Programming is so important that I need it in 3 days

June 11, 2011 at 10:07 am 4 comments

Peter Norvig considers why there are so many books on “Learning programming in 3 days” (or 21 days, or some other small number of days).  He does a good job of explaining why we should be thinking in terms of years, not days. I am most interested in his analysis of why people want to learn programming so quickly.  Is it because programming should be that easy?  Or is it that it’s so valuable that people want the skill immediately?

But if it is so valuable, why do they expect that skill in so little time?  Maybe it’s because they understand it so little.  I’ll bet that 90% of all people have no idea at all of what it means to program a computer.  Maybe they expect it to be a subset of natural communication–since they’re already good at talking with people, so it should be like talking to people but only using a small subset of particularly geeky words.

Norvig is right — there’s something deep and interesting in why there are so many books about learning programming so quickly.

The conclusion is that either people are in a big rush to learn about computers, or that computers are somehow fabulously easier to learn than anything else. There are no books on how to learn Beethoven, or Quantum Physics, or even Dog Grooming in a few days. Felleisen et al. give a nod to this trend in their book How to Design Programs, when they say “Bad programming is easy. Idiots can learn it in 21 days, even if they are dummies.

via Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg Wilson  |  June 11, 2011 at 10:49 am

    There actually *are* “Beethoven for Dummies” and “Quantum Physics for Dummies” books…

  • 2. Krishna  |  June 11, 2011 at 11:06 am

    One reason could be that a title such as “Learn programming in 3 days” might imply to learners that programming is not very difficult. Many learners find programming very hard and they would probably be further discouraged if someone told them it would take 10 years to be a programmer.

    The reality is that it takes a long time to master any subject but it is important to make it easy for people to take the first step and that’s probably where these books help.

  • 3. Alan Kay  |  June 13, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Both the above comments seem quite to the point.

    The “… for Dummies” or “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To …” labels make me squirm (I don’t like to think of anyone as a dummy, and I don’t like the idea that some people might think of themselves as dummies).

    But when, after restarting on jazz guitar for the last two years, I got hooked on trying to learn deep classical guitar, I was quite surprised that along with Parkening’s starter books, that one of the very best starter books in all ways was the “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Classical Guitar”. It was written by a very good player and highly respected guitar teacher, and it was written very well in all respects. It just happens to be mass marketed under that horrible title. (And it ain’t for Dummies or Idiots … if there was ever an instrument for which there is no Royal Road, classical guitar is it.)

    I think this says something about the American psyche and also about American commercialism.

    Best wishes,


  • […] I got beat up a bit after my talk at TTU Tapestry a couple weeks ago. Two teachers from the same school stopped me at lunch, after my keynote, and complained about how we at Georgia Tech run our CS1 for Engineers in MATLAB.  ”How can you expect students to be able to succeed in a programming course, with no high school CS?  Why don’t you offer some starter course with no programming first?”  I tried to explain that students do succeed in all three of our CS1′s with no previous programming experience, and our data suggest that students learn and succeed (e.g., relatively small percentage drop-out or fail) in these courses.  (This is in sharp contrast to the Peter Norvig piece about learning Java in 21 days.) […]


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