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The Education of Geeks and Freaks : Comments

By Tom Green

June 17, 2008



June 18, 2008 4:03 AM

Interesting article!
Definitely true, even in europe… I got my degree a few years ago, and they actually did teach all the different video, audio, design and other stuff on top of coding, but I wasn’t a damn interested in it at the time; all I was interested in was, well, developing for the web… Now after a few years, I have come to realise that I actually miss all the skills I could have learnt when I was at uni. I’m not saying I’m stuck, not at all, but interaction with other employees/workmates in the company would have been a lot easier if I’d paid at least a bit of interest in all the other technologies… So even if design, video/audio editing get taught, students really need to know that it is important, and it will never be about coding or design or editing alone.
Getting Unis to teach a bit of design on top of coding is one thing, but getting coders interested in design (and viceversa) is I think the hardest part. Good luck!


June 18, 2008 5:28 AM

This article is a long time coming! You bring up an excellent point about the polarization of skills that are taught. Looking back on my degree, not surprisingly called “Interactive Media”, I found that I did take a good amount of classes in both the design and development areas. It gave me a broad base of knowledge but upon graduating but I felt somewhat destitute in that I knew very little about a lot and a lot about very little. On top of that, my university didn’t have a lot of connections with industry firms, thus making it a lot more difficult to find meaningful internships.

Anyway, I hope you’re one of many innovators in the web design and development educational arena. Do you do any consulting work with other universities? Also, I think a 1 to 2 day conference for professors and administrators is in order! “Web Design and Development Education: Best practices to educate your students with the skills and abilities us industry folks need!” Maybe a talk at SXSW would be better. At any rate, keep up the good work!


June 18, 2008 6:17 AM

Brilliant article. So many good points I hardly know where to start. This topic has been an issue with me for a long time, thanks for helping to make it more visible.


June 18, 2008 8:16 AM

Normally I would never submit a comment anonymously, however I have no desire to put a black mark on the university which I attend. On to the point.

This past semester I took a Graduate Level CS Software Testing course. I had been looking forward to this course more so than any other I had taken. Imagine my horror when we got to the end of the semester and I hadn’t been asked to write a single software test. Not one. You want to talk about practice vs. theory? This is a perfect illustration. I am disgusted that this could actually happen.


June 18, 2008 9:22 AM

Great article. I am on the development side and have studied the problem recently because I work on a team without a designer.

I’m worried that problem is even larger than just coding vs. design. There are too many disciplines here. It isn’t just Computer Science vs. Design. We have art, coding, cognitive science, usability, and interaction design.

I don’t believe it is possible to have experts in all of these areas on one team. It is essential to have folks who span disciplines. Whether your degree is Design, Computer Science, Psychology, Human Factors, or Interaction Design, it is essential to have a high degree of knowledge in the other areas.


June 18, 2008 10:55 AM

Interesting article. While I agree with many of the comments regarding art vs. technology and the views of many academic artists on the ‘trade arts’, I do have to correct Judy Kiel on one fact. The University of Utah Art Department does have a Graphic Design program and has for many years. Not exactly essential to the validity of your points, but still an error.


June 18, 2008 3:58 PM

Really great Article Tom!
I think I’m one of the few students that actually got this in school. That you really do need to know a little of everything to succeed. And that was the beauty of the program. Now in my current position. I’m able to meat almost any need by my employers and be a really great asset to the company. I’m not the best at one thing but I’m a good at everything.

Judy Kiel

June 18, 2008 4:14 PM

I apologize for the confusion, I was unaware that there was a graphic design emphasis available now (at the Univ. of Utah) …I do know that Prof. Morales has been part of the faculty for quite a while, and does fine work himself.


June 18, 2008 11:02 PM

Great article on an important subject.

Educators (specifically Univsersity academics) need to make an attempt to keep somewhat current. Typically there are one or two instructors (often adjuncts) on top of things, and the rest are not up to par. I suspect some of them like viewing from a distance.

In my experience the trade schools are doing a better job in this arena, and it’s easy to see why given the different goals of each institution.

I’ve seen many classes where the students knew much more than the teachers – on the very subject of the course. That’s a shame in the truest sense of the word.

Rob Mckenzie

June 19, 2008 10:56 AM

Incredible article…has come just at the right time as I am about to start writing lesson plans for my new teaching position on a Web Development course. I have rarely found a piece of writing that I completely agree with and have nothing to criticize or add to, this is a very good day.


June 19, 2008 7:14 PM

I’m very glad to see so many people responding enthusiastically to Tom’s article. As part of the small staff of Digital Web, I’m stoked to see the response to a more “op-ed” stance with a firm statement about the direction of our industry, rather than its trends and techniques.

To my mind, we’re at a weird lull in between points. Web skills are finally reaching the mainstream where academia considers it a teachable career choice—usually a hallmark of a true craft/profession. Meanwhile browser and technology changes are stagnant compared to earlier phase. So much so that the community has time to focus obsessively on things like content, social interaction and the minutiae of upcoming (molasses-like) specifications.

Regarding that stagnation, if academic programs take hold now, will they preach 2008 web concepts? Or will they take into account our enthusiasm and preparation for the near future, where we will be shortly wrestling with new specifications, new technologies, hyperconnectivity, ubiquity and who knows what else?

Regardless of how the balance web jack-of-all-trades teachings, academic programs will be hamstrung if they don’t educate people about efforts to shape standards and de facto patterns, promote flexibility and generally contribute to the progressive energy of the web. And how to self-teach afterwards.

Tom Green

June 19, 2008 10:10 PM

Actually Tiff, I don’t see us in a “weird lull”.

What we are doing is grappling with a fundamental shift in the very nature of what we do. It isn’t hitting us with the rapidity of the rise of the internet as a communications medium. The shift is that we are becoming unplugged. We are no longer tethered to the ethernet cable. Instead we are wrestling with how to deal with a communications medium that allows us to get our message out in a consistent manner using mediums from hand held devices, cell phones and so on.

This is what is behind the “Geeks” and Freaks” I talk about.They need to have specialized skills but still each must know what the other is doing and understand the other’s language if a project is to come into the light of a CRT. Post Secondary educators still see the ethernet cable. The industry and in many respects our students see the cloud.

In fact such technologies as AIR from Adobe and Silverlight from Microsoft allow us to create applications – the Adobe Media Player is a fabulous example as are the apps being cooked up at Google- that use the internet to display information with zero reliance on a browser.I don’t find it at all surprising that Twitter, for example, can be utilized just as easily from a cell phone as it can fom a computer with an ethernet cable stuck into it.There are any number of AIR apps, Thwirl, for example, that don’t require a visit to the Twitter page.

This is seriously cool stuff and I just hope that, in general, post secondary educators “get it” .


June 20, 2008 12:10 AM

Ah, sorry. I didn’t explicitly mean a “weird lull” for academia—obviously, there’s a ton of focus on that right now and your article is a strong reflection (and catalyst) of that. I meant for web professionals and the momentum behind web standards: I haven’t heard much about “spreading web standards” advocacy as I did two years ago, when major websites were still table-filled, source-code horrors. I debate whether it is mainstream adoption or boredom with that battleground shifted the focus from advocacy to “web 2.0” technologies for geeks by geeks.

…Although I do have to say that I’m glad I coaxed the soundbyte out of you about ethernet v. cloud. That’s some good stuff right there.

I do have a related question: I happen to read a lot about generational gaps in technology use, which I think plays strongly to your notion of educators “getting it” about post-ethernet pipe web use. Do you see strong generational lines within educator’s attitudes, or more along the lines of technological immersion?


June 20, 2008 8:48 AM

Very interesting article, great read. I’m on the other side of the table in this situation, the student side. From my perspective, educators with your enthusiasm and outlook are few and far between, unfortunately.

It’s a tough task but I think education needs to push the web forward instead of trailing just behind it. So much of my past 4 years have been learning syntax and so little was about the ideas behind what we were doing or like you wrote, the interaction between other professionals we will have. I think most of this results from educators who are uninterested or unaware of the current state of the industry.

I hope your ideas and writing hits home to educators. If universities were filled with professors with your type of thinking, academia and the web would both be a much better places.


June 20, 2008 8:58 AM

No offense meant, but I don’t really see anything new in your article — it’s basically just a discussion of a long time problem found in teaching all disciplines. There has always been a lag time between what currently works and what it taught — but sometimes that lag time is significant as your article illustrates.

While academia would like to project a leading-edge image, it seldom is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good at what it does, which is to get students to think. But, if I were to look to academia to solve the problems I address today, I would have to teach the instructors first.

As for the entire digital industry, I agree that no one is a master at all facets, but the fact is that no one is a master at any. The industry is dynamic and constantly changing. As such, it’s no surprise to me that teaching institutions have problems keeping up. Hell, it’s hard for us in the trenches to keep up as well. However, we have competition and clients who demand that we do and that is absent in a tenure-minded environment.

But don’t feel alone, because innovative thinking and good problem solving are also absent in most large-scale corporations, governments, and organizations. That’s probably why most ground-breaking innovations come from individuals and small business rather than from “the brightest idea has to pass through the dimmest mind” collections.

If you think you have problems now with keeping up, teaching new technologies, and confronting communication problems, wait until the rest of the world logs on and demands their place in the sun. New, exciting, and scary things await us all.

Good luck with your tilting windmills and don’t look toward the levee.


June 22, 2008 10:44 PM

“One cannot be a master of code and a master of design.”

Way to make a blanket statement – there are plenty of renaissance geeks out there.

Such overstatement smacks of trolling for attention.

Robert S. Robbins

July 18, 2008 10:34 AM

I think we need to get rid of universities. You can learn almost everything online so there is no need to financially bankrupt students and their families by forcing the student to attend an institution. The Internet is already killing the music industry and newspapers with its greater efficiencies in delivering music and news. It is also highly efficient in delivering training that isn’t 15 years out of date. It is time to recognize the university as the dinosaur it is and allow people’s time and resources to be spent more wisely.

Dave Bricker

July 25, 2008 7:41 AM

Good article.

As a University educator in a Graphic Design program, I devote a lot of energy to narrowing the divide between artists and coders.

I taught a 3 1/2 day workshop to six high-school students this summer. I think you’ll find the results to be relevant.

Read about their project at

and see their work at


August 7, 2008 7:06 AM

The problem is that most web people are self-taught and education relies on a solid core focus that takes a long time to change, whilst the web moves forward almost daily – with this years big thing being shadowed by next years movement.

I do agree with not being able to master both code and design, although a less generalised statement would probably have been better – there are coder/designers out there. There’s some of the same attitudes in companies too. Most of the small agencies look for someone skilled in Flash, Air, php/.net, css, javascript and can knock out designs in photoshop. These people don’t work for small low budget agencies (or if they do their salary would be sky high).

Nick Finck

December 2, 2008 9:00 AM

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