Behind The Podium, with Prof Arnold (I)

As a student in UofT, it’s quite easy to get frustrated at professors. The material is difficult, the midterms are coming up, and for all academic mishaps, the professor is to blame. But what if I told you that professors… they are just like us 🙂

They’re anything but Umbridge (from Harry Potter), in fact, they’re the ones who deeply recognize our struggles, and our trying to enhance our experiences, each lecture at a time. They’ve been students for a longer time than we have… doesn’t that mean we should get to know them better? Extend out a hand, say hi, not only to peers, but to the faculty? (It was a rhetorical question, the answer is yes.) So last week, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Arnold Rosenbloom, a professor and the faculty advisor for Computer Science. We talked about many things! Today, I share the first half of our talk with you:

Let’s start off easy… do you like reading?                     

Oh you mean it’s going to be harder?! And yes. Outside of computer science? I read a lot of things on the web, things like,, but that’s all news related to our industry. I am also a fan of science fiction! Do you know of Isaac Asimov?

 I have heard of him but haven’t looked at his work.

I even met him once! He wrote “I, Robot” or the “Foundation” series, so science fiction stuff. But even classic short stories, I like those.

Nice! So other than reading, how else do you spend your free time?

Let’s see… going to the gym, playing with my kids, spending time with my wife, really, in the reverse order though right? [laughter] But also, building little things, like I built an alarm system once, for when we went away on sabbatical- bunch of cameras put around the house were networked to a computer, and when it saw anything interesting, it would record and then upload onto our Google drive and then text us. Haha, but yeah I like to build stuff. Raspberry Pis, and Artenos, yeah.

Why did you choose to be a professor? Is that something you had in mind before?

No, at the time I worked for Geac Computers, which at the time was one of the best companies you could work for, as a Computer Science grad. At some point, I realized I was more interested in puzzles, and research and thinking, rather than the commercial aspect. So then I applied for Master’s at Queens, then later I started PhD at St. George, with Steve Cook. And then I got sucked into the Internet Bubble, but that’s kind of a long story hahaha, but I ended up working for a start-up in the 2000s. And before the bubble broke, UofT offered me a course I could teach; but I said I have a kid, I can’t just do a course, I need more. So they offered me a contract as a professor, which later became a 10 year contract. So I accepted, because I’ve always liked teaching. And then the bubble burst as well!

What is one thing that people not in Computer Science should know about Computer Science?

To the people that go to university, and even a lot who don’t, that computers are going to be sitting on their desks. It’s a very powerful tool, and it seems silly to not know how to use it. Just even from the perspective of what’s possible. Many don’t even know what’s possible, and with a little bit of code, their jobs can be done so much faster. But also, knowing what’s possible, could change their perspective on what they could do.

Yes, a lot of people buying high tech laptops, and gadgets, perhaps only use it for gaming, checking social media, or word documents.

Exactly. I mean, even simple things like spreadsheets, they’re powerful tools. But most people don’t know how to use them in a really powerful way.  It literally has the ability to do all your work for you. You just need to know how. That’s one of the many reasons people not in Computer Science should be interested in it.

What surprised you being at a university as a professor? Is it hard?

Teaching is very hard. But, it’s a lot of fun. I think of teaching as a very human thing, you need contact with people. I found that if you have direct contact with somebody, you can communicate something, and they can learn really, really fast. Unfortunately in lectures, there’s a bit of distance, but I try to keep it closer, have more interaction. But really, sometimes people need one on one. People after coming to me, they understand the difference between understanding and not understanding, it’s a process, and a human has to go through it. It’s not the content I want people to learn, at least in my case, as much as, how to be a person who understands the content.

Right, if a person wanted to learn the syntax and delicacies of a programming language, they could do it themselves.

Yeah, I mean if you look at a Python manual, it knows everything, except it can’t solve any problems. Same thing, if I give students a problem to solve, it’s not the solution I want. What I want is for you to become the person who could come up with the solution. It may sound subtle, but it’s different. That’s why sometimes in class I write code and make mistakes, because I want you to see that, and how to figure it out.

Is there a quote you really like, or live by, or simply want to share?

Oh I have a bunch of different quotes! Like the ‘expert’ one, “An expert is somebody who knows how to put in the minimal effort for maximum output”, that’s mine hahah. Another one of my favourites is “Pay now or pay later, sooner or later you’re gonna have to pay.” Things like my kids, and my dog, teach you that. Right? If you don’t take your dog out now when they need to go, you’re gonna pay for that later. If you don’t spend time teaching your kids now when they’re young, you’re going to pay for that later. It helps you make decisions- sometimes you want to pay later!

Arnold (he prefers to not be called prof) shared so much insight into not only his life, but the experience of being behind that teacher’s podium.  Sometimes on our side as the student, it’s easy to judge a lecturer. But once we break past that barrier, close the gap, and realize that the faculty is not our biggest enemy, but our largest supporter, that’s when university becomes fun. It’s still hard and challenging, but your eagerness to learn, to become something, is enhanced. That’s the inspiration our professors can provide. Thank you Arnold for giving us your valuable time, the latter half (as well the lighter half) of our discussion will be posted next week, so tune in!


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