In an office at the Central World-scout Academy...
"Mister Green." The dean sounded condescending.
"Miss Clipper at the front desk says you're here to talk about your curriculum."
"Yes, I'm... well..."
"Out with it. There are four other students waiting on you."
"I got my full curriculum yesterday and it looks like mine got mixed up with some other student."
The dean made a few absent-minded swipes and jabs at his tablet, and then presented it. "Is this what you received?"
"Yes. For half of these lessons, it's unlikely I'll ever use them in the field."
The dean gave the list a quick scan, then presented it again. "This looks entirely correct."
"It notes here that you've taken metallurgy as your elective, and you've been approved to substitute advanced field medicine for ecology."
"Well, yes. But the rest of it's wrong. I'm training to scout Fantasy genre worlds! And most of this looks like science-fiction material. There's nothing like magic theory on here."
"Fantasy-C, to be specific. Aside from metallurgy and advanced medicine, this is our standard curriculum to prepare students for Fantasy-C."
"Then explain the ten units of computer programming!" Silas slammed both fists on the desk, nearly spilling the dean's glass of water.
"I'll explain in a moment. But first, tell me what your introductaries taught you about Fantasy-C."
"Fantasy-C is a genre whose fundamentals are close to the standard, right down to a Common language." Silas slightly emphasized each term of the mnemonic. "They are Civilized, usually with several monarchies governing different regions. Each one has its own ways of doing magic, but they're Consistent within themselves; the same magic ritual or whatever will work for anyone. And they're, err, low on technology."
"So you understand why you need to take the four units of physics and five units of various engineering disciplines."
"No. No, I don't."
"Imagine you show up on a Fantasy world. You generally can't take any technology through the portal. The world has magic, but of course you won't know how to use it right away."
"Physics works anywhere. Engineering is how you use it."
"Okay, fine, but they won't have computers. This isn't Fantasy-E."
"Mister Green, how much consistent-style magic have you done on any world?"
"None. I'm from a Literary-genre Short world with a natural portal to here."
"Let me tell you a bit about the normal process of using it, then. You'll have a collection of simple primitive effects that you can do directly. But whatever you're trying to do probably won't be one of them, particularly if you're casting something as complex as a return portal."
A chill ran down Silas' spine, chasing off his anger for a moment. The threat of being stranded by his own ignorance didn't need to be stated.
"For most spells, you need to sequence a substantial number of primitive effects to get the result you want. Usually you'll have learned or created a few meta-spells that work on sequences – copying them, turning them on or off and so forth. You'll lay out your sequences first, then set them off. If you've done a good and careful job, you get marvelous effects far more intricate than any of your primitives. But one mistake and it's likely to literally blow up in your face or transmute your brain to mud or any number of other unpleasant outcomes."
"What does any of that have to do with computer programming?"
"Everything. We use computers to teach you to build large miracles out of small pieces in an environment where a mistake can't kill you."
The dean leaned away and let Silas digest his last statement. Silas made a few faces before settling on a glower.
"Okay, maybe some of this computer stuff is necessary. But it says here that I'm spending two units building compilers of all things."
"A compiler takes a program that's not meant to run on a specific computer and translates it so that it can. Trust me, the second time you scout a Fantasy-C world you'll be very grateful we taught you how to make a compiler."
"But how could I possibly compile anything when they Don't! Have! Computers!"
"Correct, and that's the real trick to getting by in Fantasy-C without much resources. You start by figuring out how to make yourself a magical computer and go from there."
"What? You mean a Fantasy-X style computer that casts spells?"
"I meant a computer made out of magic, but it's easy enough to get one of those to cast spells too. Once you have one, and a compiler for it, you can translate spells from offworld, automate your rituals, and of course use it for mundane calculations."
The dean leaned forward. "And since the locals don't know what computers are, they'll be none the wiser. They just see you have a wand, or whatever, that you use to invoke spells. If they do get it from you - unless you do something stupid and shortsighted like setting up a server farm for industrial magic, which is why we instruct scouts to keep a low profile – they're missing the critical ten units of programming lessons they need to use its real features, while you're perfectly capable of making another one."
"Do you have any other questions about the curriculum?"
"No," said Silas as he pushed in his chair. "No, I don't." And he turned his back on the dean just before his first tear fell.