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from SICP Abelson and Sussman.

Underlying our approach to this subject is our conviction that “computer science” is not a science and that its significance has little to do with computers. The computer revolution is a revolution in the way we think and in the way we express what we think. The essence of this change is the emergence of what might best be called procedural epistemology — the study of the structure of knowledge from an imperative point of view, as opposed to the more declarative point of view taken by classical mathematical subjects. Mathematics provides a framework for dealing precisely with notions of “what is.” Computation provides a framework for dealing precisely with notions of “how to.”

from How to Design Programs (Matthias Felleisen, Robert Bruce Findler, Matthew Flatt and Shriram Krishnamurthi)

Many professions require some form of computer programming. Accountants program spreadsheets and word processors; photographers program photo editors; musicians program synthesizers; and professional programmers instruct plain computers. Programming has become a required skill.

Yet programming is more than just a vocational skill. Indeed, good programming is a fun activity, a creative outlet, and a way to express abstract ideas in a tangible form. And designing programs teaches a variety of skills that are important in all kinds of professions: critical reading, analytical thinking, creative synthesis, and attention to detail.

We therefore believe that the study of program design deserves the same central role in general education as mathematics and English. Or, put more succinctly,

everyone should learn how to design programs.

On one hand, program design teaches the same analytical skills as mathematics. But, unlike mathematics, working with programs is an active approach to learning. Interacting with software provides immediate feedback and thus leads to exploration, experimentation, and self-evaluation. Furthermore, designing programs produces useful and fun things, which vastly increases the sense of accomplishment when compared to drill exercises in mathematics. On the other hand, program design teaches the same analytical reading and writing skills as English. Even the smallest programming tasks are formulated as word problems. Without critical reading skills, a student cannot design programs that match the specification. Conversely, good program design methods force a student to articulate thoughts about programs in proper English.


Learning to design programs is like learning to play soccer. A player must learn to trap a ball, to dribble with a ball, to pass, and to shoot a ball. Once the player knows those basic skills, the next goals are to learn to play a position, to play certain strategies, to choose among feasible strategies, and, on occasion, to create variations of a strategy because none of the existing strategies fits.

A programmer is also very much like an architect, a composer, or a writer. They are creative people who start with ideas in their heads and blank pieces of paper. They conceive of an idea, form a mental outline, and refine it on paper until their writings reflect their mental image as much as possible. As they bring their ideas to paper, they employ basic drawing, writing, and instrumental skills to express certain style elements of a building, to describe a person’s character, or to formulate portions of a melody. They can practice their trade because they have honed their basic skills for a long time and can use them on an instinctive level.

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