The part at the end was just fantastic, and really sound advice for pretty much anyone.
But, I think people are sort of misunderstanding Jeff's post. I didn't get the impression that he was trying to dissuade kids from learning how to code in some kind of effort to keep his uniqueness as a programmer. I think the point was just that this whole _everybody_ should learn how to code thing is a little odd.
If you want to code because you think it's cool and you want to become a good coder, then great, learn to code. But I think Jeff's point is that we shouldn't make coding out to be this essential skill that absolutely everybody should learn. If you weren't otherwise inclined to learn to code, don't do it just because someone told you you should.
Not that I completely agree with that sentiment either, I guess. One of the top comments by Fuzz  on that github gist is a pretty good tl;dr I think:
"Saying people should not learn how to code is like saying people should not learn how to speak a second language."
I'm sure learning a second language is fun, but I get annoyed when people try and make it seem like it's absolutely vital to do so.
I'm sure learning a second language is fun, but I get annoyed when people try and make it seem like it's absolutely vital to do so.
I'm guessing you're a native English speaker? Because I can tell you that in many parts of the world, learning a second language is essential if you want a decent job and access to the vast amounts of knowledge, culture and people that the Internet provides.
I didn't mean it as a criticism - it's easy to overlook what we take for granted, and I'm no exception.
But where I live, I notice very clearly the difficulties and disadvantages that not knowing English has, and even being able to read is not enough: my parents, for example, are certainly not uneducated people, yet they're not able to fully understand much of spoken English, which means they're restricted to subtitled content - fewer films, no free university lectures, no Khan Academy, almost no podcasts, etc.
While the "Don't Become Anything" thing is valuable (after all it's a thousands of years old insight that can be found in Buddhism for example), the article looks pretty much like a straw man to me. The original post was arguing that "coding" isn't an essential life skill in the way for example reading is and that massive amounts of new coders might not be that good for the world. How is this refuted here in any way? Where is this resentment thing pulled from?
I'm not refuting his statement that programming is or is not a life skill. My opinion on the matter is demonstrated in my work. I'm refuting his statement that other people should not become programmers, and that only a few chosen few should. Even though he doesn't say those very words, that's what he's saying.
The resentment comes from me talking to many programmers who say the same thing. Consider it a guess about Jeff, and a general message about other people who feel the same way.
>I'm refuting his statement that other people should not become programmers, and that only a few chosen few should.
But Atwood didn't say that. All he said was that it's a trade like Plumbing and not a life skill like being able to read.
>The resentment comes from me talking to many programmers who say the same thing.
But programmers DON'T mostly say that. In fact, I had a very animated discussion with Randy Stross of New York Times at YCombinator where EVERY programmer around was arguing that programming has become an important life skill and should be taught in high school. Of course, this is anecdotal but even the recent articles refuting this on HN shows most programmers are for everyone learning programming.
I don't know you as well as other members of the community here but this article seems to be really harsh and doesn't even touch the argument that Atwood made in his article.
But it IS a life skill. It's not comparable to reading or writing maybe, but it is comparable to financial planning. People don't learn to write budgets properly so they go broke. People don't know how computers work, even just the basics, but operate these machines every day as part of their work and their home life. Knowing how to use a command line to look for viruses, how to monitor your home network, or even what a bit of code looks like - enormously useful skills that make you a more savvy, thoughtful, and protected citizen.
I actually agree with your article, but you can't seriously take Jeff Atwoods title seriously unless you also mean us to take your title seriously - so are you now telling us that we shouldn't become anything? Especially not programmers? I mean, it says it right there.
I'll reiterate that I do agree with most of what you wrote and I upvoted this submission because of what you wrote, I just don't think the stance in this (and other) comments is at all valid given the title of your own article.
If you are insinuating that I didn't read your article. I did. That is why I made the comment.
I didn't think much of it. The tangent about Atwood's son was completely tangential and unrelated. Atwood's argument was not about computer science education, it wasn't about meritocracy. You completely missed the point.
He didn't state that people should not become programmers, he stated that people who do not intend to become programmers wouldn't benefit much more from a "coding" course than from a plumbing course, and could instead for example use some knowledge of how to find or build a solutions to their problems in an easy way without actually programming it. I do not necessarily agree with him everywhere, and I do greatly respect your work on "Learn X the hard way", but in my opinion you completely misrepresented what he has written and trivialize a point that actually is interesting and worth thinking about.
> Even though he doesn't say those very words, that's what he's saying.
Partially yes, partially no, and for different reasons than claimed in this article. He does argue that fewer people should pursue programming, yes, but it's because they would be more effective elsewhere. His thesis is that people decide that the solution is for them to write code before they know what the problem is, and that some people make careers that follow that trail of thought. From a purely efficient viewpoint, a work force is more effective when there are fewer people mis-fit into it.
A guess about his motivations? So basically, this was a strawman to vent frustration onto?
There's a funny juxtaposition between Zed Shaw's rather excellent books and what just comes across as nasty, personal, bullying comments and attacks on people.
In fact, around a year ago, amidst serious worries in my life, I read some typically Shaw-ian stuff which essentially utterly disuaded me from wanting to try and do things out in the public arena should he, or people like him, feel like attacking me for producing code that he/they didn't feel was all that good. It was quite depressing.
The irony is that I actually recently recommended LPtHW to a friend who I want to help out potentially get a new career. I love the idea of quality education being free for everyone via the web, and I love the idea that you don't have to be some elite programmer to do it. I think Zed's approach to this is so spot on.
But how about toning down some of the nastiness? You're a great programmer and now, author/educator Zed, but seriously man.
He really missed Jeff's point. This was a terrible piece.
> Currently, Jeff Attwood has a piece where he tells you to not learn to code. I wonder if he's going to tell his kids they shouldn't learn to code when they want to become just like Daddy? Probably not. He'll gleefully run over and show them how to code and tell them it's so much fun and that they should all do it and it's the best thing ever! But, of course, your kids shouldn't learn to code, and you shouldn't, and your friends shouldn't, just Jeff and his kids should.
No, that's not what Jeff said.
Jeff was arguing against learning programming casually if you have no logical extension for your knowledge. He was coming at it from more of a "don't spend time learning specialized skill sets you won't need" stand-point. This piece makes it out as if Jeff were openly attacking anybody who wanted to program. If you read Jeff's post, the title is obviously an exaggeration, as are most of his blog post titles.
I don't agree with Jeff's point, but this piece made it out to be a wild exaggeration that it wasn't.
Perhaps Jeff should have chosen a better title. Perhaps Jeff should have chosen a better example than of a man late in his career path holding a highly specialized job an ultra-majority of people will never hold.
I'm sure Bloomberg would have loved to know how to code back in his trading days. Of course Jeff can't see a reason a financial trader would want to trade.
The only thing all these counterpoint blog posts are proving is that while programming may or may not be important for everyone to learn in the future, being able to hold and understand cogent arguments most certainly is. I've read at least two blog posts today making counter arguments to points the op wasn't even making (op being Jeff).
I have a feeling a big part of it is the blogger proclivity to make link bait headlines that are somewhat related at best, deceptive at worst, giving rise to knee jerk reactions.
See this is the crux of what I thought this movement was about. Logical and Algorithmic thinking is what people should be getting from learning to code. This is a fundamental thing like critical thinking which schools have a really hard time making kids learn.
Plus I have to agree with you that today I wouldn't recommend my path to others trying to learn to program. It wouldn't make any sense.
I have to disagree with the sentiment that programming has anything to do with logical thinking. You can write awesome programs on feeling alone. For example, when I'm debugging, I don't think, I simply let my mind explore the catacombs and the solution bubbles up from my subconscious. The benefit which logic brings to the table is being able to communicate your ideas clearly.
Critical thinking is useful but it's not a golden hammer and, in this community, is vastly overrated. Balance between thinking and feeling, on the other hand, is of vital importance.
Get a copy from your nearest library. You are operating in the same mode as most creative mathematicians. My girlfriends at University had to cope with a shorthand pad and pen on the bedside, and being totally ignored for 24 hours at a stretch when the ideas came.
The subconscious only works when fully primed by the way. You must know your code very well for the links to 'bubble up' like that.
I definitively don't think it displaces creativity. I think it actually improves it in a sense. Hones creativity and makes it sharper. And as you said it makes it easier to communicate ideas more clearly. Definitively something important for programming.
I don't see any of these things being on their own the golden hammer. I like to view these skills (creativity, critical thinking, logical thinking...) as empowering each other. Programming is how I believe I got a lot of those things. Maybe I'm wrong and it's not the best way to go to get these for others.
" I simply let my mind explore the catacombs and the solution bubbles up from my subconscious."
I think the subconscious can be trained and get better.
I think you're applying boolean logic where there is none.
I wouldn't say that people should always totally be logical. That's stupid because logic ignores context which is very relevant in the real world.
I would say that one of the skills it teaches is the ability to think more logically. I also actually don't think that's the best skill it teaches. I think it gives people a bunch of other skills, and that "logic" is kind of secondary to the others.
"I wouldn't say that people should always totally be logical."
Oh no, I didn't mean to imply that. What I meant is I believe it's a skill everyone should have, using it or not is a situation based thing.
I believe learning to program is a good vehicle to learn that skill in school.
"I would say that one of the skills it teaches is the ability to think more logically. I also actually don't think that's the best skill it teaches. I think it gives people a bunch of other skills, and that "logic" is kind of secondary to the others."
I agree, it's definitively not the only thing it teaches. Same as Math not just being about learning to count, add, multiply... Yet you should know how to do those things.
>being able to hold .... points the op wasn't even making (op being Jeff).
It seems you argue they should refute Jeff's arguments using logic. But how could they when Mr Atwood did not use logic in the first place to support his opinion; I cannot find any of it in his arguments and I doubt you can. He used rhetoric to appeal to people's mind, and every one else who is writing is doing the same thing.
Disclaimer: I was so impressed with Learn Python the Hard Way that I bought the hardback in the hope that Shaw gets a beer out of it. I've made it to Ch 11 and will finish the course when I get my students through their maths exams.
PS: Zed, magstep3 in TeX, please, I need glasses as it is.
Is it possible that there are degrees of code writing?
I publish my humble Web site using some bash scripts I hacked up to generate pages from markdown text then to generate the index and lftp the lot up to my Web server space. That is coding, but it is not software engineering or industrial strength. The system probably only makes sense to me.
I bodge together R scripts that produce interactive 2d plots I can use in maths teaching. Again not engineering but useful.
I'd like to be able to hack up some small apps for Ubuntu, just silly front ends for things. The 'developer story' as Shuttleworth puts it is not too far ahead yet, so I'll have to get my head around Python/Glade. I'm reading my way through the Pyroom code and scratching my head a lot. I think that is getting closer to trade school coding but I'm no credible threat to a proper coder and have no intention of being.
Does HN collectively think there is a valid space for end user coding as in the BASIC days? If you want to get philosophical, is there space for bricollage as well as architecture?
Professional programming's only been around for 2-3 generations. I don't think there's any hard evidence for the skills being limited to a particular domain - rather the opposite, we keep discovering new things to apply code to.
It used to be that programming was seen just as "large scale number crunching" and even top people in the computer industry didn't see greater application(e.g. the "only 5 computers in the world" quote often attributed to Tom Watson). We've progressed quite a ways from that point, and nowadays I think we've reached an era where no programmer can be expected to know all the programming knowledge that exists. There are too many different domains and specialties.
And that, in turn, means that as a society we need yet more programmers to cover all possibilities and make more discoveries. I think "skill" is very tangential to the discussion, because one of the domains that has ample room to progress is language design and engineering techniques.
When people online toss around phrases like "best practice" and "professional-grade" you can take it with a grain of salt - most code barely works, we don't actually know how to do it right, and we spend most of our time on concerns that are bikeshedding, not order-of-magnitude productivity enhancers. We're still catching up with some ideas from the 70s about how to build software.
Instead just be "humble yet courageous." If you don't know if it's right, marshal all your available defenses - source control, backups, comments, references, IRC channels etc. - and then go try it. It's an experiment, and it probably won't take long to figure out if it has problems.
Quality programming is an extremely broad range, yes. It's not really sufficient to say there are degrees: some forms of excellent quality are completely orthogonal and just can't be properly compared to each other.
And yes, there is definitely a valid space for end user coding. The key is mostly in remembering that an end user cannot and should not be expected to produce something competent, or even palatable.
I believe that Zed was striving for Zen in his post.
As a college student and someone who read LPTHW, I'm quite happy to see this entry. I have seen the negative attitudes of many self-ascribed "programmers" in the CS department at my University. I feel like a lot of this comes from the point that Zed was making - the old dogs are upset because new people are circumventing how they learned to code. It's strange that some people hold so dearly to their old methods of learning, but I do feel like one must let go of that way of thinking if they wish to be happy.
The new methods of learning are great and they usually don't cement anyone into thinking they're a "programmer." One of my best friends goes to RISD and he learned to code from LPTHW and he is one of the best coders I know (although I think his style is weird sometimes... but that's beside the point). What matters is he is making cool things and he is humble about it. People shouldn't be too attached to any one thing on this earth, it takes away from our complexity as humans. We have such boundless potential and I hate to see that get knocked down by people who are afraid of losing their identity as a "programmer." Those people are so much more than that too! Even if they read all of Knuth's literature and have built compilers, humans aren't robots, why should we act like them? We must let go of the identities that cause to inflict harm on people.
Zed has come across as rather harsh in some of his writing, but this post is very beautiful. I'm not saying that Jeff is a bad guy, I'm just glad that Zed wrote this post.
Hopefully in time we can all let go of the identity of being a programmer. Most of us use libraries built by other people that are so abstracted anybody could do it! And what's cool about the people who are building the gnarly libraries is they put it out for opensource - they want people to use it 8^)
Don't be concerned with the bullies, go out there and have fun!
I like Zed, and I like Jeff. I dislike Jeff's article, and really like what Zed is saying about not letting people tell you not to become a programmer (or whatever you want). Well said.
However, Zed did Jeff a real disservice - he put words into Jeff's mouth that he did not say. There are many people who do have that kind of resentment, and I see it all the time, but I can not see where he got that from Jeff's article (or any of Jeff's articles, in fact).
It is funny to see how different people interpreted the original post.
For me it was about coding being a craft and not a necessary skill like arithmetics, reading or a secondary languages.
(This is true not only for coding but for nearly every craft there is.)
So I think it was more a post against the "Every one should learn to code, for a better world" movement (if there is such a thing) than a keep on doing what you do and stay away from my craft post.
While I thing bloomberg should be able to do what ever he wants in his free time. I agree with the assessment that it will be highly unlikely that leaning to code will make a difference in his daily work.
So while this reaction was a entertaining read I think it was reacting to something that wasn't be said.
Again funny how people read different things from the same text :-) . That's not what I was trying to say. On the contrary to master a craft you will need to learn several different skills and a craft is something thing that you can learn, but more importantly must learn and study to master. I'm not saying this should be out of reach for most people as is any craft, if you want to learn something you should be able to and I applaud any afford to make it more affordable and easier . but contrary to reading and arithmetic etc it is not something you must learn to be a productive member to society. This is true not only for coding but for any craft, be it plumbing, sewing carpentry, Medical professions etc.
You guys are so naive. The only reason Jeff doesn't want everyone to program is so that we can have the benefits we have right now. There's currently an industry shortage, it's awesome for programmers right, left and center. We get better perks, better benefits, better pay.
There are definitely benefits of having more programmers, or people familiar with programming, however there are two caveats:
1. With more programmers there will be a much larger signal to noise ratio. Good programmers will become much harder to find.
2. It'll drive down the value of each programmer, regardless of industry quality.
The same thing happened to the aviation industry in India. There were pilot shortages, then they found that pilots get paid really well. Everyone and his cousin became a pilot, boom - quality and more importantly perks/pay went down. Now there's a pilot surplus (of mostly inexperienced n00bs) in the country. These guys are all unemployed and the airlines are all talking about "how difficult it is to find good and experienced pilots". But the pay has gone down..
So yeah, nobody learn how to program PLEASE. I want to be the only programmer.
Sure you can do anything you want, but the better you are at something:
a) the more enjoyable and rewarding it is for you AND
b) the more efficiently you can generate something useful for others; with any activity, there is an opportunity cost
That said, learning coding is self-limiting activity; those who enjoy it and have a knack for it will continue, those that don't will stop.
My only concern, which is a general one, is that humans are pretty good at self-deception, especially in subjective areas. Look at how many people think they can sing, for example. The shattering of their illusions has been turned into entertainment, and for many people this is obviously traumatic.
Currently I've taken the former option, but still agonise over whether this is the 'right' way or not.
When I start learning programming I was "completely non-technical" too. Give your non-technical friend a few years and you will see what she can do if she is really interested in making games.
I bet you were in the same situation at some point in your life.
You are missing the point of his post which I believe is valid- that programming in and of itself is nothing but a skill to carry out a task. He isn't dissuading beginners from learning to code or suggesting that people shouldn't. Just that you shouldn't learn to code just for the sake of knowing how to code.
I get it. There are worse hobbies you can have and it can solve problems and spread information, etc., etc. The point is that programming should be viewed as a means to an end. Too much focus is put on coding as an end goal and writers on TechCrunch whom I suspect have never coded anything in their lives talk about how learning to code is the hot new thing and everybody should be doing it. I think it is far more useful to learn a variety of subjects, figure out what it is you want to do, and if building software is the way to achieve it, then go learn to code. But learning to code well is an enormous investment of time, so to learn to code you are choosing not to do other things that could be far more valuable to you.
A lot of people start with learning to code and then look everywhere for a problem to solve with their new skill set. That is the reverse of how problems should be solved. The technology is irrelevant. The skills are irrelevant. The problem is what should dictate the work.
I just re-read Mr. Atwood's post, and I'm not sure that's what I get out of it. He talks about people learning to code to do it for a living, not just doing it as a hobby/learning experience. Though he starts by saying code is just one skill among many, his arguments centers around people doing as a career ("we don't need more bad programmers" and "programmers should be writing less code").
I suspect that really, Jeff and Zed might actually agree that people should be free to tinker, and resources should be available for them to learn to tinker (see Jeff's plumbing analogy--would the Jeff Atwood of plumbing tell me not to learn how to fix my leaky faucet because there are already enough bad plumbers in the world?).
Certainly, some people learn to code for the wrong reasons, and they see every problem as a program to be written. But hey, if they want to do that in their basement (or even as part of their job), let them--we've all had to learn one way or another that the world doesn't work that way.
You see, I'm proud to say I am the proto-enabler of the meme that everyone can learn to code (not Codecademy, or however you spell it).
I don't mean to disparage the good things Zed has done in helping new people learn to code, but am I the only one who is a bit put off with the narcissism here? I mean, Zed is hardly the first person to encourage non-programmers to program, or to write a book to teach non-programmers to program.
Regardless, I don't think Zed's point is mutually exclusive to Jeff's. It sounds to me as though Zed is saying "Everyone can learn to program", while Jeff is saying "Yes, but that doesn't mean that everyone should learn to program". I think these two ideas can coexist.
You certainly weren't alone there re: the over-the-top narcissism, and seems like massive disrespect to everyone involved in languages research for the last 40 years, which has attempted to make programming easier and more accessible. Alan Kay would be rolling in his grave if he were dead.
Thanks Zed! I think that was pretty insightful. You brought a whole new perspective to the "please don't learn to code" issue. Jeff may not even be aware of the reasons behind his resentment, but now he wouldn't need a shrink to find out would he? Thanks!
In another reply you questioned people's level of English comprehension. Did you read anything but the headline of Jeff's post? If so, you are the one with the reading comprehension problem because your entire rant has nothing to do with any of the points Jeff was making in his post.
Of course that doesn't matter to you. You got to create a sensational headline and a fiery rant to please your fanboys.
Wow. Jeff's article was not nearly as silly or inflammatory as some of these responses. Zed's rants can be great fun and quite theatrical, but Jeff was not trying to stifle anyone and prevent from learning to program. He was critiquing the fact that coding is becoming an "end unto itself" rather than one means (among many) for solving problems. Just because one learns to code does not mean one will solve problems - they may create more. Conversely, someone can never learn to code and be amazingly effective solving problems through other means. I am a programmer and really enjoy programming and appreciate its effect on the modern world - but it is not an end unto itself.
Great post. I have an awful lot of respect for Zed Shaw and what he's done (and, no, not for "Rails is a Ghetto" but for his directed learning programming books, which IMHO are probably the best approach for newcomers).
I'm disappointed that Jeff has taken what is essentially an elitist and exclusionary view. Programming is not a zero sum game. Every new programmer isn't a threat to your livelihood and your existence (unless, you know, you suck at your job).
There's a lot of wisdom in the last two paragraphs. Another facet of this is those (typically young) programmers who treat any criticism of their ideas to criticisms of themselves as people (of course this isn't unique to programming).
You need to get over that as it is an impediment to becoming more proficient at your chosen craft. Your work isn't your identity. Don't treat it as such.
This is a terrible post. He wildly exaggerates Jeff's statements and completely misses the point of it, which was not in any way "no one should learn to program", but rather "don't learn specialized skill sets you don't need". Jeff's point focused on whether programming was the best path to solving a problem for most people, and whether they would actually gain anything from it. His main argument was that programming was just a tool for problem solving, and it didn't solve problems that most people would need to. Rather than do a half-baked job of writing some code, people should take a different, more effective route.
I don't necessarily agree with that, but that's what he said. And this post completely misses the point and makes Jeff's post out to be something it was clearly not meant to be.
"Please don't learn to code" is not a useful or kind thing to say. If he did not mean to say that, then he shouldn't have said it.
Technically most people can get by without literacy, general education, birth control or hand washing. But it's just offensively elitist to say that "most people" don't need things which enrich life and improve opportunities significantly, in aggregate.
How do you know who should be permitted to learn to program (or apply the calculus, or read)? Who are you to say what is a "more effective route"?
Nobody has said anything about doing a half-baked job. Nobody was born an expert, not even you. It's ridiculous to aim elitist bully talk like "half-baked job" at beginners when writing shit code is an unavoidable developmental stage every programmer goes through.
While we are discussing half-baked jobs, let's talk about a status quo where huge numbers of people are doing piles of mind numbing, annoying labor (and making mistakes) just because programming has not been applied. In many cases the funding and justification are not there to improve the process, in no small part because of a traditional culture which tends to programming as effete play or impossible wizardry or both. Do you really mean to suggest that there is NO value in automating or improving processes (or constructing things for yourself) unless you are working full time as a 'professional' developer? The technology is getting easier and easier for people without deep computer science background, so you are on the wrong side of history.
Programming is an incredibly valuable development of this century. It's as much part of the modern human heritage as banking or oral contraceptives. It should be applied in MANY more areas than it is applied.
This macho, elitist attitude is one of the biggest things which keeps a ton of women out of programming and related fields. Treating programming as some kind of venue for manhood comparison, and excluding people who do it for the love and the pursuit of knowledge, is detrimental to the art. It's a bad and unproductive attitude and it should stop yesterday.
What do you mean by useful ?
Seriously what is really useful in all that "Please code / Please don't code" story ? In itself nothing, it's all a matter of opinion. That doesn't make it less interesting.
So putting the sentence "Please don't learn to code" out of context is just not fair and misleading. He wrote this post like he wrote everything else he does, with his style. You have the right not to like it but please do not state your opinion as fact. How does the post is more useful ?
The idea that everyone should learn to program doesn't disturb me at the least but it's just a waste of time.
Comparing programing langage with english, french, russian or whatever is just a joke. The day the first words of a baby will be the binary representation of "Mommy" I'll rethink about it.
In truth those who want to get involved in programming for whatever reason (as a hobby, professionally, by curiousity ...) are those who should learn to program. So let's drop the hype, pleadge and let's keep those good websites which help to get started.
I find knowing how to program really useful, empowering, fun and challenging but not everyone has to feel the same way and not every programmer feels like I do. That is what Jeff Attwood tells in this post, while humouring himself with the movement.
So please learn to code, if you want to but you'll still be cool if you don't.
Yes, it does. Jeff's article then proceeds to present a very reasonable argument to consider for why you might not want to code, specifically, there are many useful skills in the world and maybe there's one that would serve you better than coding. Your article completely ignores Jeff's article and presents what amounts to an ad hominem attack on Jeff, claiming he's trying to make beginners feel like losers.
Do you honestly believe so many people on here are so bad at reading comprehension that they can't parse the phrase "Please don't learn to code"? I think you're smarter than that. I think we both know that's a straw man. What actually happened was that many people read Jeff's post and realized that the title "Please don't learn to code" was not a summary of his article, it was a title, presenting the highlight of his article, which is that there are some people in some situations in which he'd tell them, "don't learn to code, learn this other thing that will be more useful to you".
>Jeff's article then proceeds to present a very reasonable argument to consider for why you might not want to code, specifically, there are many useful skills in the world and maybe there's one that would serve you better than coding.
Programming is a super-power, even if you only know a little bit. Knowing how to program gives you abilities to create unequaled in the history of the world. I think that the more people who know how to program, the better, even if they "suck" by comparison to a rock star programmer (or alternately a fat guy who knows C++ ).
Maybe 95% of people will never be lead programmer on a commercial product, but almost everyone ends up, e.g., searching Google -- and not being afraid of complex search results can mean the difference between digging through six pages of garbage and getting relevant results right away because you weren't afraid to use the minus operator or other more "advanced" search features.
And probably most people in the workplace have to deal with an Excel spreadsheet from time to time -- being willing to dig into creating more complex formulas because they aren't afraid of lists of functions with parameters would be an obvious side effect of knowing a bit of code.
Regardless, Zed is saying that no one should be telling you that you SHOULDN'T learn to program, period. And I agree.
You did read it, and he's wrong, and that's why you wrote an article that did not respond to his (supposedly wrong) arguments at all, and instead presented an ad hominem attack saying he "[gets] off on making beginners feel like they're worthless for attempting something"?
Technically you may be right, if one is in a debate club perhaps. In a real world debate the close position of two elements, especially when one is composed of emotional content, draws a strong implied link between the two points even if they are separate. It's not a compelling defense to say that everyone should be an expert at logical debate and should know to ignore the insults one heaps on one's opponents.
You need to learn the difference between insults and logical fallacies. This has nothing to do with whether or not insults are bad in a discussion (they almost always are), it has to do with the poster citing the ad hominem fallacy incorrectly because they think using Latin words will strengthen their point.
We should start a movement to persuade everyone to learn logical fallacies. Then we'll get some other guy begging everyone to stop following the fad and not learn logical fallacies. After that, we'll get a third guy writing a response saying the other guy is wrong. Finally, we'll get a lot of people illogically applying logical fallacies, and we'll get them then!
Seriously, understanding of logical fallacies seems to be in very short supply around HN. If I didn't know any better I would think I'm over at Reddit.
Ad hominem (argumentum ad hominem) is a specific term of art to describe arguments that try to counter a thesis by attacking the character, qualifications, standing etc of the person claiming the thesis.
It does not mean an argument in which a person insults the person claiming the thesis. Insults rarely add anything to an argument but that is a different matter.
Also note that an ad hominem doesn't need to be insulting - it could be a very polite statement such as "This argument is incorrect because Mr Atwood is unqualified to discuss matters of education as he is not himself an educator". This is not really insulting (though I would argue that Jeff is in a way an educator) but is still an ad hominem.
"Never listen to people who try to make beginners feel like losers."
I didn't see anywhere in Jeff's post where he was saying he wanted to make beginners look like losers. What he is saying is that it isn't necessary for everyone to learn how to code, that a lot of people seem to have a passing interest in it but aren't really serious about it. His example is the fact that Mike Bloomberg is using it as a cheap political stunt, that his time as Mayor would be better spent accomplishing other things. Now, that's somewhat a matter of opinion, maybe Mike Bloomberg really is serious about wanting to learn how to code, but somehow I doubt it. This is a far cry from Jeff wanting to make people feel like losers.
"He's telling other people's kids to not learn to code. He's telling adults who want to improve their lives, or just learn something new. He's telling people from other professions that no, programming won't help them. Why? Why would Jeff tell people to quit and just let the professionals do this? Because of resentment."
That's a complete assumption, in no way backed by anything Jeff said. I didn't see any "resentment" in that post, but you can read into anything you want and make any wild assumptions you want, as long as it makes your post more sensational.
He's not saying that your's or anyone's kids shouldn't learn how to code, he's saying that he doesn't see it as a basic skill we should be teaching children, along with reading, writing, and math. I don't necessarily agree with this, but I get where he is coming from and I'm not going to grossly exaggerated Jeff's position just to make my point.
So, yah, maybe Jeff is wrong, but you're post certainly didn't address what he was actually saying.
back up 200 years and replace plumbing with reading...
Your argument isn't evidence for anything at all. There's a big difference between reading and coding: reading is a very useful method of communication. Everyone should be literate just like everyone should be able to speak. Coding, on the other hand, is much more along the lines of plumbing than language.
There was a book written by Douglas Rushkoff called Program or be programmed wherein he asserts quite a compelling argument for why learning at least a basic understanding of programming and how a computer works actually is (or very soon will be) just as important as being able to read.
The basic crux of the issue for me is this: you can control a society via the flow of information through that society. Both reading and more recently, programming are activities intimately connected to the flow of information through modern society. Along with an understanding of programming comes a greater understanding of computers to computer networks to privacy issues and all manner of things that more people should be thinking about more conciously, regardless of whether they wish to program as a career.
While no doubt the flow of material through plumbing pipes is also quite important for societies in general, I don't think an understanding of plumbing affords quite the same insights and protections against being potentially manipulated by the powers that be as one might acquire through the pursuit of reading and programming.
Of course people will need to be informed on security and privacy on computers, but that doesn't require an understanding of coding. I know how to safely drive a car, for example, but I have no idea how it works under the hood (and frankly, I don't have the time or energy to learn this).
Coding really is a specialized job. For sure, some people would be better off learning it because it can be useful, but everyday people don't need to know how to code just like they don't need to know how a car works. All they need to know is how to drive safely, or use the computer securely.
And really, I don't get this whole "learn to code, learn how your computer works" idea. When I first learned ruby, I didn't magically gain an understanding of filesystems and networks and all those other things. My dad, on the other hand, who doesn't know how to code, in fact he didn't even know what a kernel was, can fix your computer up in a jiffy (hardware and software both, particularly windows). He's in fact still better than me at this, because he knows all the intimate little details of the windows UI and what each thing does, what each error probably means.
Very well said.
My understanding of computers came far before my understanding of code.
I think people are falsely equating all the marks of a good programmer as being the benefits to learning how to program.
"It makes you logical, methodical, organized", etc etc.
Yes, these are all qualities you'll find in a good coder. However I don't think programming is a good way to teach these thoughts! NOT AT ALL!
I learned all those things by writing English papers. I had lots of problems writing in my early years, so I studied, and worked hard. I learned how to outline my thoughts. I learned how to properly revise a work. I learned how to organize my thoughts into logical units. I learned how to make those logical units flow into one another. I learned how to arrange those units so that they each make sense in context. I learned how to target a unit to a specific audience.
I think programming would've been a terrible way to learn those skills. English is at least somewhat forgiving. Even if your sentences aren't perfect, the general idea still comes across.
Learning to program involves weird and obscure syntax, you're constantly fighting with the compiler, you're dealing with stack-traces a mile deep every time you make a mistake.
Programming is an incredibly challenging way to learn problem solving.
Obviously I found that challenge to be worthy of pursuit. Certainly we shouldn't be discouraging anyone from learning how to code. At the same time though, I think it's incredibly offensive to say that everyone should know|learn how to code.
I don't think even Rushkoff would disagree that not all people have the drive to learn programming. And I would agree that programming is not the only way that one can learn the knowledge that one should have in the modern world so that one can be adequately informed on security/privacy issues and so on. But it certainly helps. Coding is becomming a less specialised job by the decade regardless of what any of us think about it. If one espouses the idea that 'programming is as important as reading' even if it may not yet be literally or globally true, then we are aiming for the stars and in the process, at least perhaps hitting a mountain.
No doubt your father is an acomplished man, but he would be a better Windows power user or sys admin if he was comfortable with PowerShell. One of my pet peeves are server admins who don't thnk they need to know any programming and thus don't truly understand the requirements of the developers who interact with their servers.
I feel that we're discussing things (if you'll excuse the cliché) too far inside the box. If one has a very blinkered view of the advantages that programming can provide then yeah, it's just a highly specialised tool, useful only to a few. But that's not what programming is to me. To me, its about communication, expression of ideas and discovery.
So yes, in the narrowest sense, programming is not currently as important as reading. But what does the public potentially gain if we suggest that it is? And I predict that the distance between ideal and reality will close as the decades pass.
Many programs are tiny, written in poorly-regarded languages (Excel, app macros, shell, etc.), and written by people without the title of "software engineer." Many times the number of well-known products like Word or Stack Overflow. But that doesn't mean they are not programs and it doesn't mean they are not serving useful purposes. And the number of areas where little programs could help in the future is huge.
Programming is not a specialized job and it does not require specialized knowledge. Even idiots can program. The fact that you can program shows that you had interest and access to computers but it does not put you in a special club. Programmers ARE everyday people, not a priestly caste who can be distinguished from birth. And in the last few decades their numbers have dramatically increased - with each generation's clueless and accidental beginners becoming the next generation's experts.
We don't tell people "please don't learn any math" or "please don't learn any geography" even though most people will not become specialists or need a specialist's understanding. These are still generally useful things and things which make you an educated and modern person. We don't know where they will be useful or to whom. It benefits many more individuals to know something about these, and it greatly benefits our society that many individuals know something about them.
"just listen to what the experts have to say" is something that started to change as of the Gutenberg Bible, thank God.
Good point and one of the things the powers that be hated about Gutenberg and those who wanted to print Bibles in the vernacular - was they did not want the hoi poli learning to read and getting ideas above their station.
More recently similar arguments were made against educating freed slaves in the USA
England had a literacy rate of 62% around 1800, so no, it was not reasonable for some people not to learn to read 200 years ago.
The American Revolution was spread through pamphlets passed out at the local tavern. Newspapers played a major role in educating the people about the Revolution and passing around the text of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and Constitution, so no, it was not reasonable for some people not to learn to read 200 years ago.
By the way, if Gutenberg's Printing Revolution made the written word so cheap that pamphlets could be handed out to as many people as possible, I don't think there would have been many who could not afford books 200 years ago. If there were many who didn't use the reading skill much, then there wouldn't have been all the hoopla over the Stamp Act the British imposed on the American colonies. You sorta need to know how to read to make any use of stamps 200 years ago.
Apparently you. Have you thought about reading the post, rather than just the title? The same exact statement could be applied to the title of your post "Please don't become anything, especially not a programmer"
Nice article by the way, and thanks for your work.
While I didn’t like Jeff Atwood’s post, I didn’t take the title literally. To me it seems obvious that it can also be read as "Please don't >learn to code<", meaning that we (people who understand and write code) might be wrong in assuming that it’s a skill on par with algebra or cooking in importance and are therefore in no position to lure people into learning programming as if it were the one big roadblock separating them from enlightenment. Or something like that.
Natural languages are ambiguous. One of the reasons why they’re more fun than programming languages.
> "don't learn specialized skill sets you don't need"
Even that would be stupid. You probably don't know if you need it before you know it.
Also it could be argued that everybody "needs" to know how to code, in that pretty much everyone spends a good portion of their lives in front of a computer, and knowing how to automate its behavior would make life easier for a lot of people.
The funny thing is, pretty much everyone needs plumbing skills too. That doesn't mean everyone is gonna learn them, or should become a master plumber. But knowing a thing or two about it certainly can't hurt.
Zed doesn't exaggerate Jeff's statements. The original statements are already exaggerated and caricatural, portraying reality as a binary thing : either you can program, or you can't. Things are not that simple
This is the first post that I would down vote if I could. Learning might not be binary, but the industrial revolution was built on the division of labor, and all Jeff was saying is that not everyone needs to learn how to code. If computer scientists/programmers/coders do their job properly, people with absolutely no understanding of the workings of their computers will be able to drive effectively, just as people can drive without understanding how a car works. Some level of encapsulation is a good thing, and while learning how certain things work is generally a good idea, it comes with an opportunity cost, which is especially high when we are talking about the mayor of NYC. Should Obama be learning how to code? Absolutely not. I agree with most of Zed's argument, however he does not respond to Jeff at all.
I don't believe this post gets the real reason why Jeff said what he said.
In my opinion, Jeff projected some of his issues with the current state of the software development profession (mainly the "hack fist, ask questions later" aproach). The idea that bothered him wasn't born from elitism, identity, or the fact that people were learning to code, but the idea that, to him, this makes this issue worse.
It's true that he is making an implicit leap from "everyone should learn to code" to "everyone should be a programmer". I personally don't agree, but maybie he has a good argument. Maybie he should try to explain that connection a little further.
I agree with you completely, I do not know much about Zed Shaw, being a fairly new and somewhat young programmer but the post leads me to believe that programming should be a part of our general education along with math and the sciences. One does not have to make a career out of it, but having basic understanding of programming and just the general technologies that dominate our lives today can go a long way in securing a strong future for individuals and society as a whole.
As a guy currently in the midst of learning how to code, and doing so with Codecademy (it's been a fantastic tool, and made the process far less painful), I really appreciate this viewpoint. More than that, it's encouraging.
I don't intend to get a job as a developer. I don't convince myself that I'll ever get hired because of my capacity with RoR. I do, however, hope that I can continue to become a better communicator with the developing community, understand the basic parameters around different languages, and hopefully build some things myself... and have fun doing so.
Indeed, as PG has said in the past, learning to code may be more valuable in the coming years than having an MBA (in certain fields). Code isn't going away. It's a language that my kids will grow up bilingual in, and I hope to help guide them into it as the first generation immigrant that I am.
Hell, my skills are elsewhere, and I'm more than fine with that.
The way I interpreted Jeff's post is that as hackers, we tend to see have a very skewed view of the world, and that we believe our tools (programming) are the only way to fix problems, and that everyone should learn how to use them.
Jeff's point is that while certain tools (writing, arithmetic, etc.) are indeed of extremely relevant use no matter what you do, programming doesn't fall in that category, and anyone arguing that all should learn to code regardless of what they do is falling in that fallacy.
(i'm not saying I agree or disagree with that, that's just the way I perceived the post. That being said, Zed's post, especially the last paragraph, is of great value.)
You say one thing, then say another thing. The other thing kind of negates the first thing you said, so, by repeating the recipe, in a short while you have said everything about your topics and you have also said nothing.
I need some sort of AI filter for HN that will not only hide blog posts from a particular domain, but hide other people's blog posts "responding" to those blog posts and then submitted as separate articles.
No. A strawman is when you give your opponent an argument other than the one s/he is making and refute that instead of the real argument. In other words, you created a strawman and knocked him down, claiming victory while the real man remained standing.
The attack zed makes here on jeff atwood is short sighted and unfair heckling. If you actually read jeff's article, he only argues that coding is not a fundamental skill like writing or arithmetic. From that, zed posits that jeff doesn't want your kids to program. Yeah zed, that's why he worked long and hard on stackoverflow.
Why does everyone pay so much attention to what people like Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky have to say? Looking at Jeff's resume, he has had all of two jobs in his professional life, one of which was given to him by himself. Joel's resume is similar, a few low profile jobs (MS was not notable back then) then one given to himself.
From experience in the industry, it's pretty clear that programmers who stay in one spot for a long time are mediocre at best. Good developers move around a lot in order to work with a variety of people on a wide range of problems. Having an average job then starting a company does not automatically make one qualified to comment on anything.
In terms of the complexity of the software owned by the companies they respectively own, seriously? One is an average-at-best bug tracker and the other is a message board. I don't intend to scoff at people's achievements, please don't take it that way - all I'm saying is that the pudding contains too little proof, IMHO.
In short, I'll take Linus's or Shaw's opinion on a given software related subject over these guys' opinions any day of the week. They've produced valuable software and documentation, have worked on problems of a far larger scope and, IMO, are qualified to tell us what's better or worse.
The lesson to take away from this is that if you start a company, blog about your opinions, you will be considered important. Capitalize on that if you're an idiot, otherwise, go and do something useful for humanity.
Wow - on Hacker News, you're going to dismiss people who start up and bootstrap successful technology companies as just "giving themselves a job"?
On Hacker News.
I mean, Mark Zuckerberg's only ever had one job, which he gave to himself. So we can pretty much ignore anything he has to say, too. How many jobs has Paul Graham had? Two, maybe? How many of them were "given to him by himself"? I think... two?
I didn't call them bad enterpreneurs, in fact, I think it's the contrary. But a programmer who's only had two jobs probably hasn't seen very much of what's out there. For the record, I would ignore what Zuckerberg has to say on programming related subjects. I would, however, take any advice he has on how to run a business. Paul Graham has made huge contributions to the software world including several books, and a language. Neither Jeff, Mark or Joel can say that they've even come close to that.
In short, I was talking purely about the programming aspect of these peoples' skill sets, not their enterpreneurial prowess.
Really? Then by your standard which tech companies were notable then? (he worked there during 1991-1993) BTW, Joel created VBA for Excel as a program manager around the time when Excel gained popularity over Lotus 1-2-3. There are graphs here: http://www.utdallas.edu/~liebowit/book/sheets/sheet.html. Figure 8.6 shows revenue share.
The other company that he had worked at (Juno) was something that I was also familiar with as a consumer.
To support your point, however, Joel's work experience was more on the product side than actual programming. However, ironically for this discussion, the VBA that Joel designed is the way that many noncoders in a business first start coding.
I never criticized Jeff for being harsh, I only used a logical fallacy (an inverse appeal to authority - what is this called?) to disclaim his opinions. In reality, I don't think that it's right to white-wash the issue and say that none of his opinions hold weight, that's simply not true. I do, however, think that his opinion is massively overrated since there is a correlation between being correct and having relevant experience in something. But that's just my opinion.
Not to mention that they are harsh in different ways. Jeff is advocating being harsh to people who don't know what they're doing and admit as much. Linus grills people who step into his kitchen and don't know how to hold a knife. Apples and oranges.
This whole internet argument is a sad Fox News style ignorant pundit circus.
No one differentiates between learning how computers work and learning what programming is and learning the craft of software development. There is a huge difference between learning math and becoming a mathematician. They just bounce between both meanings of "learn to code" and assume whichever supports their point at that moment.
No one has mentioned that a lot of people probably can't realistically learn to code. There is actual research on this (start here: http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/). Before you debate something perhaps people should make a small attempt to be not completely ignorant of our current knowledge.
So Zed, I'm a fan, but when you say "I'm proud to say I am the proto-enabler of the meme that everyone can learn to code". You are saying you are proud of propagating bullshit, which doesn't seem like you. It's nice and new agey feel good and everything, but it probably doesn't reflect reality.
So Atwood waffles on the issue making no real point and then Zed attacks a strawman that only vaguely resembles what was actually said if you squint really hard.
Meanwhile no one talks about the actually interesting facts like that there are a lot of people who have serious trouble learning to think in algorithms. Of course there are a whole bunch of learn to code startups who probably left that out of their pitch decks because snake oil sells better so that's not a surprise. If all you read is tech sector marketing material you don't really have a good grasp of reality after a while.
And to those who are worried about an invasion of poorly educated and poorly trained anti-intellectual brogrammers? Firstly: I've only seen this argument from strawmen, not from anyone actually arguing it. Secondly: Well no shit. This is already happening. There is an incredible new technological tool, high rewards for skill with this tool and new methods of training people more quickly and efficiently than ever before. There will be more programmers out there. More programmers means worse programmers on average. This is what happens during booms. Combine that with the increased popularity of an anti-intellectual bent to attitudes about programming and it's awfully reminiscent of the patent medicine / snake oil boom when medicine was the hot new thing.
This has happened to a lot of industries and somehow things end up better at the end of it. I know everyone thought that the tech industry would be the lone historical exception because we're all so damn smart, but that was a stupid thing to think. There is going to be a massive explosion of incompetent (more incompetent?) programmers and a significant lowering in code quality for a few decades, we're only at the beginning of the shitstorm. When it's over we might actually have a mature industry and have learned how to manage software projects which would be nice.
I wonder how many (and which) CS texts are recommended simply because they are considered "classics." As a beginner there is really no way to tell how good a book will be before reading it without relying on the word of others.
Great article. I agree, I really don't like it when others try to pull people down. We should be encouraging because the more we bring each other up, the better life will be. I just started learning how to code as well and it's tough and a lot of work, at times you are super frustrated and a harsh remark at the right time could dampen one's spirit.
Zed I think your self-identity point is spot on. Time and time again we see that the greatest minds don't pigeon hole themselves into a single category. Paul Graham says it himself --
"What hackers and painters have in common is that they're both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things."
Anyone who is a maker should be interested in learning to code. I strongly believe that although programming is a specialized discipline now, in the coming years we will see that people who have skills in both coding and other fields will come out the furthest ahead.
Telling beginners not to learn how to code is like telling people they shouldn't learn how to paint or learn to play an instrument. Coding is a beautiful and fulfilling activity which no one should be barred from.
It's not just programming. I run into this with guitarists too. I mostly play for my own enjoyment, but I constantly run into guitarists who get off on treating beginners like crap. Even in music schools they do this, and for some weird reason they think that this is how you make students awesome.
Ultimately, these kinds of behaviors in teachers don't make better students, they just kill off the more fragile ones who might have been awesome with some help.
Correct. It isn't just programming. You actually summarized it well when you wrote that people need to do other things (besides programming or besides whatever it is they identify so closely with) so that they don't resent others for "sliding" into their world.
People with more than one passion will generally find less time to resent and more time to educate :)
Yes, because that's how life goes. I'm not going to attack the logic of an article that is illogical, I'm going to talk about the hypocrisy of the person writing it. The human stuff matters much more than the fantasy world of "logic".
I'm not going to attack the logic of an article that is illogical
It seems to me that is the exactly the type of article you'd want to attack in that way.
If you won't attack arguments with faulty logic on logical grounds, and you can't (correctly) attack arguments with correct logic on logical grounds, that implies you can never refute anyone logically, and that all your arguments will be ad hominems and suchlike.
That makes sense to me. But I also think maybe Zed is saying something along the lines of that proverb, "Don't argue with a fool," and that when it comes to people who are unreasonable it's sometimes easier to point out that they're generally unreasonable. (Though I see your point in that this bad in the same way any generalizations can be bad.)
So, your motive for attack on Jeff is self-interest?
edit: an elaboration
I'm trying to figure out what exactly Jeff wrote that you hate so much. You don't even consider his arguments, you just have "a guess about Jeff, and a general message about other people who feel the same way."
Jeff wouldn't write something like this:
But that is what I've got from his post. He's not against people learning to code, he's against making it into something that it simply isn't - a vital life skill.
I believe it is a vital skill, but that it's not being taught well enough so that's why people don't think it is. The same could be said about nearly everything we teach in K-12 at some point in the subject's history.
Also, it's not an attack, it's a counter-attack. People really need to get their order of events in the right order of events.
"The same could be said about nearly everything we teach in K-12 at some point in the subject's history"
I've been teaching for 25 years in post 18 colleges in the UK, and I have the granddaughter of one of my first students in my class now (god I feel old, my consolation is that granny was a mature student in her late 20s/early 30s when she did maths with me).
Many of my students are earning money from jobs that did not exist when I was teaching them.
Stuff changes, but learning how to think does not. There is a tension between the synthetic and the analytic, and we need both. Teenagers need to learn attention to detail, and the big picture, and time planning, and the focusing of attention. The school syllabus in every country is a political compromise that shifts over time.
I think a little space for end user style programming might help with the analytic and synthetic modes a little.
Challenge: Learn Puredata the hard way, let's do the attention to detail thing your books do to music by constructing sound?
He isn't insulting Jeff as a person, nor is he even accusing him of deliberately being a hypocrite. He's just accusing him of a single instance of hypocritical behavior.
Also people who won't listen to Jeff anymore because of this post, or are really angry at him, are likely being hypocritical. He's making the same sort of a mistake as a blogger that many will make as a programmer, especially if we don't discriminate who gets to try their hand at programming. He didn't ship this out to some scary production place where the blogging equivalent of exposing private data for thousands of user accounts might happen. He just blogged it. Likewise, for the most part, new programmers will be limited in the amount of damage they can do.
Zed, I think you're making the same mistake I did when I started reading hacker news.
Passion means willingness to work your hands to the bone for the startup. Nobody here actually gives a shit about the craft itself. The only aspect of a professional discipline worth being passionate about it its ability to deliver the pie in the sky.
I really don't see what the fuss is all about. It is just like any other field. Programming is not an easy task. People are not suddenly going to turn into a Linus, a Knuth or a Guido. IMO if you feel threatened because more people are learning to code, you're probably not good enough in the first place.
Additionally, since when have people listened to what you should or shouldn't do? Just because Jeff says that you shouldn't code won't stop the ones who really want to. The inverse is true as well.
Sigh. I think Atwood really should have entitled his post "please write better software." Everyone seems to be trying to ad hom Atwood by shouting "elitist!" when all I think he wanted to do was discourage people from learning to program if all they were going to do was release shitty code. Trust me, as a maintenance programmer, I can sympathize. The world doesn't need more programmers; it needs better programmers.
Edit: Yes, this is my interpretation, and it's one way to look at it. Zed's is another (inflammatory) way of looking at it that reads in (wrongly) a whole lot more. I think Atwood is correct: for some people, learning to code is a waste of time. But no one should be discouraged from learning anything, ever.
I think what Zed missed, and possibly Jeff as well, is that only a small percentage of people really have what it takes, brain-wise, to do programming. And not just to do programming but to not hate it. The intersection of those two things. And I'm not talking just about writing a simple recipe-like script. But really understanding how computers work, memory, networking, recursion, threads, etc. Just as only a small percentage of people have the right mental chops to do advanced math or physics, etc. Writing Hello World? Sure, just about anyone can "learn" to write that. Writing an operating system? No way in hell. You'd be surprised by what most people are like. Not us. Not the typical Hacker News type. Not geeks. But most people. Not saying they're dumb. They're just different. Really. Trust me. You'll understand, hopefully, after you've been on the planet a few decades in the real world.
I've heard this sentiment before, but to me it sounds like an incredibly arrogant glorification of computer programmers. How are the best computer people different from, say, the best doctors, mechanical engineers or industrial designers? Specialization and deep knowledge of a particular domain isn't unique to the IT industry.
I tried K&R but could not get into it after reading the first 2 chapters a few times over.
I was close to giving up on C till I picked up "C Programming a Modern Approach" and Zed's "Learn C The Hard Way". They were phenomenal.
After finishing them I tried K&R again but was still not digging the style so I did a few of the exercises but not much else. I get that it's a classic but it was written before I was born so I didn't find it all that well written. That's just my opinion though.
The author completely missed the point. Never did anyone say "don't learn to code, even if you want to". Rather, what Jeff said could much better be interpreted as "don't just learn to code because it's the newest hype." That's really all there is to this issue.
Like the article. However, I am undecided if I will urge my son to get into coding. I will teach him, but does it really make for a great career?
The one good thing about it seems to be that you can create some stuff with very little resources (not everything the world needs, though -yet, anyway). And yet I wonder if other professions are not more likely to lead to happiness. The often cited people interactions could be a factor, for example. Sure, programmers have clients and colleagues, but other jobs might have people interactions that are more emotional in nature.
So how about you, would you urge your kids to become software developers? Poll time?
When I was younger my Dad taught me how to fix the car. It was a skill that I never used professionally, but has served me quite well in college and beyond.
Programming isn't an either or proposition. It is one of the many skills someone can learn throughout their life. I will teach my nephew how to code, just because it is cool. If it provides another window onto the world, cool. If not, it will be fun to show him how photocells and programming work.
My biggest disagreement is the portrayal of plumbers in the original article. I learned how to wire a basement and build a photo lab in high school (want to take photography? well, see we need a place to develop film....) Every skill, well taught, teaches you a little more about the world. Don't be a snob about it.
I really don't know why people worry so much about this. I don't think dissuading people from entering any field is surprising. Generally, experts in a field want passionate, talented people, because that's how the field will likely advance, which is what any good expert hopes for. If we scare off the dispassionate before they have a chance to burden the field, great. This is exactly the purpose of "weeder" courses in college.
Edit: Well, pardon me for having an unpopular opinion. I have no intention of apologizing. Perhaps your opinions will change when you see the damage that incompetence can cause.
Some people develop passions because someone somewhere showed them the wonder and excitement in a field or subject that was otherwise closed off to them. That's the point. I'm betting that there are out there right now a million ninja coders who don't know they're ninja coders yet. They don't know that there's this whole field that appeals to their meticulous nature and love of building things because they've never been shown it.
Well, these "weeder" courses actually make for intellectually lazy education. Rather than study how best to teach a subject so everyone has a chance regardless of initial ability, you design curriculum that only works for naturals.
But, ultimately, it's not the teacher's right to decide who's "passionate" enough or not. Trust me, if my teachers had any say in my success I'd be digging ditches.
> Well, these "weeder" courses actually make for intellectually lazy education.
I disagree. In order to do well at a subject in an academic setting, you need the upper classmen to be very comfortable with the basics. "Weeder" courses are always (almost always?) in subjects that are basic foundations for the field. The idea is that if you can't pass it, the things that build on it aren't going to make it any easier. As well, they ingrain a good understanding of the content in those who do pass it.
Since schools tailor content difficulty to the ability of the students, lower ability levels of the upper classmen mean that the class difficulty needs to be lowered. If you're in a competitive college that's trying to teach as much as possible, it definitely their call to only filter people with a certain level of ability. Unless you're at a hyper-elite very aggressive school, I doubt that the content is only designed for an ability level that comes only to naturals. It's generally just designed for "people who can do it well". (Obviously, naturals make up a decent portion of it.)
Well you can disagree, but nearly every other subject disagrees with you. They always have two tracks for their subject, one for people who know next to nothing, and one for people who are advanced and might become professionals. In some cases the people from the beginning classes (the 101s) then go on to become professionals.
In addition to that, many other subjects have branches devoted to studying the best way to teach that subject. Computer science is largely missing this, baring some work at universities like CMU and parts of Europe (that I know of).
Until computer science actually starts actively researching how to teach computers science and can produce real research (not their weird non-statistics non-experiments) then these kinds of claims are unfounded. In that event I have to rely on similar research from things like Math and Physics Education which both disagree with you.
Huh, I majored in math, and I can't say that I understand what you mean.
In the lower division (first two years), there is often a separation of core classes between math majors and non-math majors. Calculus, for example, and linear algebra. They served as weeder courses for the math majors so that those who couldn't do good math wouldn't advance onto the upper division courses were they would continue to not do well. In addition, there was a somewhat misc. logic class for math majors that was very strict and served as a choke-point weeder class taken just before you would go onto upper division work.
For non-math majors, the Calculus classes were kind of weeder classes, but that wasn't their purpose. If you were an engineering, the engineers had their own real classes that were their own weeder classes. Etc.
But the two tracks disappeared after lower division. Once you were in 3rd year, there was largely only one set of classes. A couple of them had less rigorous counterparts for those only pursuing a teaching certification, but that was about it.
You are right that CS stands out. It's an unorganized field that is still trying to define itself. (Consider how young it is, relatively speaking.) Some schools want it to be mostly theory, others mostly software engineering, most are somewhere in between. There's disagreement over which languages to teach, how to teach them, etc. It's all somewhat awkward, and it needs to be reformed. I'm hoping that eventually we can split it into two separate fields, like CS theory and software engineering, and do a better job teaching both. (FWIW, I also majored in CS, so I saw both sides of the coin.)
I disagree with your opinion on why folks are worried about this. There are many folks who are scared off unnecessarily by the sheer arrogance of those who say that they shouldn't code.
However, whoever is downvoting opinions that they don't like - will they cut it out? Seriously, I'd love to know who downvotes because I've noticed a lot of it is unjust. If you notice, there are a lot of considered responses to this considered reply. The debate has continued - trying to censor the opinion of others is pretty horrendous IMO.
Most of the things zed said here I agree with. What I don't agree with is his attitude toward classic programming books like k&r and GoF. Those books are gold, and I'm sorry, but if you want to master something you need to study the classics. Ask any academic.
Lcthw is great for beginners but once you've read those you need to move on to the more serious stuff.
The world doesn't need 7 billion programmers, and if people really do want to learn programming then they should learn to do it correctly since the world doesn't need anymore badly written software (we have enough already).
He just brought out all those bitter against everyone wanting to learn to code out of the woodwork. All those who wanted everyone to code in the first place are still here, still wanting everyone to learn to code.
Please note that I didn't say that I'd provide it to a newbie coder. I merely pointed out that it's not an "antiquated tome". It's very definitely useful, and has been so for some time and remains that way. In fact, I actually think that Zed nailed it on many points in that article.
I find it very interesting that my comment was downvoted merely because someone disagreed. There was nothing inflammatory about my response, nor was there anything factually incorrect. I offered a differing opinion, of which someone decided they would hit the downvote button, instead of doing what they should do - post a response.