November 4, 2015

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

The X Factor-isation of Programming May Attract The Wrong Kids

I've watched a few documentaries recently about kids getting into "tech" (y'know, tech... like the spinning jenny and the seed drill).

The overriding theme is not one of tech itself - that tends to get edited out - but of entrepreneurialism. These things have become so closely intertwined, especially in the media, that many seem to view them as the same thing. Why would you write an "app" if not to make money?

Well, for millions of us who rode the first wave of home computing in the 1980s, the answer is very simply: for the sheer heck of it.

Why does a kid paint, or draw, or bake bread, or make sandcastles? Is it part of some business plan for a painting/drawing/baking/sandcastle start-up? As a kid, I painted because I enjoyed it. And I programmed because I enjoyed it. It was its own reward.

I worry now for this X Factor-isation of computer programming. Partly because it sets very unrealistic expectations - just like real X Factor. yes, some people get rich and famous making music. The vast majority don't. And the reasons for that are beyond their control. Getting good at making music, on the other hand, is within our control. We can practice; we can learn; we can get lots of experience trying different things.

But how many X Factor contestants are prepared to put in the hours to get good at making music? How many leave those auditions resolved to learn more about harmony and to get better at playing the piano or the guitar?

Without an intrinsic love of what you're doing - be it making music or writing computer programs - learning to do it better will likely as not take up far more time and require far more application than greed and willpower would motivate them to do. If there's no joy in it for you, then you won't go past the basics. It's just too much trouble.

And this is why I believe all the emphasis on start-ups and business plans and marketing and pitching and all the rest of it is a mistake. Want to be in business? Then be in business. Computer programming isn't business. Any more than playing the piano is.

Yes, some people make money programming computers. And some people make money playing the piano. But if you hire a session musician, I guarantee you'll be working with someone who - first and foremost - loves to make music. They might not love making your music, but then they'll go back to their home studio and extract the necessary joy from working on their own. They'll get a job to finance it. Just like so many programmers wade through 9-5 data processing drudgery and then go home and work on a personal project that excites them.

It troubles me deeply that we're dangling the wrong carrot for kids to aspire to. Indeed, it troubles me that we're dangling carrots at all. Programming is its own carrot for those who will enjoy it.

Posted 4 years, 11 months ago on November 4, 2015