electronic brain surgery since 2001

Is Programming Teachable?

Today I came across an older article at Coding Horror called Separating Programming Sheep from Non-Programming Goats. It talks about some research that seems to show that people need a certain mindset to be able to understand programming and that without this mindset programming isn't teachable at all.

All teachers of programming find that their results display a 'double hump'. It is as if there are two populations: those who can [program], and those who cannot [program], each with its own independent bell curve. […]
In particular, most people can't learn to program: between 30% and 60% of every university computer science department's intake fail the first programming course.

After reading the article I was about to agree, because it somehow matches with hat I experienced at school and university. But then I thought “what creates that programmer's mindset?”. Nobody is born as a programmer. So I wondered how it happened that I became one.

I grew up in East Germany, so my first contacts with computers do probably differ from those others in my age made on the other side of the wall. Home electronics where extremely expensive and home computers simply didn't exist.

My first contact with computers was through West Germany television. In about 1986 (I was 7 then) a 13 episode documentary called “Wer hat Angst vorm kleinen Chip?”1) aired and I watched it together with my dad every weekend. It basically explained in layman's terms how computers worked and how they would change the future. I doubt that I did understand much of it, but I loved the show.

Of course I was still far from being able to access a computer my self. But I think it wasn't much later that my parents were starting to work with computers at their work. I still remember them talking about “Redabas”. “Redabas” was in fact a renamed copy of dBASE “obtained” by the GDR. Of course I didn't knew anything about it, but since it was a topic at the dinner table, computers where on my mind.

I also remember computers being a topic in children's magazines in the GDR. There was at least one Frösi issue with a DIY cardboard calculation machine. Unfortunately I don't have any of that stuff anymore.

I got my first computer book in 1988 (being 9 then). It was called “Der Sprung in die Computerwelt”2). I still have it. It was a reprint of a book that was first released in 1984 in West Germany.

This book really introduced me to very basics of how computers and programming work and even taught me a few lines of BASIC.

But I with the lack of access to a computer, I couldn't really do much with that knowledge. At least my mom once took me with her to work so I could try some of the BASIC example on her Robotron.

We got our first own PC in 1990 after Germany's reunification. But it then took quite a while til I really started to code things…

However I this brings me back to the initial article. I'm certainly in the “can program hump” – but not because I was born there, but because my parents made computers interesting to me in an early age and encouraged my curiosity.

I'd love to hear from you guys. Were computers part of your childhood? Did it help you with programming later on?

programming, education, children, history
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“Who is afraid of the little Chip?”
“The jump into the computer world”