In the last week or so I've seen a popular article and a presentation which didn’t paint the rosiest of pictures for the next generation of coders:
I have to agree with Marc Scott that the Information & Communication Technology (ICT) GCSE widely studied in the UK, with Microsoft Office as a focus, seems a bit of a step backwards. The Computer Studies O-level I remember from the mid-80s put coding front and centre. I still have fond memories of my end of year project which consisted of a sprite designer written in Z80 assembler and extensions to the system’s basic language for games programming.
But not everyone at school in the 1980s did Computer Studies or was writing games in their bedroom. What are kids doing in the 21st century? My eldest son Thomas has a range of interests including playing the piano, chess, swimming, scouts, playing video games and coding. His common-or-garden state school has a computer club where they practice Python programming, but unfortunately it is so oversubscribed he couldn’t get a place. He does however write code at home for fun, and believe it or not most of what he has learnt has been off his own back. He started out making his own 3D levels in the Roblox game when he was about 9, and soon progressed to adding his own scripts written in Lua. To give him a little encouragement I bought him a book, Roblox Lua programming written by a teenager. More recently he's been playing with Python on the Raspberry Pi.
Now not all the kids at my son's school code, but quite a few of them do.
Thomas has also come along with me to a few conferences and game jams. Last year he came to the Progressive F# Tutorials in London, learning the syntax of the language from Chris Marinos’s F# Koans. Then he managed to make some tunes in Rob Pickering’s Undertone session. Here he is putting a question to the panel:
Thomas is not alone in knowing F#, here is a 1-hour crash course taught to Year 6 students (11 year olds) at a school in Cambridge: http://fssnip.net/jc
He’s also been to some game jams with me, where he’s mostly worked on the music and sound effects. I’ve seen quite a few kids at this type of event. Here’s a picture of us from last weekend’s GameCraft jam at Skills Matter in London:
Last weekend also saw a national Festival of Code in the UK from Young Rewired State:
This fall sees a GOTO conference for kids in Denmark:
I think it would be great to see the trend for kids in conferences continue, and it fills me with hope for the future of programming.
Brett Victor’s talk on the Future of Programming is well worth a watch, he presents a vision of the future based on what was known in 1973, using an over head projector (OHP). One suggestion is that if programming is still dominated by low-level programming languages in 40 years time (which it is) then something has gone seriously wrong.
After talking about kids going to major developer events, the shame is that the vast majority of existing enterprise developers will have never been to one. These are the unseen 99% Scott Hanselman refers to as Dark Matter Developers:
They don't read a lot of blogs, they never write blogs, they don't go to user groups, they don't tweet or facebook, and you don't often see them at large conferences
I suspect these “Dark Matter Developers” are being spoon fed their information directly from vendors like Microsoft (MSDN) and Oracle (Java).
Speaking at conferences can often feel like you’re preaching to the converted. Perhaps the real opportunity is mentoring the next generation, because you know the kids are alright.