He’s 22 years old. Twenty-two! And he knows a lot more than I do. Seriously, if I knew at 22 what he knows now, I would’ve taken over the world by now.
My first family computer was the dual disk kind. It meant you had two floppy disk drives – you inserted a DOS disk into one, and a disk for whatever program you wanted to run into the other. There was a tiny amount of hard-disk space, but that was meant for more dynamic programs – it wasn’t a hard-disk big enough for DOS, and we never wasted it on static programs for which we already had a disk.
Instead, my dad had a book with programs in it. Literally. The source code was printed on every page. He’d open up a text editor and painstakingly type every line of code so he could run simple programs.
I used it to make art programs. And password-generation programs. And once a naive attempt at artificial intelligence. 1
The way I learned about computers was hard.
I actually tried to teach myself C++ in middle school. I found an old C manual in the library, but couldn’t figure out the difference between C and the “++” variety. I found better manuals at the local bookstore, but they still wouldn’t help me learn development. The only “free” C++ compiler was command-line only; the available GUI compilers were expensive and I didn’t have enough of an allowance to buy one.
I didn’t really learn programming until grad school. In my free time. By searching Google and Wikipedia and reading various blogs on the subject.
Then I go to a WordCamp that features specific breakout sessions for kids. I meet a 10 year old in Brazil who’s attended and been a key participant in international hackathons. I meet a 16 year old at a high school career day who, even before graduation, has amassed more software development experience than I have in my professional career.
Then I look at speaker lineups and see only established professionals on the agenda. I attend meetups that migrate to bars with strict adult-only requirements. 2
It’s fairly evident to me that we have a serious lack of diversity in the technology community when it comes to age – not necessarily for anyone above 21, but for those below that threshold. I’ve meet teenagers and pre-teens who have just as much (if not more than) experience as some of the 30, 40, and 50-yr old developers I know. It’s a shame that they’re not more involved in our community.
After all, they’ll be the ones inheriting and maintaining the infrastructures we build today. They’re already bright enough to understand them (and optimize them), but we don’t always give them the chance.
The 22-yr old in the quote above wasn’t avoiding a world takeover because of a lack of skill or desire to succeed. He was stuck working a day-job for an established firm because no one really took him seriously due to his youth.
How many more times will he (and others like him) be told “you can’t do that” before they internalize it, begin to believe it, and doom us to a future of technological mediocrity?
- A dumb program that returned scripted responses to text inputs – my first try at an automated chat bot that didn’t really work. ↩
- The keynote speaker at one conference I attended was only 19. He was a genius, and couldn’t participate in any of our networking events because of strict carding policies due to alcohol. ↩