Revolution’s Achilles Heel

Pete Warden didn’t ask us to square this circle, but he should have. Both quotes from his blog.

Quote 1:

Our tech community chooses its high-flyers from people who have enough money and confidence to spend significant amounts of time on unpaid work. Isn’t this likely to exclude a lot of people too?

…I look around at careers that require similar skills, like actuaries, and they include a lot more women and minorities. I desperately need more good people on my team, and the statistics tell me that as a community we’re failing to attract or keep a lot of the potential candidates.

Appreciate the shoutout to actuaries and all, but isn’t the simple solution to encourage more education in this field?

Quote 2 comes from the comments to his first post:

I’m a female who majored in computer science but then did not use my degree after graduating (I do editing work now). While I was great with things like red-black trees and k-maps, I would have trouble sometimes with implementations because it was assumed going into the field that you already had a background in it. I did not, beyond a general knowledge of computers. 

I was uncomfortable asking about unix commands (just use “man”! – but how do I interpret it?) or admitting I wasn’t sure how to get my compiler running. If you hadn’t been coding since middle school, you were behind. I picked up enough to graduate with honors, but still never felt like I knew “enough” to be qualified to work as a “true” programmer. 

How is this possible? Even the people with degrees in field can’t code? And this isn’t the first time I’ve come across a story of Comp Sci graduates that couldn’t program.

Actuaries aren’t the best comparison because so much of Actuarial Science builds on pre-existing math knowledge and adds insurance and finance training. Coding is more fundamental. I’d say an actuary is to a .NET (or whatever) programmer what a generalized ‘math geek’ is to a ‘programmer’.

There’s only one way to learn to code, and it’s not the easy way. Like math, or any other language for that matter, you’ve got to sit down and crank away, learning from your mistakes; few could call themselves mathematicians three years after picking up their first calculators.

Of course, you don’t need to master the coding equivalent of calculus to be useful any more than you need to take integrals to do your taxes.  But right now the whole programming ecosystem is starved of talent. Pete needs ninjas and everyone else needs front end web devs.

That means every kid should in the world should figure out whether they like programming or not in a middle school classroom.

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