Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Is it easier or harder these days for kids to get into software development?

I'm going to show my age for a second and post my first crotchety old man post. I first started learning how to program almost 30 years ago when I was six years old. I don't claim to have written anything interesting at that age, but it started me on a life long journey. Fortunately I had access to something that kids don't easily have access to these days, a built-in programming language for their computer.

When I was six my parents bought my brother and I a BBC B Microcomputer with a separate tape drive and a couple of games. I instantly fell in love with it and would play games for hours. This isn't to dissimilar to kids now but there was one thing that changed everything for me and that's boredom.

Even though I loved playing the games I had I got bored with loading them from tape. This was a long and error prone task, I'd often have to rewind and press play again and again to get a particular game to work. After a while I decided to see what else the machine could do, but the only thing I had was the built-in basic interpreter available on the command line. So I experimented and failed, but learnt a lot by trial and error.

These days most kids have the ease of loading games on demand and there's no lack of games available. You don't even need a computer anymore. Does this lead to a lack of inquisitiveness of what the underlying platform can do?

Yes there are plenty of kids who want to write computer games, but how many have the resources to do so? If you're coding on a Windows platform until a couple of years ago you'd have to fork out for a full version of Visual Studio. Fortunately there are free express editions of Visual Studio available and have been since 2005. How many kids know about this though? Should Microsoft bundle it with all version of their operating system?

There are other alternatives, free downloadable compilers or interpreters for various programming languages. Another option is to install Linux and use something like gcc or g++, but these options require fore-knowledge.

Anyway these are just some random observations I've made over the years and may not be valid anymore.

What do you think? Am I wrong?

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