Tuesday, 22 May 2012

People Shouldn't Learn To Code

A debate has come about recently, spawned firstly from a tweet by the major of New York City, Mike Bloomberg, and then a response by a guy called Jeff Atwood. The original tweet is below:

Great, the guy wants to learn code, lets leave it at that. But Jeff Atwood thinks not. Jeff is a bit of a superstar in the coding community, and on his blog he posted a piece called Please Don't Learn to Code.

His points seem to mainly revolve around his dislike for inexperienced programmers being employed and messing it up for the rest of them.

True, its not good to dilute the skill level of a workforce by flooding the sector with unqualified workers, but that might be more a problem with employers not hiring the right staff. Or if it is about there being too many under-qualified coders, surely that will mean there will be an increase in perfectly good coders who will no doubt float to the top.  Jeff seems to be inferring that if more people learn to code casually, everyone will want to be a professional coder.

Some people in the comments of this article can see his point and attributes this to the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby incompetent people have a tendency to overestimate the level of their skill, and fail to realise where they fall short. This could well be true, but I digress.

What Jeff only touches on however, is the move to push programming into the forefront of education, and making it as an important as Maths, English and Science, something that Papert would advocate. Jeff says this wrong, as well as 'learning to code for the sake of learning how to code'.

As the writer of this post points out, learning to code is does not mean seeking to become a professional programmer, but is about gaining a better understanding of the technology that we use, and by gaining a whole host of transferrable skills that are applicable to thinking and solving all sorts of problems and as a way of approaching learning itself.

So, while I highly doubt Mike Bloomberg is really ever going to learn how to code, the question is should he? Yes, I think he should. I think many of us could do with understanding more of the basics of what makes the things we hold in our hands, the displays we read off every day, work (and also not work).

esmoove puts it well:
Learning new skills opens up new perceptual avenues and cognitive spaces. I'm learning to sew right now, not because the world needs another tailor but because I want to be able to recognize quality in clothing and create pieces that I can't find. Novice coders feel the same way about their digital goods and should be encouraged to continue. Learn to program.

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