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Programming Education

Ask Slashdot: Do Kids Still Take Interest In Programming For Its Own Sake? 276

Posted by Soulskill
from the too-hip-to-be-cool dept.
nirgle writes "I have been wondering lately if there are any kids interested in programming for its own sake anymore. When I was my nephew's age, computers were still fascinating: There wasn't a laptop on every table, facebook wasn't splattered on every screen, and you couldn't get any question answered in just a couple seconds with Google. When I was 10, I would have done anything for a close programming mentor instead of the 5-foot high stack of books that I had to read cover-to-cover on my own. So I was happy when my nephew started asking about learning to do what "Uncle Jay does." Does the responsibility now shift to us to kindle early fires in computer science, or is programming now just another profession for the educational system to manage?" Another reader pointed out a related post on the Invent with Python blog titled "Nobody wants to learn how to program."
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Ask Slashdot: Do Kids Still Take Interest In Programming For Its Own Sake?

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  • by ProgrammerJulia (2589195) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:15AM (#39259315)
    Anyone rarely does anything just for its sake. There's always some ultimate goals. As a become adult, programming became means of getting money and helping with business. When I was a kid, programming enabled me to make games and sandboxes that weren't otherwise available. I did some great things too.. but I never wanted to program "just for the sake of it". I wanted the results of that programming. Even if that meant a little fun sandbox game made by me.

    It's not just computers, this is true for everything. Everyone does something for a reason. For me, programming was a way to create the games and sandboxes I dreamed of and enjoyed. I never really even finished anything, but I had my mind going around the AI and the general gameplay mechanics. Especially when I was waiting for bus or doing something other boring stuff. But, I was never really fascinated about computers or programming *per se*. I was interested at what those techniques could give me.

    So rather than trying to educate programming, computer history or other boring stuff, try to tell what fun stuff you can do, or whatever he would be interested at. Everything else will come later, and the kids will either pick it up themselves or ask, if they want to.
    • by Hogmoru (639374) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:38AM (#39259391)
      I disagree, so instead of modding down I'll reply :-)
      I guess there are several kinds of people, those like you (I think I get your point), and those like me : *I* was really fascinated about computers and programming *per se*.
      It was not about one or a few particular goals, it is about the idea of an infinity of things that became possible, and being able to bring new kinds of solutions to almost anybody on the planet. In this regard, somehow I'm joining your point, because of course there always are ultimate goals, but they were not my own : they were other people's goals that I thrived to reach using my craft : programming.
      • by RKBA (622932)
        "You are only limited by your imagination" used to be the rallying cry and raison d'être for those of us interested in computer programming back in the seventies.
      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        But in the end, there was still a goal (whether yours or someone else's). It's very hard to just start writing code with no idea of where it will end up (unlike say abstract art where just putting brush to canvas begins a process that wanders where it wants).

        The parent post is right in that you can show someone an end-point and help them get there. The more interested they are in the end goal, the more motivated they will be to learn what they need to get there. Most classes use contrived end goals (usua

      • by WankersRevenge (452399) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @12:00PM (#39261659)

        Not sure if you are joking (I'm guessing you are), but pro tip - only mod down items that contribute nothing to a discussion like trolls or flamebait. I've been using the site for over a decade and I've probably modded down five or six people over that course.

        Mod up the arguments that speak for you and contribute something. If someone says something that you dislike, look for a counter argument and mod that up.

        Lately, I've been seeing a lot of well thought comments modded down (check any smartphone discussion) for disagreeing with the groupthink. This is like group censorship which is never a good thing for any community.

    • by Eraesr (1629799)
      Spot on. And I think programming is going to be more popular now with the mobile platforms making it extremely easy to make your software available for the masses.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        You kids, I swear... how do mobile platforms make it any easier to make your software available for the masses than uploading it to an internet repository or putting it on BitTorrent? Sheesh, I was sharing software fifteen years ago when I first got on the internet. Before that it wasn't easy, but the internet is the internet, whether you're accessing it on a computer, a phone, or a tablet.

        The only thing smartphones changes is it just lets you take the internet with you rather than leaving it at home.

      • And I think programming is going to be more popular now with the mobile platforms making it extremely easy to make your software available for the masses.

        Provided your parent is willing to pay $99 per year to unlock your Xbox 360, Windows Phone 7 device, or iOS device to run homemade programs on it.

    • by eulernet (1132389) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:52AM (#39259441)

      Everyone does something for a reason. For me, programming was a way to create the games and sandboxes I dreamed of and enjoyed.

      In psychology, the motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation#Intrinsic_and_extrinsic_motivation [wikipedia.org]

      Intrinsic means that you do the things for the pleasure of doing them. In your case, creating games for your enjoyment.

      Extrinsic means that you do the things to get a reward or avoid a punishment. In your case, it's about getting money.

      If the extrinsic motivation becomes bigger than the intrinsic motivation, you don't enjoy your work anymore, and you get bored.

      Education encourages extrinsic motivation, by grading people, which basically kills enjoyment in learning when grades become more important than learning.
      The more educated you are, and the more you are dependent on extrinsic motivation, which makes people search for fame or money.
      People with strong extrinsic motivation (and who have good grades at school) tend to fail in real life, because they search for the immediate rewards.

      To avoid being bored, the only way is to do things with intrinsic motivation, and that doesn't mean not getting paid !
      If you enjoy what you do, you'll be happier, and you can get paid for it, sometimes making a lot of money, but that's not the main goal.
      But this also requires to determine if you can accept to earn a little less money in exchange of being happier...

      • by SirGarlon (845873)

        Education encourages extrinsic motivation

        The point of a true education is to enable one to find *intrinsic* motivation. The trouble is, most of what passes for "education" is merely training.

        • by eulernet (1132389)

          The point of a true education is to enable one to find *intrinsic* motivation.

          Not really, if education was about finding intrinsic motivation, why doesn't it search for it first ?
          You can't find something that you don't search.

          I don't remember a single thing that I enjoyed learning at school.
          Also, grading is just spoiling all joy, because it's in general completely arbitrary.
          The only thing that grades show is how good the teacher is !

          • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @01:03PM (#39262607) Homepage Journal

            I don't remember a single thing that I enjoyed learning at school.

            If you're talking about pre-college public education, yes. A teacher can take the most interesting subject matter in the world and make it boring as hell. I never enjoyed public school at all. College was way different, my instructors could take "mundane" things and make them fascinating. I really enjoyed college, and plan on taking classes again when I retire in a couple of years. I was grateful that my employer occasionally had me take classes, too. I love learning.

            Also, grading is just spoiling all joy, because it's in general completely arbitrary.

            Grades let you know how well you have absorbed the information. It's simply feedback.

            The only thing that grades show is how good the teacher is !

            Well, if you get poor grades you didn't learn, and if you were trying to learn and didn't then yes, the teacher failed.

      • by petes_PoV (912422)
        You don't need to bring psychology into this. It's merely an observation of human nature that some people get pleasure from the journey and others from arriving at the destination. Let's leave the technobabble out.
        • by eulernet (1132389)

          I agree, but "motivation" is the psychological terminology.

          In my opinion, it's not the destination that is important, it's the journey.

          I would like to quote Buddha: "Happiness is the way".
          It means that happiness is not the aim of your journey, happiness is your journey.
          It's very difficult to find happiness in what we live :-(

      • Very interesting. Soooo - what would a shrink have to say about a guy who has changed careers a half dozen times? I don't mean just changed jobs, but changed careers. I worked at one type of work because I enjoyed it. Then, I went into the navy because I thought that I would enjoy it, and I did actually enjoy it. After 8 years, I got out, and started doing another type of work, because I found that work enjoyable.

        Had I ever actually stuck with a career, I'd probably be well off, or even wealthy today.

        • by eulernet (1132389) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @12:53PM (#39262417)

          Soooo - what would a shrink have to say about a guy who has changed careers a half dozen times?

          Wow ! You have a very rich life ! I'm really jealous. You should be very open-minded. It took me a lot of time to accept myself and the others, I'm sure it's easy for you.

          Personally, I have been a game programmer during 18 years, and did almost all companies at the time.
          I lost interest in game programming, and I accepted a job of developer in a startup, just for extrinsic reasons (earning money for my wife).
          Recently, I evolved incredibly, thanks to a work on myself since 15 years. I know myself pretty well now, but I also discovered that I have no real limit, since all my limits were self-imposed: I can probably become a CEO or develop an innovative product, or become wealthy.
          But what interests me after all these years of working behing computers is humans. I have to admit that I never had a lot of interaction with people, and now, I love that.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by Rakishi (759894)

        Humans can be trained in how they think and so you fail to grasp the point of school. You also fail to see other forms of intrinsic motivation that drive the really successful people.

        Work ethic is, I'd say, an intrinsic form of motivation that can be learned or ingrained. If you think otherwise go talk to some immigrants from Asian or Easter Europe. They can't not work, it's in their very blood and nothing short of death will make them stop (and in some cases they try to make sure even that isn't a barrier

        • by VoidCrow (836595)

          > If you think otherwise go talk to some immigrants from Asian or Easter Europe. They can't not work, it's in their very blood

          Are you familiar with the phrase 'self-selecting group'?

        • by eulernet (1132389)

          You also fail to see other forms of intrinsic motivation that drive the really successful people.

          I don't think so. I just hope we have the same definition of "success".
          "Success" means that you have "failure", and thus I'm not sure we have the same definition.

          Work ethic is, I'd say, an intrinsic form of motivation that can be learned or ingrained. If you think otherwise go talk to some immigrants from Asian or Easter Europe. They can't not work, it's in their very blood and nothing short of death will make them stop (and in some cases they try to make sure even that isn't a barrier via instructions to their kids).

          Wow, the educational system in Asia is definitely entirely based upon extrinsinc motivation.
          The goal is always to have the best grades in school. Competition may be useful, but not when you are young. It just spoils all your life.

          You should read what is Maslow's pyramid. Maslow explained that once your basic needs were covered, you tend to search f

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It saddens me how boring computing has become. When I was a kid, computers were my friends, mysterious odd creatures with their own faults, oddities and dark corners. Thus I learned to talk, dream and breathe in binary so that I could better understand and associate with them. Apparently not so today.

    • by RadioElectric (1060098) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:24AM (#39259517)
      It is much more motivating to be learning to program with a particular project in mind. I'd argue it also teaches you to program better because you can't avoid the bits of the task that you find difficult or tedious. I'm a scientist but I spend a lot of my time programming experiments, models or analysis code.

      I teach a research methods module to undergraduate life sciences students. The vast majority of these people have never programmed and never expect to. This is a bit strange when so much of being a professional scientist in my field involves programming. Recently, we changed the research assignment they have to do so that it now involves some very basic programming. Mostly GUI stuff where they build a timeline and a "flow" out of blocks, but there are a few lines of code they need to write too.

      I was expecting there to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the content being too difficult, and a rebellion against being made to program. In reality, nobody complained and most of the students seemed to enjoy it. Some of them got very excited about writing a program that made a computer do what they wanted it to do. They also got quite competitive about writing their programs better than their colleagues (to the point of argument, but it was still encouraging to see). These people were not nerds, and talking to them I got the impression some thought computers were just "magic". One student didn't even understand that computer programmers existed who wrote software to make computers do things.
      • by evanism (600676)

        This is so cool to read this.

        I love seeing the wide eyed look of absolute amazement I see in people's eyes when they write even the simplest program.

        It is true. I see them energized and envigorated with an unbelievable energy to learn and expand. They become spontaneously competitive, but they also take immense joy in pulling all others up in a joint learning experience. They stop and teach. Someone gets stuck and groups spontaneously form and disintegrate as the knowledge is imparted.

        God, it reminds me

    • by Nursie (632944) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:52AM (#39259625)

      For me I delighted in making the machine do something, and then when I learned that programming was a thing, yes, I programmed and learned about programming for it's own sake.

      I was also fascinated by algebra as a child. Guess I'm just weird.

      I agree though - don't try to teach kids what it means to be turing complete, or how to normalise data tables, not at first. Show them something with simple cause and effect, see if you can keep their interest.

      • by evanism (600676)

        I was also fascinated by algebra as a child. Guess I'm just weird.

        You are amongst friends here. Weird is normal. Weirder is normal-er.

        Just don't become average or revert to the mean! (good god, I'm a punny man!)

    • by flyneye (84093)

      Reasons abound.
      My own experiences that led me down the path to engineering/physics/electronics/hardware hacking and away from programming.
      Early on in high school, the math teacher( custodian of one of the two TRS-80s my school bought) decided that I should be kept far from the console and denied acceptance into "computer" class on the grounds that slipping a "Pink Floyd" tape into the drive to see if it had programming potential was the wrong kind of interest.
      Later out on my own in the world of low wages, I

      • I had a mini love of programming for a couple of years as a child, because the Commodore 128 hit the sweet spot for a child's interest that I've rarely seen matched since. The 128's devastating secret was that it could produce both Sprites and Lines. So you just design a sprite, tell it to move, design another sprite, tell that to move, draw some lines, ask for a collision check between either the sprites or the lines, and Voila, you have simple games. 100 lines of code for the shell, another 200 for some m

    • by Bengie (1121981)

      Even since a kid, I loved the "idea" of programming but I couldn't get myself to make a program that couldn't be useful.

      I never really made any programs outside of class or work. One thing that I do love doing all the time is looking at a problem and effectively creating pseudo-code in my head. This I can do quickly and at anytime. I've been doing a lot of reading on how computers work, assembly, latencies, and throughput since I was ~12. I'm always looking at stuff, breaking it down, and juggling around ma

    • by sootman (158191)

      I figure that, for any field, 1% of people are just into it for the sake of doing it, 9% are willing to learn it to achieve a result and/or are naturally talented, and 90% just don't care. I'm willing to bet that the author isn't that into cooking or the mechanical condition of his car or music or politics. And every six months, someone in this 1% posts to Slashdot because they're worried that not enough young kids are into programming or engineering or whatever.

      Take food, for example. Some people are reall

    • by sjames (1099)

      Back in the '70s, some kids learned BASIC (or very occasionally Fortran) for no reason other than to make a machine do something. Anything. Not a particular thing, just *ANYTHING*.

      Only after the novelty of 10 PRINT "Hello"; GOTO 10 wore off did they turn to getting it to do more specific things. Even then, the specific things weren't as much the point as getting the computer to do it.

      That is, write blackjack program. Play once or twice, on to the next program. The game wasn't the objective, writing a progra

  • by DontScotty (978874) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:26AM (#39259347) Homepage Journal

    Doing what Uncle Jay does... Yeah - tried that. My parole officer is still upset.... However the Catholic Church has contacted me back on that job offer....

  • When I was my nephew's age, computers were still fascinating: There wasn't a laptop on every table, facebook wasn't splattered on every screen, and you couldn't get any question answered in just a couple seconds with Google.

    That can be also seen as an advantage. While most can use a laptop and some software, not many can actually make new apps. The motivation these days might come from standing out as the creator.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:31AM (#39259361) Homepage Journal

    ... are a tiny minority. Always have been, always will be. The submitter seems to think the average 10-year-old should be interested in programming because he was at that age. Well, good for him, and I guarantee there are still 10-year-olds interested in it, but they're going to be awfully thin on the ground -- and this was just true back then as it is now.

    • by migla (1099771)

      True.

      And the submitter should beware not to drown any spark the nephew thinks he may have. Therefore, it is very important to try to understand where the kid is coming from and where he wants to go.

      Maybe programming can be it, but it might be some other, more general interest in computers, if the kid isn't quote clear on what programming is.

      Explore with your nephw. If it turns out programming was not exactly what the kid will find interesting, at least you might be able to teach him to be a power user. Or i

    • by ghostdoc (1235612)

      ... are a tiny minority. Always have been, always will be. The submitter seems to think the average 10-year-old should be interested in programming because he was at that age. Well, good for him, and I guarantee there are still 10-year-olds interested in it, but they're going to be awfully thin on the ground -- and this was just true back then as it is now.

      Agree.

      My nephew at 10 years old asked me if I could teach him programming. I knew him well enough even then to say 'sure, but you've got to love it and want to stick with it' so after a brief lesson in writing local HTML files and using a browser to read them (and how to use Google to find tutorials), told him to create a web page. Sure enough about half an hour later he quit saying it was too boring.

      I started learning at about 10 years old on a Commodore Pet that had nothing but crap BASIC and no graphics

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      True, they are a tiny minority. Kinda like kids and fixing cars. They're honestly both niche jobs, but both can be very rewarding and interesting. I know, I've done both...and combining the two skills in the workforce can make for an interesting grading scale for pay. But, should the average 10 year old? Pft not. At 10, most kids are interested in screwing around and enjoying themselves, probably easier than we did at that age. Then again they have other things to deal with too.

  • by goldcd (587052) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:32AM (#39259367) Homepage
    The ability - which generally just takes a PC, a book and some time.
    The desire. You've got to want to build something. You then get to add stuff to it. You then realize you don't know how to add something (this is where you go to the index of the book you abandoned days before, realize it's not in there, rush online, find the solution, realize you've done something else in a stupid way, decide you might want to fix that etc etc). Basically the hump is getting hello world up on the screen and then creating the very first bit of your 'thing'

    I don't even think it has to be programming per se. Quite fun playing with APIs on sites that you're familiar with, with something friendly like PHP.
    I wanted to look up the prices of my old DVDs I wanted to sell. Pain in the arse on Amazon... oh, hold on they have an API.
    Oh, then how about using a CSV to load and dump results to?
    Shit, I seem to be getting results back from the wrong bits of amazon, lets add some array sorting.
    Would be nice to store lookups I've made - MySQL
    Oooh, how about other sites... they don't have an API *googles*... "Oooh Curl" etc.

    Basically, if you're interested in something and have time, it will all follow. You can later learn how to do it properly later, but it tends to flow. Nobody wants to sit down and read a chapter on exception handling - but once your program is mysteriously failing, you suddenly find you've become quite fascinated with the intricacies of exceptions. You'll just bolt them on until the problem is fixed, but on your next project you'll have that pain in your mind from the start, and may find yourself now dutifully adding them.

    I'm meandering all over the place here now - I think you just need to ask your nephew what he wants to build, make sure it's realistic (or choose a functional subsection to start with). Also nice if it's something that could go online, be run on a smartphone or similar - once you've built this thing, you want to show it off.
    • by kale77in (703316) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:42AM (#39259401) Homepage

      I would say mod parent up... But remembered that *I* have mod points. MAHAHAHAHHHH!!!!

      Seriously, you just say: "You know that ANYONE can do that, yeah?" when they like something a computer does.

      Myself, I took the 1986 Scientific American article with the fractals on the cover and coded up the algorithm on little PC with 64K or RAM, and never looked back. I've used to assume that the question for a ten year old would be "Would you like to write your own game?" ... But actually, it's "What do computers do that is cool?" and the realization that literally _anyone_ can do that. It's a level playing field. Anything you can see on a computer, you can take apart or rebuild, and then change to make it do what you want.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:33AM (#39259369)

    Programming is a fundamental skill, almost like reading and writing. Children learn the shape of the characters in one year, but they keep learning how to read and write for many more years, because reading and writing aren't mechanical skills. Programming is a formalization of a solution, and this skill is fundamental. The most important aspect of programming is understanding the problem in detail, and that's something everybody could use. It's like writing up a complicated story without loose ends and contradictions: We're not all going to write books and screenplays, but almost everybody needs to express more complicated thoughts than "I want a cheeseburger".

  • by walkerp1 (523460) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:39AM (#39259393)
    My cousin and I both started programming when we were ten, back in the golden days of the Apple II and the TI-99/4a (for us). We got into it for different reasons. He delighted in creating varied and colorful system crashes. This behavior turned out to be indicative of a larger mental health issue. I did it because I appreciated the beauty and purity of logic. Eventually I ended up concentrating heavily on computers to the partial exclusion of natural human companionship. This too indicated issues of a different nature. Nevertheless, my hobby matured into a lucrative career. My cousin never matured. You have been warned.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:51AM (#39259431) Journal

    No. That is like asking if there are kids who want to weld for welding sake. Or fuck for fuck sake. We don't fuck for fuck sake, we fuck for the climax. Without the climax, fucking would be fucking boring.

    Most people code because they want to get something done. Those who don't work in government. Kids want to code a game, the kids that want to code a database or search algorithm tend to be watched by the FBI, from a safe distance, through a snipers scope.

    It is the same as with a spoken language. Nobody wants to learn French for the sake of the language, they want to impress chicks. Japanese is only studied by people with a fantasy of picking up school girls, desu. Latin for those who wished to be picked up by Catholic priests.

    The easiest way to keep kids interested is to make sure things beep and whistle and spin. It does't matter that much if it is text graphics, direct 3d or leds on a Arduino board, or a programming robot game. What matters is that the concepts have clear examples with easy to understand results.

    It is the reason PHP is so popular, its examples are extremely clear and light on the jargon. It is the reason Lego is such a success, nobody has to spend time learning the building blocks of Lego, they are clear... then you can spend all your energy on creating.

    Kids haven't really changed but nerdy pursuits have always been the domain of the select few... the few selected by girls not to be dated.

    • by RadioElectric (1060098) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:27AM (#39259527)

      We don't fuck for fuck sake, we fuck for the climax. Without the climax, fucking would be fucking boring.

      This is amusing because the Slashdot sterotype totally applies (a virgin who is very opinionated regarding things he knows nothing about).

    • You are highly cynical. And I think it clouds your view. I know all sorts of people who do all sorts of things just because they enjoy doing them. Sure they probably not the majority, but that doesn't make them vanish. Some of us even get paid to play with cool toys all day. Its not always like that, but I enjoy my job(both the process which does involve some coding and the enjoyment of seeing your solution actually work).

      If there is one thing I've learned in my interactions with kids it is that you can't m

    • I pity you, you really do live a sad, pointless existence if you think thats true. A lot of people enjoy learning things for the pleasure they get in learning them. Do you really think anyone learns ancient Greek, or attempts to recreate the large number of dead languages because they want to get laid? If so, they are doing it wrong.

      It's views like yours that have made university education into the trade school farce it is today, learning something solely for your own edification is one of the rare
    • by HopefulIntern (1759406) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:55AM (#39259855)
      I disagree, I think it is entirely possible to want to program for the sake of it. You need a goal, something you are making, but the motivation for doing it doesn't just need to be "I want that thing, so I'm gonna code it together!". It could simply be "I like programming, so I'm gonna build my own thing!"
      It's the same reason you had Legos as a kid. Did you make functional things out of Lego, that improved your quality of life? Or did you just like building things?
    • EB White said it so much better than I could, so I'll just quote him:

      âoeThe best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for i

  • Chasing Paychecks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SkydiverFL (310021) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @06:52AM (#39259433) Homepage

    After 30 years of professional development, I feel that many developers SUCK! They wear some "architect" or "senior developer" badge but struggle through the most basic concepts. I believe the reason is that MANY coders are simply chasing paychecks or have been pushed into the field. They lack the PASSION that I remember when I first got into it. Everyone was learning to program because they loved these cook PC things and WANTED to do something with them AFTER they soldered everything together. Most "geeks" share that same type of passion. They gravitate to the next cool innovation and, in the process, become great at what they love. However, today, the industry is flooded with bodies that are simply working the cliche' 9-5 and drooling over a six-figure paycheck.

    • by Bigbutt (65939) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @12:17PM (#39261883) Homepage Journal

      Shoot, I didn't realize I wasn't logged in so here it is again, properly attributed :)

      That why I'm a SysAdmin instead of a programmer. As as sysadmin, I can write programs (scripts) that do what I want vs working in an environment where folks tell me what to do. I started out learning to program back on the Sinclair (writing programs that assist with my gaming) then got jobs as a programmer. I found that being told what to do made programming boring and tedious (and a little frustrating). The nice thing about being a sysadmin is a good portion of the time is spent looking for problems (at least for me as I'm very proactive). So when I find something, I script up a solution and push it out to all servers to see if something else has the same problem. It gives me a creative outlet and I look good because I found all the servers with failing cache batteries that are only reported in the logs. The number of reactive problems drops significantly and we all look good for staying on top of things.

      A couple of years ago when I started here, I converted an excel spreadsheet of our equipment list into a php front ended mysql backended database. From there, as I wanted to add new things, I'd research how to do what I wanted to do and implement it. As I improved in writing php, javascript, and mysql code, I'd keep adding features that scratch my itch as well as others to the point that the inventory program is being used by quite a lot of people and I spend a portion of my time either working on enhancements (recently added a network map) and even adding modules that provide non-inventory related enhancements. Right now I think I found the right code to create multi-layer PNG images so I can use javascript to hide layers for the network map. And heck, I'm about ready to step up and get a php or mysql cert along with my CCNP and Solaris certs and a coveted 3Wizard cert I earned way back in the day :)

      It's loads of fun.

      [John]

  • by Chuffpole (765597) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:05AM (#39259467)

    When I was an 80s teen with my ZX Spectrum, I could write games that weren't too far behind the earliest commercial games. (back then it was even a novelty to have control over what appeared on your old telly screen!)

    I wrote games that gave me as much fun as the coin-op machines back then, when things were primitive.

    Now though, how can any kid write a fluid 3D FPS shoot-up? I take my hat off to any who can! Where's the incentive? Where's the novelty?

    Little 2D games on the kids' Android phones, maybe. Perhaps.

  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@nOSPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:06AM (#39259471)

    We had a 14 year old work experience lad, who was the nephew of one of the owners of the business, and he wanted to become an app developer - when we chatted about this further, it turned out that his claimed "programming experience" amounted to using the drag-and-drop style of online website wizards, and using apps from the iTunes store.

    He had a goal in mind, and he was raring to go, so we decided to embrace this enthusiasm and run with it - so we decided that the best thing for him to do during the two weeks with us was to design and build a basic app - he was thrilled by this. We gave him a task for two hours on the first morning, which was to research the apps out there and decide what was best to build (building a copy of something out there is easier for this sort of thing than coming up with the concept itself).

    He came back with "I want to build World of Warcraft". Crap.

    We eventually scaled him back to building a HTML5 version of tic-tac-toe, as the logic is simple, the graphics are simple, and the HTML experience travels well. He was given a lot of personal tutorials from myself and the other developers for the first two days, basically a beginners guide to HTML, and then told to see if he could come up with a basic page with a table in which would hold the game board - no styling, no JavaScript, just a basic page with a table.

    Despite help from us developers being on tap (we encouraged questions, we discouraged "do it for me" - examples are fine so long as work and understanding was needed to translate the code into what he was doing, so a simple copy and paste wouldn't solve the set issue), by the end of the first day he hadn't grasped the concept of nested elements to build the table. What he came up with even IE barfed over.

    The poor kid had no grasp for it at all. I hope it was a failure on our part rather than inability, but really it was inability. He never realised software development was so difficult, no realisation as to what was actually involved in the process or the building itself. He saw pretty things and thought they were simple to produce.

    So, anyone who gets the chance to introduce a child to software development, please take it nice and slow and be prepared for lots of failures, lots of frustration and lots of patience.

    By the end of the two weeks he was proclaiming he wanted to be a farmer. And now, I hear, he wants to hire out construction equipment (after he was given a day of work experience on a farm).

    • Sounds like the work experience did exactly work experiences are supposed to: show him what kinds of jobs he enjoys.

    • by thegarbz (1787294) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @09:14AM (#39259977)

      He never realised software development was so difficult, no realisation as to what was actually involved in the process or the building itself.

      This can be said for any technical profession when you are 14. Electrical engineering? That's all about putting a few circuits together and the robot just works right? Then in first year of their EE degree they get introduced to concepts like imaginary numbers and it just gets harder from there.

      I remember tutoring one subject at uni and a pissed EE student came to me to complain about their assignment. They were asked to simulate an EM wave propagation through a semiconductor in Matlab, quite simple maths but highly iterative so a perfect task to code up on a computer. The student said "I'm an electrical engineer not a computer programmer!" triumphantly. I said, "Ok, then do the assignment using this," and dropped a pencil and calculator on his desk.

      His pre-conception on what it is to do engineering jaded his view of what his was doing. None of the people in the class were programmers, but they were simply using a tool they had to solve an electrical engineering problem, and that was writing a bit of code into a computer to solve a math problem that would otherwise take waaaay too long.

    • by Dhalka226 (559740)

      This is more common than one would think. Back in high school, I was taking a bunch of computer courses including a CCNA program and an MCSE program. The teacher for both was an awesome guy (favorite high school teacher hands down) and a good teacher and before anybody asks: Yes, he was certified in anything he taught and a bunch of crap on top.

      Anyway, he basically had to keep dumbing the courses down. He had a quote he pulled out from time to time: "I like playing X-Box, therefore I like computers, th

    • by ledow (319597)

      My experience, similar story, from someone who knows how children learn:

      15-year-old kid, work experience (I'm an IT manager, some would say systems- or network- manager, in primary schools). He'd NEVER seen anything approaching a programming language in his life. Slack afternoon because, hell, if you do your job right, the network runs itself. We get talking about computer games while in my office.

      Ten minutes later, we're into "Yeah, but how do you do 3D / physics / motion sensing / etc.". After about a

    • by gatzke (2977)

      I am not sure dumping them in the deep end of the pool is the correct idea either.

      A lot of us learned because we had machines with basic that needed games. Get a magazine and type in a page or two of code and you had some garbage game to play. You see code and you get some reward, plus you appreciate the need for accuracy and precision.

      Later, we moved on from rote copying to actually doing our own problem solving / coding. I know I had no context at first, I did not know what I could and could not do but

  • Rather than doing the classic "hello world" in BASIC, kids today start out by e.g. modding games.

    Personally, I remember having fun by developing platformers using GameMaker [yoyogames.com] back when it was free. This sort of graphical programming got me used to thinking in terms of loops, conditionals and variables -- as well as offering a high-level scripting language that let you access extra features.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:24AM (#39259515) Homepage

    When I were a lad, working down the coal mines in the snow 30 hours a day, I learned programming in order to achieve a goal - make computers do fun stuff.

    If you want to get a kid interested in programming, give them a simple game compiled from source, ask them what they'd like to change, and let the voyage of discovery begin.

    • by rwv (1636355)
      Any suggestions of a couple of "simple games" that are available as source would be warmly welcomed!
  • My experience is that the kids don't want to do the same kind of programming we did in the 80's and early 90's. At that time it was mind-blowing for me to just have the computer do a simple animation of a couple of lines on the screen. No kid is interested in that anymore.

    Later in the late 90's and early 2000's it was all about the internet. Kids wanted to write html and then later PHP etc. They still do it to an extent now but more often then not kids now-days just want to set up and customize packages and

    • There is one thing though that kids like to do in the 80's that has survived and flourished to this day - hardware/robotics.

      And until robots and better artificial intelligence become a fact of life in households across the world, they will continue to have that aura of mystery around them that draws kids interest.

  • by HornyBastard (666805) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:35AM (#39259555)
    I started programming when I was about 10 years old for one very simple reason. I enjoy making things.
    I recently built my own house for that same reason. I also made most of the furniture in it as well.
    If, at the end of the day, I can say "I made that", then I am happy.
    • When I was a kid we would go into the woods to build yet another tree house. First step, find the last tree house and scavenge the long boards for the frame.
      There was this one long red board that was in practically every tree house ever built in them woods. Without those pieces you couldn't build anything significant.

      Once you have a computer, all the "building materials" are essentially free. All you need then is a bit of imagination and creativity.

  • Most kids simply don't know what programming is. All that they know is that software is made, yet they have had no exposure to how it is made. Once you show a child what programming is, and in a child friendly manner, they are much more likely to want to program for programming's sake.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:20AM (#39259719) Homepage

    Well, when I started on my Commodore 64 you started at the command prompt read to write code, so yeah I'd say it takes at least a little more prodding than before to get into programming. Also you started with just two lines:

    10 PRINT "HELLO WORLD"
    20 GOTO 10

    Okay, so it doesn't produce a very impressive result but as "bang for the buck" it's pretty good. If the reaction is "All that to produce so little?!" you've lost. Hell, you might have lost anyway if they point you to a $100 million AAA game and say that is cool, I want to make something like that. But since you can't ask for time to be turned back to simple sprite based graphics you can't change that, but at least not start them off down the long road.

    Personally today I think I'd actually start them off with a game toolkit where you can script events, like Neverwinter Nights or something like that. First of all because it's a game and looks good and produces something cool, second of all because you can start with a level that already exists. Have them modify it and they'll start thinking about objects, attributes, state, conditions, boolean logic (assuming you want to start them down the OOP path) without banging their head on the really hard issues. Plus you get to make your own adventure, which is creative and fun while learning.

  • No they don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by prefec2 (875483) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:32AM (#39259763)

    A lot changed since the 1970s. In the 1970s computer were science fiction and science fiction was en vogue. We tried to build our own computers based on transistors and later on microchips. In the 1980s things already improved so much, that a lot of people could by a home computer like ZX spectrum, Commodore C64 or Amstrad CPC 464. These machines provided a simple BASIC interface. They were designed for start and play. Where play meant programming. And you could dig into those machines and learn to peek and poke around in the hardware. Then you learned assembler etc. In the 1990s this moved to PCs. While old PCs still allowed you to access the hardware and you had to work with the console. Upcoming GUIs made the direct experience of the machine much more complicated. You couldn't re-program Pong in a week, while learning BASIC.

    So on one side, computers get more complex and shield people from the machine and the machine feeling, and on the other side the sci-fi feeling is no longer so intriguing today than in those days. While in the 1970s, if you understood computers you could build your own moon lander software. At least a facsimile. And a lot of the people did. And the program would only display longitude, latitude and height above ground, as well as, speed and fuel. But all without graphic (which had to be imagined). Today moon landing is lame. Especially compared to those days. the whole society is no longer in technology.

    In short: The whole setting is different. And the nerds of today go into gaming and become dorks.

  • Regardless of his interests, your nephew has passed the programmer's first test: His program prints "sorry to low" and "sorry to high". Only a true programmer would get the computer language correct, but the human language incorrect.

    I predict a bright future.

  • The second post mentioned says "nobody want to learn to program" - meaning that people want to be able to program without going through all the tedious learning. Well, "duh". The same could be said for any difficult field, or indeed for learning to do anything well. I'd love to be able to play the piano like a master, but darn, there's all that practicing to be done.

    Of course some kids want to learn to program, just like some want to become chemists or doctors. Of those who are interested, not all have the

    • by Larryish (1215510)

      I used to give guitar lessons.

      It was apparent who would stick with the course and who wouldn't be back for the second session, by looking at the verbage they used.

      "I wish I could play the guitar." - Fail

      "I want to learn to play the guitar." - Win

  • by maple_shaft (1046302) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @09:10AM (#39259949)

    This entire submission misunderstands the real draw of programming. The desire to learn programming is out of an intrinsic desire in some people to create or build artifacts from resources we have obtained. Some of us are builder/creator archetypes and we are drawn to the process of creation.

    If the argument held up, then the quality of carpentry would have degraded considerably with the advent of power tools. Nobody needs to hand-spin a spade to drill a large hole anymore, and while I am handy with a chisel, I can still do things faster and with better quality by using a router for certain situations. The power-tools have allowed us to put arguably better quality wood products in a MUCH faster timeframe, and all with the same sense of satisfaction that you get from a beautiful new table, cabinet or chair.

    I do think however that in todays age it is a lot harder to stay focused amidst constant distractions, and it is a lot easier to find information than ever before, making us all slightly lazy from time to time. We are more prone to get frustrated and do something else, so the extreme convenience doesn't come without its faults for sure.

  • by evanism (600676) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @09:17AM (#39259999) Journal

    Absolutely they do.

    My son is in year 8 at Melrose high in Canberra Australia. They are doing two courses specific to this: games programming and general programming. 3d modeling is also a choice. He is doing all of them (chip off the old block!)

    Their assignment, for 14 year olds is quite hard. It raised my eyebrows when I read it. I'm a multi time CTO with a deep history is c, c++, java, ror, PHP and perl. They were asked as a 15% assignment over two weeks to write a number of very complex programs displaying skill in some quite complex areas in JavaScript, vb, actionscript and powershell. This is quite an amazing thing! These little fellas are in year 8!

    The class is voluntary, but wow, is is hard. The kids absolutely love it. They apparently are hyper involved and super enthusiastic. While the teacher may be a messiah (I don't know her) but its obvious the kids are revved up beyond control.

  • Back in the Seventies, kids were motivated to program because there literally wasn't much you could do with a computer unless you built your own application. We were also convinced that programming a computer was going to be a critical job skill. I remember getting a dream job in 1991 because I had a computer background and I had to confess that my experiential universe would not be particularly useful in the new position, writing about the development of the Internet. "No, that experience will be very use

  • When I was a kid learning to program, 5, 6, 7... I started teaching myself how to program so I could write my own games. Before I became a teenager I was pretty good at it- although on more basic computers than we have today. Not tried writing games on a PC.

    The few other kids I knew that programmed- they had the same motivation that I did.

    I don't think any kids learn to program for the sake of learning to program. It was a fun hobby- but with all the easy to get free or cheap games- it isn't worth it fo

    • You're not dead yet. The only thing stopping you from moving on from your dead-end job is fear.

      • No, it's money.

        I have 5 people in my family depending on my paycheque. I'm looking at other careers- haven't completely given up- but I'm not changing careers to drop the lifestyle they are used to. (not going to sacrifice them for me). If I were single with no kids- absolutely- I'd change careers - even if it meant starting lower rung on the pay-scale again in a heart-beat.

        • Thinking back to my childhood, if my dad came home and said I can either do job A and have this much money and be miserable, or do job B have less and come home happy every night -- i would have told him to take job B every time and twice on Sunday. I'm not saying quit, Im saying push yourself out of your comfort zone. Either way I hope you can pull a switch off.

  • Programming for fun's sake is a matter of intellectual creativity. Also, programming, drawing, and the like are generally singular activities, so I would suspect that children who tend to do these things to be slight introverted. Also these activities usually produce something substantial, something that parents and peers can see and recognize, so I would also expect these kids to have some drive for recognition -- you know a need for the "oh, isn't he clever/talented" response.

    It's probably not rational to

  • My son enjoys programming his TI 83 and has programmed the game hangman into it. He does not seem to want to consult online manuals but would rather figure out string operations by trial and error. Those lego robots have a visual programming language that both he and his sister have used at times as well.
  • It is easier for a child when something is made to look easy, and the results are made to look fascinating. The environment and the mentor are paramount. But this has become harder recently because everything has advanced so much since the Nintendo Entertainment System days. Also it doesn't help that platforms like the iPhone are hard to develop for (the closed garden hurdles, so to speak).

    Games used to be a good genre but now kids are playing MW3 and GW3 so it's increasingly harder to convince them they ca

  • Every time I hear about teaching kids to program, it's all about the videogames. Kids like videogames right? So they should like programming them right? Wrong. How many young girls make their own makeup out of egg whites and whale barf (It's none)? How many boys are just chomping at the bit to build an injection molding machine so they can make a super soaker (none again)?

    Why not use programming to let kids solve problems they hate, do work they don't want to do. Just like in the real world, I hate cor

  • I can't say why kids aren't learning this stuff anymore, but they're not.

    My girlfriend's sons are at the ages when they're looking for their first jobs -- they're 14, 16, and 18. I asked her what programming languages they know, and she said none. They've never programmed, at all. Not even a high school course in it.

    By the time I was 14 I knew Atari BASIC, LOGO, and a little Pascal. I had already authored games and applications on my Atari 400. By the time I was 18 I was designing a relational database in FORTRAN using edlin for my father's insurance business. (I told my girlfriend this and she said -- and I quote -- "But you're a genius, hon." That's why I love her. :) But her kids are just as bright as I am, IMHO.)

    On the other hand, kids today know applications. All of her kids have experience with Word, Excel, and Photoshop. Maybe that's all they need.

    The signs are that programming expertise is going to become a far rarer skill in the next generation, but general computer literacy will be widespread. I think maybe that's a step forward. But I worry that it's not a good pool of talent to help us take another step forward in the generation after theirs.

  • In the old days, seeing a prompt on your 12" B&W TV was a major accomplishment, and getting "Hello World" to run made you a serious computer geek. But now, the learning curve to become even a novice developer is far steeper. The typical kid doesn't have the patience and/or foresight to be able to get to even the first rung on the developer ladder. It's much easier and more fun to learn how to download and install the latest patch for WoW - no programming required.

    And yes, this is the first step on th

  • Kids these days are doing fine. I know some really smart young computer programmers. For example...

    One of them didn't really get started with computers until he was 15. Now almost 18 he's blowing me away with his knowledge and skill. His latest project is to write his own computer language... in C (because he didn't know how to program in C yet, and he wanted to learn C before C++). Now, after his third rewrite (it works!) and looking at a fourth to get more of the functionality that he wants, he's cons

  • Yes, they do. There are kids building programmable computers with redstone in minecraft. How more abstract can you get?

    http://www.minecraftforum.net/forum/67-redstone/ [minecraftforum.net]

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