This semester I elected to take a writing flag course outside of the computer science department. Out of the numerous writing courses here at the university that intrigued me the most was a course by the name of "The Cowboy Mystique in American Culture." At the time it appeared to be a breather course with topics that differ from the hard sciences. Through the course of semester, I learned everything from the antics of Teddy Roosevelt to the stardom of John Wayne and more. But perhaps the most interesting topic came when we were assigned an interdisciplinary project connecting our home major tying in the idea "That everyone can be a cowboy." At first, I was thoughtless as I was under the impression that everyone isn't a cowboy....I am certainly not. If you ever get a chance to meet me, you'll know from the onset that I resemble nothing of a cowboy. Sure, I drive a pick up truck, but it's a Toyota made in California that has a five foot bed, not some F-150 King Ranch four wheel drive monster truck. Yet, despite my doubts, after research I was amazed how much cowboy culture relates to computer science, especially in terms of group work.
Okay, so you don't wear boots either, and you don't have a Stetson hat on when you go into lectures. That's fine, but as a person in computing, you'd be surprised to find how much you have in common with the cowboy. Yes, really. Upon writing my research paper for the cowboy mystique course, I came across the topic of "Cowboy Coding". Essentially, the idea of cowboy coding emphasizes the amount of autonomy you have over your code in a project. This stereotype summarizes the individualistic can do programmer. As opposed to working in a team setting, the cowboy coder enjoys taking on tasks solely on his own and manages the crucial design choices at the expense to the team. Perhaps this sounds familiar on some of your group projects where one person may take over in times of suspense before the due date? However, there are ways to avoid the cowboy coder scenario, and that is simply communication.
Upon entering courses such a CS 439 (The required systems architecture and operating systems computer science class), its very easy for one person in your group to attend office hours, ask questions, and spend the most hours in the 3rd floor or basement computer lab hacking away at the required tests to complete the renowned tedious projects of the course. However, don't. Ensure you are contributing your part. Check with your partners periodically and see if you can do more. A good team dynamic produces wonderful results. When you're team is happy and productive the fears over the work intensive course becomes a fun challenge with friends that just happens to have a grade at the end.
So, don't be a cowboy. You're trying to work in a group to solve thought provoking problems, not save the damsel in distress from the bad guys on your lonesome. However, I will take this instance to quote one of the great modern cowboy performers George Strait to say, "This is when the cowboy rides away," at least for now as this is my last post of the semester. It has been a pleasure writing weekly and sharing my experiences, and I look forward to discussing more in the spring. Best of luck on your finals and I hope you enjoy the holiday that you deserve!