Daily Archives: June 26, 2010

Some thoughts on old school programming and Why Johnny can’t code

It’s hard to know where to start with what is wrong with this article: Why Johnny can’t code – Education in Salon.com

First off, the author is making a virtue of a necessity we once had as users of computers in the 1970s and 1980s. Back when personal computers first came out, programming them in BASIC was something you did because, well, there wasn’t much else you could do with them! If you wanted your Commodore PET or 64 or TRS-80 to do something, you needed to program it. Later on came wordprocessors and spreadsheets that allowed you to use the computer without having to learn programming. But first, you had to program.

Second, most kids I knew back then did NOT use a computer. Did not program. That was for geeks.  I think that will always be the way it is with new technologies. There are a minority of kids who are tinkerers and changers of things, be it cars, computers, or some other new thing in the future. For the rest of them, they will be just happy to drive the car, or use the mobile phone or play the video game.

Third, young people have access to vastly more free technology and tools than kids of the 70s and 80s did. There is so much open source and free software to program with and use, be in Java or Python or Javascript or Clojure. You name it: there’s something that is easily downloadable with lots of great documentation and examples anyone can use to get coding.

Fourth, personal computers have had more layers of abstraction added to them, true, and you have less control over them than we had back then. But I would argue that as new technology comes along, that kids have that chance again. I am thinking in particular about mobile application development. Also, I look to things like Arduino devices which young people can get, attach to their computers, and program. It’s the same thing as kids from the 70s. In fact, looking at Arduino books and tech, it reminded me of being a kid back in the 70s. There’s still the same opportunities, but instead of programming the PC they are programming something else.

It’s a good article, and I think it is worth a read, but it subscribes to view of that time that I don’t have.

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Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel in NYC


From Photos: Celebrities by The Times in 2010 – latimes.com