Jeff Atwood: Learning to code is NOT overrated

Jeff Atwood, author of the Coding Horror blog and creator of the Q&A site StackOverflow, wrote an article with the provocative title:

 Learning to code is overrated

He argues that we should not teach our children software development, because there are better, greater skills that we should teach our children. He seems not to realize how much of his own perspective is involved in this opinion.

One of the great achievements of modern computing is that we no longer need to be programmers to create, build and get things done

Oh, and let’s just pretend he did not write that and we did not read that.

Language vs. Mathematics

So the main reasoning in the article is this:

There’s nothing wrong with basic exposure to computer science. But it should not come at the expense of fundamental skills such as reading, writing and mathematics.

Sounds reasonable, but wait, what?! We should not teach our children (computer) science, because they might get behind on reading, writing and math? I would argue the opposite about this fantastic applied science: We should learn children to create software in order to make them want to learn English (reading and writing) and master mathematics.

I know that I was totally unmotivated at primary school for reading, writing and mathematics. On the other hand I was highly motivated to learn whatever was needed to understand IBM-Basic programming language. This challenge showed me why it was important to pay attention at school.

When Jeff Atwood says that reading and writing are more important he may also be referring to “Literature vs. Computer Science” or more generally “Language vs. Mathematics”. I do not see how you could argue that one is more important than the other. I do on the other hand recognize that people tend to lean more towards one than the other.

Programmers can’t communicate

Jeff Atwood seems to imply that the world solely consists of “Mathematical” people, when he writes:

Learning to talk to the computer is the easiest part. […] The people — well . . . you’ll spend the rest of your life figuring that out.

I think this is where Jeff is blinded by his own perspective. Children on a primary school are not guaranteed to think talking to the computer is easy and talking to people is hard. Only the people that do not need encouragement to go into computer science are like that. For most of the people the opposite is true. These people are discouraged to enter the profession, due to the lack of diversity.

… typing in pedantic command words in a programming environment

This is how Jeff Atwood describes programming. I guess somebody convinced him that programming is an inferior activity and not the creative and intellectually challenging craft that it actually is. It makes me wonder who in Jeff Atwood’s life is responsible for destroying the ability to enjoy the magic of creating software that I cherish so much. I promise that I won’t let this happen to me.

TL;DR

Jeff Atwood wrote an article to criticize the mayor de Blasio plan to teach programming to kids. His main argument seems to be that he values language skills over applied mathematics. But he seems to forget that we are not all mathematical minds that can easily learn programming. Learning kids to code may improve the popularity of the profession and hopefully also the diversity.

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