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Teaching Real-World Programming

Profs. Saman Amarasinghe and Charles Leiserson

Computer science professors Saman Amarasinghe, left, and Charles Leiserson co-teach a class called Performance Engineering of Software Systems.

Patrick Gillooly

In undergraduate computer-science classes, homework assignments are usually to write programs, and students are graded on whether the programs do what they’re supposed to. Harried professors and teaching assistants can look over the students' code and flag a few common and obvious errors, but they rarely have the time coach the students on writing clear and concise code.

In the real world, however, code clarity is as important as software performance. Large software projects can involve hundreds of programmers, each working on a small corner of an application, and over the course of a project, personnel turnover can be high. Testing, revising and updating software may require people to review code that they had no hand in writing. If the code isn’t intelligible, engineers can waste a huge amount of time just figuring out how an existing program does what it does.

Professors of computer science Charles E. Leiserson and Saman Amarasinghe, who co-teach a class called Performance Engineering of Software Systems, believe that undergraduates should be taught to write clear code, not just running code. So this fall, for the second year in a row, students in the class won’t just have their projects graded by their teaching assistants; they’ll also have their code reviewed by senior programmers from the Boston area, who volunteer their time through a program that Amarasinghe and Leiserson call Masters in the Practice of Software Systems Engineering, or MITPOSSE.

From MIT News Office
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