By Bret Victor | September 28, 2012
Here’s a trick question: How do we get people to understand programming?<
Because my work was cited as an inspiration for the Khan system, I felt I should respond with two thoughts about learning:
- Programming is a way of thinking, not a rote skill. Learning about “for” loops is not learning to program, any more than learning about pencils is learning to draw.
- People understand what they can see. If a programmer cannot see what a program is doing, she can’t understand it.
Thus, the goals of a programming system should be:
- to support and encourage powerful ways of thinking
- to enable programmers to see and understand the execution of their programs
Alan Perlis wrote, “To understand a program, you must become both the machine and the program.” This view is a mistake, and it is this widespread and virulent mistake that keeps programming a difficult and obscure art. A person is not a machine, and should not be forced to think like one.
How do we get people to understand programming?
We change programming. We turn it into something that’s understandable by people.