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Re: Young people and computers

Moray Allan dijo [Sat, Jan 26, 2013 at 02:40:36PM +0000]:
> There's been some discussion elsewhere about how young people's
> experience of computers has changed over the years, and how this
> might interact with our success in recruiting young people into
> Debian.  I would estimate that the conversation focused on 16-20
> year-olds, as it started after someone pointed to the graph of
> developers' claimed ages at
> http://people.debian.org/~spaillard/developers-age-histogramm/devs-age-histo.2013-01-01.png

And the discussion (both what was already discussed and what can
surely be added to it) is most interesting. As an extra data point,
it's not only us: In magazines such as ACM's "Communications" the fact
that matriculation for Computer Science (and, in general,
computer-related studies) is shrinking is a recurring topic, and
finding how to motivate kids to get interested in computing is a hot
topic. I would say industry-wide, but no, industry does not look so
far ahead :) But at least in the academy.

> - The conversation wondered how much the number of younger people
> coming to Debian might have reduced due to changes in wider computer
> use/culture.  Certainly, programming languages used to be an
> advertised part of the system, where now they are typically an
> optional add-on, hidden, or effectively unavailable to the users of
> certain types of device.

Right, but... What was the last computer (or operating system) that
was sold with a list of compilers as a selling point? That argument is
IMO at least 20 years stale.

> - It was also pointed out that we have several groups of Debian
> contributors who came from successful local projects, e.g.
> university computer groups.  It seems that many such university
> groups themselves recruit fewer new members than they used to, so
> the change may not only be that Debian gets fewer of the people
> trained in them.  (One factor mentioned for their own recruitment
> trouble was that many students have less reason than a few years ago
> to spend time around computer labs.)

Right, this was one of the points a now-fellow teacher greeted me with
when welcoming me to teaching some days ago: The Engineering Faculty
of our university used to have a very active "Free Software Research
and Development Laboratory". Yes, the name is a bit too grandiloquent
WRT the group's real tasks, but it was anyway an important group for
passing the word on free software, and there were even some
interesting projects.

They tell me the group is currently empty, although we still have a
cubicule for it. I hope we can revive the group - and maybe get some
future developers from it.

> - Another factor that makes a difference to how young people spend
> their time on computers may be the availability of always-on
> internet access.  I know that, once I had a computer at home, but
> before I had any kind of internet connection there, I started to do
> programming projects to fill in my school holidays; perhaps nowadays
> I would have spent the time chatting online, or using the computer
> to collaborate on something productive other than programming.

And your home computer surely gave you better ways of engaging than a
dumbphone does nowadays. "Getting connected" basically means consuming
information or sharing lolcatz, or chatting. It is much harder (in my
perception, which is anti-phone skewed) to jump from the "wow, I
wonder how this is done" to peeking at the piece of code in a phone,
even if it runs mostly free software, than on a traditional desktop.

> - A change mentioned that might be more positive is that it's now
> much easier to get programs distributed to people who will find them
> useful.  While we might not like app stores etc. and the typical
> lack of source code, this still gives people a greater motivation to
> create software (including a greater chance that it will reach
> others who need something to solve the same problem) than existed
> for most amateur programmers before.

Humh, somewhat, yes and no... Before app-stores were the norm, getting
non-free software was much more a PITA. Finding the right "dealer"
with the right "evaluation copy" of the required program, trying it on
the computer and so on... Made me laugh quite a number of times. For
me it's been many years that apt-get solves 99% of my program
needs. And for the missing 1%, there were always a good number of
sites (i.e. Freshmeat, Sourceforge) to search in.

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