It’s fashionable for most of the tech elites to preach coding as a required skill for all kids. Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg … all seem to think that the solution to the economic problems faced by million of disenfranchised workers is turning more people into coders. Thus they are pushing for coding to become part of the common curriculum for everyone going through the public educational system. As benevolent visionaries they are also covering the cost of many of the schools that embark on this train, as Tim Cook did for the Chicago board of education (to coincide with the opening of its waterfront store).
However, I believe Tim Cook (like most of his peers) is shortsighted and that his predecessor had much better grip on human value than him. In one of his famous keynotes, Steve Jobs described Apple as the intersection of technologies with the fine arts:
"Technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts"
To Jobs, humanities was Apple’s secret ingredient. His appreciation for the fine arts, for the deep spiritual human experience is why Apple products had taste. They looked better, worked better and connected with the user in way in which the rigid offers from Dell, Microsoft and others paled by comparison.
Some looked at them as expensive beautiful computers, but this simplistic characterisation is ignoring a lot of the attributes that made Apple such an iconic brand. Beauty is a complicated concept. The fine arts are not about productivity. Instead they are about our dreams, our hopes and our values. Steve Jobs understood this part of humanity and made it the differentiator for his products.
Now we are reverting to a Bill Gates version of the world where simplistic solutions are offered as saviour panacea for upcoming world disasters. Like Bill, most of Silicon Valley leaders assume that the efficient solution to all the existent and upcoming problems is to have more developers.
Exhibit A: Developers earn a lot & there are not enough of them. Solution: If all Americans will be developers -> problem solved.
Everyone will be working at Microsoft, Apple or Facebook & be a fulfilled human being (just like everyone else).
It’s my belief we should not pursue efficiency, but purpose. Tech pundits seem to care more about who’s going to code the world of tomorrow than who will write the specs. And good requirements come from a deep understanding of humanity that we don’t seem to appreciate nowadays. We should be concerned with the values we build into the programs of tomorrow and the principles we use to develop the software that’s gonna be embedded everywhere. And for that we need humanities not coding, something that Steve Jobs understood better than his successor:
- History is our lab with millions of human experiments that we can look into. History is practical and realistic, because it deals with real humans acting in situations with huge stakes. History represent our collective memory and I would like the product mangers of tomorrow to be better at being human than at coding.
- Humanities can teach us how to read and write properly. Which is something very few people know to do. But to read and to write is to think. And I would argue we need thinking before we need coding.
- Economy represent our never-ending journey to build a theory of human action, one that would explain the events of the past and that would guide the decision of tomorrow. More people need to understand supply and demand, how prices and markets work than how to find the shortest path of a graph.
- Philosophy is a framework for integrating knowledge with action, a journey each person takes during his life to discover the values that drive him forward. It’s probably the most useful topic as philosophic enquiry can help orient a person towards a higher purpose. I would take that over understanding complex algorithms.
All of these are prerequisites to good technology. Coding is just a tool, and if history is to gives us a hint we tend to automate most of the operation of tools. I am not saying that all coding is robotic and I am well aware there is a lot of poetry behind the matrix. Just that in a world that is becoming more and more automated, deepening our knowledge of humanity may be a better investment than coding.