Oh No! Johnny Can’t Code :-(

I’ve often said that although the tech industry doesn’t necessarily hire the sharpest engineers, they surely hire the sharpest PR people. And one of the cleverest tacks they and their allies have developed is to conduct and hype international coding competitions. Here is the latest such report, which appeared in — surprise, surprise — the Washington Post.

I’ve written about this before, during my annus mirabilis with Bloomberg. 🙂 Don’t want to read the link? The short version is that these contests have little or nothing to do with the coding software development prowess of a nation.

One would think, for example, that the author of a 500-word piece in one of the nation’s top newspapers would notice the obvious: In that “rankings” table, there appears to be an inverse correlation between alleged coding ability and the number of successful apps in a country. Take China, ranked #1 in the world. Where are its killer apps?

There is one Chinese app, WeChat (微信) that has gotten a lot of attention lately in the western press. I recently joined a WeChat group, at the invitation of a Chinese friend. I am thoroughly enjoying it, and am quite impressed by the amazingly multidimensional members, all of them ethnic Chinese and almost all of the immigrants from China. But the app itself, though very versatile and a sort of Swiss army knife in China, is just derivative, nothing innovative that I’ve found so far. About the best I can say is that it offers a big array of emoticons (which I don’t use). And guess what? The notion of instant messaging apps such as WeChat was originally invented in Israel, rank 35 on the Post‘s list.

And as to the point in the article about coding classes for preschoolers…I wonder if WeChat has a good emoticon for revulsion.


9 thoughts on “Oh No! Johnny Can’t Code :-(

  1. You’re right that a top paper should apply critical skills in evaluating stories like this. This was essentially a press release from an irrelevant small business trying to promote itself.


  2. Is this anything like Indians and spelling bees? Or as an old girl friend used to say, “Learn to talk fast, or look good in a tight sweater.”


  3. The “International Olympiad in Informatics” is limited to students. Each country gets to send four students to the Olympiad. Ranking the computing skills of a country based on four students is silly.

    Same thing with the “ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest”. Three students plus a coach per university.


  4. > The short version is that these contests have little or nothing to do with the coding software development prowess of a nation.

    Yes, but the Washington Post article and HackerRank study do have much to do with good statistics and the lack thereof. The sample from which they take the result is anything but random. It is a self-selected sample. On this topic, many of the comments to the Washington Post article are much more on point than the article. Also, it appears that HackerRank did not release any of the numbers from the study that would allow them to be verified or for the significance of the results to be checked. One conclusion that someone might be able to draw from the study is that being a good programmer does not make one a good statistician.


  5. I had a personal experience last week regarding engineering. I was at a trade show, LABEL EXPO. The Chinese chief engineer was complaining we don’t have quality control in this country. Nobody cares like they do in China. Americans are lazy, repeating out of context “Obama’s” speech given that week while he was in Asia. She showed me four prints from four different companies as proof of lazyness. They all had different tonal values. “I sent the same set of plates to these four companies and got four different results.” What she failed to understand that each press has its own personality and ink laydown must be adjusted accordingly. She did understand the basics called workflow, she only understood her own nich area.


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