HomeThoughts and MusingsThomas M. Tuerke on Technology • NUSD Stadium Lights

NUSD Stadium Lights

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NUSD Stadium Lights

An Open Letter to the Board of the Novato Unified School District.

TO: jhogeboom@nusd.org; EIR@nusd.org; tcooper@nusd.org; gmack@nusd.org; maguila@nusd.org;rmillerick@nusd.org; sscott@nusd.org; dknell@nusd.org; dbutler@nusd.org;

CC: coalition@savesanmarin.com


It is my opinion—and that of a good number of this community—that you are "blinded by the light."

You've got more important work to do. You need to look around—and turn around—because you're running the ball toward the wrong goalpost.

I Have a Need. A need for ... STEM

I'm not just a concerned NUSD parent, but San Marin class of '81, and part of the First Graduating Class of San Ramon Elementary School. NUSD and I go back a long way.

More to the point, though, I'm a software development manager for an industry-leading company here in the Bay Area. We're in the Gartner's Magic Quadrant—essentially, the movers and shakers—for Computer Application Security. And believe me, we're on the move.

As a manager, that means I need to hire. And I need to hire the best. Literally, cream-of-the-crop best. Not tepid I-learned-Java-in-eight-weeks talent, but PhDs in Software Verification and folks who write papers on advances in cryptography. Not just folks who know programming languages, but ones who shape those languages by sitting on the standards boards.

Top Draft Picks. Because in this industry, and as an industry leader, we need that caliber of person. (Frustratingly, I have to turn headhunters away, because they can't offer that level of excellence and expertise.)

Anyway, I see a fair number of impressive resumes, and many of these candidates have surnames like Sridharan, Sikorski, and Xing.

A few even have names names like Smith.

But it's all good. As a hiring manager I'm looking for the best, and don't care how they spell their name. It's all about the expertise they bring to the job. We need that caliber of person to propel us—both the company and the country—farther "Up and to the Right"...

I do, however, have one regret. While I do not care about how a person spells his or her name, I do care that not very many resumes show an alma mater here in the US.

That bothers me. Quite a bit, actually.

It's not that overseas credentials aren't good, but rather, that they are good.

Shot Heard 'Round the World

Say what you will about Mr. Trump, the shot's been fired. The POTUS has ordered the closing of the immigration spigot—complete with walls to be erected—on concerns of national security. Even if the spigot isn't fully closed, overseas talent may think twice about entering such a clearly hostile environment.

And that leaves me with a dearth of qualified home-grown applicants.


Well, let me ask you, since you're supposed to be the education experts: why is that?

What are you doing to ensure a steady supply of the Best and Brightest this country has to offer? (Because, honestly: I'm not seeing it.)

And by Best and Brightest, I mean Best and Brightest STEM people. You see, while the Wikipedia article on dear old San Marin High School lists eight notable alumni that went on to pursue athletic careers, and three that went on in visual arts, only one—one single "notable" alum—went on to gain any recognition in the sciences.

Unfortunately, he's working as an improv comedian, so unless he can come up with some software meant to get hackers to die of laughter, I can't hire him.

Moreover, the fact that he is just one instance leads me to the conclusion that he's a statistical fluke. A lucky break. You likely had nothing to do with his noteworthy prodigal status, or his graduating at the age of 6.

There's a glut in the athletic market, and a clear shortage in STEM. Yet you persist in churning out the former. What market sense does that make?

So you're showing pretty terrible guidance, here.

Critical Conversation

The use of letter grades seem to have gone out of vogue, but I don't think I'm being unfair giving you an F—a Failing grade—for being unable to present to me even one notable STEM-related alum.

As a manager, this would also require me to have that dreaded "Critical Conversation" where I implement some disciplinary action. A "development plan", as they call it nowadays. In effect, "if you want to keep working here, you need to shape up ..."

Or as a parent, the conversation would have to be, "Look, I'm sorry: no electives, like a stadium, until you start showing good grades in the basics, like excellence in STEM education."

And yes, I fully expect you to hem and haw: "but we're doing this tiny bit, here. See?"

But that's not enough. Not nearly enough. The numbers back that up. The resumes in my short-list folder back that up.

Can you look me in the eye and tell me you are doing everything humanly possible to put every single possible STEM student on the best possible track?

I should tell you that the tech industry is data driven (we refer to hyperbolic prose as "marketing slime" or "BS", as in Business Speak) so please don't tell. Instead, show how spending one more penny on STEM will not provide a penny's worth more value to our children's future.

So it comes to this: you've got a million dollars to spend, and you want to spend it on some light poles? Really? How does that improve our children's education (without alienating half of the community you are meant to be serving)?

I don't think so.

Moreover, America doesn't need another stadium. Not like it needs a more fuel-efficient vehicle engine, or advanced energy collection, or stronger lighter air-frames, or breakthroughs in medical science, all in order to remain at the forefront of economic relevance.

America doesn't need more of the destructive divisiveness this whole sorry episode has brought about.

America does need the Best and the Brightest to step up and fill the gap, so that America can keep its place in the forefront of the world. It needs leaders to change the message of "it's all fun and games, let's build another stadium" to "time to get our game on!"

In this technological age, it means technological leaders. The Best and the Brightest STEM you can muster.

The mantle of leadership is not a birthright. Winning last year's trophy amounts to squat if the other team wants it more this year.

America has had the trophy, and it's clearly becoming complacent. We say we're the leaders, heady with past success, but our mind is not in the game.

But not so everywhere else. They're hungry, and they want that trophy of technological preeminence, and they're working hard—far harder than we are—to get it.

The resumes I see are testimony to that.

So, team, I have to ask: are you gonna stop staring at those stadium lights, get your butts off these new bleachers, and help us win this STEM game? Or do you really want to get all flabby on the sidelines while the other team takes the trophy home?

Up in the big league, there is no trophy for second place.


Set against that backdrop of not really fulfilling your primary charge, let's entertain this: if you were to make an investment and you had two choices, which would you put your money into?

  • Fund A: $10 gets you $100
  • Fund B: $10 gets you $400

It doesn't take a math major to figure out that Fund B is the better investment, though you could reasonably argue a diversified portfolio necessitates some investment in both.

So we come to the stadium lights. There is a purported academic value in these lights. Having seen first-hand the sideline antics of soccer moms and football dads, I don't fully agree, but let's hypothesize that Team Spirit, Fair Play, and Involvement in the Community are legitimate outcomes of such activities. In our academic investment portfolio, what is the relative value here? Looking to college handbooks, the "market rate" for Physical Education seems to be 0.5 - 1 unit vs Physics: 3 or 4.

So should we be spending on Stadium Lights, or STEM? What is our return on investment for each?

Going back to our funds, let's also consider Fund A-prime: $5 gets you $100. We've already done the math and found B is the best fund, but for diversification, do we go with Fund A, or A-prime?

The point is that there are other, less costly and far less controversial alternatives to stadium lights—such as more fields to allow daylight use—with the same purported academic value. It should be clear that this is a far, far better use of district funds in serving its community, and I strongly urge you to favor those...

... and get on with doing more, much more for STEM.

(Unless there's an agenda other than academic dividends... are you being on the level with us?)

Tactical Errors

I would like to say that I question the tactics you've employed in achieving your objectives. It smacks of hubris, not humility. It speaks of disrespect for the community you allegedly serve.

You yourselves define bullying as "aggressive or unwanted and unwelcome behavior by an individual or groups of individuals" and lists many behaviors. But are you yourselves not being bullies? Certainly, that is how you are being perceived, not the least of which is by exempting yourselves from the norms our community has agreed to live by.

You ostensibly exist to serve the community, but place yourselves apart from it—even above it. In doing so, you alienate it, significantly undermining the value you purport to offer. Do you expect this community to come to your aid later if you so cavalierly decide to ignore it now? (Or do you honestly think such a time will never come?)

To wit:

You attempt to minimize the collateral damage you will inflict on the community.

  • You deem the place URBAN: Merely being within city limits does not make a place urban. I work in an urban setting. I choose to live in San Marin precisely because it is not urban.
  • You ignore true experts, such as the Audubon Society, because they present a contrary, if inconvenient, view.
  • Most offensively, you downplay the acoustical and visual impact of night games, but I cannot let you off easy there. I have lived near a church that would play loud music many times a week, late into the night. Despite being an indoor venue, the percussive reverberation could be heard a significant distance away. This would deny me the use of my back yard during those hours, and drove me indoors where the percussion could still be heard. There is no evidence of any sort to support your claims, and plenty of empirical evidence to the contrary: this will deny families in close proximity to your venue the use of their properties as they have become accustomed to—and as they have a right to continue to do.

Remember, you exist to serve this community, and you undermine your service by engaging in this activity that is clearly so divisive, spending great quantities of money for at best dubious academic benefit, in a time where the need for academic emphasis rests elsewhere.

We call those who do good—with good in their hearts—"heroes".

We call those who do ill—with good in their hearts—"fools".

We call those who do ill—with disdain for others in their hearts—"evil".

Don't be fools. Don't be evil. Stop staring at the lights, and gaze instead into your hearts. Look long and hard into the eyes of those around you, and see there what you need to do.



Sections: 1
Counterpoint: There Is No STEM shortage
- Thomas M. Tuerke

I've gotten feedback that there is no STEM shortage. Empirically, I can say there is.

To wit, this article suggests it is largely fiction. There's a germ of truth in what the author says, but a fair amount of inaccuracy (mostly about the pay issues.)

Here are some interesting take-aways:

"There are any number of reasons that people who hold a degree in tech won't meet the actual requirements of Silicon Valley."

Yes. That has the ring of truth.

"Not all degrees are created equal — much has been written about the rise, for instance, of for-profit colleges, and the difficulty their graduates have in getting gainful employment — and maybe if all it takes is a C+ to graduate, you're just not Google material."

This puts a finer point on it. There's a mad rush to churn out mediocre graduates. The problem is, they stand out like a sore thumb. They don't pass screening interviews, they certainly don't get hired, but the educational institutions smugly claim credit for yet another STEM graduate.

Despite some misinformation about depressed salaries (the author cites numbers far lower than what premium developers command) I think this passage—modulo the salary conspiracy theory—pretty much hits the ball out of the ballpark:

Hey America, please raise the visa limit. There's a shortage of STEM talent that is willing to work for what we'll pay that also meets our high standards. When it comes down to it, a lot of the world is better at what we need than you, and we don't feel like paying your mediocre tech talent what they expect because not everybody deserves a job and we have Samsung to beat.

Yes. The rest of the world puts far more emphasis on real education, producing real STEM graduates, and the caliber shows. My wife attended a cram school after regular school, to ensure she got into the best university, and she is not alone. Fortunately, my parents—here in the US—did not beat around the bush, either. "You will take these AP Math classes." "You will get better grades." "You will take this typing class during summer-school" (eeewww! ... that's a girl's class!) My parents were merciless. (No, they were strict; there's a difference.) ... And oh how thankful I am that my parents made me do that ... every time a candidate bollixes a fizz-buzz problem in the screening interview.

Here in the states, we seem to feel "just showing up deserves a medal." So many of the students I've come in contact with have this air of entitlement, not realizing the mediocrity they embody. I can't help but reflect on one commentator, Mark, in this article's comments. From a first-hand point of view, his information is patently false. I want to hire the best, no thought given to where they are from, and from all indications, every hiring manager I've seen wants to as well. I look at every resume that I'm given, and I make a point of not looking at the "heading" (name, and that stuff.) Only the ones that make the cut get a screening phone interview. Only the ones that blaze through that screening interview get called on-site for a day of onsite interviews. And only the best candidates get offers.

So Yes, Virginia, there is a STEM shortage.

Or more precisely, a shortage of qualified STEM candidates. The Big Leagues, like the Silicon Valley, brooks no mediocrity. With certainty, if Mark is as good as he thinks he is, he would have a job in the valley. His sour-grapes rants make clear that he's not.

Oh, and as a final point

That's the sort of talk that gets college kids grabbing pitchforks.

I wouldn't blame them: they've been sold a bill of goods. But I submit it's the educational institutions that should be quaking in their boots, for doing such a manifestly poor job in preparing these students for the job market.