LITTLE HACKERS

Why Learning To Code Is The Wrong Goal

Brandon Tory Thorpe
brandon@formless.la
FORMLESS, INC
2021-01-07

Contents

1. Roadmaps in STEM
2. Coding Is Not a Goal
3. Engineering Without Computers
4. AR as a Feedback Loop

Roadmaps in STEM

Many parents equate STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with financial freedom for their children which in my opinion is good. But what is STEM? What I’ve increasingly found parents asking, even ones who already have their kids in coding programs at a young age, is what is the difference between learning to code and having a roadmap for a successful career in STEM?One key differentiator is technical leadership. In many cases, kids already have some form of natural technical leadership ability. When my son comes to me and says “I’d like to build Fortnite but with some stuff from Minecraft”, the engineer in me says do you have any idea how difficult it will be for you to reverse engineer and then recombine those two games at 7 years old? But I stop myself and remember: he’s identified an immensely technically challenging goal. My job is to support that goal. What is STEM? STEM is a tool to accomplish it. A large part of technical leadership is about self-identifying goals.

Coding Is Not a Goal

I’ve participated in Hour of Code as a mentor with teens and kids using Visual Based coding. I’ve been the recipient of various robots, gamified coding projects and “learn to code by building your own game” books for my son. I’ve realized that in the race to bridge the technical divide, we (members of underserved and/or non-technical communities) have lost sight of the end game. The key insight that we need to recognize is this:Learning to code is not a quantifiable goal.It took me years of being an engineer to be able to express this. This is why engineers may get (secretly) frustrated when people ask how quickly they can learn to code by going to a boot camp. It’s impossible to answer. Yes, you can learn a new language in a few weeks, but what does that even mean?It is a popular myth that an engineer (or anyone for that matter) knows how to code. It is a myth because around the world senior engineers spend their days continuing to learn how to code — better. Coding is only a means to a larger end.

Augmented Reality as a Feedback Loop