Despite the fact that I was trying to sleep in, it has come to my ears that someone has been going around claiming that everyone needs to learn how to write computer programs. There may be some truth in that: when I play chess against my computer, being able to re-write the program so that the computer always makes bad moves does help me win once in a while.
But I’ve been wondering: why computer programming? Why is that more urgent and important than everything else? Why can’t I say that everyone should know how to snake a drain and dress a deer? I must confess that I have never dressed a deer myself. They usually run away before I can get the shirt buttoned. But I’m sure it isn’t too difficult to imagine a circumstance in modern life where it is imperative for the welfare of our nation that we dress a deer.
Well, for example, perhaps the Canadians will decide to invade from the north. Since there probably won’t be very many soldiers around, you could dress a bunch of deer in combat uniforms and let the Canadians fight with them while you take a nap. As to snaking a drain, if I wanted to count the times I’ve snaked drains in the last few years, I’d need a whole lot more fingers than my current total of seventeen. In fact, I’d say that plumbing skills go a long way towards a happy marriage, a fulfilled life, and succesful and prosperous home-ownership.
You might, of course, counter that it is always possible to hire someone to fix your drain. This is, of course, generally true, provided you have money. However, it’s also generally true that you can hire someone to write a computer program for you. It seems to me that coding and plumbing have a lot in common: they’re both useful skills, both can get you out of a smelly situation, and in no case is being ignorant of either skill going to cost you your life.
(This distinguishes them from, say, swimming, piloting an airplane, and avoiding all contact with Justin Bieber.)
So my thesis, which I will maintain in words (and not in code) is that, while coding can be a very useful skill, it is, at the same time, only a very useful skill. In contrast with living a life with no friends, being enslaved and tortured, or never having read The Flying News, a life in which you never write a computer program would not be all that bad. And even if computers do bring you The Flying News, you can always hire someone to print it out for you.
“Cat Poster,” Created by EFF designer Hugh D’Andrade for the Coders’ Rights Project. CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.