back to article Your kids' chances of becoming programmers? ZERO

Almost overnight in the early 1980s, hordes of British kids embraced programming, as did many adults, delivering the most IT-literate workforce in the world. It was a big reason why the nosediving economy of the '70s and '80s didn’t crash and burn. Well, that or Thatcherism, you choose. Why BASIC? In the early 1970s and early …

Or why your children are spoiled...

The best way to get to any fundamentals of programming or dare I say its bastard child advanced system administration, is to have been exposed to an environment where scarcity is the rule. Scarcity in resources like manuals, supplier advice, coding examples, search engine hints, all knowing colleagues but also severe limits on memory, storage, processing power, budgets to get more of those, customer patience, customer understanding, nurturing management and so on.

Only in such environments -- and they were the standard in the 80's and most of the 90's -- will "forge" the steel, train the intuition and deepen understanding as one is forced to almost literally discover the wheel again at times. Some would call that a waste of time but to come up with the concept of wheel by yourself can be the priceless understanding of a very basic form. Just copying it over might result in putting wheels on the wrong kind of vehicles.

So this why your kids can't program: you're giving them too much to work with... no survival skills at all.

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More recently

When I was in school we had old computers with poor software and not a single teacher who could use them. Near the end of high school we got a new computer room which again no teacher could use. I had no interest in IT as I was taught office and how to effectively fall asleep at the keyboard without being noticed. It was only when one of the techies who maintained the rooms decided to show me how to pull apart, put together and fix the old OS's that I got any interest. Then he showed me programming.

When I went to college I had 1 teacher who could program and a total of 3 teaching it. I bought book after book and kept in touch with the techie from school to have skills beyond most of my lecturers and certainly above the class.

Since leaving school I have found an interest in so many topics in computing, electronics and other skilled but unrelated areas. My experience of school is that it holds people back unless they are academic.

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Big languages with big libraries

“VB.NET, Java, C++, Delphi etc are all big languages with big libraries, making it a waste of time to write your own string-handling or graphics routines. Knowing the name of the right function has become more important than understanding how it works. Own up, could you code DDI or Bresenham’s algorithm without looking them up? How many algos do you actually know? Is that even relevant to your work?”

This echoes something said by Knuth during a lecture I attended. To paraphrase (I hope sufficiently accurately) “I don't want children to learn that writing computer programs involves chaining together calls to functions in libraries that other people wrote” - that “modern” programming tends to be about the basic logical flow through a program - the “control”, never getting to the really /interesting/ bit, the “computation”. (Of course, the “control” bit gets interesting too for larger systems, but at this point it /becomes/ part of “computation” in a sense :)

Of course, you can have both. Modern libraries provide a lot of very useful boilerplate which makes it possible to get to the “interesting” bit more quickly when dealing with real data or real problems. The problem arises when all that the programmer is ever asked to do is to chain together code in which other people had all the fun writing the interesting stuff. That is a very dull life (and learning programming by doing this is dull too). So, the answer is to spend as little time as possible writing computer programs that are easy to write, instead to focus on things which are difficult to achieve*.

*(not, I hasten to add, because there are too many flaws and shortcomings in the environment in which your working … but because the actual problems you're working on are difficult problems!)

Cambridge compsci undergraduates with no programming? Not necessarily a problem. More important I think that they should have good maths and other basic tools to get started. I'd rather take somebody with double maths A-level (and teach them computing, which has maths underneath!) than Computing + another … and try to teach them A-level maths (to show how what they have already been doing actually works) during the degree! :)

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Re: Big languages with big libraries

The trouble is that most of the easy codes have already beeen written, and most of the need for good algorithms has gone away with GHz CPUs if you aren't processing large volumes of data.

You can still have fun with coding better algorithms in science and other disciplines , but you tend to need a physics, chemistry, engineering, bioscience, geography or geology degree (to name a few!) to understand the problems before you can start addressing it with code. In fact I might advise a keen coder not to study Comp Sci at all.

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Re: Big languages with big libraries

This is why embedded programming is still fun. When you're using a PIC, MSP430 or 8-bit AVR, there's still a challenge to make it fit in the smallest one. I even remember the ADSP2105 and hand-crafting the assembly code (no C) to fit into the 1K instructions allowed.

Even the Raspberry Pi and its ilk suffer from the extra boot-up complexity, whereas with a small embedded processor there's very little that has to be done.

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Fixing the wrong problem

> hordes of British kids embraced programming, as did many adults, delivering the most IT-literate workforce in the world

But almost none of them had any business nouse, whatsoever.

That is what was lacking - not programming skills. It's all very well being able to poke and push and type HEX into a Sinclair ZX80. But unless you can analyse the market, identify what products will be needed next year, persuade the banks to lend you the monkey and employ the right people to: (a) work together and (b) come up with the goods, then being able to write tight code is irrelevant.

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Re: Fixing the wrong problem

A bit of both, but yes, when I look back at my education (which included computing opportunities, even though I avoided the courses) business studies shows up as a big gap. The more accademically successful students were largely steered away from considering it as an option.

I notice a recurring issue whenever I sit down to try out a new language, or on occasion set a task for a student placement, is to come up with an idea of what on earth I should try to program as an exercise. Maybe it's better to just tackle something at random, or to take on a personal annoyance and re-write some utility your own way, but if business processes are going to be where the money is then they seem like a good place to start.

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Re: Fixing the wrong problem

I know it's a bit like shooting fish, mocking someone who says that the real skill programmers lack is in business, rather than what business lack is an ability to understand software and then aim programmers at the right target, but here goes anyway.

THE MONKEY! I've been trying to get banks to lend me the monkey for so long; they say I'm probably an amazing programmer, with actual useful skills, but because I haven't done a marketing degree I'm not allowed to be lent the monkey. Probably because they all also have marketing degrees.

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Re: Fixing the wrong problem

> the real skill programmers lack is in business, rather than what business lack is an ability to understand software

The key point is that programming is a technical skill and business acumen (not necessarily through formal qualifications - I suspect that real-world experience beats an MBA every time) is an enabling skill.

Technical skills without the means to apply them are just as useless as being able to run a business but not having anything to "sell". As we all know, there is generally a chasm between the techies and the business people: they talk different languages and get frustrated with each others' inability to see that they are right.

The question is: can you teach techies to "do" business and can you teach entrepreneurs to write code? The practical world shows us that in most cases, the techy tends to end up working for the innovator, rather than being the one who runs the show - though that could be down to choice rather than drive. Hence giving programmers lessons in running a business would move them closer to self-generated success, than trying to get a successful business-person to understand objects, pointers, interrupts and GIT.

I suppose the ultimate goal would be to get the monkey to do the lot.

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Re: Fixing the wrong problem

Ook!

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Re: Fixing the wrong problem

The problem is that business is almost all about relationships. Speak to most sensible MBA students and they say that the qualification itself is pretty boring and more about paying the fees and slogging through a lot of busywork. The reason they do it is to establish relationships with the people they study with.

This is why the idea of an MBA being academic (ie Masters-level) is pretty ridiculous: if people are teaching MBAs, then they aren't in business. That means you don't want to learn business from them. However if (say) you go to Harvard Business School and pay the fee, you end up at the end of the year with incredible contacts from all over the world. It could be a year of hiking, as long as everyone made the relationships it'd have the same primary benefit.

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Credit C&VG magazine

Learned my early Basic skills from Computer and Video Games magazine, typing and debugging game listings into the school Commodore Pets and my Vic20 (which I badgered my parents into buying but was only allowed to use for about an hour a day on account of how we only had one telly).

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I'm kinda conflicted...

I never saw a computer in school; the one (external) course in which it was even mentioned was training fro data entry, not programming and certainly not design.

When I did engineering training at the BBC, the only section on microprocessors was *after* the final exam, and was not well attended - though it did improve somewhat after that once the BBC realised there was life in those things. Though I had by that time taught myself the basics (6502, 8060, 8080, 8085, Z80, 6809, Basic, Forth), to the extent that when I was finally sent on a micro course I ended up as an assistant instructor.

And thirty-five years later I'm bit-banging SPI in machine code on a PIC with no sane instructions, no useful internals, and no bloody stack... the more things change, the more they stay the same!

p.s. 6502 is best!

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Re: I'm kinda conflicted...

6502 assembly language is a thing of beauty. Ah, my old Commodore 64 that teamed the 6510 (6502 variant) with the Vic 2 's hardware sprites and the SID chip. Sys 64738 rules! &60

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Re: I'm kinda conflicted...

While I was brought up on the 6502 and have fond memories of it, in the 8-bit world, I think 6809 assembly code has to be the most beautiful.

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Re: I'm kinda conflicted...

6502 was an elegant and orthogonal machine code, spoiled by the gaps in the instruction set for instructions that didn't work in the original MosTEK silicon.

By the time the 6510 came along (as well as some of the later 6502B and C chips) many of these missing instructions would work, but nobody used them because of backward compatibility.

6809 was probably a more capable and complete machine code and architecture (it benefited from being a later chip), but I still have a fondness for 6502 (and PDP11).

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Re: I'm kinda conflicted...

Ah, such happy memories. To be 14 again and suddenly faced with the baffling wonderment of 6510 and the genius hardware in the C64; realising you'd have to work it out yourself and feeling such pride when you did.

Although 68000/Amiga hardware came close the 64 experience meant that by then I knew what I was doing. 6510/C64 was the point when the curtain of BASIC was pulled back and I just went.......Wow - let me dive in.

Pretty much downhill after that to be honest, although browser/javascript was an interesting diversion for a while in terms of a similar mindshift.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm kinda conflicted...

Neil, upgrade to the enhanced midrange pic's - PIC16F1XXX - the pointer registers have data stack type instructions, so you can implement forth style functions efficiently. And they are cheaper than the old ones....

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Re: I'm kinda conflicted...

@AC 02:09 - can't, unfortunately - I'm constrained to three 16f chips in the range that although not qualified have been proven to work (at least, they fail in ways we can work around) at the very high temperatures we operate at. Failure is (a) embarrassing and (b) extremely expensive.

If the boss would let me, I'd be using some high-temp AVR chips.

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Telly Time

We had a ZX81 but only one telly, so computer time was very restricted and the 16K ram packed used to fall out the back while on the carpet on the floor (no table as well). It was sold after about 6 months.

It was not until I went to college and done electrical engineering that the course had a lot of 6502 programming on RockWell AIM65 / BBCs and BASIC on BBC that I got the bug.

MY boy want to be a "games designers" but playing games is more interesting than writing software for them for him

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Devil

We have it so easy

Today's world is so complex.

The headline notwithstanding, my son is a computer programmer. He immediately decided the browser is today's computer, so almost all of his time has been spent wring javascript, html, and the backends that serve them up.

One day he described what his world was like. His backend served static files; HTML, javascript and later the data via AJAX. The javascript effectively implemented his GUI - by rewriting HTML. Granted using bltbit or curses is harder - but not by much. Effectively, every time he wrote a AJAX backend, he was designing his own database protocol, complete with queries and transactions. I don't think he realised that. He had to write it in two difference languages of course - javascript and whatever he was using in the backend.

He used firefox to get it work because it had the best development tools. (Now he uses chrome.) The next step was the worst. It had to work in IE 6. So he would fire up IE in a VM, point it at his server, and be confronted with a blank screen. His javascript had died somewhere, so nothing was rendered. IE 6 had no debugger, no way of examining the DOM, no guaranteed way for is code to communicate with him. It reminded me of when you first load a microcontroller and it just sits there. You struggle for the next few days to debug the initialisation sequence so you can flash a LED, or something.

Once he had done that, his next problem was different javascript leaks in different browsers. Getting acceptable performance was a new struggle for with each browser.

Apparently it's much better now. There are even useful javascript libraries that actually reduce the amount of code you have to write - at the expense of leaky abstractions and API's with the code as their only documentation. Maybe one day they will even get a to having tools like Access that mean you don't actually know have to write code. But that's a long way off, they haven't even settled on a way of talking to a database. And once they do, they don't have Mores law to absorb the overheads.

So yes, we have is a new generation of coders using CPU's and storage many magnitudes better than we had. And with all that power, what did we give them? A facsimile of the same world we lived in. Same limitations, just more complex.

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How true

I well remember as part of my (posh) school's decidedly unofficial computer club in the late '60s with one supporting teacher - who only knew that it was worth supporting - typing punched cards by hand and sending them up to the Mid Essex Tech to be run and come back a few days later with the error highlighted. It taught you to really try and get it right first time - a skill that's not forgotten 45 years later. It was definitely the right time to get into computing, though, as I've been at the heart of what's interesting ever since - the early deployment of microprocessors, Acorn when it was fun, dealing with the (then) Mr Sugar and now the Internet.

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too many distractions

The answer is simple. Back in the 80s you fired up your zx81 to do programming and type in games to play them. There was no wii, xbox, ps3, psp.

Kids have a choice, knuckle down and learn to code or go and play with their mates on the latest Call of Duty of FIFA, what do you think they do?

In those days everything was new and groundbreaking. Each new machine was like nothing else before it. Each game was largely unique. Now its just the same hardware made better, faster, smaller and rehashes of existing games, Fifa 55 or CoD 28 anyone?

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Re: too many distractions

yeah this is closer to the truth.

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Re: too many distractions

Distractions are evil.

Back then I had a second-hand computer, and several years of magazines that had come with the computer (an Amstrad CPC 464). I had no games. There was no internet, no Steam, no free browser games. A computer, a BASIC prompt, and blank cassettes.

The magazines had type-in games. So I learned to type, I learned BASIC by osmosis, in order to get at the games. And then I could alter the games to make them better. This is something the mod makers still do today, but their platform isn't BASIC, it's the game engine and in-game scripting language.

Learning through play is the most effective form of learning - even for adults. This needs to be a key feature for any next generation schoolchild programming system.

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Headmaster

A great article. I can only dream as I was at the beginning of IT becoming an MS word subject. There are 2 points you make that I would argue with however:

"pointless subject like French"

Modern languages are considered one of the hardest humanities subjects to learn, and are probably one of the more useful "soft" skills to someone pursuing an unrelated career. The few British employees that speak fluent foreign languages as a side skill are generally well respected for this in companies, especially those dealing with international trade. Modern languages are probably the only formal training kids get in grammar these days as my English was entirely dominated by poetry and Shakespeare.

"The current ICT syllabus is designed on the basis of inclusiveness, dumbed down so that any child can learn it and so that ICT can be taught by someone with no qualification in the subject."

All school subjects seem to teach to mediocrity, and I've been taught many other subjects by teachers that hadn't studied that subject past gcse, but they were bright people and could pick up what they needed to know to teach. I feel that kids are streamed into abilites to late, and should be allowed to specialise into subjects that interest them more at an earlier age. I think they should bring back the 11+ system to bring back vocational schools and subjects. There may even be an argument for permanently. The amount of teaching time I had wasted on disruptive kids because the lessons were too easy/hard/not interesting to a 14 year old was pretty shocking.

Again, other than that, thanks for a great article!

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pointless subject like French

In the author's defence, I read that as a humourous comment and representing the student's perspective. As in, computer science (or whatever they called it in the school at the time) was interesting, whereas the struggling student saw conjugating French verbs as pointless.

I think most people can appreciate the value of learning foreign languages now.

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Why do think school is so easy now?

Because the arsehats that we call parents demanded it. Remember all that complaining you did while you were in school? Someone listened. Probably the wrong someone and probably 20-30 years too late for you, but someone did listen. And they continued to listen to all the subsequent generations. Also while they were listening to you they were getting fed up with parents complaining their special little snowflake doesn't understand adding up or spelling proper-like and therefore shouldn't have to do either and they invented a new syllabus. This syllabus is all-inclusive. You don't need to know things, you certainly don't need to remember things, you just need to give a good try..

So if you're looking to blame someone for school work being too easy, for kids growing up into adults who write job application letters and CVs filled with basic spelling mistakes, for kids manning checkout registers who can't work out that the extra 3 pence you gave them means you want to avoid getting a handful of change (plus your 3 pence).. you need to look at yourself and the teachers who put your complaints in writing..

Don't worry though. We live in a world of over correction and knee jerk reactions. As soon as someone fails to set of a bomb outside the department of education (because they won't know how to read the instructions explaining how to build a bomb) the system will be changed.. and 5 year olds will be forced to learn quantum physics and write the next version of Word's spell checker.

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Programmers often don't know 'what is really going on'

In the olden days, unless you were very familiar with the demands that your program made on boring things like memory allocation, block reads and so on, you'd find things going very slowly indeed.

Now, people often program in an environment where 'helpful' abstractions tear them away from the real world of memory, bandwidth, and so on. There are often a lot of cores and memory and bandwidth and disk space at their disposal, and very often they don't even bother to think about these things.

Worse still, levels of software obfuscate further the reality. Need to write data into a relational database? Don't want to learn what 'relational' means? Think SQL looks 'silly'? Use our clever technology and you can remain in ignorance!

The result: Well, if the web alone is now responsible for more emissions than the aviation industry, a good half of that or more is just machines churning away doing stuff that they needn't actually be doing, were the person who built the software a bit more aware of the hideous reality of the systems they put together.

The only saving grace is that in this world of the clueless, it's easy to make yourself look good by 'having a clue' about what is happening behind the scenes...

Grumble moan etc.

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"pointless subject like French"

There's the rub.

For most there is very little reason to learn French other than their own motivation. You cant see a need for it so you cant be arsed but once inspired - buxom french teacher???

The same goes for programming - most people dont see a need for it, you need people who can explain the problem before providing the solution. When I went to uni there wasn't really a computing dept but as I was doing Electrical And Electrical Engineering there were many things that could be made so much more easy with a bit of computing. When I got into micro chip design the things a computer could do to improve ones life were endless.

My eldest child (11) is very bright and has access to several PC's and has looked at programming but tends to go 'why' which is presumably why I should never teach.. However she's into music and I've just plugged my Electric guitar into the pc and using the Alsa Modular Synth she now wants to learn all about the bits and pieces involved - its a lot more fun than making a cat go round in circles and meowing!

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Re: "pointless subject like French"

Music and programming (and pure mathematics) have far more in common than people who aren't at all musical can ever realize. I've never known a university maths department that doesn't have some truly gifted amateur musicians, and a random collection of upper-quartile programmers won't be far behind. Something like they employ the same parts of our brains to ends that are superficially very different, and deep down not at all so.

I've occasionally thought that a musical score is the machine-code, and learning to perform that music amounts to reverse-compiling it inside one's head, until one has ascended back to the high-level abstractions more like those that the composer started from inside his head.

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Kids not programming? Here's why...

No QBasic and Gorillas.bas in modern versions of Windows. I remember hours of fun mucking about with it in the school's IT lab (I didn't get out much in those days).

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: Kids not programming? Here's why...

Yep, I agree there.

I seem to recall in the days of DOS, there was GW-Basic or QBasic interpreters sitting right there in the command directory, just waiting to be played with.

Then with the advent of Windows, they disappeared. Someone at Microsoft obviously thought Solitaire and Minesweeper would be more useful.

The goal of the Raspberry Pi is laudable but I don’t think it will achieve its stated aim of creating a new generation of coders. I think that aim would be better served if Microsoft resumed the inclusion of a version of Basic with Windows – something simple but genuinely useful for introductory programming.

It could be called EasyBasic or FunBasic – with a limited but easy to use command set – just enough to whet the appetites of budding young coders. Make it a compiler and kids would be able to create and share their own tools and games.

I use PowerBasic at work and it’s a joy to use – I’d like to see something similar (like the simpler ‘console’ version) in Windows as standard.

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Re: Kids not programming? Here's why...

Could not agree more. I think AutoIT (which is foolishly named due to its growth as a genral scripting language) is criminally overlooked. It is exactly what you suggest. It is a tiny download, self contained, compilable, GUI rich, BASIC syntax scripting language.

And it just works. Msgbox(0,0,"Hello World!"). Right click > Compile. It is a modern version of BASIC in a tin, with just a tiny download and a single executable to get started on.

Will they write something utterly amazing with it? Probably not. Will they become interested just as we were with the power, and then -crucially- the limitations of BASIC? Yes. And that's when the lightbulb moment will happen.

Get a uber uber simple GUI BASIC scripting language into Windows Stat !

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Re: Kids not programming? Here's why...

Once again: Python is a free download, works the same on Windows or Linux or an RPi. So it's not availability of a simple interpreted language at fault (one FAR better structured than BASIC!).

Either the kids don't want to drink, or there are no teachers to lead them to the water.

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Re: Kids not programming? Here's why...

While Python has much to recommend it, I am less than impressed by its insistence on flow control by white space, and its bizarre abilities to change types on the fly, e.g. returning more than one type from a routine.

It strikes me as difficult to prove e.g. a numerical analysis is correct if there are hidden type conversions going on.

caveat: I'm still learning Python. Perhaps there is stuff I haven't come across yet.

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Meh

Re: Kids not programming? Here's why...

But the issue here is how many kids, when presented with their first Windows laptop, are going to say to themselves “Ooh, now I’m going to connect to the internet, download a language I haven’t even heard of, and start programming!” Not many I’d wager. That’s the situation as it now stands, anyway.

On the other hand, if they see a shortcut to ‘FunBasic’ in the Programs folder (on even better, slap-bang on the desktop), they’re much more likely to try it and become interested, without any further prompting or hunting around on their part.

That was the beauty of the 8-bit machines – the programming environment was there, right in your face, as soon as you switched the machine on. If we could get back as close as possible to that situation – with a programming environment just a double-click away after booting into Windows, surely that would be better than the current situation.

So Mr Gates, you’re still Chairman of Microsoft and you must have a soft spot for Basic – after all Altair Basic on paper tape was where it all started for Microsoft – make it happen why don’t you!

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PCW programs

Those listings... OMG typing pages of code into a TRS-80 and trying to work out why they didn't work. My first intro to debugging someone else's code, aka "software maintenance", a bread and butter software job..

I think we're missing the point that most SW dev work is going abroad and won't come back, as it costs too much here, apparently. Maybe in ten years time offshore costs will have peaked and it will suddenly become economic to do back here... which I guess is why the sudden push for training the kids now.

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Exception Error: Invalid Title

Not sure where you're going with the article itself, seems like a rose tinted trip down memory lane to me ;)

Should programming be taught a bit more in schools? maybe. Should ICT in schools focus more on computer science (as the curriculum changes suggest)? No, we need to be offering a more balanced ICT curriculum that includes programming.

But, to the point of my comment - I take exception to the title. Kids today, or those that really want to, have a far greater than zero chance of becomming programmers.

Here's a story.

A kid grows up playing computer games. He likes games a lot and wouldn't mind making his own one day. He starts making Youtube videos of reviews with his friends. He becomes the techie kid whose job it is to add captions, edit and convert formats. His friends start asking him his advise, he likes that. He starts reading around the web and finding out more about this thing called programming. He discovers MS DOS and writes a basic adventure game in DOS script. He then discovers Visual Basic and writes a (very impressive) fully working Web Browser.

Now, that kid is 13. He's my nephew. He's got a long way to go. I know he hasn't actually done any real programming yet (the web browser was all visual design with minor code editing). But he's showing interest and promise. He wants to do this, and can really make it. I encourage him, as should everyone else. It's unfair to say he has zero chance in this industry.

This half term his school is teaching him Scratch. A nice little language for making simple games. It should help him understand a bit more how the coding actually works. From there I can gently point him in the direction of more advance material like Greenfoot or Pygame.

The fact is, the same starting point. The same route to entry is still alive and well, in the same way it was with 8bit computers built in BASIC interpretors and high schools that only had computers for word processing. We just need to encourage those who show an interest/aptitude.

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Headmaster

and, for the more adventurous, machine code.

Nah, machine code - with a system architecture that is both documented and can be understood by a teenager (unlike most of today's SoCs), the hardcore geeks ditched BASIC as soon as the advantages of assembler became apparent.

...it ran faster than anything else, the entire machine was your playground, and you could form an easy (not so) secret society because ordinary nerds couldn't understand any of it (so your code was generally not messed with).

Teacher icon, 'cos they didn't have a clue.

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Anonymous Coward

"given that the PDP-10 at Hatfield Poly cost about the same" as a Harrier?

Much the same as the PDP-11 used to read the FDR and connected to a wet print plotter, so when you cooked the engine flying your Harrier or pulled to many Gs whilst you were dreaming of being Tom Cruise, the Snr ENG Officer could wave the printout at you after you got back to earth, whilst tearing you a new one.

Ah, the wonders of EMACS.

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WTF?

Bishop’s Stortford Boys High

Wow I must have been wrong about the Boys High, having been to the primary school sort of in the middle of the Boys High (Thorley hill). I always saw things like students being thrown from windows, fights and thought all they cared about was sport, which made me stay well away from it when choosing a highschool.

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I did my CS O-Level at the local FE college

Because it had teletype with a line to some OU computer somewhere and the grammar school I went to didn't.

After about a term, someone at the FE college saw the bill for the line and worked out that buying the then new 380Z would be much cheaper.

It had proper 8" discs, not the wimpy 5 1/4" ones in the picture, and by putting one in the wrong way, I broke it...

Ah, happy days. It was fixed in a week or two. I still have good memories of the keyboard - a mechanical one you could really bash.

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Re: I did my CS O-Level at the local FE college

I have a box of Dysan 8" floppies next to me.

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Anonymous Coward

Tablets and app stores are the final nail in the coffin.

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Clicked link, saw a big picture of a Research Machines 380Z — and it made be grin like a mad thing. One of those was the first type of machine I ever used. I remember paying my own hard-earned (paper round) money for my own 5.25 inch disk to store my own work, and (eventually) I wrote a sort-of-space-invaders game that had one (one!) invader that died when the one (one!) bullet hit it. I named that game after the 'fire exit' sign that had letters missing in the corridor outside. Ah, nostalgia...

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The current ICT syllabus

is designed on the basis of inclusiveness, dumbed down so that any child can learn it and so that ICT can be taught by someone with no qualification in the subject.

that line is inaccurate, it is designed to be taught by someone with no KNOWLEDGE of the subject.

I am an ICT technician in a school for 13-18 year olds, and my workspace is a bench in the main computer room year 9 ICT is taken by whoever has gaps in there timetables and is heavily supported by technicians because the teachers assigned (despite having step by step instructions) generally do not have a clue how to teach it.

for GCSE and A level IT we have a maths teacher, a textiles teacher and a PE teacher taking it, to be fair the Maths teacher and textiles teacher are compitant (and have been teaching ICT for more than a decade) but the PE teacher has no interest and works from lesson plans prepared by another teacher

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Anonymous Coward

Offshore...

Who in the world would encourage their children to do any job that can be so easily offshored? And by easily I don't mean well -- it will be given sent to some numpty fuckwit from a mcuniversity (mentioning no names but there's a well-known country with 1bn people and not a single university in the world top 200) to be written in worse code than we wrote when we were 14. However, the MBA tossers in charge will think that this is cost effective so it will happen anyway.

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Spot On

My first machine was an Apple II+ with floppy drives, and the school had TRS-80's with cassette drives for storage. I remember thinking why don't they just use a floppy drive. I did the banging out code in basic, and eventually learned Pascal. I had some horrible programming classes in college trying to do Assembler on a mainframe emulating a PDP-11. I think the macros to just get the code working were 90% of the code I was writing, and seemed to always be part of the problem. I moved away from programming for a while, and then recently tried to revisit it for a client. We have been backed into a corner with out dated technology and 7 year old hardware. The custom designed platform will not run on the newer OS's, and the budget is not there to redesign everything from scratch. I have bridged the gap from one failing server with visualization, but recreating the environment was a nightmare as nothing was documented (of course). It became a course in what is this app, do we still need it, does anyone know where the installer is. No - ok - let's see if we can get the installer since we have the key - oh - they don't support that version anymore - we have to pay for the upgrade - what did that break. Ok - now that's work - next. This si all in a Windows Server 2003 R2 Terminal Server Environment with dumb terminals. Half of the applications have to run as Administrator to work correctly. You can imagine the headaches.

So we discussed the situation further and I decided they needed to have the custom system translated into something web based that could be run on any platform. But we of course need this done ASAP. So I have been exploring platforms and programming environments. Even with formal experience it gets over whelming trying to pick a platform and learn the languages needed to accomplish everything. I have been exploring Linux which has its own learning curve. I have been doing my best to make sure I am setting up a secure environment learning how to maintain the systems, managing the database, etc. This is monumental in itself. Current documentation and textbooks seem to be the biggest problem. Just the changes in Apache server were dizzying. You buy a book on security only to find out that it no longer applies. You follow forum threads to find appalling solutions. For example, I setup a WordPress server for a client and the install these and upgrade were not working. traced it down to the wp-content/upgrade folder. It was a rights issue. Followed the accepted forum solution - make the folder 777. REALLY? And everyone is chiming in that worked for them - great solution. Even as a new Linux Admin I knew better than this. I finally worked on it with a friend and we sorted it out on a test box, now we just have to go back and figure out what we did. Just hours spent reading to find solutions that should be in the 5 minute setup.

The programming languages are just as dizzying. MySQL or MariaDB, PHP, JavaScript, HTML 5, CSS, layout and design - etc. It is crazy all the pieces you need to put together to get things to work properly. My bookshelves have filled over the last couple of months. It can be really frustrating. Fortunately I have some of the concepts down, so it is going fairly quickly. I am revisiting my procedural programming background, and I am working on changing it over to O-O thinking. I guess if you just start out with O-O in JavaScript it is not so bad. Although some of the training courses I am doing online assume you have a procedural background to begin your O-O course. The point is that as you said, starting programming is an overwhelming task.

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Z80 vs 6502?

Well the 6502 wins of course... My Beeb still works... How's your dead-flesh keyboard toy? :-p

Curiously enough I recently corrected an implementation of Bresenham’s algorithm, it was on an ATmega chip, which has comparable storage and grunt to the 80's home computers, although the monochrome 128x80 pixel LCD panel is slightly below the resolution of the Spectrum.

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