Just One Thing

Unless you’ve really been hiding under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ll probably have noticed that there’s been a lot of focus on encouraging the wider population, and children in particular, to think about programming and computer science1 as a bigger, more central part of their lives. A whole host of initiatives have sprung up, like Mozilla Webmaker, Code Club, and CAS #include to further this cause.

After some back and forth with a friend, I’ve been given the opportunity to go in to a school to talk to a group of 15-year-olds about what it is I do every day, and why they might want to consider a future in IT too. So I’m going to open up the floor here, and invite you to make some suggestions. If you could pass on just one thing, what would you say if you had the chance?

  1. I’m increasingly disliking this term – our industry is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes!


I'd absolutely say that computer science lets you choose any problem in the world and gives you a chance to make something that can help to fix it.

You maybe can't cure world hunger, but you can build a game like Free Rice. You maybe can't stop flooding from wrecking towns, but you can build apps and websites that help people fundraise and rebuild. Maybe you can't meet people with your interests in your neighbourhood, but you can build ways to find those who do share those interests around the world.

What's more – the things you can build in Computer Sciences can grow into things beyond your imagining, as more and more people can get involved. So if at times it feels like a lonely art, remember that this practice has created the tools that have done more than any other thing to bring people together..

Just one thing? But there is so much I enjoy about it! I guess it would have to be the power of being able to use nothing but your imagination and a few hundred thousand lines of code to build amazing things which nobody will ever see or care about, or at best which will be thrown away in a few years' time. Or perhaps how you will grow to love the soul-crushing boredom that comes with having to write yet another implementation of a concept you've implemented a thousand times before, but which is just different enough that you can't reuse any of your old code. No! I know! It's how rewarding you will find it that the majority of people that you work with and for – and in fact anyone you ever meet – understand nothing about what you do, don't see how it could possibly take so long seeing as their nephew made a website in a weekend, and think that really you're lucky they're paying you at all, because they could do it in a week if they put their mind to it, which they wouldn't of course, because it's so terribly geeky and boring and they have better things to do.

You know, come to think about it, I could talk about this for hours – I really don't understand why Laura didn't invite me.

Tl;dr: the life of a programmer is coming up with novel solutions to interesting problems, while getting paid to do what you enjoy.

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