A reason why kids don’t do programming any more?

As I write this, in the next room my two daughters are playing with their Wii, with the eldest using her Andorid phone to provide incidental music. It’s a not untypical Saturday morning scene in millions of homes I imagine.

In here I am contemplating one of the legacies of my teenage years – the desire to write a computer program for no other reason than I enjoy it.

The immediate problem I face with the current piece of code is user interface related and that does make me wonder if one of the reasons kids have lost interest in programming is (alongside the awful way they are taught about computers) the sheer hideousness of UI code.

Back in the days of Sinclair (or BBC) BASIC things could be made to appear on the screen by simply specifying their cartesian co-ordinates and issuing a PLOT command or similar.

So, I could get back from my A level maths class and plot the graphs of the functions we’d been discussing in a few lines of code. I could write, and graphically represent, the behaviour of heat quanta in a molecular grid with just a few hours work.

Now I would have to set aside a day to do the graph from scratch or use somebody else’s code. The heat quanta representation boggles the mind.

I can understand why the makers of the Raspberry Pi seem to be recreating the BBC Micro environment alongside the electronics: all this UI code just gets in the way of helping kids build useful software.


2 responses to “A reason why kids don’t do programming any more?”

  1. Much of the pain of building a UI can be eliminated by using a visual UI designer, such as Matisse (incorporated into Netbeans). That still leaves plenty of pain to go around, since every UI designer I’ve tried has had what I consider to be “quirks”.

    In fairness, though, the interfaces you and I wrote in the Dark Ages were more straightforward in large measure because we were very limited in what we could do. Also, given the state of computing then, we had no reason to be ambitious with the UI. So the pain level was the same, but it was just shifted from the UI designer to the user of the program.

    The Wii may be a big part of the answer to the question in your title. Kids may be less inclined to program because everything they want to do is handed to them, as a game, a phone app, a PC program or whatever.

  2. I think in addition to the reasons both of you listed, a big part of it is that it’s rarely taught in schools anymore (at least around here). For me, my first interest in computer science peaked from my high school computer studies class, which included computer programming.

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