Version Control and Higher Education

We are not doing students any favors by ignoring software like Git at the university level. It’s a major problem for computer science, information technology and design students to not—at the very least—be exposed to some form of version control or source code management during their tenure at school.

Over the past year I’ve talked to and interviewed recent grads in tech-related fields (mostly programmers and designers) and very few of them were familiar with version control and most had little to no experience with Git or the online community Github. These students are applying and interviewing for positions where it’s likely their first task will be “pulling down the repo” of whatever project they’re assigned during their first weeks on the job. In addition, they will be working with other designers and developers in remote locations, all pushing code and collaborating using some form of version control.

There is no reason that the first course a freshman computer science student takes shouldn’t start with opening up a shell, installing Git and pushing some code to Github or a university Git server. In fact, I would encourage instructors to take advantage of Github’s teacher/student programs and use Git for class projects and a vehicle for students to submit coursework. This is a great way for students to learn the basic add, commit, push, pull workflow of most version control and it gives the instructor a platform to manage and collaborate on student work.

At the university level—we walk a fine line between theory and practice. We are not vocational schools and our job is partially to teach students how to think, learn and solve problems on their own. But students expect that we’re going to prepare them for a career in our industry—and at many levels we’re not living up to that expectation.

So, I challenge my fellow professors, adjuncts and instructors to integrate version control into their curriculum. Encourage collaboration among students and give them the tools they need to have a leg up when they enter the workforce. As a teacher and designer that works with remote teams around the world—I would expect nothing less from my new collegues.