Exceptionally Dull Weirdos

The article I'm responding to can be read on the Daily Telegraph blog at this address:

The Government wants to teach all children how to code. Here's why it's a stupid idea.

Foxton addresses some very important issues in this blog post but unfortunately he spectacularly undermines himself by exposing a combination of deep and unfounded prejudice with amazing ignorance of computer programming.

He starts out badly by describing most computer programmers as "exceptionally dull weirdos". In itself this sentence is deeply insulting to those who choose to make their career in software development. 

For the record, Mr Foxton, I am a computer programmer who also runs his own business without the need of a "charming ideas guy". What's more, I am not unique. There are many thousands of small software development companies being run quite successfully by the "weirdo tech geniuses" and we're not just sitting in dark rooms muttering to ourselves.
We're "out there" every day creating software for businesses and making a positive contribution to our economy, not running it down like Foxton and his ilk. That's why I feel compelled to write this.

If, as Mr Foxton states, most programmers are exceptionally dull and weird then surely we can simply revert to stereotypes and describe all journalists as drunkard ignoramuses who never let facts get in the way of a good story. In the case of this blog post, Mr Foxton obviously had one two many sherries before putting pen to paper (I assume he used pen and paper and didn't lower himself to use any of the technolgies created by the weird brigade ).

Putting aside the obvious injustice of ascribing the same characteristic to an entire profession, Foxton's more serious crime here is that he propagates an inaccurate myth; that of the weirdo as computer programmer.

This country needs children with modern skills and perpetuating this myth about software developers just continues to put off some of the most able and talented from taking programming up as a profession. Worse still there are many people working hard* to encourage children into programming and especially girls, who are woefully under represented in the trade. Foxton's idiotic musings are actually damaging as he uses the authoritative platform of a national newspaper to propagate his nonsense.

He addresses the very real problem of a shortage of IT skills and the poor quality of ICT teaching in our country. Two issues I would agree with him on except that he really doesn't understand what writing computer code entails. Foxton sees it as a niche mechanical skill more akin to plumbing or car mechanics. Well, plumbing and car mechanics are essential skills and not to be demeaned however writing code does not equate to "fixing things" and this misunderstanding by Foxton shows where his real ignorance lies.

His understanding of writing software is no better than the "runts of the teaching litter" whom he blames for making ICT "pointless".

He describes the teaching unions as "lazy and feckless" for going on strike. Well, the only lazy, feckless person I see is Foxton himself. Rights and wrongs of the teacher's strike aside, we need to be teaching children some real IT skills, including coding which is at the heart of most of the gadgets we use today.

In order to do this we need to support our teachers, not use lazy stereotypes against them as well. We need to be making a positive contribution in order to get the ICT curriculum changed into something useful, creative and exciting.

We do NOT need to be telling children, and teachers for that matter, that if you develop software you are, in effect, a weird and socially dysfunctional oddball and that writing code is just some lowly mechanical process.

I hope no one listens to the runts of the journalistic profession like Foxton who's facade of authority and knowledge hide deep prejudice, ignorance and a poor grasp of the subject they write about.

Coding is many things, it is problem solving, it is creative, it involves understanding complex problems and requires, in many cases, a deep understanding of business processes and the people who use them.

It is not simply changing a U bend, Mr Foxton. And, if you think it is, then do not set foot on an aircraft ever again or attempt to use a bank machine because your life and your finances are in the hands of the Exceptionally Dull Weirdos.

You should also read the Code Club response to the Telegraph blog.

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