Thursday, November 13, 2008

The importance of memorization

"What's the difference between Math and Computer Science?" I was standing in Dr. Boyd's office doorway when I asked.

He pondered for a minute, then said, "There's more memorization in CS."

I was surprised. After all, we computer geeks pride ourselves on the way we don't memorize things. We make the computer memorize things for us: software remembers our procedures, and variables remember our momentary values. We believe in just-in-time information; we'll go back to google or some other reference to get something we just used.

A contributor on the System Administrator's Guild (SAGE) discussion list, sage-members has something like this in his email signature:

It's not what I know that matters,

it's what I remember in time to use.


Really, in systems administration -- routers, switches, firewalls, servers, telephony gateways, printers, and other devices -- what you've memorized is very valuable. I don't know of anybody who uses flash cards. But when it gets right down to it, if you remember the procedure to quickly login to some device, check its status, and do common things on it, you'll be be more effective.

My boss, James, uses the term "muscle memory" to describe it. It's like you the commands for getting around in the device are somehow programmed into your hands. Maybe this is one reason I like text-based command line interfaces (CLIs): I can just remember commands, like "write memory" rather than moving my mouse some random distance and clicking through three menus.

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