Occasionally I take on a mission and agree to help a friend to learn to program. Not only I do love computers and programming – so really, it is not a burden –, but I am convinced that today, not being able to read and understand a simple code – I am not even talking of writing some code – is the equivalent of being illiterate during the 19th century’s industrial revolution. So each time I am solicited, I just go for it even if the drop-out rate is pretty high. Another of my opinions is that discovering computers during the late 70’s – the early ’80s was a blessing to me. Indeed, our machines of the era were able to do very little. And when you powered them up, all you got was prompt. This was critical. On one hand, to do anything, you had to program it. This, of course, can be seen as a serious gating factor today. But on the other hand, you got access to a programming language. BASIC or even a simple monitor in the worst case. But that really was all you needed to learn – yeah, and of course, you were not distracted by casual games – and to understand how a computer works (because the hardware was simple enough so you could comprehend it!).
This level of understanding I try to teach to my students. They will have all the opportunities later on – assuming they want to pursue in this path – to embrace the abstraction layers that make the life of programmers so much easier today. But getting to the low-level stuff is a long and pretty dry path. Sure, it is hard. Especially when even a simple phone will display chanting and dancing icons in a blitz. How do you want to keep your motivation when the sole gratification you get after hours of head-banging is a rotating cursor displayed using ASCII characters and basic IOs of the C standard library? This is where the notion of Gizmo Carrot gets into the picture. With the cool DIY kits that are available all over the place, I can spice up the learning experience and pimp-up our projects. And who knows, by giving the opportunity to the student (petit scarabée) to take a peek under the hood, it may very well trigger a novel interest for hardware. This reminds me of what one of my electronics teachers used to tell us: “there is no difference between software and hardware. You do hardware when the software is too slow” 🙂 The friend I am training these days will soon discover the cool world of cellular automates. His first stop will be Conway’s game of life. The excellent RGB LED Matrix Pi Hat by Adafruit will be the Gizmo Carrot I will use for this project to keep my friend in course!