Sunday, September 23, 2007

The problem with "I'll just wait until school to learn to program"

[This was originally posted at]

I often run across young people who are interested in computers and programming. When I ask why they don't try to learn to program, many of them shrug it off as "I'll just wait until I take the programming class at school". If you're actually interested in programming, this is a very, very, bad idea. Here's why:

  1. It encourages you to become reactive, i.e. "I'll wait for someone to show me before I proactively learn it for myself". With how fast technology moves, and the need to constantly solve new problems, you can't afford a reactive mindset.

  2. Classes normally only cover established (i.e. older) technology

  3. Classes normally provide a bunch of extra theory that you may not need in the real world.

  4. There is just so much that a class won't teach you - Classes have a predefined curriculum, and often discourage you from exploring an interesting topic in more depth (most classes eventually become about getting a good grade on the tests, and if a topic isn't on the test, why "waste" your time studying it, at the expense of another topic that will be on the test.

  5. The good programmers will already be looking at the technology that isn't covered by classes. So if you wait for classes, and then only cover what's in classes, you'll always be behind the good programmers.

  6. Lack of emotional investment - you'll always be more interested in your own pet projects than some arbitrary school assignment. Practically, you'll learn and remember something far better if you have an emotional investment in it. Therefore you'll probably better understand the concepts if you apply them to your own pet projects.

For an aspiring developer, waiting to learn programming until you take it in school is like an aspiring athlete saying "I love basketball, but I'll wait to start playing once they show us how in gym class". Of course it's silly. Especially now with the internet, and free development tools, there's just no reason for a young, aspiring developer to sit-around for the schools to show them how to program.

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