The lovely Dr Sue Black has created a little facebook poll asking us about our first programming language. Mine was Basic. I must have been 12. My family were on the usual Saturday drudge around central Milton Keynes shopping centre. Instead of spending it in the library we wandered into a store selling computers and walkman‘s. My dad walked up to a computer and showed me how to program the following ;
10 Print "Hello World"; 20 Goto 10;
Within a week I was locking up school computers with naughty hacks of the above. Within a year I was buying computer magazines and copying out assembler code on my Acorn Electron.
It wasn’t my first machine. That was a games console called Soundic. I was 4.
I mastered hardest settings on the Soundic by the time I was 5. It didn’t inspire me. Not in the same way as the calculator. I could manipulate the calculator to print bits of paper with things I wanted. It was grown up. It was control.
For me, this is the point of being able to program. I don’t need to be limited by the software. I am free to adapt and change it. I am really talking about the Ivan Illich quote that inspired my free pixel film. The ability to manipulate your tools should be cherished. We should teach othes to do the same. All to often there is a barrier. Broadcasters ask really strange questions about why there is a drop UK computer science degrees. Programming is seen as too hard. Too complicated to teach. How do we change this ?
Firstly we need to inspire everyone not just kids that making and understanding how stuff works is cool. Being able to fix a car, grow vegetables, or program some code are all awesome hobbies. Much better than watching endless TV. Imagine if we had as many tv shows about piecing code together as we do about cooking or becoming a pop star ?
Secondly we need to ensure that being a computer professional is understood as well as valued. I have no evidence to hand but I suspect the programmer is undifferentiated from the IT support person, the project manager or the photocopier engineer. We need to educate and qualify the different roles within the technology department. In the same way a solicitor is different to the barrister or the doctor to the surgeon. We do it with pay now, we need to figure out how to push programming roles higher in the Maslow hierarchy of needs.
Finally we need to give away the tools freely. I don’t mean free exactly. I mean that a non programmer can be inspired to create by programming a new level on their favorite game without paying extra. The kid, who’s mum gave them a phone for school, doesn’t need a developers license to create a new app. I can continue to learn new languages by using online resources.
I really do believe if we inspire all people to build code, to value the coder and make coding accessible, then the incredible changes we have seen in the last 20 year of internet growth or 40 years of computer growth will seem trivial compared to the potential future of software development.