20,000 enemies

I’ve been at ScotlandJS this week (I do like being able to walk to a conference from my own house). One of my favourite talks yesterday was about how teaching kids to code can make you a better developer, from the energetic Ramon Huidobro.

This talk was different because Ramon focused on the benefits of teaching to the teacher rather than the pupil.

Two of Ramon’s points really stuck with me.

First, Ramon’s pupils constantly surprise him. Many completely lack any fear when it comes to testing the boundaries of their programs. Children seem hell bent on trying to test the limits of what they’re working with.

So while you or I might create just a handful of enemies for our 2D shoot-em-up game, little Jonny will see what happens when you add 20,000 on the screen at once. The results can be revealing, and not always for the reasons that you expect.

I’ve seen my own daughter approach her coding creations like this. She creates simple games using Scratch, and delights in making them almost impossible to play, like Flappy Bird on extreme hard mode.

But while she takes great delight in making games ridiculously hard so she can test them on me and make me look stupid, she’ll later change them to be just the right side of possible.

Secondly, Ramon told us how he stopped fixing bugs for the kids himself, and instead encouraged them to help each other fix their bugs. Suddenly, the kids were pairing with other regularly, without being taught about ‘pair programming’ practices.

It’s amazing how in adulthood we become overly sensible and bound by petty fears and conventions. A playful and inquisitive approach to trying to break your code in weird and wonderful ways can pay dividends. Your programming can become much more playful, especially where you can do it with someone else.

All the best,

– Jim

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