It’s the strangest thing: my son wants to learn to program a computer, so I’m helping out at his school library every Wednesday morning, where intrepid members of the Round Rock ISD IT staff volunteer to teach a class on Microsoft’s free SmallBasic . We start at the ungodly hour of 6:30, and help 31 students learn how to use this small but powerful IDE for building programs. Robert Eckstein is the lead instructor (he works for the central IT service group for the whole school system), ably assisted by Robert Heard (he’s the IT guy at Cactus Ranch Elementary, where the class actually meets). What’s strange and wonderful about the class is how excited the students are to make a computer do something, how quick they are to pick up on the language and its capabilities, and how intensely interested they are in digging ever deeper into what the toolset enables them to accomplish.
The MS Small Basic environment is easy to install, understand, and use, and features a very friendly autocomplete style of command/reserved word/variable substitution as students hack out bits of code.
This class consists of 4th and 5th graders, most of whom are just learning how to cut and paste, and starting to understand what keyboard shortcuts are, and how to use them. Seeing how excited and enthusiastic they are to be learning (and using) something new, I am reminded that even for old greybeards like myself, learning (and using) something new helps to bring interest and excitement to one’s working life. That’s why I encourage anyone who’s active in IT to create opportunities to study, learn, and play with things that interest them. Sure, there’s always the notion that time spent learning can — and often does — help to enhance or develop one’s career and often offers opportunities to advance or make changes that might otherwise not come along. But shoot, there’s also the sheer joy of learning and expanding one’s horizons, skills, and abilities. Seeing the shining eyes and glowing faces of the younger generation learning how to code, it’s a great opportunity to offer that same set of feelings and motivation to anyone who’s in need of a shot in the arm, career- or work-wise.
Go ahead: learn something! You won’t be sorry you did.