August 27, 2011
Educating Programmers - See, I Told You It Was ImportantHello again.
I've been somewhat preoccupied, and all will be revealed, but here's a taster (cunningly disguised as a rant.)
On Thursday, at Bletchley Park (where else), a very eclectic and interesting bunch of practitioners, employers and teachers met up to discuss the whole question of where the next generation of computer programmers is going to come from.
A proper write-up of that will be coming soon, along with videos of the sessions and discussions (in fact, they're already appearing on the parlezuml YouTube channel, if you can't wait). But right now something else has caught our attention that I felt needed commenting on. (And when I say "commenting", I mean, of course, shouting angrily about.)
The very next day (yesterday), Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave the annual MacTaggart lecture to a select audience of media bigwigs (and media comb-overs) in Edinburgh. In his speech, Schmidt berated the lack of proper computing - you may know it as "programming" - in British schools, and accused us of squandering - you may know it is "pissing away" - our illustrious computing heritage and turning us into a nation of software consumers, not software creators.
I wholly applaud him for highlighting this fact. It made the headlines in many important news outlets here, and got people of all persuasions talking about this problem.
The reason I'm spitting feathers is that some very brilliant and influential people here in the UK have been jumping up and down waving the warning flag over this very issue for years. People like Eidos founder Ian Livingstone, and Haskell creator Simon Peyton-Jones, have been working very hard to try and further the state of computing education in this country. And they've met with some success, it's got to be said. But they never got this issue the kind of press attention it's suddenly been getting this last 24 hours.
No disrespect to Eric Schmidt or to Google, but why has it taken the CEO of a US company to draw the media's attention to this story?
24 hours earlier, they were not interested by and large. Much kudos to tech journalist (and programmer - so that might explain it) Gareth Halfacree for knowing this was important a full 24 hours before the rest of the UK media. Gareth was one of many tech journalists invited to the summit, and he was the only who actually saw the relevance and made the time to come and hear - and share - informed views on this subject.
Eric Schmidt had to literally dangle this story in front of a captive media audience, spelling out in gory detail what the consequences for the UK have been. Indeed, what the consequences for the UK media will be, as "media" becomes more and more "digital" (still amazes me that people didn't make that connection - it's about computers, folks.)
But still, the story has garnered no mention of anything that's actually happening in the UK to address this problem. No mention of the Computing At School group, which has been tirelessly swimming against the tide of ill-informed government and education authorities for years now. No mention of Ian Livingstone's NextGen report, which addresses the yawning gaps in our government's digital strategy (the Digital Britain report doesn't mention software development once). No mention of the Raspberry Pi - which could put a working, programmable computer capable of playing HD video in the hands of every pupil for the same price as a text book (surely a game-changer?)
Now that Eric's rubbed the lamp and released the genie in front of the media, it will be interesting to see what follow-up and analysis - if any - the mainstream media does. Will John Q. News-Hack bother to type "programming in school uk" and see what leads come up? Will CAS be getting calls asking "so what's the beef on computing in schools?"
I suspect not. Just as they did with the Digital Britain report, our mainstream media will miss the point completely and find a way to make this about them. Already, there's more speculation and analysis going on about the UK launch of Google TV than there is about whether anyone in Britain has the wherewithall to create our own innovative exciting IPTV brands. They seem blissfully unaware that London and Manchester and Glasgow and Cardiff have teams of brilliant and talented software developers working on such things right now. Indeed, if the right bunch of programmers hooked up with the Raspberry Pi folks, I suspect we could be seeing credible competitors to the likes of Google and Apple TV appearing within a year. (I mean, when the box costs less than $30 retail, you've got to be on to something, surely?)
Schmidt's right. With talented, creative and business-minded programmers, anything is possible. That, after all, is the story of Google.
Nobody knows where IPTV is headed - not Google, the BBC or The Man In The Sky (or the BSkyB, for that matter.) These are, by their very natures, disruptive technologies, ripe for new players to come in and sweep the board. All that's needed is the skill, brains and talent to come up with a great idea and follow it through. In software, that's easier than in most industries.
So, yes. Grrr. Annoyed.
Posted 2 weeks, 3 days ago on August 27, 2011