Thanks to Jeff Atwood’s provocative column Please Don’t Learn To Code, the debate about whether or not the average person should learn to code rages on. The Wall Street Journal weighed in yesterday with this Atwood quote:
To those who argue programming is an essential skill we should be teaching our children, right up there with reading, writing, and arithmetic: can you explain to me how Michael Bloomberg would be better at his day to day job of leading the largest city in the USA if he woke up one morning as a crack Java coder? It is obvious to me how being a skilled reader, a skilled writer, and at least high school level math are fundamental to performing the job of a politician. Or at any job, for that matter. But understanding variables and functions, pointers and recursion? I can’t see it.
I’m not a crack Java coder, or anywhere close. But even after five months of programming lessons I feel that I can confidently come up with at least three ways that Michael Bloomberg would become a better mayor without even becoming a crack coder. In fact, he could remain a crap coder, and probably still come out of the experience as a better mayor.
1. He might learn just enough about programming to start considering all the different kinds of operating systems there are now. Maybe he starts having daydreams about switching to Linux, and starts thinking about all the ways a thriving metropolis like NYC might save money from switching from Windows to Ubuntu. Probably he doesn’t, but he instructs a few minions to at least start researching more open source software that the city could use. Every once in a while he starts nagging his education department to see how they could improve school budgets and efficiency by using open source where appropriate.
2. He finds himself walking into a meeting and without realizing it, thinking about problems in a totally different way. Instead of spending hours debating all kinds of solutions he asks himself and the people around him: “what is the smallest, most significant, repeatable action we could take right now to solve this problem?” A few months of coding has nudged his brain in a different direction and before he knows it, he’s cutting through hours of wasted time with more creative and efficient solutions.
3. He’s still having those switching to ubuntu fantasies. Oh, he’s too old. But what the hey, he decides to send every child in NYC a RaspberryPi, the $25 dollar, credit-card sized, Linux computer that has just started shipping out of London. Instead of wasting hours playing video games some of these kids learn how to make their own damn games. One day a critical mass of those kids grows up to become crack coders and change the world in ways we can hardly imagine.
So there Jeff Atwood. You asked, I’ve explained it to you.
Now can everyone just get back to their codecademy lessons in peace!