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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
But it's silly to criticize people's reading comprehension on the basis that they read the article rather than just the headline.
The post title was an exaggeration, like almost all of his blog post titles are. If you actually read the content of the post, you realize that he clearly wasn't actually saying.
Here's a quick illustration:
Jeff Attwood gets off on being an ass. Therefore he is wrong.
Not Ad Hominem:
Jeff Attwood gets off on being an ass. Incidentally, he is also wrong.
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.
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.
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.
His example seems to be more him having a bone to pick with Mayor Bloomberg. Maybe, having a mayor that extols the virtue of learning something will help improve student absenteeism. Who knows?
First of all it sounds much better than "I read it, he is correct. This is why I wrote mine." considering that he is refuting the idea presented.
Being biased is simply being opinionated and luckily Zed Shaw's opinion is that everyone should/can learn code. This is why he has free books, which actually teach some programming to everyone.
Hint: other people's articles, just like yours, consist of more than a title.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More recently similar arguments were made against educating freed slaves in the USA
I think it was 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.
Nice article by the way, and thanks for your work.
Natural languages are ambiguous. One of the reasons why they’re more fun than programming languages.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
And I'm in an European country!
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.
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.
Consider writing a blog post that actually responds to Jeff Atwood's post, rather than a straw man constructed from his title?
But so is basic electronics and basic electrical engineering. Where do we draw the line in the modern world?
The current system does not let you "learn what you want to."
It teaches you an established core curriculum.
Personally I think an overhaul of the education system would be far more productive than letting internet celebs duke it out until their agenda gets pushed down the throats of K-12 students.
Wow, alright I'm just going to stop replying to people who can't even read the title, but still claim it's not saying what it says.
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.
The title is a highlight of his article. Presenting the title of his article as a summary, as you do in your article and repeatedly in your comments, is disingenuous and misleading.
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.
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?
Jeff's post: Please Don't Learn to Code
Zed's books: Learn To Code The Hard Way
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.
Zing. A great litmus test that's simple and has results too.
Too many programming communities, including the most popular web frameworks that are the be all and end all to everything have elements of this.
It's not something to be proud of to feel better about yourself by putting others down, telling others what they do, or how they do it, or who they ultimately are isn't as capable.
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.
People with more than one passion will generally find less time to resent and more time to educate :)
> 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.
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.
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.
But, sadly, I'm a human and not a computer so I tend to write like a human.
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 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.
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.
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.
Incidentally, I'm one of those developers who hate intellisense and prefer to memorise the code structure, I guess that's where the priming is happening.
Thanks for expanding my awareness.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
This blog post battlefield is strewn with the broken bodies of straw men.
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 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 could do anything you want if are passionate about something, ignore everyone claims you can't.
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.
I bet you were in the same situation at some point in your life.
Thanks for the tip, I'll pass it on to her.
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 wrote this post at a right time with right points. My appreciation is triple-folded. Take a bow, Zed.
Of course that doesn't matter to you. You got to create a sensational headline and a fiery rant to please your fanboys.
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.
Not all writers are like that of course.
It is perfectly possible to both learn programming and also have other skills. Who knows, maybe you'll be able to do something crazy like apply lessons from one field to another.
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.
Atwood: > don't advocate learning to code just for the sake of learning how to code.
Shaw: > Never listen to people who try to make beginners feel like losers
The OP here is non sequitur at best and strawman at worst. Certainly not a model for constructive contribution to a conversation.
The entire affair from here seems to be a nearly-pointless dramatic back-and-forth between loud people. I read HN for critical insight, not bickering.
Speak for yourself next time.
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.
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?
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.
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.
"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 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.
For example, I think people should spend their lives learning new things. After I write a few more comments on HN, I'm going to grab my guitar and go learn a new scale. :-)
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.
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.
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?
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.
Edit: I thought the blog post was civil. The talk on twitter isn't civil, though (in fact it seems Zed is the only one of the two who crossed that line). https://twitter.com/#!/zedshaw/status/202473102674894848
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.
Writing computer programs is not something out of the ordinary. Sure, it is applied math, but it is not quantum physics.
I want people to learn. The more people know to code, the more innovation we will all enjoy.
There is a generation that is growing up with the power of computing. This is a first in history. We (as a race) will be able to do so many things thanks to it.
But we need people to learn. Good/bad code, its all the same. All it matters is that the ideas are implemented.
Great post Mr. Shaw. I've always looked up tp you, as a person and coder. Thank you.
Quantum physics, and all other forms of physics are applied math.
Quantum physics is not even aptly defined because no one understands them. Sure, we may have some insight into how some things work at the quantum level but we have not a clue.
My point, which I reason you missed, is that people find math hard yet they manage to learn how to program. These days, one can make a reasonable living as a coder without knowing much math.
I'm not even going to pretend to be a genius, not even smart. But I can sure understand that programming is not what fellow engineers make it out to be.
It is neither Quantum physics nor hard. It is, in my opinion, simple (and beautiful).
Discouraging people from learning how to code is akin to discouraging people from learning how to speak.
In a world where the Internet is the only mass medium of communication, knowing how to code enables freedom of thought, and speech.
A freedom we cannot let die.
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.
"Nothing is true, everything is permitted."
"Everything is human, all too human."
"I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of personal integrity."
"You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist."
"Who cares if I am right! I am much too right. And he who laughs best today will also laugh last."
My take on "Please Don't Learn to Code": http://hardcorehackers.com/cgi-bin/blosxom/2012/05/15#please
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.
What's a better way to learn C than reading K&R?
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.
There is nothing wrong with someone learning to code but that might not become their deep expertise. However people understanding abstractions and the skill it takes to code is a good thing.
To take Atwood's analogy, people might use coding the way I use plumbing, I did it just enough to know I need to call someone when I need some plumbing, others might become plumbers.
I actually think that is what he was trying to say. Programming will not become everyone's 'deep expertise'.
Reminds me of the old ditty:
"Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen"
So how about you, would you urge your kids to become software developers? Poll time?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
Lcthw is great for beginners but once you've read those you need to move on to the more serious stuff.
I think this is wrong. If you don't agree, please post a response. Don't hit the downvote button. These are valid comments, and while you might not agree they certainly add to the discussion.
Thank you Zed.
But we all have to try even if we fail, the world needs that unique specimen to move us all forward.
I make computers do what I want.
Often people pay me to make computers do what they want instead.
Lately unity3d.com is doing that a lot.
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.
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.
On second thought, he probably would have been delighted that even teens can use his work.