Recent news has been a revelation to me. I had always assumed that politicians were stupid, out of touch or corrupt – often a combination of these traits. So, the ridiculous activities that they engage in, which they call “governing the country” can usually be understood. However, the news that caught my attention suggests that there is someone in the UK government who does not exhibit these characteristics. Or, more likely, is corrupt in a subtle way that I have yet to figure out.
My excitement comes from hearing that ICT [Information and Communications Technology] will not continue to be taught in UK schools in its current form. Instead, the kids will have the opportunity to learn to program computers, not just use them …
When I was a kid, we did not have computers at school. They were big, expensive things that filled rooms. It was not until I went to university that I encountered them and was immediately interested. The result of that interest was a career in software. In those days, being able to program may not have been thought of as being “cool” [I have always assiduously avoided being cool], but it was considered to be a worthwhile skill.
Years later, when my own children went to school, I was pleased to see that they were well equipped with computers and they had courses in ICT. However, I was surprised to hear that these classes were considered to be boring and uninspiring. Then I discovered that they were just learning how to use computers – word processing, PowerPoint and suchlike. Although I can obviously see the need for some proficiency in these areas, I am sure that just a little insight into how computers actually work and how they are programmed might have sparked some interest in a few individuals, who might have wanted to pursue the subject further. Incidentally, children are not taught to type properly in the UK either – so a whole generation types as badly as I do.
The good news is that this is all set to change. The announcement last week is that the government have decided to beef up ICT classes to include exactly this kind of material. The hope is that this will inspire kids who have the right aptitude and Computer Science degree courses will once again be popular and, in due course, UK industry will benefit. There will be many debates, like which language should be taught. That does not really matter – it is programming principles that matter.
This has to be good for my world of embedded software, as getting good software engineers is a challenge. The timing could not be better. The widely publicized Raspberry Pi project is set to deliver easily programmable, ARM-based boards for $25 each very soon. Alternatively, the more well-established Arduino technology gives a number of opportunities for low cost embedded platforms that are ideal for learning.
Earlier in my career, I spent a lot of time presenting training classes for embedded software engineers. Maybe there is an opportunity for me. C classes anyone?