Ellipsis avatar

Is it a vanity…?

…that we feel that kids (and particularly girls) *should* want to be interested in “computing”, and that if only we can find the right silver bullet then they will be “just like us”?

Don’t get me wrong. Eben, Liz and Co. are to be wildly applauded for having created a garden where 1,000 flowers may bloom. I just worry that we are creating a scorecard somehow that says, “x% of the blooms should be yellow”.

That there be 1,000 is a great achievement, and pushing to 2,000 is as valid an achievement as picking which strains should be present

Maybe it’s just Sunday morning musings? Great job guys!

Si avatar

you may be misinterpreting this articulation?

it might not necessarily represent an idea which advocates all or nothing. ‘them or us’ has long been a driving force in motivating social forces amongst humans, but perhaps this is just exhibits another way in which we may choose to express our motivation.

Henry avatar

Surely the intent RaspPi is to get PEOPLE interested in programming/tech. Or have I got something wrong? Are we here to conduct an experiment to see if we can get girls into IT at the same rate as boys?

What happens if – as is likely to happen – more boys than girls take an interest? Are you going to start advertising and even designing with the fervent intent that you satisfy a goal of some dubious writers on Gender Politics.

I got another hint of this slightly political slant from Eben’s comments as quoted in the article. Why would be it be at all bad if the people working on this were predominantly “white, male, middle-class people”?

When people in the Guardian go on about “white middle class men” they seem unaware that they are being racist and sexist in saying that.

I would say to the team: by all means try and garner interest in the RPi. You’re not discriminating against anyone in any way, but you can’t solve all the world’s problems – as you see them. I think it would be a serious mistake to look a gift horse in the mouth, complain about more than half yr clientele and start trying to do politics at the same time as sell a product.

Fray Bentos avatar

Well said.

It is worth remembering that newspapers often drive interviewees to categorising people into ‘X’ ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ and making comment on how many ‘X’ s are likely to ‘do this’ and how can we get more ‘Y’ s and ‘Z’ s and particularly ‘ZY’ s, even when, as in this case, it is largely irrelevant. Like another commenter said, they generate and ‘us’ and ‘them’ where one need not exist. Also, what defines someone as ‘white’ and ‘middle class’, how do they know?

Ingramator avatar

Well said, I noticed these unnecessary comments in there as well. How can you say having “white, middle class men” as programmers and computer engineers is a problem or something that needs to change? If I had said something about asian, working class, women need to be replaced in electronics factories I would be labeled a misogynist, racist and sexist. I thought the aim of of the RPi was to just get kids interested in programming not fixing world “problems” like white men being in IT. This is a foundation not a political party.

liz avatar

Eesh – there’s a lady teacher in that comment thread who appears to be hell-bent on diminishing the work I do here; she says that yeah, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has a woman working on outreach and community, but somehow that’s not important because [quote]
“Just because one of the RPi team is a woman, does not mean that it will attract girls. Most tabloid newspapers have women journalists that does not make them any less sexist rags.”

We keep saying. Girls are important. If you exclude girls, or make the subject unattractive to them, you lose 50% of your workforce as a matter of course.

We think that computing is a creative subject; good programming is a craft. I am not at all interested in painting the thing pink, or doing girl-related outreach where we make the whole thing about designing frocks or making friendlier makeup. I’ve been interested in computing since I was a kid, and it’s PRECISELY BECAUSE it’s a field that gives me the ability to make my world in a shape which I recognise; I don’t want us to pander to girls and say “Hey! Here’s a special lady-friendly subject!”. It’s a HUMAN BEING-friendly subject, and I am wildly pissed off at these lady teachers who believe that we’re somehow betraying the sisterhood by representing a subject that they’re not comfortable with.

Henry avatar

“there’s a lady teacher in that comment thread who appears to be hell-bent on diminishing the work I do here”

I think I’ve just been reading her comments and gritting my teeth.

If it is the same person, she also claims that “if teachers are not trained to teach coding, the RPi is irrelevant”

Apparently she’s ignorant of the whole history of the “bedroom coders” in the 80s – mostly self-taught, knowing far more than their teachers, and going on pure enthusiasm – who created a big games industry.

liz avatar

She particularly disliked the suggestion that well-trained ICT teachers might leave teaching for industry. We do a lot of work with ICT teachers. The well-trained ones leave for industry – the odd one or two have vocations (Alan, Clive – you know if you’re the people we’re talking about), and they are wonderful people. Several of those wonderful people volunteer for the Foundation, and we are most grateful.

Most of us aren’t wonderful people. Most of us like to earn a hearty chunk of cash to keep ourselves, our kids and our partners in Waitrose pizzas.

meepmeep avatar

If you go below the line on a newspaper website, you’ll always find someone who says things that make you feel angry.

Best to just flit through them like a hummingbird with better places to be.

mccp avatar

Liz FTW!

There are not enough women in IT (or wimmin for that matter).

When recruiting, I (white, middle class, middle aged male) have pretty much interviewed 100% of female applicants (on merit) and offered a position to probably 80% (on merit). I currently employ 2 female programmers in a company that employs 12 IT specialists. I think that’s pretty crap so the more anyone can do to increase the supply of female IT people the better.

BernardUK avatar

BUT … the same posting woman brought up the name Seymour Papert, and of that I for one heartily approve.

Having just signed up to be a volunteer at a local school interested in setting up a Code Club, I am re-reading his inspiring book MINDSTORMS, and would recommend it to anyone in this field. It is truly about providing primary-age children with the tools and concepts upon which they can build their skills and knowledge, and how creative interaction with computing devices will have educational benefits far beyond just programming.

If the Pi and its philosophy don’t fit exactly the sort of educational gap that Papert was so keen to fill, I don’t know what do. And if teacher training needs a gap filled, here’s one really positive recommendation.

liz avatar

Behold. Here’s me. Asian, not particularly working class, woman. 90% of the stuff you see here gets written by me. I don’t think we have a white male bias.

Stu avatar

When people in the Guardian go on about “white middle class men” they seem unaware that they are being racist and sexist in saying that.

What nonsense. There's absolutely nothing wrong with describing a demographic in this way.It's what surrounds such a description that could potentially demonstrate racist, sexist or class-biased views. In the case of this article, no such views were apparent.

reiuyi avatar

Many people wouldn’t agree with you.

Differentiating any group of people is borderline racism. In this case, Eben is using it as a practical example, though the demographics of computer programmers is skewing towards Indians these days.

Wombat avatar

is Raspberry Pi breakfast an healthy option?

Stu avatar

I thought it was a good and interesting read.

I was slightly surprised to see, “Upton tells me to wait a few months before buying an RPi, because in that time, the foundation will overhaul the software that comes bundled with it, especially Scratch, so that it is faster and more stable. (They’ve already put more RAM into the RPi, increasing it to 512MB; and recently announced that every piece of RPi software is now open source, meaning unhidden and accessible.)”

Unless this was an accidental announcement of a hardware change (I don’t have Eben down as someone careless with words), it seems to be a misunderstanding of the ease of changing software.

I’d prefer people got their hands on a unit as soon as possible, spend time becoming familiar with the basic setup and installation, even use one of the media player distributions for a while to understand what can be done, than just wait for a software update that contains more educational code. After all, as is rightly pointed out earlier in the article, the Foundation has done a great job of listening to novices as well as techies, and feedback from beginners can be invaluable in steering future software changes.

eben avatar

“Unless this was an accidental announcement of a hardware change (I don’t have Eben down as someone careless with words), it seems to be a misunderstanding of the ease of changing software. ”

Heh. It’s actually an accidental announcement of where I’m spending a *lot* of money on software engineering right now :)

jui-feng avatar

Yay, X acceleration development is now official!

Just kidding. :)

Brian Williams avatar

I’m a bit worried that this means that in the very near future all the good stuff is going to need 512mb and the early adopters will be left high and dry. I hope not, because this would be a bit unfair to the huge number of people who provided the seed corn and waited a very long time to get something with a lifetime of less than a year! Please give us some reassurance that the early RPis won’t become obsolete too quickly. How about some sort of part exchange scheme?

winkleink avatar

My reading from viewing the Scratch forum is that the foundation is putting resources into improving the overall performance of Scratch and also its specific performance on the Raspberry Pi.

Being Linux it will run on 256MB RAM or 512MB RAM, what will change is the amount of paging being done so optimisation may even improve performance on the 256MB model more as it would start paging sooner.

Also, isn’t the Model A still going to be 256MB and this is the low cost educational version so I expect those of us with 256MB models won’t be left behind.

liz avatar

That’s absolutely correct – we’re working on optimising Scratch for the 256MB platform at the moment. We expect to be done by Christmas with that.

Arthur Amarra avatar

I’ve made a voice-controlled lamp and a night-vision capable robot with a live camera feed on the 256Mb Pi. The Pi is **extremely** capable and powerful even for the early adopters, so please don’t complain, you knew the specs when you paid for it!

Stu avatar

Ha! Excellent.

exartemarte avatar

An interesting and perceptive article, which hopefully will be quite widely read. One of the things I find surprising (not just from this article) is how very young children take to the Pi, but clearly they do. Among them, with luck, will be some of Eben’s thousand new engineers a year.

I take issue with just one point. Ms Sawyer describes the Pi as “robust” (even though she later mentions a bit falling off). I have a feeling that the Pi’s Achilles’ heel will prove to be its fragile SD card socket. I envisage school lab techs with drawers full of Pi’s awaiting replacement sockets.

reiuyi avatar

There’s no age restriction to logic, we’re all born only knowing logical thinking. In some individuals, the logical thinking is taught to be ignored for empirical methods

The “bit breaking off” is the surface-mount (SMD) electrolytic capacitor C6. It’s rather fragile, they should have picked a low-profile one. However, Raspberry pi can work without C6 without issues.

Jake avatar

Didn’t even get half-way down the page before someone brought up the inevitable “you just need Python/Scratch/whatever to get kids into coding” argument. I’ll reproduce my rebuttal here:

“You can get kids interested in programming with any computer at all, certainly. But if they like it and want to make it a serious hobby then they’re probably going to want a computer of their own; programming actually takes a certain amount of focus and concentration, and having to hand back the family PC after an hour or two so your big sister can check her Facebook or Dad can look up directions to tomorrow’s big sales conference isn’t conducive to either.
“The advantage to the RPi here is that it’s well within pocket-money or Christmas gift territory for anyone; even including the price of a keyboard and mouse, a flash drive for storing your work and possibly an adapter so it’ll plug into an old telly from the charity shop, it’s only going to set you back fifty quid at most.”

Si avatar

great piece! cannot wait to get one

Old codger avatar

I spent many years writing business software in COBOL, BASIC and Fortran and I find learning Python somewhat hard going.

What languages do todays business programmers use?

Stu avatar

I think that may be one for the forums, as it could easily start a “heated debate” ;-)

Irrespective of the language, it’s all about learning how to solve problems.

Davespice avatar

I’m a business programmer and I would say the answer to that is C#, but if you’re doing mobile development or games then it would be C++.

Jim Manley avatar

There can be lots of user interface application code written for specific platforms in C, C++, Objective C, Java, C#, and even many forms of BASIC and Pascal, among others. However, if you recall the Y2K debacle, a lot of the hand-wringing was over COBOL code. That’s what most server software for the financial sector has been written in since the 1950s (indeed, if you look at some of the COBOL and FORTRAN source code from back then, the engineers included comments about the two-digit years needing to be updated before January 1, 2000).

Most government treasury/central-bank, commercial bank, and large corporate financial systems are implemented in COBOL and porting it to anything else would just introduce many errors, outweighing any benefits that might be generated. The source code for a lot of that original COBOL has long since been lost, and one of the ways that it was ported to modern hardware and operating systems for the Y2K transition was by encapsulating the legacy code within “wrapper” code, often Java due to its strong security and reliability features. Lots of legacy server software well beyond that for financial services is also wrapped in Java – that’s why computing services companies like IBM and Oracle are big supporters of it.

As with any software development tool set, practice makes perfect, whether it’s COBOL, FORTRAN, Java, C, assembly, etc., and now, Python.

mccp avatar

Business (or I suspect you mean commercial) programmers use either the best tool for the job, or they don’t have a choice and use what they are given.

I bet that almost every language invented is still being used commercially somewhere.

Don’t worry about which language you start with, just use a language to understand how a computer works. It’s like driving a car – what you learn to begin with is very transferable later on.

Today I will be programming in C, Javascript and HTML (commercially).

Davespice avatar

It’s a good article, shame about some of the nut-job comments below it though.

Simon FD avatar

I particularly liked the “why doesn’t everyone use microsoft languages and SQL?” question and of course the answer is “because they don’t”.
Eben has, on any number of occasions, said why this is so and why the Pi should help to break down this barrier.
Perish the thought that someone should do a bit of research before sounding off ………..

Paultnl avatar

The sheer number of ignorant comments on the article astounded me.

liz avatar

I quite liked it. Debate’s necessary, and I think the good guys won.

John Fisher avatar

Go Liz go!
Pi-fans all over the world love what you have done in efficient, humorous & constructive support of this great project. And you’ve a loving cat too…
I thought the article good- for an author facing a phenomenon they had little experience of..
An unmentioned aspect is that the Pi project may get, as well as bright young neophytes from 6 to 60, ‘nerdy white males’ and other enthusiasts like me, retired from a life of teaching & promoting use of machine, back into supporting school Science Club/ Computer Clubs. Or showing their grandchildren how to get started & then re-living vicariously the excitement of that dawning understanding that (hu)man is making a machine do things that had never before been even imagined…
I exhibited my first microprocessor home-build to the Association of Science Education in about 1978. I for one hated the MS monopoly that later developed & how it meant Heads & Bursars pushed us into teaching how to use MS Office & the web ( useful indeed, but not creative )- yet could not be persuaded of the value of courses involving programming.
The pendulum of educational priorities is heading in my preferred directions. But as we all know, pendulum behaviour can be chaotic!
Thanks again to all in the Pi team…

Gareth Jones avatar

Well, the article encouraged me to follow the code club link, and I’ve found a school in my village that wants a volunteer. I was in IT in various guises for 21 years – from punch cards now to Pi. The current photographic career is a bit slow, so I’ve decided to follow up the volunteering route – waiting to hear from the school now…

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