Richard Hamming: “The teacher should prepare the student for the future of the student, not for the past of the teacher”

Original author: Richard Hamming
  • Transfer
“In these lectures, I try to convey to students something that cannot be expressed in words - the essence of style in science and engineering.”

imageHi, Habr.
Remember the awesome article “You and Your Work” (+219, 2041 bookmarked, 328k reads)?

So Hamming (yes, yes, self-checking and self-correcting Hamming codes ) has a whole book written based on his lectures. Let’s translate it, because the man is talking business.

This book is not just about IT, it is a book about the thinking style of incredibly cool people. “This is not just a charge of positive thinking; it describes conditions that increase the chances of doing a great job. ”

We have already translated 3 chapters (although in the order of subjective interests):

Today is the Preface and Introduction.
(Thanks for the translation, Savva Sumin, who responded to my call in the "previous chapter".)

Who wants to help with the translation - write in a personal message or by mail


After many years of pressure and support from friends, I decided to write in the form of notes the contents of an engineering course that I taught to graduate students at the University of the Marine Corps in Monterrey, California. First of all, I focused on those details, which, in my opinion, were subject to further processing, instead of leaving the material in the form of several divided lectures. In the lecture hall, content more often followed students' interest, and many of the later lectures were the result of their proposed topics. Also, the content of the lectures changed from year to year, along with the development of relevant disciplines. And the current dependence of engineering on related scientific fields leads me to identify these terms.

After further deliberation, I decided that since I tried to instill a certain “style” of thinking for those who are engaged in science and engineering, and the “style”, in turn, is an attribute of art, I should adopt the teaching methods used in teaching art (after students master basic knowledge). It is impossible to make a brilliant artist out of a man simply by teaching him with words; he learns by trying different approaches to things with which, it would seem, the subject of his passion is “surrounded”. Art teachers usually give an advanced student to work calmly, and only then make suggestions - what would they do, what other approaches can they try; more or less as the student independently realizes these ideas, in his own head - where the learning process should take place!

In these lectures, I try to convey to students something that cannot be expressed in words - the essence of style in science and engineering. Here I used, to a certain extent, a free way of organizing material that does not exclude repetitions, since they are often found in lectures. Consequently, the material contains digressions and stories — some of which are told twice each time — which is characteristic of an incompletely connected, “lecture” style of storytelling.

I used the “narrator” approach, often emphasizing the moment of the idea’s origin, being a persistent proponent of Pasteur’s statement: “Fortune smiles only for those who are ready for this.” Thus, I illustrate how the preparedness of an individual before confronting a problem can lead to its awareness, formulation and solution. The stunning discoveries of science and engineering are too often hidden in one single person to consider these "revelations" the result of random coincidences.

The teacher should prepare the student for the future of the student, and not for the past of the teacher.Most teachers carefully avoid the important topic of the future of their own discipline, and when it comes to the discussion, they answer: "No one can know the future." It seems to me that the complexity of knowing the future does not relieve the teacher of responsibility to the student, of the obligation to do everything so that the student is ready for the future when it arrives. Obviously, an individual’s experience will not necessarily be identical to the experience of a class of individuals; consequently, the ideas of one person about the future are knowingly to a large extent personal and will not be accepted by the majority. However, this fact should not force us to abandon personal history with its strength and ability to influence people's actions in favor of an impersonal assessment of the situation.

Since my classes consist mainly of personnel from the Navy, Marine Corps, regular army, air forces and coastguards who have passed rigorous selection, a small number of civilians, and also, interestingly, about 15% of foreign military personnel who have passed through exclusively rigorous selection, my students will have a very “technical” future - hence the need to prepare them for their future, and not our past.

2020 seems to be an appropriate point for the concentration of their training - a kind of "sufficient sharpness" foresight. [approx. translator: difficult to translate; the author compares the objectivity of the 2020 election as a point that should be guided in the preparation of technical specialists with normal visual acuity of a person according to Snellen's table (20/20); it is understood that although this point cannot be absolutely objective, it is likely to be functionally sufficient ]. Being graduate students on the way to obtaining master's degrees, they are well acquainted with the basic knowledge of their disciplines. It remains for me to instill a “style” in their education, which in practice usually means the difference between an average person and a great person.

The university allowed me great freedom by letting me teach the course without any technical content; it is a kind of “complement” to more technically oriented courses. As a result, my introductory speech, often repeated, begins like this:

“There is practically no technical content in this course, although I will often refer to it and this, I hope, will become a useful revision of the fundamental knowledge you have learned. Just do not confuse this repetition with the content of the course - this is only illustrative material. Thinking style is what this course is focused on. ”

The subtitle of this book, Learning to Learn, is the main solution that I offer my students to help them cope with the rapid changes in their disciplines that they have to go through. This course focuses on how to look at and think about knowledge, and it also contains a number of useful retrospectives on the subject.

This course consists mainly of personal experience that I received and, at least to some extent, “digested”. It is human nature to remember their own successes, ignoring less significant events, but I cite some of my enchanting failures as good examples of what to avoid. I believe that personal stories are much, much more effective than impersonal; as a result, the book is saturated in places with a "little bragging", which could not be avoided.

And let me repeat the already noted. Apparently, an understanding of art - the essence of which, by definition, cannot be verbally described - is best instilled by constantly sorting through different approaches to the question in the hope that in this way students will learn enough of this art, or, if you like, style, so that as a result, significantly increase the value of their future contribution to society. And here is a completely different description of the course: it contains many things that could not find a place in standard courses.

The casual reader should not be afraid of the mathematical component of the book; it does not perform any function, except for “decoration”, for illustration and connection with previously acquired material. As a rule, the underlying ideas can be recognized simply from words.

There is a tradition according to which people and organizations that contributed to the writing and publication of the book should be thanked. Undoubtedly, AT&T Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey, and the Graduate School of the US Marine Corps, and especially the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, would be impossible to write this book without.


This book focuses more on the future of science and engineering than on their past. Of course, opinions about the future are usually not accurate and are usually based on the past; however, the past also appears to be much less defined - and when falsely stated - than is customary to believe. Thus, we are forced to imagine what the future will most likely look like.

This course was often called “Hamming about Hamming,” because it largely consists of my personal experience, observations, and fragments of what I read in a wide range of areas.

At the beginning of the book there is a lot of mathematics, since the future of science and engineering will almost certainly be more “mathematical” than the past, and also because I need to establish the nature of the foundations of our views and their possible errors. Only in this way can I demonstrate the weakness of our current assumptions and suggest possible future directions.

If the mathematical component of the course seems too complicated - skip it, if you want to also miss the deepest understanding of the weaknesses of our current views, which only she can give. The overall result is always described in words, so that the content will be holistic, albeit somewhat diluted.

Who wants to help with the translation - write in a personal email or mail

Book Contents and Translated Chapters
  1. Intro to The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (March 28, 1995) (in work)
  2. “Foundations of the Digital (Discrete) Revolution” (March 30, 1995) (in work)
  3. History of Computers - Hardware (March 31, 1995) (in work)
  4. History of Computers - Software (April 4, 1995) (in work)
  5. History of Computers - Applications (April 6, 1995) (in work)
  6. "Artificial Intelligence - Part I" (April 7, 1995) (in work)
  7. Artificial Intelligence - Part II (April 11, 1995)
  8. Artificial Intelligence III (April 13, 1995) (in work)
  9. “N-Dimensional Space” (April 14, 1995) (in work)
  10. “Coding Theory - The Representation of Information, Part I” (April 18, 1995)
  11. "Coding Theory - The Representation of Information, Part II" (April 20, 1995)
  12. “Error-Correcting Codes” (April 21, 1995)
  13. Information Theory (April 25, 1995) (in work)
  14. Digital Filters, Part I (April 27, 1995)
  15. Digital Filters, Part II (April 28, 1995)
  16. Digital Filters, Part III (May 2, 1995)
  17. Digital Filters, Part IV (May 4, 1995)
  18. “Simulation, Part I” (May 5, 1995) (in work)
  19. "Simulation, Part II" (May 9, 1995)
  20. "Simulation, Part III" (May 11, 1995)
  21. Fiber Optics (May 12, 1995)
  22. Computer Aided Instruction (May 16, 1995) (in work)
  23. Mathematics (May 18, 1995) (in work)
  24. Quantum Mechanics (May 19, 1995) Chapter 24. Quantum Mechanics
  25. Creativity (May 23, 1995). Translation: Chapter 25. Creativity
  26. Experts (May 25, 1995) (in work)
  27. “Unreliable Data” (May 26, 1995)
  28. Systems Engineering (May 30, 1995) (in work)
  29. “You Get What You Measure” (June 1, 1995) (in work)
  30. “How Do We Know What We Know” (June 2, 1995)
  31. Hamming, “You and Your Research” (June 6, 1995). Translation: You and Your Work

Who wants to help with the translation - write in a personal email or mail

Also popular now: