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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Please Learn To Code… If You Feel Like It

Yesterday, Jeff Atwood stirred things up a little with a slightly hyperbolic/ranty/amusing rebuttal of some recent coding initiatives. My reactions were somewhat mixed and conflicted; here’s a collection of thoughts on the topic:

  • Encouraging people to give coding a try is great. It can be fun, or useful, or maybe even inspiring. We don’t know if the mayor really is going to knuckle down, but mocking him for it is too harsh & dismissive, and we could certainly do with a bit more coder-like thinking from politicians.
  • Some people/organisations do become insular & self-important, seeming to really believe there’s something uniquely special & appealing about programming skills (and therefore people like them who have them). Atwood’s bit with the plumbing quotes sort-of nails this.
  • IT education in UK schools has been all over the place, going from clueless teachers reading out lines of BBC BASIC & plodding through flowcharts, through to teaching MS Office basics. Currently there’s a move to introduce more computer science, and the Raspberry Pi has raised some hopes, but I’d like to see ‘digital literacy’ help for those who don’t take to coding. Most people really struggle with things like online security, privacy, knowing your rights, recognising scams, etc.
  • As with any career, only a small minority have the right aptitude & motivation to become good at it. Sadly, because coding’s currently often portrayed as a lucrative or high-status job, or even made to sound really easy, some go in without any talent or deep interest. Any firm that’s been foolish enough to take on unknown freelancers from agencies has encountered such people, and they take root in certain corporate environments until they can move into management.
  • None of the experienced devs I know try to make beginners feel like losers, in fact they feel so secure in their careers that they often help potential future competitors. I doubt we’ll see a significant glut of good coders unless we hit the Singularity.
  • So, in addition to encouraging coding, how can we also find more good career programmers? Make the industry more inclusive. Let’s face it, most of the white, middle-class males in the Western world with the coding mindset are probably already finding their way to it, but that leaves a lot of largely untapped talent. Start by cutting out sexist nonsense at tech events, conferences & trade shows. Stamp on offensive online comments, and kill off the brogrammer thing before it draws in more idiots.


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