Arduino phenomena has to be credited for getting a lot of people familiar with Electronics and embedded systems. These people would probably remain just curious about these things otherwise. Similarly, smart phones – either Android or iOS – allow to move first steps in the world of software application development in a relatively easy way.

From this point of view, these objects are playing an import and effective role to spread the knowledge of Electronics and programming. Since digital Electronics is my job and thanks to the fact that I am constantly in touch with the technical education world, I had the chance to realize that this approach has a significant drawback. It is true that on one hand it permits non-skilled people – mainly young students – to access relatively complex technologies and build something – being it a physical prototype or an app – very quickly. However, on the other hand it makes software programming so easy that many of these learners think they are real programmers, even if most of them do not know what a pointer is.

This kind of message is getting popular in the professional arena as well, where software developers demand for increasingly easy-to-use developing tools. A couple of examples:

  • Qt 5 graphics libraries that – with the help of Qt Quick – allow to use JavaScript to code applications
  • automatic translation tools that allow to program FPGA by using high-level languages such a C and C++.

This trend is comprehensible,considering the increasing time to market pressure even in  slow-paced segments [1] such as industrial.

As time passes by, my concern is that this learning approach becomes the norm, in the sense that is not just a first step followed by a rigorous – and long and tough! – technical education but a sort of short cut. As a consequence, technical culture might remain superficial and depthless. Should this occurs, in turn there will be severe consequences in economy because it would be virtually impossible to turn this phenomena to something that creates value and sustainable jobs. In order for this to happen, highly skilled people are required instead, who are able to master technical stuff. This is even more true in a competitive and globalized world like the one we are living in.

A final thought. Often this phenomena is compared to the one that occurred in the 60s and 70s in the USA, when people like Hewlett, Packard, Wozniack, Jobs etc. created – starting from their own garages – new companies that would become huge corporations, dominant in the information technology market. In my opinion this does not stand comparison because, at that time, the access to information was extremely difficult – the Internet, as we know it today, was just unthinkable – and makers had to make enormous intellectual efforts even to conceive things that appear to be trivial nowadays, but that were very challenging then.

 

[1] With regard to the consumer world.