Why does programming have to be hard?

I can remember the first day I stepped onto the campus where I would get my first college degree.

There was so much intimidation – how do I know what to do?  So much fear – what if I can’t do this?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or what I wanted to be when I grew up but I did know that if I didn’t go to school I was going to be delivering pizza (what I was currently doing) for the rest of my life.

As I walked into the Student Services department and met with the advisor I was assigned, she asked me a question – “What do you like to do?”. I didn’t really have anything I liked to do.

“Well” she said, “What do you like to do for fun?”.

“Computers are fun” I told her. I meant it when I said it but looking back now, I didn’t mean it.  “The Internet is fun” is what I should’ve said.  “Playing games on the computer is fun” would’ve been the honest answer.

“Great!” she says brightly, “We have a program in computers, let’s get you a schedule.”My journey into programming started that easy.  I was on my way!  Programmers make a lot of money, right?  There is a high demand for jobs, right?  This is going to be great!

I had no idea what I was walking into in my first programming class.  

An older gentleman was standing at the front.  He introduces himself as the instructor and starts to pass out papers.  “This is just a little test” he tells the class.

“A test!” my brain screams.  On the first day?

The instructor explains that its just a knowledge test to see what we already know.

My head is spinning because I can’t answer any of these questions.  Am I supposed to already know some of this stuff?  I thought this was an introductory class.

At the end, the instructor collects the test and we never heard about them again.  I can only image the insight that he learned from looking over the frantic and scared answers of a class that was already feeling inferior on the first day.

Looking back at this memory helps me remember what I am doing as a teacher in programming.  Programming inherently comes with three problems:

1 – The portrayal of our industry by the media is a lie.  I can (and will) write a whole post on this topic later.

2 – Students don’t like math and think programming has a lot of math

3 – Students think programming is going to be as fun as playing games on the computer

All of these are ideas that we are going to have to overcome to be better programming students and what teachers have to overcome to learn how to teach programming better. What do you think? I would love to hear about how you got started in this field or what your first day in class was like.


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