is, roughly, doing specific projects on the job. The second group is about rounding out skill sets, without being overly specific about applications of that improved skill set; while I definitely support self-improvement and continued learning, the responses in the second group don't really seem to answer the question. What surprised me was that no one took the opportunity to dream a little and suggest something out of the ordinary. Is bash really so prosaic?

Here's what I submitted:
If I were better at bash, I'd write a book.

Every year, many graduate students in the sciences are confronted with the fact that they have to use their conceptual knowledge of their field to conduct original research. It's not easy. One needless difficulty is that they need to write programs to support their research, but without having learned about the tools available. Tools like revisions control systems, make, and shells like bash.

Their classmates and advisors generally don't know about those tools, either -- there is a cultural mismatch, and so there is no support. I'd write a book to provide that support and introduce those tools.

Basically, I'd write the book from which I could have so much benefitted when I was a physics graduate student about fifteen years ago.

What would you do?

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