[plt-scheme] Re: Programming for non-programmers

From: Geoffrey Knauth (geoff at knauth.org)
Date: Sun Oct 17 00:21:24 EDT 2004

On Oct 13, 2004, at 09:39, Joe Marshall wrote:
> If we consider a program as a description of a process that is formal
> enough to be carried out in a mechanistic way (which is about as broad
> a definition as I can think of that still bears some meaningful
> relationship to programming), then being able to give clear directions
> is often beyond some people.

Today I was given simple directions, and I carried out the program.  
Drive to a town, go left here, right there, find a C150, put a test ELT 
under the wing, turn it on, proceed to mission base.

It was easy for me, even though there were some unexpected challenges:  
talking to the friendly farmer who granted CAP permission and who owned 
the bucolic grass strip, still getting to base on time, adapting to the 
farmer's revised afternoon schedule regarding pickup of same ELT after 

If I tell you C-150 is Cessna 150, ELT is Emergency Locator 
Transmitter, CAP is Civil Air Patrol, SAR/EX is Search and Rescue 
Exercise, everyone probably has enough human intelligence to do just 
what I did without much programming.

But what if the task had been to program a robot to do what I did?  One 
ends up covering so many details and potential situations in teaching 
the robot that it becomes an effort of years instead of minutes.  I 
think that's what scares non-CS people about programming.  They're 
reasonable to think, "If I start down this path, I'll never have time 
to do the other things I like to do, I'll die before it's done."  It's 
also the attraction for nerds, "A big problem to solve!  I won't be 
bored for years!"

Good CS teachers inspire people to reach for the achievable, build 
teams, and avoid the intractable.

Geoffrey S. Knauth | http://knauth.org/gsk

Posted on the users mailing list.