Monday, June 6, 2016

STEM in Germany: when in doubt, hold a summit and call for mandatory programming language ed

The fourth largest economy in the world has a problem: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education sucks.

Or so, all politicians who are not STEMmers as well the leading CEOs of the country claim.

They went and held a STEM summit. By the way, the German abbreviation is MINT, a nice one for a change.

Experts say that German teachers don't have sufficient and comprehensive training in using digital technology in the classroom. While there is some truth to it, when is the last time you have heard experts, in an country, say that teachers are fully prepared for <challenge x>?

And, of course, there are not enough women in German STEM. True, because of 19th century thinking and 20th century Nazis. Because, guess what, the largely awful defunct country of East Germany had a good thing going with women in STEM. To wit: the current STEM complainer in chief and chancellor of the Republic, Ms. Merkel, is an East German Physics PhD.

Now, the CEO of Deutsche Telekom comes along and calls for programming languages to become mandatory in schools, arguing that they are at least as important as multiplication, reading, and foreign languages.

This is a quote. And it is a gem. 

Let's just hope it was phrased like this to gently take a STEM-challenged audience towards the seriousness of the problem. It is understandable that talking of addition and subtraction might have been considered low balling, and mentioning division at a summit that showcases unity could be considered divisive.

He could at least have said something like we are faced with a difficult equation, or so, right?

The next cool quote tells us what we need to know: "The big technological steps have been made. Now, products are being cast". [Note: the German says "gefeilt", the image is taking a metal or wood file to something, to hone an object, we settled for cast, also an "old" tech.]

The Telekom CEO seems to be unaware that products have been made for at least 40 years, give or take.

And he has no idea of programming, obviously. And of the fact that today's kids learn a lot of the digital ways despite the absence of mandatory programming in school.

There was a time, not long ago, when a handful of floppy disks, a computer without a hard drive, and Herb Schildt's C/C++ bible were all you needed to write a program that could earn you money.

If that's what you want your kids to learn, be my guest.

It simply is not what is needed. Nobody in their right mind will write an FTP client from scratch, well, unless you work in a certain department at Oracle.

The best way to alienate children from computing is to make them write "Hello World" programs and have them suffer through UNIX/DOS line breaks and backslash escapes.

We don't have a shortage of coders, you can buy them a dime a dozen from at least that many countries.

We have a shortage of communication and a surplus of testosterone. The latter is evident if you set foot into a software company.

The shortage of communication is, in part, self inflicted. The Javadoc-ification of life seemed like a good idea. Why not make the coders write a few lines that explain what a class and its members do, and call it documentation?

Cheap and easy, right? It worked for a while because there were still enough Deitel & Deitels who would sit down and write great books. And then, the big companies discovered that they could have their employees write a book faster than everybody else because they were right there and saw a product get developed.

And why not make customers pay for courses instead of giving them great docs for free?

Revenue streams opened.

Leaving good teaching to small, free websites (the various "school" sites) and problem solving to StackOverflow and your peers.

Teach kids good STEM, and the coding will happen as a result. Don't teach coding to get good STEM, it does not work.

Regarding the much needed "cultural shift" in Germany, yes, it is sorely needed. In some small corners, they are slowly learning that a degree in computing is not needed for many development jobs.

And the fact that Argentina or India have more great female developers than Germany? See the dig above.

The best, as always, for last. According to the article, there are some 150 000 open STEM jobs in Germany, a lot of them in computing. If you click through the list of Berlin Startups and check their jobs page, you see a lot of openings.

But it is complicated, as they say. Try to get one of these jobs at age 50 or higher, said the blogster's IT guy.

Well, maybe his problem is not that he has 20 years of experience but the fact that his last name is Marx?

A good, "no mandatory programming language in school", K12 education followed by a degree in theology can still produce great developers. A bad one produces people who pray their code will compile.

And you can become a billionaire with teenage BASIC and the password "dadada" for multiple accounts.

Or CEO of Deutsche Telekom.

The blogster had a chat with OMG (Old Mustached German). Turns out, OMG learned how to perform operations using both hex and binary systems in the German equivalent senior high school.

In the 1970s. 


Yes, and on paper, too.

[Update] Spelling & the gr :-). Added paragraphs starting with "A good...". Added "honed".

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