The US President said we should all learn to code…

In honor of national ‘save your country from obscurity’ week, President Obama implored all Americans to learn to code. Well, he’s the president, and he’s supposed to say encouraging things, lead by example, and all that. But really?

I’m an American, have been my whole life. As long as I could, I’ve been coding, starting from 6502 assembly on a Commodore PET. I am a ‘coder’ by profession, and have been since I was about 18. I have learned numerous coding languages, used numerous kinds of systems, and have taught other engineers how to do ‘coding’. After all that, I’d say “coding” is not for everyone.

I am not well suited to be a fashion designer. Nor am I cut out to be a football quarterback. To tell everyone ‘to code, it’s not that hard”, is like telling everyone to “pick up horse back riding, it’s not that hard to win a rodeo”.

I think I can sum up the state of America as a coding nation with a couple of choice examples.

Ada – Most Americans have no clue who the lady was, let alone that this has anything to do with computers. If you asked my fellow Americans to use the word ‘Ada’ in a sentence, they’d probably come up with something like: I Ada sandwich yesterday.

To go any further with that conversation would be quite pointless.

SQL – To most Americans, these three letters said in the form that most ‘coders’ would use has nothing to do with storing data, but instead would conjure up an image of the next version of the IronMan franchise.

As it stands, the ‘call to code’ misses the mark in terms of being a call to arms. But, there is something here isn’t there?

I’m assuming that we didn’t actually hear the whole message. I am assuming that the president was already talking, but they didn’t break to him because there was no doubt an important football game that could not be interrupted. I believe I have been able to piece together the preamble to the speech though. I believe that what the president said, before the part that was actually aired, was something like this:
“My fellow Americans. Look, factory and farm jobs are rapidly disappearing, thanks to the march of technology, and the ease with which cheap labor can be exploited around the world. So, if you want to have a job in the future, you better learn to code”.

When I take this missing preamble into consideration, the whole thing makes a lot more sense. This is more of a call to arms.

But, the reality is, coding is hard. I liken coding to the telling of a good story. It requires structure, a full grasp of the language, and some amount of skill on the teller’s part to impart the intention clearly and succinctly. Most Americans lack the basic skills to compose any correspondence that goes beyond 140 characters. To assume that we could have a highly involved narrative with a machine, using terse languages such as C++ 11, is just beyond laughable.

So what can we do? I don’t want to be out of a job!! Oh, that’s right, I’m already coding… Perhaps a more full explanation of what is needed is for those coders who know how to do the really hard stuff should make it easier for the rest of us to do some of the more mundane stuff. For example, everyone knows how to use their voice. Perhaps making ‘coding’ as natural as a conversation is what some of us should focus on.

Then there’s UI. Are we still using ‘markup’ to put little pretty boxes on screens? Is Javascript, CSS, HTML ‘coding’? What is the ‘coding’ the president is talking about. Perhaps what he’s talking about is putting price tags on food items to stock the shelves at WalMart, isn’t that “coding”?

OK. I’m going to do my part. I am going to teach as many people as I can how to code, how to go beyond programming their blinking VCR (oops, those don’t exist any more). How to hack the micro controllers in their washers and dryers, how to hook up to the CAN network in their car to increase fuel efficiency. Rise up America! We’re going to write some code.

Seriously though, perhaps everyone can start with some simple language on some simple device that allows them to accomplish some simple tasks. Of course we all have tablets, cell phones, and game consoles, so it probably starts there. If only the slashing in ‘fruit ninja’, or the blasting in ‘Angry Birds’ could be considered ‘coding’. We’d be a nation of slashing, blasting, bashing coders already!

By the time the masses are doing any sort of job preserving ‘coding’, it won’t look anything like what we’d call ‘coding’ today. More than likely, we’ll learn the simple commands to give to complex machinery. Real programmers, or machines themselves, will write the control code for those machines. We will learn how to tell the machine what we intend, and that’s about that. Or, in a strange twist of fait, more likely, the machines will tell us what to do. “Human, come on, focus, run down that aisle and get the big box marked ‘TV’ and bring it back here for the customer…”

Intentional programming? I’ve heard of that before…

So, there you have it. President Obama has told us all to learn to code, because it’s so easy. I’m going to do my part to fulfill that fantasy, and bring as many of my fellow Americans along as possible.

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2 Comments on “The US President said we should all learn to code…”

  1. […] The US President said we should all learn to code… (williamaadams.wordpress.com) […]

  2. […] The US President said we should all learn to code… (williamaadams.wordpress.com) […]


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