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An hour of coding in school could trump intuition

After my kids took a short programming course, I wondered about the future of human instinct. Do coding, analytics and other high-tech teachings numb intuition?

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Business Information: Business analytics in the cloud slowly gains elevation:

A few months back, two of my boys came home from elementary school to tell me they took part in one of those "hour of coding" classes that are popular around the world and are designed to make coding enjoyable for all ages.

I thought it would be fun to interview them about the programming class. In doing so, I got an unexpected lesson in coding, analytics and developing intuition. For example, my 9-year-old son told me he used a mouse to drag and drop coding snippets to help create a simple quest that's based on the popular Angry Birds video game. The coding exercise led to the creation of a scenario in which the yellow Angry Bird reached the antagonizing enemy pig.

"It is pretty fun doing the thing with the codes," my kid said.

What struck me most during the conversation was that I, a 44-year-old dad, said, "Wow, that's so great you guys are coding in school." I've never coded in my life. But to my young kids, coding -- like math and reading -- was just another subject taught in school.

But there's a possible downside. If up-and-coming generations are raised on the ideals behind the hour of coding -- and perhaps have a class on analytics or big data as well -- I worry that a person's instincts from life and business experiences will be ignored or dwarfed by technological advances.

Experience vs. analytics

Of course, I'm not positive I'm standing on the winning soapbox with my argument. With many industries still in the early stages of the so-called data revolution, it can be hard to fathom exactly what fortunes await them.

On the one hand, there are advantages to surrendering personal experience in favor of analytical information. For example, some doctors are ceding a bit of their medical intuition to data analytics that directs them to more effective medical treatments for their patients. This method forms the basis for precision medicine, which caters to approaches that statistically favor positive patient outcomes. Physicians have told me that using analytics in patient care is essentially a form of professional development -- in other words, a way for them to add value to their medical degrees.

On the other hand, anyone who follows the media business may have noticed the mud hole that The Boston Globe stepped in when it changed its newspaper delivery vendor in late December 2015. Instead of relying on the savvy of the contractors who knew the best delivery routes, the new vendor opted for routing software to determine delivery schedules. Not surprisingly, the software couldn't handle the plethora of winding roads, one-way streets and missing street signs in the Greater Boston area, which led to a weeks-long series of delays and overwhelming customer complaints.

I worry that a person's instincts from life and business experiences will be ignored or dwarfed by technological advances.

John Henry, the Globe's publisher and Boston Red Sox owner, issued a public apology to the thousands of readers who didn't get their daily newspapers. Henry aimed a portion of the blame at technology; some delivery routes that the software plotted were simply inefficient, he wrote.

There's no doubt that Globe bigwigs can now pen a data dissertation on what they learned about the day-to-day work of newspaper deliverers. "It takes resources, people and technology to bring a paper from our presses to you every day," Henry wrote. "That last mile relies on a team of dedicated delivery professionals who know just the spot where you like your paper placed, what your house looks like [and] the name of your dog."

Bingo.

Peaceful coexistence

In a Business Information column last year, guest columnist Celso Mello touched upon the kind of dilemma later faced by the Globe. He stated that data tools alone will not yield the best results. Instead, human curiosity needs to play a role. "Having staffers who understand the business intimately and see potential patterns or correlations is the essential component to effective use of analytics," Mello wrote.

If, after their hour of coding, my boys are married to number-crunching and programming in school, are they going to blindly follow technology without questioning it? I hope not. Otherwise, the so-called coding generation could be in danger of losing touch with their own instincts.

Next Steps

Newspaper publishing group uses performance monitoring tools

Business decisions can't be wholly data driven

Video: Hospital CIO advocates for data sharing

This was last published in April 2016

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How can learning code incorporate business instincts along with programming?
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I believe the environment and context need to be staged. Consider the pinewood derby vs. paint by numbers. The essentials are given (not completely laid out, not just fill in the blanks) and then the challenge to create, change, morph, based on deeper or alternate methods, presentation. Some will plod, hew wood, carry water. Others will explore, astound. Stage, watch and learn.
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The Pinewood Derby is a good comparison -- and I just went to my kid's Pinewood Derby in March. So many different ways to approach the pinewood car design -- trying to win, trying to make it look cool, trying to get the audience to cheer. I like the idea of using the staged elements to then find those people who will astound you.
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We tried hour of code at our home school co-op this spring, and it was interesting to see the variety even in some of the plain problems to be solved.
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I don’t believe that teaching coding, analytics and other high-tech teachings numb intuition. They merely provide alternatives for children to express and explore their intuition.
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Perhaps not intuition but serendipity. The random discovery of ideas and techniques.
If everyone is taught the same way, they think the same way. In designing the flight computers for the space shuttle, NASA gave program requirements to three groups in three countries. NASA assumed each group working independently would come up with different ways and different code so that a problem missed by one or two groups would be found by the third. Not so. When the code was tested, each group had independently made the same mistake.
Back to serendipity. No one set out to design the modern cell phone. They set out to design a product with this set of features. Then they added some here. Added some there, hooked into the internet. Now people upload 400 hours of video every min to YouTube - most of which will never be seen.
Back to overlooking issues. Modern cars. Several modern cars can be remotely hacked via Bluetooth or internet connection. That is in part because of inquisitive, non regimented minds asking "could you do that? I have never been shown how to but...."
In my opinion we still stumble upon invention more often than order it up.
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Thanks for your comments. That cell phone example illustrates your point well about a little luck or good fortune playing a part in things. I was just talking to a colleague about past jobs, and he mentioned he had a 20-year run at a company because he happened to run into an old co-worker in an elevator. That doesn't really point to someone being inquisitive, but plays into the idea that if you're curious and have good timing on your side, great things can happen.
I wonder what the NASA folks thought when the same mistake came up three times.
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I do not think an hour of coding takes away intuition. In fact a large amount of coding requires intuition to be successful. Angry Birds was so successful, as the developers built an intuitive user interface - it is so easy to play.

The successful apps of today require simplicity, and simplicity is hard, and requires those with good design and good programming skills.

Teaching the youth how to program, and getting more into programming is essential to the future, and automating more.
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I'v been coding 30+ years and it has not hurt me yet . I think it only makes it stronger in my opinion. We have to use intuition to figure how to make our apps idiot proof..
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It depends on the person, I think. Some people really enjoy technology and will always want to try out the latest trend to solve every problem. Some will tend to approach problems from a different perspective and may find different solutions.
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In my experience, great code requires a great deal of intuition.
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It takes time for a human mind to collect certain information to collect seemingly unrelated ideas and form meta-understanding. Intuition is often referred to things like that.
Now, motivated, passionate people will do beyond "good enough" - but it's not a typical case in corp work environment. I'd say it's not a lack of intuition but a lack of freedom and motivation to use intuition.
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I think intuition is helpful when working on a project to close it out. If we can guess what the user is going to ask for before they do, we can end the job instead of it being open ended. These projects never seem to end if we just do what they ask for.
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Yes, having been an end user on new projects, I agree about the never-ending questions coming from us.
I think the earlier point about not having the freedom to use intuition is a good aspect that I wish I explored in the story above that I wrote. I certainly hear about a lot of ideas that people won't try because it's "not the way things are done here."
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@Scott - Re: freedom. I'd say, this is why technical meetups seem to be on the rise. Passionate professionals take experimenting in their own hands, if the employer is unreasonably restrictive.
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