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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

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Bauer MIS program needs solid coding foundation


Software development may not be not my long-term career goal but as a Management Information Systems major, having a solid foundation in programming has proven to be an incredibly valuable asset.

With this in mind, I assumed the University would take great care in assuring students coming out of this program were as well-prepared as possible. However, with the current class structure, students can graduate as MIS majors without having fundamental knowledge about software development other than local data manipulation.

The skills that have been covered throughout my time at Bauer are as follows: HTML (Web-Page Structure), JavaScript (JS) (Web-Page Interactivity), SQL (Database), and Java (Powerful C-based language). Although these are fundamental languages that would give a developer a foundation to build their skills, it’s missing a core aspect of development: interconnectivity.

To repurpose a John Donne quote: No programming language is an island entire of itself. Every language is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Although Donne, a poet, did not have programming in mind when he wrote “No Man is an Island,” the sentiment still applies. Interaction in development is a crucial aspect of programming that is seldom covered or even discussed in our curriculum.

Students learn one skill at a time, check it off their list, and archive the information for later. Although electives expand on individual subjects, most students are never given an opportunity to see how languages interact with each other — a skill that is essential for the most basic development tasks.

Similar to math, programming follows a structure. It builds prior knowledge the same way geometrical equations require understanding of algebra to solve. And, it takes repetition to understand the concepts.

For example, when developing a website you need to know how PHP, a common back-end language, works with HTML and JS to build dynamic websites. When working with a database, you need to know how to get the data from the server with a back-end language, or how to access an API (application programming interface) that is essentially a web address that hosts data in a standardized structure rather than a public site.

Our curriculum is missing back-end languages like PHP, Node.js, and Python, which handle communications with databases, APIs, and servers to get information that exists outside the web browser. Back-end languages are crucial when building any application as they give the site the ability to communicate with data not contained within the website.

Although it would be useful to cover at least one of these languages, it would also drastically change the curriculum. After speaking with a professor, the reason for the current course structure is so students a get a foundation in development, which gives them the skills to learn more individually.

But a project-based curriculum that connects programming languages and classes together should exist. When learning JS and HTML in Transaction Processing (TP), our Javascript class should integrate structured query languages, or SQL, to pull data back from a database, store it in a variable and use it to display real time data on the web page.

The class structure could stay the same, but students would gain experience using different data types, working with data that is dynamic and sharpen necessary skills gained during the database course.

In Transaction Processing, the professor drafts the assignments, and students are expected only to inject code that manipulates Extensible Markup Language (XML) data in preassigned locations. To allow students to see back-end languages and use SQL in an application, the professor should make the database connection or have an API connection with a back-end language to retrieve data on a server for the homework.

The professor could then assign an empty-string variable in which the students would place their SQL query. The students would parse and manipulate a variable holding the results in an object array using JS. Conversely, with an API the data would just be available pre-formatted on a webpage that just needs to be accessed through a few lines of code.

This would allow students to see how to make a database connection and understand the theory and use of back-end languages while reinforcing simple SQL queries. All the while, the professor would demonstrate how different languages work together.

MIS is a great major at the University of Houston but like Information Technology (IT), the major needs to be ready to adapt to a field that is changing and expanding at an exponential rate. Without adding another class, Bauer can reinforce topics covered by mandatory MIS courses while introducing new concepts to better prepare their graduates for a dynamic work environment.

Hugo Salinas is a MIS senior and a regular contributor to Cooglife magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

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