Scripting News: The soul of the new developer.

A picture named knicksUniform.gifJust read this story in today’s NY Times about the Stuyvesant High School teacher who wanted to make an elite school to teach computer science to young gifted New Yorkers.

It was a Fred Wilson thing. Fred Wilson is to developers what Spike Lee is to the Knicks. The guy who shows up at every game and roots the team on, through thick and thin, no matter if they start a Brooklyn team (Lee is also a cultural icon of Brooklyn). He loves the orange and blue uniforms of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden. Only in this sport, the fan is confused for the great player by the opinion leaders and gatekeepers. As if all there were to being a champion is having a lot of money (you might argue the opposite is true, the most interesting players are the ones who don’t have any money, but hunger for recognition).

The Board of Ed liked the idea so much they stole it and usurped it, and now instead of creating great young talent to flow into Fred’s NY startups, they’ll create Certified Cisco maintenence guys. Or people who can keep Windows networks running as long as Microsoft is making them. Or Oracle databases.

The fight is a familiar one. Should we create hackers for Wall Street or for the nascent high tech startup industry that’s trying to get a foothold in NYC. Fred of course wants the flow for Foursquare and Stack Exchange and Etsy etc. And Bloomberg wants them for Chase, Citibank and the Department of Sanitation.

There is a third possibility. Tell the captains of finance to back off, and let’s create some developers who are capable of taking us in new directions. Not into Wilson’s companies or Bloomberg’s.

Not much chance of that of course. 😉

So we’ll still have Spike Lee coaching the team. Let’s keep everything on a steady predictable course. As long as it makes me richer. (Paraphrasing.)

New York has always been run for the benefit of the already-rich at the expense of the gifted artist. Maybe it’s not true in every art, but it totally so in the art of creating great world-changing software. In a few years when these kids are ready to work there will be a new league, and no one is prepared today to teach them the skills they will need for that. So it doesn’t matter much who controls the curriculum. The really smart ones will figure it out. And they will surprise us and teach us a lot. (And if there’s any sanity we will get to teach them a thing or two as well.)

PS: I went to Bronx Science, which is an elite public school, like Stuyvesant. Neither they nor I discovered, while I was a student there, that I had a talent for tech, and my media hacking was seen as a social behavior problem. So I don’t have a lot of faith in the idea of elite NYC high schools. However, the students taught each other a lot, and we created our own fun. Which is kind of what I’m getting at in this piece.

PPS: In addition to teaching kids how to be great commercial developers, I’d teach them how to create open systems without lock-in. That’s the equivalent of the scientific method for software design. Schools have an obligation to teach the idealism of art, not only the craft.


About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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