Over the years, we (@anishathalye, @jjgo, @jonhoo) have helped teach several classes at MIT, and over and over we have seen that many students have limited knowledge of the tools available to them. Computers were built to automate manual tasks, yet students often perform repetitive tasks by hand or fail to take full advantage of powerful tools such as version control and text editors. Common examples include holding the down arrow key for 30 seconds to scroll to the bottom of a large file in Vim, or using the nuclear approach to fix a Git repository (https://xkcd.com/1597/).
At least at MIT, these topics are not taught as part of the university curriculum: students are never shown how to use these tools, or at least not how to use them efficiently, and thus waste time and effort on tasks that should be simple. The standard CS curriculum is missing critical topics about the computing ecosystem that could make students’ lives significantly easier.
To help mitigate this, we ran a short lecture series during MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) that covered all the topics we consider crucial to be an effective computer scientist and programmer. We’ve published lecture notes and videos in the hopes that people outside MIT find these resources useful.
To offer a bit of historical perspective on the class: we taught this class for the first time last year, when we called it “Hacker Tools” (there was some good discussion about last year’s class here: https://lobste.rs/s/h6157x/mit_hacker_tools_lecture_series_on). We found the feedback from here and elsewhere incredibly helpful. Taking that into account, we changed the lecture topics a bit, spent more lecture time on some of the core topics, wrote better exercises, and recorded high-quality lecture videos using a fancy lecture capture system (and this hacky DSL for editing multi-track lecture videos, which we thought some of you would find amusing: https://github.com/missing-semester/videos).
We’d love to hear any insights or feedback you may have, so that we can run an even better class next year!
– Anish, Jose, and Jon