‘Year of Code’ is as sure a sign as any that something has been hyped into hubris. Last night, on Newsnight, the Director of ‘Year of Code’, Lottie Dexter, car crashed in a Paxman interview. He knows a fool when he hears one and couldn’t believe the rubbish she was spouting. For Paxman, it was like pulling the plug on a shortcircuited robot that had started to spit out gibberish. She was the perfect example of that age-old coding adage GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. Paxman begins to smell a rat and rips her apart. Watch this from 5.36 in. I’ll use direct quotes (Lottisms) to explain the hubris:
"You can do very little in less time”
This was one of Lottie’s wonderfully confused pieces of advice. Forget the fact that she can’t code, she can’t talk. The one thing I do know about coding is that is needs a crisp, rational mind with some grasp of logic. Poor Lottie can barely express herself in English, never mind code.
“I can’t code… I don’t know how to code”
You could say, well she can learn, but the fact that someone has made no effort to learn how to code at all is an admission up there with Paul Flowers performance in the Select Committee, where he clearly had no idea about finance and how a bank actually works. This is the new age – where, as George Orwell said, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
"It doesn’t mean anything to you or me”
Forget the fact that experience and a modicum of knowledge on a subject should be pre-requisite for heading up an initiative on that one subject alone, to admit that ‘it doesn’t mean anything to me’ is an astounding admission of pure ignorance. You’re heading up and organization and initiative that means nothing to you? This says it all – nepotism and political favours rule over merit and skills.
“3rs and a C”
Coding is NOT equivalent to reading, writing and numeracy. It is not a basic skill in the sense of an activity that one uses in everyday life. It’s esoteric, difficult and it’s a minority who can master it well enough to create truly meaningful output. She also made the schoolgirl error of equating code with natural language. This is wrong-headed. There is no such thing as ‘code’ in this sense. Code is an ARTIFICAL construct, deliberately written and can mean a whole range of things from simple markup languages to those that conform to quite esoteric theories of computation. It is not, like language, something that comes naturally.
“Every pupil from age of 5 will learn how to code”
This is typical of someone who has read nothing and knows nothing about early years learning. Meaningful coding requires computational thinking and a grasp of maths and logic. Far from shoving this down the throat of 5 year olds, we should be leaving this until they are ready to cope, otherwise it will be an exercise in counter productive education, where more are ‘turned off than on’ by the experience. It’s fine to have coding taught in schools but not a core subject. If you want coders, train them intensively in relevant coding languages as and when they leave school, college or university. It can and is done well. This means that they will be taught language that lead to relevant jobs and can start relevant businesses, rather than learning something that is likely to be gone by the time they hit the workplace. Also, I’m not at all convinced that we have enough teachers with the coding and relevant teaching ability in our schools.
"You can pick it up in a day – teachers can pick it up in a day”
Oh yeah? Right dottie Lottie, we’ll give you a day and see how you get on. Do you have any idea what you’re talking about? What she meant was that you can get started ‘in a day’ but that’s true of anything and everything and an almost meaningless statement. It’s trite and I think I know the reason why. Her job was ‘Communications Manager’ for a Think Tank. Not the CEO, not anything even remotely senior or technical, but a PR person. She thinks in soundbites and spits them out like hoary old bits of snot.
“Who knows I might be the next Zuckerberg”
Let me tell you Lottie, you will never be the next Zuckerberg. You’re a posh girl, who got a PR job (sorry Communications Manager) in a Tory thinktank. You’re unskilled in IT (you admitted it twice), no business experience and no credentials or credibility for your role.
“It’s a leveller”
The idea that it is a ‘great leveller’ is an illusion. When the Telegraph was invented there was a push to teach everyone morse code. This turned out to be a huge waste of time, as the vast majority of people simply needed to write English that was transcribed by a relatively few number of Telegraph operators. There is demand for code and coders but ultimately most of that demand is soaked up by existing supply and/or cheap programming labour in emerging economies.
I ran a large company and hired dozens and dozens of coders over the years but, like any specialist group they were only a subset of a wide range of people I hired, including sales, marketing, finance, project management, graphics, writers, designers, audio engineers, testers. I don’t see a ‘Year of Sales’ being touted, despite the fact that this has long been the real Achille’s Heel in UK business. I’ve recently invested in a company which has a high-end coding team that is as good as anything you can find in the UK but a hell of a lot cheaper, in India. It’s complex, algorithmic software has been rated world class by the gates Foundation and almost all of its work is in the US, bringing in valuable foreign earnings. There’s no way we could have got this work done at that price in the UK. Code is not the future, a potent fuel mixture of skills is the future and coding plays only a small role in all of this.
“It’s the future”
Coding sound contemporary, all high-tech and entrepreneurial. Politicians and armchair advisors adore the idea that there’s a secret, superior form of expression that unlocks the world and will solve the intractable problems of declining economies and unemployment. Politicians love ‘silver bullet’ solutions. ‘Year of Code’ is easy rhetoric and gives the illusion of a cure for all ills. But it’s a snakeoil solution, all massive promise with little efficacy.
Lottie was the Communications Manager at a think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith, the Centre for Social Justice. Just last month he gave a speech there defending the ‘compassionate conservative’ bedroom tax. Forget the evidence that the IT system failed and £40 million had to be written off (so much for their knowledge of coding). The idea that that people have been moved to smaller council houses, freeing up space for larger families, ignores the fact that, small houses don’t exist. Sadly, over half of those poor people (32,432 people), fell into rent arrears between April (when the policy was introduced) and June, a quarter of those for the first time ever. These people are mad, bad and above all, downright dangerous.
Coding is seen as the new Latin by the posh boys - a rather stupid obsession where politicians and PR people, none of whom can code, latch on to 'reports' written by people who have no business sense or worse, a regressive agenda. Even worse, it’s not even as potent as Latin, which in its day was a widely used language of reading and writing. It was the very opposite of code - there are thousands of coding languages but the whole efficacy of Latin was that that it was ONE language. These people are not the future, they want to drag us into the past.