Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Great Lab TA Challenge

From 1980-82 I was a TA in the computer lab at Kansas State, answering questions for students. One of my good friends, JB, was a tall, skinny grad student and also a TA in the labs. He fancied himself a pretty good coder, debugger, and TA, as did I, and often when we were working in the same lab at the same time, we would institute a challenge: We would wait for a line of students needing help to queue a bit, then split them into two groups - one for him and one for me, of at least 3 students each. Starting at the same time, whoever could clear their line the fastest was the winner.

As a safeguard against just rushing through the analysis, we also instituted a 30 minute rule: After our lines were cleared, if the same student came back for help again, the additional time to help them was added to the total. Once the required 30 minutes passed without any of the same students coming back, then your total time was finalized and the winner determined. I know I won more of those wagers than I lost, but JB was definitely one of the more talented TAs and coders I knew while at KSU. I don't remember the wagers, but at most it would have been a trip to the vending machine, as we were both skinny and poor. I remember many times when winning that wager was the only food I would have on campus that day until I returned home.

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