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USDA Grad School: Unix out, Windows in

File this under Sign o' the Times: The USDA Graduate school has revamped the requirements for its Computer Programming Certificate Program. And perhaps like the government IT departments it serves, the institution seems to be moving its focus up the software stack.

First some back story: Although the Agriculture Department first created the USDA Graduate School in 1921 to train government workers, it now runs as a stand-alone entity. Many federal employees still attend the program's relatively inexpensive day and evening classes though, and a good number of the classes (at least those evening computer courses we've attended) are taught by knowledgeable federal employees or contractors working on federal contracts. (Classes are mostly based in Washington D.C., though the school offers some distance-learning options as well).

So could a curriculum change reflect the changing values of the federal IT community? Two of three core courses remain the same'the class introducing the certificate-seeking students to computers and the class teaching the fundamentals of programming. Learning to write loops in Basic will be with us for decades to come, no doubt. But the course on object oriented modeling'a difficult, abstract course centered on the Unified Modeling Language' has been replaced with one on how to manage Microsoft Windows ('the industry standard' the program page states, perhaps overeachingly).

More telling are the changes in the elective courses. Gone is the course on how to program C (a lower-level language perhaps best suited for writing device drivers, operating systems and other close-to-the-metal tasks). Basics on Unix, shell scripting and programming SQL databases are also axed from the electives list (though the school may still offer some of the courses themselves).

In their place is a set of courses focused squarely on component-based application development, which is all the rage these days. The electives lean slightly more towards the Microsoft .NET approach (with three elective classes) than the competing Java 2 Enterprise Edition approach (with two courses), but the overall thrust aligns well with current industry thinking, and covers both Web and stand-alone app development.

Also, on the elective list are two XML classes. And though XML is a markup language and not a programming one, it is nonetheless a language that most government IT workers (at least those on the software side) are going to need to be fluent in, we predict.

Posted by Joab Jackson

Posted by Brad Grimes, Joab Jackson on Apr 14, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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