Feeds

Compulsory coding in schools: The new Nerd Tourism

Chattering classes go mad for gap-year angle brackets

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Real programming shouldn't be kept out of sight like the Wizard of Oz

The other criticism levelled by professional coders against Rory’s Great Coding Adventure may be less contentious to a technical audience. What he “learned” isn’t real programming, and bears little relation to it.

Several years ago I explained that a lot of problems with the web are sociological: people were addressing system-level problems using presentational-level thinking and tools. What Rory learned on his day out is presentational code. That’s what HTML and CSS are. The rest of the LAMP stack remains out of sight, like the Wizard of Oz.

(Redefining systems engineering in terms of painting is just one of several related trends: we’ve seen innovation redefined as talking about things, as James Woudhuysen explained here. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

So the day at the ad agency no more qualifies Rory to speak about computer programming than painting a fence qualifies you to be an architect or a civil engineer. You can certainly learn a lot about paint in a day. And paintbrushes. How far this gives an insight into building a system, or how systems interact, though, is highly debatable.

Which brings us to what for me is the most curious and interesting part of the campaign. At some point in the conversation with a compulsory-coding enthusiast (and I’ve had several of these conversations) you get to this next stage.

“OK,” they’ll say, “I concede that it’s not for everyone, and not everyone needs to learn open-heart surgery. But knowing even a little about how things work can’t do any harm, can it?”

Memorising runic symbols

I agree, it would be wonderful if people knew how things work: like proteins, machines or economies. It would also be wonderful if they knew some history, and perhaps with some basic philosophy, to be able to think clearly and identify specious arguments. Or cook.

But time is not infinite, and the proposition requires us to make special time for compulsory coding, shoving other subjects out of the way. Let’s take this proposition on its merits.

I simply refer the reader at this to the point about presentation tools above. Knowing how to place a CSS element 20 pixels from the margin doesn’t teach you how computers or networks actually work.

I very much doubt that we’d have so much ill-advised internet policy if, for example, people realised that "The Internet" is not a thing but a network of networks.

And here we return to opportunity costs, and the puzzling notion that learning those presentation tools teaches you anything.

Two very odd beliefs lie at the heart the compulsory-coding crusade. One is that by staring at these mysterious runic symbols, children will acquire some deeper wisdom. This is not education, it is really the opposite, a belief in mystification. (Let’s call this the Church of the Angle Bracket – it’s a web thing.)

The other is that getting down and dirty with “coders” is one of life’s great experiences, one that everyone should experience. This is as deeply patronising as Toby Young’s 100m race, and it’s nothing more than Nerd Tourism.

“Come at look at the coders. Smell their sweat. Live with them for a day!” the brochure will read. Donchaknow - it’s the new gap year. ®

Seven Steps to Software Security

More from The Register

next story
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.