Fragile knowledge of coding and software craftsmanship

Aug 11 2014 Published by under Information Science

To continue the ongoing discussion, I think my concerns and experiences with informal education in coding (and perhaps formal education offered to those not being groomed into being software engineers or developers) fall into two piles: fragile knowledge and craftsmanship.

Fragile knowledge.

Feynman (yes, I know) described fragile knowledge of physics as learning by rote and by being able to work problems directly from a textbook but not having a deeper understanding of the science that enables application in conditions that vary even slightly from the taught conditions. I know my knowledge of physics was fragile - I was the poster child of being able to pass tests without fully understanding what was going on. I didn't know how to learn. I didn't know how to go about it any other way. I had always just shown up for class, done was I was asked, and been successful. In calculus I was in a class that had discussion sections in which we worked problems in small groups - is this why my knowledge isn't fragile in that or is it that I did have to apply math to physics problems? Who knows.

Looking back, now, it seems like a lot of the informal education I've seen for how to code is almost intentionally aimed at developing fragile knowledge. It's not how to solve problems with code and building a toolkit that has wide application. Showing lots of examples from different programs. It's more like list the n types of data.



There is actually a movement with this name and I didn't take the time to read enough about it to know if it matches my thoughts. Here I'm talking coding environment, code quality, reproducibility, sharing.... Not only solving the problem, but doing it in a way that is efficient, clean, and doesn't open up any large issues (memory leaks, openings for hackers, whatever else). Then taking that solution and making it so that you can figure out what it did in a week or so or so that you could share with someone else who could see what it did. Solving the problem so that you can solve the same problem with new data the same way. My code is an embarrassment - but I'm still sharing, because it's the best I know how to do and at least there's something to start with.

A couple of people suggested the Software Carpentry classes - they sound great. Maybe SLA or ASIST or another professional association could host one of these as a pre-conference workshop? Maybe local (US - Maryland - DC ) librarian groups could host one?  We could probably get enough people.

One response so far

  • christinacz says:

    Badges definitely feel fragile to me! As a first year LIS student, I'm finding that learning HTML/CSS/JavaScript/PHP in an online simulator is nothing like the iterative, frustrating process of building a website! Codeacademy makes it seem so easy!

    I was just at a lecture today about feminism and technology, and one of the speakers talked about hacking as a process rather than a goal. Craftsmanship is definitely a process approach. I like it.