Sorry Bill Thompson, I think you’re wrong

Just came across an article on the BBC News site by Bill Thompson called “Learning to love computer codes”

The article talks about how Bill read through the recently released source code to MacPaint Apple donated to the Computer History Museum.

Bill then goes on to talk about how he thinks everyone who uses technology should have a basic understanding of the nuts and bolts that make up an application or operating system.

He talks about how his partners daughter is learning Latin to help with her fascintation with acient Rome and Greece and that the same applies to programming.

My partner’s daughter is currently learning Latin because she is fascinated by the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome and realises that unless she understands the language used at the time she will always be forced to see their world through the filter of another person’s understanding, because everything she reads will be in translation.

If she knows the language herself then she will at least have removed one of the layers between her and Suetonius.

I believe that the same is true of programming, and that anyone using computer technology should have at least a basic understanding of what software looks like and how the lines of code in Pascal or BASIC or C control the operation of your laptop, mobile phone or pacemaker.

It’s a nice sentiment but one that I think is way off. Yes, learning Latin will help when studying history but the same principle doesn’t apply when it comes to using technology.

Should I learn how the internal combustion engine works so I can drive my car?

or know that sound waves are converted into electricity to use a telephone?

People don’t need to know any of these things, they just want to make use of them.

Surely the whole point of mass adoption of technology is that it’s easy for the layman to use?

It’s a nice sentiment and it would be really great (and would make my job easier!) if people had a basic understanding of the technology they use but on a practical basis it’ll never happen because they don’t need to.

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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