Project Euler

Lately I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to do with an honors class I am teaching in the fall. The three things you can give a student that will help them most in the future are: good communication skills (make them write, make them give presentations), programming skills, and work on decent-sized projects that go beyond the routine weekly homework. These are discussed in this Washington Post article: Starting College? Here’s how to graduate with a job.

I’m getting burned out on teaching large projects and lots of writing. That’s not appropriate for this class anyhow. But I could throw in some programming problems. And we might do a small project with some writing/presentation. Or we might not! #1 Rule for the Moment: take it easy on yourself, Dr. Jinx. You have a lot of irons in the fire, and you work too hard.

One of my students recently pointed me to the Project Euler ( website, which is a compendium of nice problems requiring programming and basic mathematics to solve. I am sure friends into math and programming have mentioned this site to me in the past, but I didn’t have the motivation to go check it out.

There are several small problems early on the site that I can use for my students. Then they get more interesting/harder. What I wasn’t expecting was how much fun I would have solving these.

I’m 21 problems in. The problems are getting harder. I am building a small library of general-purpose tools to make solving them easier.

I worked in software for 10 years, and when I got out, I questioned myself on many counts. Did I really like doing math, or was I just sucked in because I was one of the few women who could, and I seemed to be reasonably good at it? Did I really like programming, or did I just get sucked into it, too? While it seems possible that other paths might have been good ones for me, it also seems that I got a first-hand look on how environment can deeply effect your enjoyment of things. A poisonous environment can cause you to start to dislike and feel incompetent at activities that you are actually reasonably competent at and enjoy.

The number one advice I tend to have for students is to find people and environments that make them feel good about themselves and spend more time in them. I wish I had gotten and taken that advice myself.

Whether you are a supervisor or a teacher or a Ph.D. advisor, good advice to keep in mind is to put some thought into keeping the environment supportive and healthy. While yes, whatever you are doing is work, if you can make work fun, you win. Your employees and students will work hard and happily for you in that case.