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Michael Bloomberg: You Can't Teach a Coal Miner To Code 581

theodp (442580) writes "Gigaom reports that while speaking at the Bloomberg Energy Summit on Wednesday, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he gives 'a lot of money to the Sierra Club' to help close dirty coal plants, but added that as a society we have to 'have some compassion to do it gently.' Subsidies to help displaced workers are one option, said Bloomberg, while retraining is another option. But, in a slight to the tech industry's sometimes out-of-touch nature with workers outside of Silicon Valley, he said retraining needs to be realistic, 'You're not going to teach a coal miner to code,' argued Bloomberg. 'Mark Zuckerberg says you teach them to code and everything will be great. I don't know how to break it to you... but no.'"
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Michael Bloomberg: You Can't Teach a Coal Miner To Code

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  • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @11:49AM (#46725931)

    if you are transitioning from one skill/job to, say, software, you'll probably be over 30, and maybe over 40.

    just tell me this: who would hire an aging programmer, just starting out, when you can more easily abuse immigrants and h1b's who are young and will work overtime for free and deny the value of a personal life?

    we have a major problem with companies not being socially responsible. they don't care that an aging population is being wholesale REJECTED by corporate america and worse than that, local US born and raised citizens are second class, now; with imported labor or outsourced labor being first class.

    an idea: give tax incentives or other incentives for companies that go out of their way to hire locals/americans and even bigger bonuses to companies that go out of their way to hire older (over 35, cough) people. not saying you punish those companies who don't; but you give them extra benefits so as to motivate them.

    companies only look out for their bottom line. they would sell their mother into slavery for a higher share price. the only way to keep a balance of social responsibility and prosperity is to give incentives, to guide better behavior.

    (I'm over 50, have been looking for work for a while now, and I'm getting nothing; no interviews and certainly no offers. I have a lot of experience and a good work ethic, but it does no one any good if the companies routinely dismiss anyone with more than 2 pages of resume experience, since they are seen as 'too expensive' to hire).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @11:50AM (#46725935)

    That's ridiculous. You can teach them, the issue here is that coding is not the only job out there and flooding the field with more coders doesn't spontaneously mean there's more coding that needs to be done or more people willing to pay.

    This is about that asshole from FB advocating for a policy that would drive down the wages of programmers by flooding the market. It has nothing at all to do with the ability of coal miners to be taught or anything else.

  • A Poem, by TFHF (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrollingForHostFiles ( 3613155 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @11:56AM (#46726027) Homepage Journal

    I'd rather write
    Host files at midnight
    Than pass my days
    Hacking at lignite


  • by slapyslapslap ( 995769 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @11:58AM (#46726057)
    Stop sending resumes with more than 2 pages of resume experience....Just send the last 3-4 jobs. Hardly anyone cares about anything older than 15 years anyway. Tailor your resume for the job you are applying for. Besides that, resumes that are too long make you look like you are either a job hopper or a bullshit artist, or both.
  • by ZeroPly ( 881915 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @12:08PM (#46726199)
    Additionally, this is a false dichotomy. A coal miner might not be interested in coding, or suited for it, but he might be great at putting engines into the new model Tesla. It's the TOTAL number of high-paying jobs that's important, and people tend to gravitate to what they like. I could never imagine working nine to five on an auto assembly line, but that's what people did 50 years ago at GM, for $20 an hour before the cheap labor conservatives came along and crapped in the punch bowl.

    Focus on the important things. Tie the H-1B visa allocation to unemployment, so that if unemployment is above say 6%, the visa quota goes to zero. Put the screws down on trade with China and India. There will be plenty of non-coding jobs for coal miners. We've tried "free trade" for the last thirty years, ask a 22 year old on their 500th resume submission how well that's worked out for us.
  • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @12:17PM (#46726321) Homepage Journal
    It seems like some of the less deep thinkers these days get confused by our societal value of equality.
    When the founding fathers said said "all men are created equal", they meant that the government should treat everybody the same out of general fairness.
    They didn't mean that Dr J and Albert Einstein have the same attributes.

    Anyhow, you most likely won't be successful retraining most coal miners to write code.
    But it's not much of a stretch for most coders, particularly brogrammers like Marky Z, to learn to shovel shit.
  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @02:06PM (#46727561)

    There's a big problem with this idea of everyone going into the service industry: not everyone is cut out for being a service worker, working with the general public, etc. Would you go to a spa and get a pedicure from a coal miner type of guy? Would you hire one as a personal shopper? With their personality, I wouldn't even want them doing home theater installation in my house, or serving me food in a restaurant.

    Service jobs are great for younger women with pleasant personalities, because everyone wants to be around them, male and female. Men like being around pretty women for obvious reasons, and women like being around them because they don't have to worry much about getting hit on by them or having them leer at them. There's a reason female waiters get better tips.

    Your typical male factory workers, construction workers, truck drivers, etc. are not at all suited for interpersonal service jobs. So what are we going to do with them?

  • Re:Right! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @02:16PM (#46727665)

    Then there's those of us who can code in an almost-trancelike state, but rarely get the opportunity because companies these days have all embraced the "open plan work environment" that the ADHD Under-30 crowd loves so much, and which makes it completely impossible to get into a proper mental state to do any serious coding because every time some person walks by our desk or has a loud conversation directly behind us we lose our concentration.

  • by swframe ( 646356 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @03:06PM (#46728219)
    I moved to a 3rd world country a year ago to look for ways to motivate people to learn to code. I thought it would be easier in a place where the benefits and needs are the greatest. It is much harder than I thought... I used to think the people just needed the funds to go to school, a patient personal tutor and/or extremely simple lessons (think computer game).

    One person (~12 years old, on school vacation) simply would not learn code. I mean, the person would not consider it for any reason. I noticed that the person can play flappy bird with a high score of 71. I justed wanted to see if a very well done game environment might motivate them. Out of curious, I asked the person to play the Ouya game, Clark, that involves solving puzzles. The person gave up after hitting a puzzle in which you have to position two blocks to prevent the robot from being killed by 2 lasers.

    In another case, I was able to convince the person (~27 year-old, college graduate) to take the javascript class at code academy but it didn't sink in. This person works at a restaurant where they make $10/day working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. I've explained to them that as software developer they can make in a year roughly what they would currently make in 30 years. I agreed to pay them to take a leave from work to learn javascript. After getting about a third of the way through the course, they still made mistakes that they should have learned in the first 5 lessons. (They couldn't remember where to put {}, (), commas, semicolons, function arguments, variable names, etc.) After 3 weeks, I decide to try a different approach. I showed them simple functions like max(number1,number2) or indexOf(array, value), etc. They could look at the solution as long as they liked. I explained it to them. The functions were only a few lines long. Then I hid the function and asked them to write it from scratch using a syntax aware IDE. If they got stuck they could look at the answer and I would explain where they were going wrong. It still took several attempts for them to write the function even when shown the answer. After that first day of the new approach, I thought I found a way get them to remember the syntax but the next day the person quit and returned to work at the restaurant.

    I worked with several other people and the results are consistent. Coding is a kind of puzzle solving problem that people dislike intensely.

    Out the 10 or so people, I tried to help only one has gotten very far. She is 51 year-old mother of 3, and I was surprised by that. I was actually trying to convince her kids (27, 18 and 14) to learn.

    It is an interesting problem. I think there is a path to get people over their resistance but it is not obvious to me so far.
  • Re:Right! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by careysub ( 976506 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @03:29PM (#46728423)

    If 'custodial engineers' were to drop everything and become programmers, who'd do the dirty work that they do?

    Nobody is talking about re-training people that are usefully employed. They are talking about re-training people whose jobs are disappearing. Robotics is advancing very rapidly. Jobs for unskilled people have been disappearing for decades, but the past is nothing compared to the avalanche of disappearing jobs that may soon be coming. History shows that, in the long term, economies adjust and everyone benefits from productivity improvements. But the short term transition can be brutal.


    It is essential that we keep the timelines straight on how jobs are lost, and then eventually regained in a true Industrial Revolution. We are currently in what should be called the Cybernetic Revolution, the only true successor to the original IR in terms of its effects on employment.

    In the original IR there were rapid losses of employment (starting in textiles) as factories went up starting around 1780. Optimists, who prate about how 'the IR really wasn't so bad' argue that by 1840 the average wage had risen to finally exceed pre-levels. As with today, talking about average wages hides the extent of poverty with a society, but more importantly it ignores the fact that the gap between 1780 and 1840 is sixty years, and other more systematic analyses pretty much keep this same gap for the employment picture turn-around, though shifting the dates of both start and end forward slightly. This means the typical worker rendered a pauper in mid-life by the start of the IR never benefited, their children never benefited, their grand-children rarely benefited, it was only their great-grand-children that found ready work at good wages!

    The promise that eventually the economy will adapt and replace the lost jobs is one that won't be seen for a few generations. We need to have policies in place now, as the jobs vanish, to keep the workers and their families from ending up in poverty, and these policies will need to be maintained and updated for several decades to come.

    It is notable that a quick perusal of conservative policy sites (National Review, etc.) for suggestions on how to deal with this problem of inevitable long-term unemployment find by far the most common is to suggest that job salaries be subsidized by the government to create employment. The really aren't any other alternatives that might conceivably work - only government spending to stimulate the economy can step in. (But how taxes should be raised to finance this is never discussed.).

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears