For that you need a very different set of skills, which is where I start to draw the line between a Computer Scientist and a developer. Personally, I consider myself a Computer Scientist first and a software engineer second. I am probably not the right guy to crank out thousands of lines of Java on a tight deadline, and I'll be damned if I fully grok C++'s inheritance rules. But this isn't what Google hired me to do (I hope!) and I lean heavily on some amazing programmers who do understand these things better than I do.
Note that I am not defining a Computer Scientist as someone with a PhD -- although it helps. Doing a PhD trains you to think critically, to study the literature, make effective use of experimental design, and to identify unsolved problems. By no means do you need a PhD to do these things (and not everyone with a PhD can do them, either).
A few observations on the difference between Computer Scientists and Programmers...
Think Big vs. Get 'er Done
One thing that drove me a little nuts when I first started at Google was how quickly things move, and how often solutions are put into place that are necessary to move ahead, even if they aren't fully general or completely thought through. Coming from an academic background I am used to spending years pounding away at a single problem until you have a single, beautiful, general solution that can stand up to a tremendous amount of scrutiny (mostly in the peer review process). Not so in industry -- we gotta move fast, so often it's necessary to solve a problem well enough to get onto the next thing. Some of my colleagues at Google have no doubt been driven batty by my insistence on getting something "right" when they would rather just (and in fact need to) plow ahead.
Another aspect of this is that programmers are often satisfied with something that solves a concrete, well-defined problem and passes the unit tests. What they sometimes don't ask is "what can my approach not do?" They don't always do a thorough job at measurement and analysis: they test something, it seems to work on a few cases, they're terribly busy, so they go ahead and check it in and get onto the next thing. In academia we can spend months doing performance evaluation just to get some pretty graphs that show that a given technical approach works well in a broad range of cases.
Throwaway prototype vs. robust solution
On the other hand, one thing that Computer Scientists are not often good at is developing production-quality code. I know I am still working at it. The joke is that most academics write code so flimsy that it collapses into a pile of bits as soon as the paper deadline passes. Developing code that is truly robust, scales well, is easy to maintain, well-documented, well-tested, and uses all of the accepted best practices is not something academics are trained to do. I enjoy working with hardcore software engineers at Google who have no problem pointing out the totally obvious mistakes in my own code, or suggesting a cleaner, more elegant approach to some ass-backwards page of code I submitted for review. So there is a lot that Computer Scientists can learn about writing "real" software rather than prototypes.
My team at Google has a good mix of folks from both development and research backgrounds, and I think that's essential to striking the right balance between rapid, efficient software development and pushing the envelope of what is possible.
Check out my recent blog post on Medium on some of the principles I have adopted to help teams be successful. https://medium.com/@mdwdotl...
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