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Programming Education

Coding Academies -- Useful Or Nonsense? (techcrunch.com) 132

An anonymous reader writes: Stephen Nichols, CEO of a platform that helps non-coders create simple video games, thinks that so-called coding academies are essentially snake oil. "In 20+ years of professional coding, I've never seen someone go from novice to full-fledged programmer in a matter of weeks, yet that seems to be what coding academies are promising, alongside instant employment, a salary big enough to afford a Tesla and the ability to change lives." His point is reminiscent of Peter Norvig's in "Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years."

Nichols also thinks coding tools will become powerful enough in the next decade that the demand for actual, dedicated coders will diminish (perhaps not surprising, given his business). But he's probably right that the people likely to go to a coding academy are likely to be the ones using those tools, when they arrive. "Put succinctly, coding is writing text files in foreign languages containing instructions suitable for an absolute idiot to follow. ... For a little while, spending tens of thousands of dollars on a coding academy might feel like a good way to surmount the intimidation. ... More likely, it is just a new pathway into debt."

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Coding Academies -- Useful Or Nonsense?

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  • Nope (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 25, 2015 @06:09PM (#50799363)

    Coding academies are nonsense and attract the kind of mind that becomes a lawyer because they want money, or becomes a doctor because they want money. Real programmers have gravitated towards their field long before ever having a formal education in it. Also, I highly doubt you can teach the computer science concepts that back up this field in a few weeks. Really, these places just produce code monkeys who don't really understand what they're doing but glue pieces of code from Stack Overflow together.

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      Maybe.

      Knowing critical concepts...technical and business is essential. But when it comes to implementing those concepts, you need to know the mechanics. There is a place for code monkeys. Just as there is a place for analysts and architects. No one has, or can have, the complete solution. If you think you do, you are deluded.

      • I dont see a place for analysts and architects. Well. Architects that design buildings maybe. But not in software.

        And i have never, ever met a competent Project Manager that boasts the title.

        Just my 10 bits.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          The role of analysts and architects are very important, but any great programmer should be able to handle those roles, you don't need someone 100% dedicated to these positions. The bigger issue is that most programmers are not great programmers and can't handle those roles. Few people can take a holistic view of the entire system and make the parts fit elegantly, and instead create a spaghetti mess.
      • Maybe.

        Knowing critical concepts...technical and business is essential. But when it comes to implementing those concepts, you need to know the mechanics. There is a place for code monkeys. Just as there is a place for analysts and architects. No one has, or can have, the complete solution. If you think you do, you are deluded.

        Well, I'd argue that there isn't really any place for code monkeys, at least if you want to have customers. And yes, I've seen it first hand. One place I worked was a company (Company A) that was bought by another company (Company B). The two had very different philosophies of programming and hiring, and it reflected in the opinion their customers had of them. Company A hired mid-level to senior devs; had a small but knowledgeable team; and products that actually worked as advertised requiring little suppo

    • Coding academies are nonsense, but there's also something refreshingly honest about them.

      A lot of people go into a university-level computer science or software engineering course expecting to be taught a programming language that employers want right now. That's not the job of a university, hence coding academies. Their mere existence brings some deep myths about the software business, including some myths still held by some in the business.

      • Re:Nope (Score:4, Insightful)

        by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @07:31PM (#50799749)

        I can see where a boot camp type course - a week or two of really in-depth work on a particular language or technology "stack" can be helpful, IF the folks offering it have qualified teachers AND the folks participating in it are experienced in other parts of software development.

        But as a "I want to learn how to program" ... no, not good.

        • Certainly there's a place for "professional development"-type courses, as long as everyone understands that it's not a qualification.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I've noticed that a lot of absolute beginners see programming as this mysterious, impenetrable thing. If an intensive boot camp can help them get past that initial hurdle and into writing some working code, then I'd say it's worth it. Obviously they are not going to walk into a well paid job after that, but I think the summary is just clickbait bullshit and the reputable courses don't claim that.

          It's like human language boot camps. Think about how hard Chinese seems to someone who only speaks English. No al

          • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
            The first time I saw a computer was when I was 6 at an electronics convention. My dad wanted to get some cheap speakers or something. I saw a screen saver running on a computer and realized the screen was being "generated". I asked my dad how it worked and he told me the computer was doing math really really fast, and could represent the numbers as the colors and their positions. I instantly knew I wanted to program. I started reading on how CPUs worked and started reading on C and ASM. I tried Basic, but i
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Coding academies are nonsense and attract the kind of mind that becomes a lawyer because they want money, or becomes a doctor because they want money. Real programmers have gravitated towards their field long before ever having a formal education in it.

      Well, one would hope they don't have much experience practicing law or medicine before they become lawyers and doctors. I'd be more freaked out if the surgeon was inspired by the job rather than the paycheck, really. Good money attracts smart people who perhaps don't feel they have any particular calling in life, I know I didn't. I'm not really sure why you feel like shitting on them, when the coding academies have more in common with homeopaths and herbal viagra peddlers than doctors. There's a lot of pote

    • That's not true! I'm comparable to a power user, knowing more than average for windows osx and Linux and have been since a teenager. I never quite met anyone to show me the ropes. I'm self taught. I never did proper programming until school because I was a true loner and wanted to learn the right way to code, not get shitty out the gate and learning bad habits. After two semesters of c++ I crave to learn more C and C++. I'm 29 and starting but have the passion. I doubt I'm a snowflake. More likely you are w
    • It's a shortcut, so it's attractive. Skip extensive training, skip college, and still get the benefits of those. You could not take a welding course in that period of time and expect to get a job with it, without needing a whole lot more training and apprenticeship. Imagine if you could become a military officer by skipping West Point by having a few week long course in officer academy. Or become a physician in a month or two. No one would accept that. But with coding they do. Wishful thinking, but al

  • Stupid Idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 25, 2015 @06:09PM (#50799367)

    Teach them math and critial thinking... Coding is just a translation level. ie human "compilers". Taking one language and encoding in another. As C++ is converted to binary (or P-code to bin).

    Writing code easy ANYONE can do it. Understanding what you are writing is meaningful, actaully does what you want? That is crital thinking.

    • by dwpro ( 520418 )

      Critical thinking won't teach you how to code, it will teach you how to solve problems. Not quite the same thing. You need both to write anything more than a quick and dirty fix.

  • "Cram courses" that teach a programmer how to use a totally-new language, totally-new development environment, or even totally-new paradigm are probably useful and worth the time, but they may or may not be worth the money.

    Ditto if the student is someone who has many years of experience thinking in logical terms that "map well" to the kinds of thinking that good programmers use every day. The 4 questions at the end of the article are a good ones anyone going this route should ask before they invest the tim

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Teach Yourself Relativity in 21 days! +
      Teach Yourself Quantum Mechanics in 21 days! +
      Teach Yourself The Standard Model in 21 days! +
      Teach Yourself Information Theory in 21 days! +
      =
      Develop a Theory of Everything in 21 days!

      Wait something's wrong here.

      • While I agree, almost the "Teach yourself" titles are rubbish. But, the book of Robert Lafore, "Sams Teach Yourself Data Structures and Algorithms in 24 Hours" is really good.
        I was fooled by the title of his book at first, and would not read if I did not know Lafore is good author by his other books before.
      • You left out

        * Teach Yourself Time Travel in 21 Days!

        'Cause you're gonna need it if you hope to do the others in 3 weeks each.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @06:13PM (#50799393)

    coding is writing text files in foreign languages containing instructions suitable for an absolute idiot to follow

    The hard part isn't writing code. The hard part is knowing what code to write.

  • sure (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ThorGod ( 456163 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @06:14PM (#50799395) Journal

    It's called attrition rate. For any profession there's a relatively small amount that stay within that profession for 10, 20, 30 years. The counterexamples to this rule are the professions that tend to be taken by people that wanted to be in that profession for all of their lives. i.e. an MD or a lawyer. I'm sure coding academies will attract a high amount of novices. But from that influx there will still be some percent - perhaps even 0.001% - that just springboard after it.

    Is it enough to call it not snakeoil? Probably not. In my totally unscientific and personal experience, programming languages and frameworks usually have sufficient information for me to figure them out and know how to use them. That includes the very basic stuff of learning java, for example. If you name a programming language there's a way to teach yourself it for free. So the coding academies are vying for a portion of a market with a "free" and viable enough alternative. I'd call THAT snakeoil.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Everyone I work with is completely self-taught. Yes, people do courses and obtain certs so they're noticed by HR when they submit the resume.

    I've never seen any of these courses or even formal CS education produce a John Carmack, ever.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, formal CS education gives you Linus Torvalds and Guido van Rossum. That being said, Carmack is a personal hero of mine.

  • If someone has the ambition and aptitude to learn how to code they'll find a way to do so, with or without specialized schools. All those schools will serve to accomplish is to spit out borderline engineers who never should have entered the field in the first place.
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @07:30PM (#50799743)

    Nichols also thinks coding tools will become powerful enough in the next decade that the demand for actual, dedicated coders will diminish

    Just because there are more and more powerful tools does not mean that the need for people to understand how to use them will diminish, any more than cheaper and better hammers have led to a decline in architects.

    What it WILL mean is more and more custom and tailored software being built, which is great.

    • by Lennie ( 16154 )

      Always amazed by these ideas.

      Dijkstra (EWD) said it best:
      "People thought that [higher level languages] would make programming a lot easier, even solve the programming problem. But when you look closely the trivial aspects of programming had been automated while the hard ones remained. The higher programming languages which had been intended to facilitate programming proved, coupled with the increasing ambitions of the applications, to be more intellectually demanding to the programmer."

      https://www.youtube.c [youtube.com]

  • The old school system needs some change but what is the best way to go?

    The University system now days costs to much and some case all the required classes can push it out to 5 years.

    Well rounded is nice to have but now days lot's of people will be better learn more skills and not PE classes that cost more then a 2 year gym / club membership for just 1 class. Some still have the swim test. I say just by cutting the filler / fluff classes we can get it down to 2-3 years.

    The tech / trade schools are more hands on (still 2-4 years) and they have less theory classes. Some theory is good but at some University they trun out people who have very little hands on skills / are not ready for real work.

    The old on idea of your on your own needs to go. There have been cases of people getting in trouble for reusing old work / doing group work in class. also classes that are about cramming for the test need to change as well.

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      Maybe America just needs to reform its post-secondary school system, the rest of the world doesn't cost nearly as much.
      • Maybe America just needs to reform its post-secondary school system, the rest of the world doesn't cost nearly as much.

        * Some countries excepted. Have you seen the cost of tuition in the UK recently?

  • by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @08:58PM (#50800115)
    Current news shows the real motivation for the code academy movement. It just another for profit scam intended to siphon money from the education budget that will inevitably result in a lot of people stuck with unpayable student debt.

    For example, ITT Technical Schools [washingtonpost.com] is the latest in a string of disasters in privatized for profit education. They got caught lying to pretty much everyone: state and federal authorities, investors, and students. Here's an example of how these scumsuckers operate.

    The consumer watchdog accused the company of providing zero-interest loans to students but failing to tell them that they would be kicked out of school if they didn’t repay in a year. When students could not pay up, ITT allegedly forced them to take out high-interest loans to repay the first ones, the CFPB said.

    All told, ITT is being investigated by at least 18 attorneys general and three federal agencies.

    This comes on the heels of Corinthian Colleges [wikipedia.org] declaring bankruptcy. Goldman-Sachs owned a large stake [stockzoa.com] in them before they went under. "In 2010, CCi reported that it received 81.9% of revenue from Title IV federal student aid programs." Corinthian is also now the target of multiple civil suits and criminal investigations.

    All the money that went down these rat holes would have been better spent on existing public education institutions, like community colleges and four year degree schools. This is just another painful example of how the private sector fails at some tasks and that many activities are best left to the government.

  • > Nichols also thinks coding tools will become powerful enough in the next decade that the demand for actual, dedicated coders will diminish

    For those who might not know, this has been predicted for decades.

    Here is the cover of PC Magazine, February, 1981:

    http://it-careers.pbworks.com/f/1192117231/tlo.gif

  • The no man's land (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lucm ( 889690 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @11:13PM (#50800639)

    Nichols also thinks coding tools will become powerful enough in the next decade that the demand for actual, dedicated coders will diminish

    That's what they said when they created Cobol.

    Seriously I've seen this same pattern over and over. Some company comes up with a "power user" development tool which is seen as the best thing ever because it will allow business users (who have business knowledge) to do everything themselves. But unfortunately the tool never does exactly what is needed and it proves a bit too tricky to configure so either the thing is shelved or it's passed on to a team of "real" developers so they can integrate in-house tools with this piece of shit and work around the bugs. It's a nightmare because the tool is too high-level and limited for a programmer to easily sets his hooks in, so rockstars run away from that project (or company). That team becomes a dark pit where only lifers and quota employees are thrown in, and they are miserable and the whole thing sucks and there's champagne for everyone whenever a ridiculously low hanging fruit goal is achieved.

    A power user development tool is even worse than an in-house "framework" designed by some dude who left two years ago to do whitewater rafting in South America and never came back.

    • by calque ( 4296327 )
      Joel Spolsky's article on "The Law of Leaky Abstractions" (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/LeakyAbstractions.html) says it all. Using other people's abstractions is not difficult, when those abstractions work as expected, but being a programmer means dealing with leaks, just like being a plumber. That's why you don't gain experience quickly.
  • Nichols also thinks coding tools will become powerful enough in the next decade that the demand for actual, dedicated coders will diminish

    I first heard (a variant of) this idea in 1981. Don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen

  • I have hired a number of 6 weeks immersive course graduates for our development team. Although skills and aptitude is certainly variable several have shown themselves to be excellent engineers, in some cases outpacing their traditionally educated team members.

    That said there are certainly gaps in their education and general understanding of the field but that does not preclude them from making a general contribution.

  • It seems people have very short memories and don't recall Bubble 1.0. The only difference between "coder bootcamps" and "MCSE bootcamps" is what's hot now. In the late 90s, if you weren't an HTML, Java or CGi guy, there was a huge market for system admins as well. Now there's less systems focus because of "the cloud" but there sure are a lot of phone apps to be written. The result is the same -- less-than-honest training companies selling the dream of being a hotshot app developer in just a few short weeks.

    • Isn't it always the case when hiring in IT: be firm on experience, flexible on certs and degrees?
  • "Software development tools will soon understand what you mean versus what you say". Ok, so we are going to get better results from writing vaguer instructions and putting it into smarter tools? Hasn't he been in a corporate environment where people every day request one thing and expect the program to do something different because what they mean is not what they wrote? Ever since Babbage, people have expected computers to read their mind, and there's no magical method of doing so that's around the corner
  • You can get from novice to a full fledged programmer in a couple of weeks. Back when I started college, I felt that I was a dismal programmer and my teacher suggested I should look at the (now legendary) book "Thinking in C++ "by Bruce Eckel (he was the one that inspired a lot of "Thinking in" copy-cats). So I did - I went through all the content and did all the exercises suggested. It took a couple of weeks of long hours since it's like 1000 pages long, but at the end I felt I understood programming to an

  • There are fundamental capabilities involved in developing appplications that involve the process of logic, scientific method that all come from a structured STEM education. Learning syntax and best practices for developers can only be useful when layered on top of a structured STEM education. Some of the capabilities that come out of that STEM education are the proper use of logic, scientific method and one of the most important items: knowing what you don't know. How many of us have worked with that se
  • Let's start an academy to teach students to become teachers in Japan by teaching them Japanese. The students initially know almost nothing about developing courses, lesson plans, etc. or teaching anything in any language. The academy does a fine job of teaching them the Japanese language and they get diplomas. They now have the useful skill of knowing the Japanese language. They still don't know how to teach.
    I started programming in the 1960s and have written software in over two dozen programming languages

  • Only if you live in it.

  • I use sites like codecademy quite often, but I already have a degree. Great for learning the basic syntax of a new language or framework, or for getting a quick refresher for something I haven't used in a while. Can't say I know how successful it is for new programmers.
  • Nichols also thinks coding tools will become powerful enough in the next decade that the demand for actual, dedicated coders will diminish
    Then, we will tackle more difficult programming problems, like we always have.

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