Non-Myths About Programming

Mark Guzdial attended the first day of the ICER 2010 conference in Denmark this week. He blogged about that day (Blogging the first day of ICER 2010) and it sure does make me wish I had been able to go. Next year the conference is in Rhode Island so maybe I’ll be able to swing it. For now I am reading blog posts about it and waiting until the conference journal shows up in my mail box. One particularly interesting thing I borrowed from Mark’s post was his summary of  Moti Ben-Ari’s keynote talk, Non-Myths About Programming. He had seven (eight really) statements that people today talk about as being “myths,” but he says are quite true.

  1. Programming is boring. But so is everything else, says Moti. Even the specialist surgeon gets bored doing the exact same thing for the 5000th time. He suggests that television may be influencing our students’ belief that everything should be exciting and all problems can be solved in 45 minutes.
  2. You have to sit in front of a computer all day. So does everybody, he says. Some jobs, like travel agents, sit in front of computers even more than programmers do.
  3. You have to work long hours. Moti asks, “What professional job today does not involve long hours?”
  4. Programming is asocial. Moti argued, “No one ‘chats’ with his/her ‘clients.’” He says that some students may feel that, “I prefer helping people directly, say as a social worker, than creating computerized ‘things’ people need.” Programmers help people, and talk with their clients as much as doctors do.
  5. Programming is for those who think logically. Totally true. Most jobs also involve thinking logically, but if you can’t, don’t go into computing.
  6. Software is being outsourced. It is, but not the interesting stuff. He says people do things in software that they don’t quite know how to do yet. If they knew, they’d manufacture hardware to do it. If you don’t know how to do something, you don’t send it away to get it done. He had a great story about Margaret Hamilton who led the development of the Apollo software systems. He says that NASA could never have outsourced the development of the Apollo software.
  7. Programming is a well-paid profession. So what’s so bad about that?

He then said that there’s a new myth being propagated that he dislikes, that CS is NOT primarily about programming. He says it is.

OK that last point about programming and CS is going to be controversial. But is he just stating something along the lines of the “emperor is not wearing any clothing?” This is one I want to ponder. And of course I am hoping that smarter people than me will put forth solid arguments one way or another.

I disagree about programming being boring though. I find it to be fun most of the time. And programming can be social if you do it right. Ben-Ari may be defining social too narrowly. I wish I had been there to hear the whole talk for more context.  Still there is a lot of potential for discussion here. Opinions?

Comments (3)

  1. Laura says:

    "CS is not primarily about programming." Depends on how you look at it. I think too many people say that CS is only programming and that can turn some people off to even trying it.  CS is about solving problems using computational methods–sometimes programming. 🙂 And I agree with Mark's comment to the speaker that decontextualizing beginning CS is a bad idea.  Kids want to see a program do something–create art, make a robot go, sing a song–not calculate the 1000th prime number.  When they see what programs are capable of, then they are more willing to get through some more difficult things to make programs that do really cool things.

  2. Garth says:

    This "What is CS" conversation is always entertaining.  It seems the categorizing CS is a favorite past-time of CS people.  I have a tendency to throw all sorts of things at the CS category while others want it to be “programming only”.  I think “the study of computers” is if you are doing something with, to, and maybe even near a computer.  Makes me think of the Jeff Foxworthy “You might be a redneck ..” series of jokes.  “You might be involved in computer science if you…” just does not have the humor the redneck lines have.

  3. Peter says:

    Just sent you a tackback, please accept it. Good entry. I enjoyed the "myths"

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