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Why I passionately believe in the Year of Code

This has been a hard blog to write, because there are many who could say that I would naturally support this idea because I’m a self-promotional little networker who formerly worked with Rohan and has grand delusions of running a free school. And you know what, it would be a very cynical view, but it would be very, very English to be so dismissive.

Instead, and buoyed with optimism from a recent trip to Gdansk where I visited their nascent startup scene, I’d like to explain to you why I’m going to defend and join in with this idea.

I had wanted to quote from some other’s blogs but sadly, I found the reading of them fell in to either two camps, one seemed to be a thinly veiled conspiracy theory, and the other histrionic.

Update: @stef has written a great post on this.

Luckily, Jack Schofield has made a good stab at an attack so I can use his arguments to hopefully further my own, and maybe even change your minds.

Coding is a made up word.

So, let’s start with this idea that “coding” is meaningless, and or “Code” it’s a political buzzword.

Erm, no.

I’ve heard many of my developer friends use the word “coding”, or “let’s see the code”, or “We can code something up quickly on this”, you see this isn’t a buzzword used by politicos to seem cool, it is in fact a shorthand, an idiom that saves you saying “I am doing a combination of javascript, sinatra, ruby, and storing the rate limited twitter api in to solr so I can do geospatial searching to see if there’s anything interesting in it”.

Can you see why, as an initial first statement,  saying “I’m coding this weekend” is easier? We’re a pretty geeky bunch, by nature, so we’ve tried to soften up a bit so people talk us like regular people.

Learning HTML isn’t *real* programming.

Erm, I can see why people accuse the British of snobbishness with statements like this.

Potentially, knocking up a very simple text only page that has bolding, links and maybe even a image in it should be classified as Marking Up, for HTML is hypertext mark up language, however, there is a complex issue about where programming starts and stops,  in my view, if you have taken the time to effectively phrase instructions to a computer in a way that a computer understands then it’s a program.

It may not be a very complicated program, it may not be a program you can interact with, but the machine has converted something into something else based on your instructions. But this is a thorny debate amongst geeks.

However, what is useful, and LO, HERE IS THE POINT OF THE INITIATIVE, is to start educating people about the complexities of modern computing and technology.

I recently ran a one day coding workshop for some friends of mine, they are lovely people and they brought me biscuits, and to see the joy on their little faces as they started changing bit’s of HTML and CSS and getting the results they wanted, proved to me there is intrinsic value in helping people get over the “black box” mentality we have of approaching computer science as a educational concept.

You see teaching someone to write starts with the alphabet, then small words, before 18 years later we may start to learn Writing and Difference by Derrida, but, one tries not to mock those who are learning to read, unless perhaps we are 7 and jealous at the attention.

On having a tough a time on live TV with Jeremy Paxman interrupting you.

Yeah, doubt any of us would do much better there, oh and Lottie can’t code?

No, but she’s going to learn, and she’s going to talk about it, about what she’s learnt, and how it’s changed her thinking about technology, because that’s what happens when you LEARN something, this should be applauded, not derided.

She’s not writing the syllabus for schools, she’s managing partnerships, strategizing, messaging, marketing, promoting, urging, talking about, fundraising, championing, and in her spare time, learning.

But, no, off you trot to twitter and go and make someone you’ve never met feel bad, well done. Good work. ( As an aside, people of twitter do remember, that we read the things you write, and we take them to heart, because we like to listen, and sometimes you can be a right bunch of bastards.)

Long Term Impact

I was one of the lucky kids who was taught Basic, and I bloody loved it, and as the permanent marker draw on the linoleum floor of the school room and wrote BEN in 8″ tall letters controlled by a freaking robot, I was pretty much hooked, and have been since, and many of those I know we’re also. I mean lucky.

Lucky that someone bought them a computer to play around with, that could be taken apart, that could be broken and fixed before anyone found out.

Try doing that with a modern mac, or iPhone, tablet, television, or even a car engine these days?

You can’t they won’t let you, they made everything too small, too fragile, too sensitive, with proprietary screws and weird adapters, and then they void the warranty on you and charge for the privilege of “fiddling”, or tinkering as we used to call it.

It’s a Political Trojan Horse

Now of course, (but maybe) the NEOLIBERAL agenda here is to kill the welfare state by teaching people how the most used device in the world (which has had unparalleled levels of growth, complexity and global impact far outstripping any previous technology) actually works so that we may have a more skilled workforce, that earns more so the government can go retire having outsourced society to the corporates.

Alternatively, you could look at the diverse political viewpoints held by the team, and conclude, that actually, there’s no politics here in any way apart from in your own strange mind.

People doing things for other people for no other reason that it’s the right thing to do. I know, so terribly un-British of us.

They don’t know what they’re doing

It’s an initiative to support, celebrate and encourage those WHO do, like Code Club, Kano, Codeacdemy and industry leaders and thinkers, and hopefully MORE people, and more partners, but this is nascent, and needs to assisted by those who can add value, who can augment the existing skills to make this a success.

The Sad Reality

Most people have never learned, been taught or ever thought about how their computer works, or how the internet does what it does. That’s insane, given that everything is pretty much a computer now, should we not be lifting the kimono on this world for the benefit of all?

Or, if I am to be cynical and mean spirited, are you all too scared of realising, you don’t know as much you like to pretend, that actually coding isn’t that complicated anymore thanks to the internet being the platform of choice, and that you are desperately worried that your impostor syndrome may be real, and that you couldn’t code your way out of plastic bag without google as your second brain and the determined efforts of the open-source community?

I know that’s how I feel some days, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking everyone should know how to use a computer in a slightly more creative way than being a consumer.

A computer is not a TV with more buttons, it is, as someone once said, a bicycle for the mind, and right now 95% of the UK don’t know how to ride it.

Check your cynicism, your privilege, your fears, worries, and elitist approach to education of core skills and support this initiative, get behind it, and if you want to make a real difference, go a teach someone to code, hell teach a school to code, but don’t dare you sit there and claim this is a waste of time, because making a smarter, brighter Britain is never a waste of time, it’s our duty as a society, and it’s your duty to play your part, and create, not to criticise, but to help, to educate and to celebrate.

Give a day, give a tweet, and let’s start another conversation about Britain’s future with tech at its heart.

This post originally appeared on Benjamin Southworth’s blog Southworth Industries.