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Please Don't Become Anything, Especially Not A Programmer (learncodethehardway.org)
651 points by twampss 707 days ago | comments


stiff 707 days ago | link

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?

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zedshaw 707 days ago | link

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.

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stiff 707 days ago | link

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.

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prayag 707 days ago | link

>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.

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nboshart 707 days ago | link

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.

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laughinghan 707 days ago | link

See, that is a thoughtful, reasonable argument. No ad hominem attack, suggesting someone "[gets] off on making beginners feel like they're worthless for attempting something".

Consider writing a blog post that actually responds to Jeff Atwood's post, rather than a straw man constructed from his title?

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prayag 707 days ago | link

I would agree that it is more of life skill than say learning about European history. Or calculus.

But so is basic electronics and basic electrical engineering. Where do we draw the line in the modern world?

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Tsagadai 707 days ago | link

Wherever you want. It's your life, learn what you want to. You don't have to wait for some internet celebrity to tell you what you should or shouldn't be learning.

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drbawb 706 days ago | link

Herein lies the rub, though. We have to choose what we want to teach our kids. That's how the current system is established anyways.

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.

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rsanchez1 706 days ago | link

Don't draw a line. You shouldn't limit yourself like that.

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zedshaw 707 days ago | link

The title says "Please don't learn to code". The rest of the post is just more of that in different words.

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.

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dkersten 707 days ago | link

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.

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laughinghan 707 days ago | link

The title is not a summary. THE TITLE IS NOT A SUMMARY.

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.

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prayag 707 days ago | link

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.

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erso 707 days ago | link

I stopped reading your article once I realized you gave the title precedence over the content.

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bengillies 707 days ago | link

You realise that you're not supposed to reply at all to your own thread if you're trolling right?

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B-Con 707 days ago | link

> 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?

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dmauro 707 days ago | link

Yeah, I'm a little surprised this bit of vitriol made it to the top of HN.

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sasha-dv 707 days ago | link

>Where is this resentment thing pulled from?

Jeff's post: Please Don't Learn to Code

Zed's books: Learn To Code The Hard Way

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alecbenzer 707 days ago | link

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 [1] 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.

[1] https://github.com/fuzz

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icebraining 707 days ago | link

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.

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alecbenzer 707 days ago | link

I suppose I didn't consider that -- yes, I am a native English speaker.

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icebraining 707 days ago | link

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.

And I'm in an European country!

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singular 707 days ago | link

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.

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npsimons 706 days ago | link

Anyone else think that maybe this http://oppugn.us/posts/1272050135.html is why Mark Pilgrim committed infosuicide?

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cletus 707 days ago | link

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.

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B-Con 707 days ago | link

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.

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slurgfest 707 days ago | link

"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.

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lollancf37 707 days ago | link

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.

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rsanchez1 707 days ago | link

I guess Atwood felt that even he needed linkbait and chose that title for that post.

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zedshaw 707 days ago | link

The title says "Please don't learn to code". Holy crap, how can so many smart people be so incredibly bad at reading comprehension.

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laughinghan 707 days ago | link

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".

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SomeCallMeTim 707 days ago | link

>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++ [1]).

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.

[1] http://betabeat.com/2012/05/04/pro-tip-from-silicon-valley-s...

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neckbeard 707 days ago | link

I endorse the subheading on the linked article, if not the entire thing.

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scottbruin 707 days ago | link

To be fair, titles should give some idea of what's in an essay or post. If you use a linkbait headline is it that unreasonable to address the more ridiculous point made by the headline?

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dbecker 707 days ago | link

Maybe it's fair to criticize the headline.

But it's silly to criticize people's reading comprehension on the basis that they read the article rather than just the headline.

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B-Con 707 days ago | link

That is an interesting question, because so many people claim to have read his post yet have no idea what he actually said. Please re-read it.

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.

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zedshaw 707 days ago | link

I did read it, and he's wrong. That's why I wrote mine.

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efuquen 707 days ago | link

"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.

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rsanchez1 707 days ago | link

Well what's wrong with people having a passing interest in it learning it?

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?

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laughinghan 707 days ago | link

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"?

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Smudge 707 days ago | link

Not all insults are ad hominem. For this to be ad hominem, he would have to be saying that the reason Attwood was wrong was because he "gets off on making beginners feel like they're worthless..."

Here's a quick illustration:

Ad Hominem: 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.

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xanados 707 days ago | link

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.

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Locke1689 707 days ago | link

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.

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rsanchez1 707 days ago | link

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.

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rrreese 707 days ago | link

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.

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bryze 707 days ago | link

I think we need no more a concise declaration of your bias than this.

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mathetic 707 days ago | link

When you say it like that it sounds it is bad to be biased in this particular situation.

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.

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efuquen 707 days ago | link

The thing being argued here isn't whether Jeff or Zed is right, the thing being argued is that Zed Shaw grossly misinterpreted what Jeff was saying, which he did.

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brazzy 707 days ago | link

That's funny, given that your entire article betrays a spectacular lack of reading comprehension on your part.

Hint: other people's articles, just like yours, consist of more than a title.

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dbecker 707 days ago | link

The title was meant as an attention grabber, but the text does not suggest that NO ONE should learn to code. The text only disputes that EVERYONE should learn to code.

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gregors 707 days ago | link

back up 200 years and replace coding with reading...

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dbecker 707 days ago | link

Life was hard 200 years ago. Taking the time to learn to read would have been a major hardship for some people, and many (most of whom could not afford books) may not have used the skill much.

I think it was reasonable for some people not to learn to read 200 years ago.

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rsanchez1 707 days ago | link

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.

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/literacy-rates

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dbecker 706 days ago | link

A 62% literacy rate doesn't mean it was unreasonable to have a literacy rate less than 100%.

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sklipo 707 days ago | link

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.

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gaelian 707 days ago | link

There was a book written by Douglas Rushkoff called Program or be programmed[1] 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.

1. http://programorbeprogrammed.com/

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sklipo 707 days ago | link

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.

So the point is, you don't need to learn how to code to know how to use a computer well, and learning javascript won't really help you with that either. If all you want is to know how to protect your computer from the powers that be, don't learn to code; just listen to what the experts have to say on the subject.

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drbawb 706 days ago | link

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.

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gaelian 706 days ago | link

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.

You say that learning JavaScript won't help you to understand your computer better. I disagree. By learning JavaScript, you will involuntarily learn more about one or more web browsers and perhaps from there, you may become more informed on how information is transmitted across the web and perhaps from there, you may learn to better protect yourself through more consistent use of encrypted data transfer, just as an example. You are right when you say learning to program does not magically impart knowledge of file systems or networking but when I learned Ruby, I would have had to try pretty damn hard not to learn by osmosis at least something I didn't know before about these topics while I was learning the language.

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.

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slurgfest 706 days ago | link

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.

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mjwalshe 706 days ago | link

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

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readme 707 days ago | link

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.

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mitsche 707 days ago | link

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.

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rwallace 707 days ago | link

And the title of the response says "Please don't become anything." I think it's better to focus on the content, not the title.

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jscheel 707 days ago | link

Yes, because you have never written a post with an incendiary title.

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Raphael_Amiard 707 days ago | link

> "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

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sac2171 707 days ago | link

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.

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demian 707 days ago | link

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.

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yo-mf 707 days ago | link

I realize that you meant to say "hack first", but I think hack fist is pretty appropriate as well. Also, it would make a killer heavy metal band name.

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peejaybee 707 days ago | link

"Hack fist" is what a "brogrammer" uses to pound out some code.

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saraid216 707 days ago | link

Except that Jeff would still be wrong on this count. If more people were trying to learn how to program, there would be a lot more effort devoted to figuring out how to teach coding better.

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reinhardt 707 days ago | link

Programming is praised as a must-have life skill by... programmers. Comparison of programming with plumbing draws fierce condemnation as elitism. News at 11.

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ahquresh 707 days ago | link

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.

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vadman 706 days ago | link

If the general population programs as much as it applies math and sciences, Atwood's worries about "more bad code" would be completely moot.

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B-Con 707 days ago | link

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.

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parfe 707 days ago | link

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.

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protomyth 707 days ago | link

Bloomberg is not exactly a babe in the woods where technology is concerned. http://ecommerce.hostip.info/pages/111/Bloomberg-L-P-EARLY-H...

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j45 707 days ago | link

"Never listen to people who try to make beginners feel like losers"

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.

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zedshaw 707 days ago | link

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.

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wilmoore 707 days ago | link

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 :)

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j45 707 days ago | link

Really true Zed. Was trying to keep it relevant to hnews as the programming framework/language fanatics are everywhere, including here from time to time :)

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neokya 707 days ago | link

Exactly. I know some programming by now. I am planning to buy a guitar to play with 'Hotel California'

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pbiggar 707 days ago | link

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).

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jwingy 707 days ago | link

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.

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zedshaw 707 days ago | link

Maybe if I learned to code when I was younger I'd be better at logic arguments.

But, sadly, I'm a human and not a computer so I tend to write like a human.

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nkassis 707 days ago | link

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.

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zedshaw 707 days ago | link

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.

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nkassis 707 days ago | link

"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.

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Produce 707 days ago | link

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.

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keithpeter 707 days ago | link

"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."

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5896.html

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.

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Produce 707 days ago | link

Definitely grabbing a copy of that, I had no idea.

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.

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keithpeter 707 days ago | link

Thanks for that, I work as a teacher and people give me money for helping people expand their awareness. Always amazes me that they do :-)

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nkassis 707 days ago | link

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.

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rokhayakebe 707 days ago | link

>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.

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ashray 707 days ago | link

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.

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keithpeter 707 days ago | link

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?

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chipsy 707 days ago | link

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.

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saraid216 707 days ago | link

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.

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Legion 707 days ago | link

Can people please respond to the actual posts each other makes, and not just the titles of the posts?

This blog post battlefield is strewn with the broken bodies of straw men.

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