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Let's Reconsider That
To Kids, it's Just a Sickness
by Michael Feathers
April 15, 2005
Career day wasn't as fun as it could've been.


This was it. This was the year when I was going to go to my kids' elementary school and tell them what I do for career day. My daughter had seen me futzing around in Squeak a while back and she thought it was very cool and she thought that the kids in her class could use it to connect with the idea of programming.

So, I arrive this morning and pull out my laptop. First class arrives in half an hour.. starting to set up.. connecting wires.. going through every possible combination, but my laptop and the projector just can't agree to display my screen. Aaaaghh! So, I decide to go it alone. Seasoned (or at least battle-scarred) instructor, I've worked without projectors before. Hand motions.. discussion.. no demos. A loss, but salvagable.

So I talk, we discuss.. I tell them what a programmer does.. we talk about computers, programming, etc. And then it happened: All the questions were about viruses.

"How do viruses get on my computer?" "How can I stop them?" "When I see a little stop sign in my system tray does that mean I have a virus?" "My mom says that when I type 'www' I can get viruses." "What do I do when I have a virus?" "Are viruses written by companies?" And the classic: "Are there any pop ups that tell you true things?"

I answered the questions as best I could, but it was sad. So much for the joy of computing. We had an intermission.. I did some more fiddling with the projector. Got it working and had the same class back later. Showed them Squeak and they were floored. They learned that computers can be fun, that you can tinker and learn things. But think about their first impression of computing. It was scary. It is scary.

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About the Blogger

Michael has been active in the XP community for the past five years, balancing his time between working with, training, and coaching various teams around the world. Prior to joining Object Mentor, Michael designed a proprietary programming language and wrote a compiler for it, he also designed a large multi-platform class library and a framework for instrumentation control. When he isn't engaged with a team, he spends most of this time investigating ways of altering design over time in codebases.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2005 Michael Feathers. All rights reserved.

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