Most people can’t see a connection between computer science and woodworking. Why would they? Woodworking is perceived as being old fashioned, messy, low paying, and woodshop classes are for those high school students who just aren’t going to make it in college. Haven’t we all seen The Breakfast Club, and remember the “nerd” character driven to tears, and contemplates suicide because he couldn’t get his elephant lamp to work. That movie came out nearly thirty years ago and this scene still drives me nuts. How much effort has been spent reinforcing these dumb stereotypes? Let’s clear that junk out of our minds and take a big dose of reality.
Computer science is the study of difficulty, cost, and complexity. It isn’t about toiling away in ultra modern labs and turning flashes of genius into billion dollar companies. Getting wealthy comes naturally when you build something that everyone in the country will pay for. I hope I’m not the only one noticing that Apple doesn’t build cell phones by hand in a California garage. If you agree, you just did some basic computer science in your head. You can build a computer out of wood in your garage but it would be difficult, consume valuable time, and it would be so complicated that getting it to work would be a nightmare.
At this point, I’ll bet you are as confused as I was. Computers are built from billions of perfectly reliable parts that all do exactly what you want them to, every time, forever. Wood is made from trees that are all different, and they don’t care what you intended to make from them. Wood has built in complexity. This is why we have plywood. Plywood is an attempt to manage complexity and create a material that is more predictable. We have to remember that at some point in the past, plywood didn’t exist. Someone had to invent it, and was probably told by at least one person that it was a stupid idea. Plywood saves money and made building things easier and faster, but it wasn’t an obvious idea.
We all do computer science whether we notice it or not. The most interesting thing I learned studying computer science is that most problems have been solved, often before computers as we know them today existed. Sort things quickly, find the fastest way to get things done, find the cheapest way to do something. Even organizing a shop is a process that has been studied. There are even problems we know how to solve, but it takes so long that finding the best answer is pretty much impossible. I won’t go into too much detail, but sometimes the best approach is to just do the most obvious thing. Thinking about it might be harder than doing it.