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Please don’t learn to use a screwdriver

May 17, 2012

Let’s face it, things have gotten out of control. There really should be no need for everyone to learn how to use a screwdriver. Most of our PC’s come pre-assembled, and the ones that don’t should only be assembled by people who know what they are doing. From my experience, people using screwdrivers can only contribute more overtightened screws in the world, or poor usage of screws. If my drawer breaks I’m not going to try and fix it myself; I have no idea how drawers works and I should leave the job up to someone who knows what they are doing.

An example, let’s do some reductio ad ridiculum on this.
“If we don’t learn to screw we risk being screwed ourself. Screw or be screwed.” – Douglas Rushkoff

Parody aside, do I believe programming is a life skill everyone should be exposed to? Yes, definitively. Should we all be programmers? Probably not. I think Jeff makes some good points, but I feel his analogy is off. I also think his conclusion is elitist, and personally I support meritocracy over elitism. Let’s employ the programmers who prove themselves. Let’s use the good code, but but also let’s give everyone the tools to identify good code. Let’s give everyone the chance to prove they are good coders. But most of all, let’s help people learn how to solve problems–just like Jeff says in his article. The key point I differ on is I support people learning to code in order to strengthen and supplement their problem solving skills.

How do we solve problems if we don’t learn how to use the tools? What’s wrong with coding your own solutions for your own problems? Even if it’s ugly code, it works for you and that’s all it needs to do. How many of you can honestly say your custom shell scripts are programming gems? (Mine sure aren’t) Do you want to argue that they solved problems that other people are more qualified to solve and we should leave the job up to them?

I also find Jeff’s article aggravating because I see it as further justification of an attitude I despise–especially in my co-workers. They only use software that does everything for them, and if it doesn’t do what they want, they complain: “why didn’t they just make it do XYZ?” “why didn’t they do it this way instead of that way?” “Oh! I’m going to pay hundreds of dollars for this software because it will normalize my graphs for me!” If only they realized that with the proper tools, they could fix it them-damned-selves. They don’t need to be master programmers to normalize a set of graphs; they just need to make a stupid formula (and being chemistry grad students, they damned better know how to mathematically normalize something). Perhaps with some knowledge of variables and assignment, they could make a macro they can apply to data sets, or something! Instead of whining and waiting for the next black box to descend from the higher-ups, they could do it themselves.

From → IMO

  1. jwhendy permalink

    You open by saying we should stop advocating that everyone learn to use a screwdriver (you, yourself, saying that you wouldn’t fix a drawer if it broke), but then you end by saying that chemistry grad students deserve some chiding for complaining that their graphing programs don’t do what they want and could learn to do it themselves.

    I think the closing embodies your actual stance, so I’m thinking I missed some sarcasm in the opening?

    As both a computer-er and craft-er, I’d advocate for both :) If one is inclined and has the time/aptitude… why not let people give programming *and* screwdrivering a whirl? If we dissuade everyone from picking up something new because we’ve deemed it unnecessary… we’ll never uncover the next amazing craftsman or programmers!

    • Yes, the opening is a big heaping helpful of sarcasm (when will they implement a “sarcasm” tag?). Consider “Parody aside,” as the end of the sarcasm.

      Very soon after I posted this, Scott Hanselman posted a MUCH better response that has a much better point to it ( I actually almost deleted this post after I read his (mine was much more fueled by frustration with coworkers if you cannot tell ;]), but decided to abide by the “I put it up, let me be judged for it” rule I try to apply to myself.

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