The software creation literacy crisis

The number of people who can read and write code, particularly for mobile devices, is dangerously low: what's needed are easier ways to create software you can use in the context of your specific needs
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Amid the great wall of noise the digital world is today stands a stark reality: fewer and fewer people have the ability to read and write the basic code building blocks of the internet and mobile world. Ismael Ghalimi of STOIC provocatively writes

Imagine a world where 99.975% of the population is illiterate.

illiterate: unable to read or write.

If you’re a cellphone subscriber, unfortunately, this is the world you live in.

If you can read or write code, you’re among the 0.025% lucky few software literate.

If you can’t, you’re part of the 99.975% who are being left out.

software illiterate: unable to read or write software code.

This is a tragedy, and it’s getting worse year over year.

Ismael also goes on to say

According to the Computer Industry Almanac, there were 1.6 billion PCs in use around the world in 2011. And if we believe the rather conservative estimates computed by DZone, there might be as many as 43 million developers in the world. This translates to a 2.687% Software Literacy Rate in the PC world, which is 107.5 times higher than the Software Literacy Rate in the mobile world. In other words, when transitioning from the PC era to the mobile era, our Software Literacy Rate actually dropped by two orders of magnitude.

These thought provoking numbers demonstrate our descent from the relatively large number of people who understood how things worked in the early home brew computer era compared with today's lightweight world of apps and mobile platforms.

Putting on my car building enthusiast hat, this reminds me of our similar descent from an earlier era of practical, hands on understanding of how automobiles work, resulting in the demise of owner maintenance and repair abilities anywhere or anytime. Just as automobile manufacturers increasingly discourage you from lifting the hood of your robot built car and touching anything by installing plastic engine covers with warranty warnings, the Software as a Service and mobile worlds have similar 'can't get at that now' restrictions.

Ghalimi's rationale and vision is that if software is indeed increasingly everywhere and pervades all aspects of modern life (and I agree with him that it does) then we need to fundamentally rethink the way software applications are developed, and strive to create usable software development tools for the illiterate 99.975%. This was an area that seemed so promising a few years ago, but then much open source development got packaged up and put behind Software as a Service firewalls, and we're now in a pretty tricky confluence of terrible economic conditions coupled with an increasing reliance on renting technologies we don't understand and can't get under the hood of. Ghalimi's company STOIC aims to let anyone develop a cloud application as easily as using a spreadsheet to input the values you need which will certainly help.

The big enterprise software players routinely convert past innovations into features in their big push to maintain control of traditional business software needs, attempting to facing off the threat of social networking agility by providing tools for individuals and groups in the context of their offerings. Whether this will satisfy users will largely depend on their appetite for continuing to pay out total cost involved around seat licenses and maintenance fees. Most of the innovation coming out of enterprise software vendors is in licensing complexity, as a client drily noted recently….

There is an undiminished desire and demand for tools tightly tailored to users needs, as evidenced inside companies by the huge shift from IT choosing and provisioning suites of tools to Line of Business selecting applications that solve their specific business problems. However, that revolution is largely consumption of supplied services only - what we need is the ability to craft and create innovative digital tools, not just search around premade tools that might work for us.

The noisy, attention deficit 'culture of distraction' so eloquently described by Joe Kraus of Google Ventures earlier this year points to the need for 'SlowTech', as he calls it, something the considered creation of actual tools you can use is arguably the epitome of. Today's world of skimming the digital world for superficial stimulation and ideas has created a major crisis of attention, which has been fed by Pavlov's Dog style 24/7 smart phone checking addictions. The irony of course is that this is compounding passive, reactionary activity (as opposed to 'users' creating anything new).

Finding ways to empower the individual and groups to innovate around their specific contextual needs is something I'm heavily in favor of in an era where entrenched interests are once again carving up available options for their software end users and their data.



Image of welder from Shorpy 
July 1942. Ford plant at Willow Run, Michigan. "Steady of eye and hand, women workers at the great Willow Run bomber plant are among those throughout the country who are relieving serious shortages of skilled workers by doing such semi-skilled jobs as the one here. She's welding parts of the cooling system direct to the supercharger.Medium format negative by Ann Rosener. |

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