I’ve just read a blog post by Tony Hirst called Programming Privilege . It’s a short post but the opening lines really caught my attention.
I saw a quote today somewhere that I didn’t save an don’t properly recall along the lines of most people don’t know what it’s like to be in the privileged position of a programmer who is able to code your own custom apps.
Slightly earlier, I’d idly wondered about the rhetoric of “everyone must learn to programme”, and how many people I know found it useful in their work to “do some programming” yesterday, or last week or over the last month.
I also wonder about how many of the folk preaching “everyone should learn to programme”:
a) actually know how to write code (and if they don’t, do they intend to learn? When?);
b) ever use code to do anything (i.e. why should folk learn to code? What’s it useful for?)
Going back to the privilege thing, what I think folk don’t realise is how little you need to do to get things done, if you know what to do – or look for.
Now over the years, I have had the privilege of working with some fantastic colleagues who as well as having many other talents, are programmers. Reflecting on it now, the majority of them embody the notion of self directed learners. They were/ are all motivated to do things, to experiment, to push the boundaries. Significantly for me, they were (are) all generous enough to listen to me and my half baked ideas of what could possibly be done if they could just tweak/write the code.
Despite what some people may think, I am not a “techie” in the programming sense. I understand what can be done, the logic of some “stuff”, and I will have a go a low level “stuff” but I am not a programmer. What I have been able to do over the years is to develop the knowledge, understanding, vocabulary to able to have meaningful conversations with people who can programme and work with them to meet both the technical and user needs of systems/standards etc.
Over the years, I have tried to do bits of coding/ programming. I can sort of understand HTML, enough to edit a page, spot rogue code. At one point I was almost proficient in understanding XML mark up in standards documents. I’ve had a play with scripts that Tony and others like Martin Hawskey have created, particularly around data visualization and I have really enjoyed those experiences.
Still, there is a part of me that doesn’t actually completely agree with the “everyone needs to code” mantra. On reflection that’s probably because of the privileges I’ve been afforded such as working with generous people who have shared their knowledge with me so I understood what they were doing even if I didn’t actually do it myself. There was/is just never seems enough time to get to grips with things properly and, hey why should I when people I work with can do it faster and better than me . .
I’m also still a bit scared of code and programming. Irrational I know – but I might just actually break the internet 🙂
However, Tony’s post has really made me think. My irrational fear stems back to my early educational experiences. When I was at school and personal computers were coming of age it was made very clear that programming wasn’t for the likes of me – a girl, not great at maths, not really interested in computers.
Those biased assumptions still lurk in the recesses of my psyche. That’s why another bigger part of me does really support and believe in the need for continued support for getting young girls in particular into coding early. It’s really important to know how things work, how as Tony says, easy it is to get things done and not just let others do it for you. Of increasing importance now is being able to articulate what you think systems should do for you, to challenge how “stuff” (aka data) is stored, collected, used/abused. Knowing about programming provides another way to have informed discussions about many, many other things.
So maybe I should make the time to learn to code a bit more and not abuse my privilege of letting others do everything for me.