President Obama pledges $4 billion for computer science education in schools

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Good work Mr. President!

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If these computers could just be taught to carry an umbrella when it rains and put away their cell phones when they are trying to walk our cities would be a safer place,


You know, I think the current push for STEM education and teaching coding in kindergarten, though it might have the best intentions, is pretty misguided. Teach them to think critically, and reason quantitatively. Teach them how the scientific method works, and how to learn from experiments. Anyone who has that has a foundation for learning whatever they want to, and if they have the inclination, they can teach themselves to code. If they don’t have the inclination, they’re not likely to be much good at it anyway.

Contrariwise, nobody with out those basic skills is likely to be that great a coder, and our schools are doing an abysmal job of teaching those basic skills. I’m not saying that scripting could not profitably be introduced as part of lab work teaching quantitative and empirical thinking, but making it the focus is putting the cart before the horse.

This SMBC strip encapsulates this kind of misguided hyper-focus better than anything else I’ve seen:


Machinists are writing computer programs

I saw a place that made kitchen worktops, and they had a big CNC machine which could have done all their manufacturing (and a lot more), but they didn’t use it for that. They cut and routed and jointed and finished everything manually, and only used the CNC machine to make holes for sinks, because no one there knew how to program the machine; all they could do was run the script to make predefined sink cut-outs.

But programming CNC machines is the most basic kind of programming there is. Anyone who finished tenth grade could cope with that level of programming, if it were taught on par with history or Spanish, and this business wouldn’t be leaving who-knows-how-much money on the table if that were the norm. I’m pretty certain this isn’t an unusual situation, either. There are probably thousands and thousands of businesses in the US that barely use the capabilities of their looms / sewing machines / printing presses / lathes / whatever.

I agree that there’s no point teaching people about closures or single static assignment if they don’t want to be software developers already. But a basic understanding of talking to machines would really pay off in a lot of industries, and that’ll only become more true.


“Today’s auto mechanics aren’t just sliding under cars to change the
oil; they’re working on machines that run on as many as 100 million
lines of code. That’s 100 times more than the Space Shuttle.”

And that’s more than enough code to make a user interface which is readily comprehensible by the average auto mechanic without any knowledge of computer science. Perhaps what is needed is more education of computer system developers on how to interface with humans.


No amount of user interface will help when the user has no idea about the concepts that the interface refers to.


I knew he was rich, but I am surprised to hear he has $4 billion to give away.


This is great if you believe our educational system’s primary purpose is to create productive members of the economy.

I think this is a good thing, but I’m a little concerned that we’re just in this pell-mell rush to all be computer programmers and abandon the trades and abandon manufacturing. When the furniture factories here in NC all closed down, I read about a group of upholsterers who were retraining as network administrators so that they could go work at the fancy new Google data center. That didn’t pan out for them.

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Oh, goody. More STEM education. Well, we needed something to do in those gutted band and art rooms, anyway! Thank you Mr. Obama, for ensuring we’ll have a steady supply of young workers to program the next generation of drones and missile guidance systems!


Got a link? Sounds like an interesting read.

The cynic in me assumes $3.2 billion will go to shadowy, scammy, for-profit “tech school” training, and $.79 billion will go to the kids who already have a decent education, leaving a small amount of money to be split amongst the neediest of schools.

He’d be better off spending that money to personally buy every student in America a book or two.


Good example you cite. And you know that the machinist who IS able to program the CNC machine, even at a basic level, will get hired and promoted.

I work at a big financial institution that pays well, and for the past year or so I’ve cornered the newly-hired mathematicians at our company and grilled them about their job. I’ve had about 6-8 conversations that roughly all went like this:
Me: “So what skills do you use for this job?”

Math person: “Oh, I use my math skills to run the models, but also have to do some coding. Nothing major.”

“Where did you learn to code? Was it part of the curriculum at school?”

“We had a semester or two, but it was very minimal.”

“So how did you learn how to code?”

“I’m basically self-taught.”

“So would you say that knowing how to code was essential to getting a job here?”

“Well of course.”

“What are all your math-major classmates who didn’t learn to program doing now?”

“Dunno. Not working here.”

I really think that learning to do some basic coding will be an essential and indispensable skill to pretty much all knowledge workers 10-20 years from now, and the earlier we can get on that the better.


Obama seems to be implying tomorrow’s auto mechanics are going to need degrees in computer science, which is hogwash. My mechanic can run diagnostics on my car - but do you think he can debug it? Hell no - that’s a felony these days.

You know what my mechanic needs? Health care and a living wage. Also, a computer interface that makes sense - but I dunno if the President can make that one happen.


While the above statement maybe true, it is also irrelevant. Only the interfaces which the manufacturer chooses to reveal matter as long as DMCA restrictions remain in place.



I’d have a hard time coming up with replicables

The job you describe is “interface designer”, and they already exist. Personally, I hate working on user interfaces, but there are libraries if premade components which make it a lot easier to just throw something together and then A/B test until complaints die down.

One of our interview weapons is “Have you ever lifted the lid on a toilet tank to see what is in there?” Kinda a simpler version of the clock.


I’m having trouble with the idea that there’s anyone out there who has gone their whole life and never had a toilet malfunction in such a way that it was necessary to open up the back and jiggle things around until it flushed.


Ever been to Japan?

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