Twenty years ago, when I was at Princeton, I and all of my fellow graduate students in physics were required to pass two foreign-language achievement tests in order to get our degrees. Since then, apparently convinced that such skills are of diminishing importance, the Princeton physics department— and most other graduate schools as well—have dropped such a requirement.

On the other hand, skill in the “foreign” language of computer programming has increasingly been recognized as a most important piece of equipment in the scientist’s tool kit. Although a demonstration of expertise in a computer language or two has not yet become a degree requirement for grad students, having this skill is so obviously essential that young scientists will want to acquire it, requirement or not.

Not only computer scientists and mathematicians, but many physicists, biologists, and chemists need to know how to program or at least work in a lab...

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