I’m about to thank a tabloid journalist.
To those of you who didn’t just die of shock, let me explain why.
When I first read Willard Foxton’s article in The Telegraph on why it may be a “stupid idea” to teach coding in schools, I got angry. Very angry. To suggest that young people would grow into “dull weirdos” by learning software development smacked of exactly the kind of bullying I encountered in the 90s when I wanted to grow up to be a software engineer. But this is 2013, and the world has grown up.
Or so I thought.
Willard‘s words are not just reactionary – they are damaging. In a retort on The Register, he says “The reason that line was there was to draw people into the article” – and yes, it does a good job of that. But it also destroys the confidence of any young coder reading it. It could easily be paraphrased by a young person – in need of our support and encouragement – as “Oh, you’re following that dream of yours? Well, it’s dumb.”
I’m not young. I’m not old. I’m barely a developer. I have, however, spent a few years in the industry working with developers at events, on projects, and within their communities.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Sunderland at DDD North. I arrived at the venue and was greeted by great tasting bacon sandwiches, and a hell of a lot of noise. Here were hundreds of software developers talking, laughing, being social. Some of them were students, some of them had been in the industry for years. Dull? Weirdos? No.
Over the summer I took a 2,000 mile road trip to support Young Rewired State. I wrote some of my thoughts at the time for a column in The Guardian, in which I stated implicitly the need for us all “to inspire the next generation by highlighting the opportunities available to them.” See that word there?
Truth is, a lot of those young developers inspired me. The passion, tenacity and enthusiasm I encountered at that event was astounding – and the fact that people as young as 8 or 9 were able to write code, get up on stage, and present proudly the things they had worked on? Inspirational to the nth degree.
These aren’t isolated incidents, either. Across the world, software developers from all walks of life are changing the world, one line of code at a time. To truly change the world, you have to live in it – and they do. No longer the stereotype of a nerd removed from society, software developers are real people solving real problems – building, designing, creating – and that’s about as far from the picture painted in Willard’s article as you can get.
So why am I thanking him?
Because developers – young and old – are, in my experience, the complete opposite of “dull weirdos”. You only need to take a look at Twitter to see how diverse, social, progressive and proactive developers can be. The anger that his words have fuelled within the tech community is bringing all of the wonderful, brilliant, talented and creative people within it out of their shells. They’re blogging, tweeting, writing talks and speaking out.
Now they’ve got something to fight for.