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My Dad is impatient with the pace of my learning to program. What do I do?

I am 14 and have been studying programming for 4 months now (3 months Python, 1 Month of Ruby). I haven't been pushed by my parents to do it, I took it up on my own. Whenever I try to show something I made to my dad, he says he finds no value in it. At first, I wrote simple text games, like a text version of rock paper scissors, roulette, blackjack, etc. When that got too easy, I tried to make them as advanced as possible. I made a roulette game in Ruby based off instance_eval and method_missing. I showed them to him, and he said that was "childish" to make games. After games got too easy, I have started extending the features of the languages, I made a module for a "Changeable Range" in Python, where one could just write:

j = crange.CRange(5)

then

j.shift(10)

to shift the start and stop up ten and

j.reverse()

to create a reversed range. I showed it to him and he said "There is no value in that." Is there a way to explain to him that there is value in my programs, or am I just moving at a very slow pace in my learning?

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marked as duplicate by Yannis Rizos Apr 26 '12 at 21:12

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Is your dad a programmer? Does he have any programming knowledge? If not, it's possible he'll never get it, my dad still has no idea what I do all day. –  Yannis Rizos Apr 26 '12 at 19:50
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People like visuals. Showing them a text thing or showing them something you wrote as a language library is not exactly the most exciting thing in the world. Ever tried to explain what you do to other people, who aren't programmers? They'll react roughly the same way (yawns and boredom). Even my significant other doesn't really grok what I do, but she at least is happy I enjoy it. My dad didn't even think my computer skills were of any real use until I fixed his company's payment system. –  birryree Apr 26 '12 at 19:56
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I'm sorry but your father is not very supportive. I had the same problem with my mother when I was young - eventually you learn to only share your aspirations with people you know will support and encourage you. –  MattDavey Apr 26 '12 at 19:58
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I'd compare it to normal school work. Most of the school work produced by an average 14 year-old has essentially no value beyond learning. There's a lot better chance of your code having real value than there being any innate value to most of what you do as homework (unless your homework is a lot different from anything I did at that age). –  Jerry Coffin Apr 26 '12 at 20:10
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Joe Loo I've decided to close the question as not constructive, because several of the answerers didn't respect your question enough to give you useful answers, and instead went ahead and posted their highly subjective and completely irrelevant opinions on the matter. One thing you've learned here today is that adults can be extremely silly. Since a very similar question was found, I closed it as a dupe instead, and will be deleting the opinion heavy answers you got here shortly. –  Yannis Rizos Apr 26 '12 at 21:16
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11 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

I showed it to him and he said "There is no value in that."

That's like saying that there's no value in playing with Lego bricks, doing puzzles, reading, fooling around with a guitar, etc. It's true, nobody is going to pay you to do those things. But you don't become a mechanical engineer or a concert musician by being instantly endowed with a great deal of knowledge. You build the skills that you'll need to do those things over years. You start with the very simple and build from there.

The value is not in what you've created, it's in what you've learned.

It's impossible for us to guess what would convince your dad that what you're doing is worthwhile. Maybe he thinks that all of software development is a sham, that it's not real work because you don't get your hands dirty. Who knows? But if he agrees that there's value in software at all, he should be able to see that what you're doing is helping to prepare you for building bigger, better things in the future.

And frankly, as a father, he should be looking for ways to support you in what you do and in what makes you happy, not tear you down. Perhaps there's some deeper issue that's making that difficult for him to do that. The best you can do is to try to understand him and do your best to relate. Part of growing up is figuring out that your parents don't know everything after all.

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+1 to this. I still remember the look on my mom's face when I explained how I'd solved a difficult real-world issue using a technique I first learned from writing Starcraft scripts. –  Mason Wheeler Apr 26 '12 at 23:05
    
+1 for last sentence –  MattDavey Apr 27 '12 at 16:31
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Parental approval is always nice, but is much more likely that your dad simply doesn't understand what you are doing. All he sees is the final product, which in and of itself really may not have value. For example, Video Games do not actually have value, but they are technical masterpieces. The specific algorithms, caching, load balancing and, of course, rendering are often pure genius. Instead of showing him the final product, try show him how much work went into it, the studying you had to do, the understanding of numerical progression, the trial and error and so forth.

Every programming task requires that you either learn something (or many things) or learn how to see something in a different way. While your father might not understand the specifics of programming, he would almost certainly welcome seeing all of the different things that you are learning while going through the process. A child's personal growth is very high on the list of things that makes parents glow :)

If you like programming, stick with it and learn everything you can because it will certainly take good care of you. Feel free to show him some of the recent Salary Surveys for experienced developers and point out that, even though he might not see the value, the marketplace definitely does. Software Developers make decent money - money that can let you get your own apartment, pay for your own college, Food, car, insurance, etc. I'm sure your dad will see the value in that!

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Computer programming is a way to solve problems. People pay you money to solve their problems.

You need to make the connection between some code you wrote and a potential problem that could be solved with that. It doesn't have to be too fancy or complex, but this connection will be clearer to your dad than showing him a game or library method. Examples:

  1. A simple web application. Work through a tutorial of a programming book, and it will show how to make a web-app for a pretend store.
  2. Make a simple calculator program
  3. Make an address book program that keeps your contacts
  4. Make a calendar program
  5. Make a Math equation program. I don't know what level of Math you are on, but one of the first programs I made was for finding the hypotenuse of a triangle.

After you do something like that (or simpler), you can show that you can customize these programs yourself with your programming knowledge.

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In addition to the other good answers here, I suspect that your dad won't see any of the programs you make as having value when it has no direct value to him. Suppose you coded a mortgage calculator that could tell him how much he had paid and how much remained, based on inputs of interested rates, ammortization period, initial amount, etc.. That might be something he can see value in if he has ever had to pay a mortgage.

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Given that a lot of people are still underwater on their mortgages, it might be better not to remind him. –  Caleb Apr 26 '12 at 20:36
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In an extremely narrow sense your father is right: no one is going to trade you money, food, or shelter for your programming exercises. The same is true for learning the alphabet, learning the multiplication tables, or learning to play 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little, Star" on the piano.

However, this is an absurdly short-sighted point of view. None of those activities is valuable to anyone but yourself, but for you they are essential. They are the building blocks that create the skills that you must have to begin your adult life. Just as no one becomes an accountant without having learned the multiplication tables, or a concert pianist without learned the equivalent of "Twinkle, Twinkle", no one becomes a professional programmer without having gone through exercises like writing a 'rock, paper, scissors" game.

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Hm, if you could expand a bit on the second paragraph, this might actually answer the question. –  Yannis Rizos Apr 26 '12 at 21:20
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If you broke down all the different things that you learned in making your programs then he may see some value. For example, what skills did you develop in writing those programs? What kinds of ideas or knowledge is now with you that wasn't there previously? That would be what I'd do assuming you want to beat the dead horse even more. The reason I call this a dead horse is to imagine anyone's first few lines of poetry, attempts at singing a pop song, or other artistic expressions that may not be great initially but with practice and persistence things can really change.

The other way to move forward here would be to ask your dad for something he'd like a program to do and make that for him. That way you know why he would want it, he asked for it. Granted this does presume some trust and faith in his part in coming up with something realistic yet simple, but that would likely be far better.

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My daddy knew a lot of guitar players, and most of them didn't work, so he said, "You should make your mind up to either be a guitar player or an electrician, but I never saw a guitar player that was worth a damn." - Elvis Presley

Considering the above quote, what qualifies your fathers opinion to mean so much?

I started out when I was 13, but my weapon of choice was self taught 6502 ASM and BASIC on a Apple ][ and Commodore C=64. My parents thought me saving up all my allowance and side work money to by my first C=64 and 5.25 Floppy drive was crazy. That as in 1980.

To this day my father has no idea what I do either, he quit school in the 5th grade to run the family farm, he owned his own company building roads and highways for 38 years, he is now 77. He was what you would call an Individual Contributor his entire life, he drove a truck, my mother ran the company. Other than telling him, programming is giving detailed instructions to the computer on what to do to make something happen, he doesn't really care past that.

He definitely didn't understand what I thought I was going to do with a college degree in art either, but he helped pay for that and supported me in that as well.

I am in management now, that probably has even less perceived value to him; now I tell people what to tell the computers to do and don't do any individual contributor anymore.

He is proud I can take care of myself and my family, and him if he ever needs it; that is all the validation I need to have.

Beyond that I feel little need for him to understand or find value in the physical act of me sitting at a desk all day long typing code into a computer; or now sitting in endless conference calls and responding to hundreds of emails a day on the projects I over see.

The point here is Elvis didn't let his father get him down or discourage him; you should not either. Go ahead and be the next Steve Jobs; that job isn't taken anymore.

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He's 14. Elvis died 21 years before he was born. There is a chance he doesn't even know who Elvis is. That may not be the hippest quote to drive home your point to the new blood. –  Philip Apr 26 '12 at 20:36
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@Philip But his dad probably knows who Elvis was. And no harm in OP discovering Elvis through this answer. –  Yannis Rizos Apr 26 '12 at 21:21
    
the point is a father not appreciating the aspirations of his son and finding no value in them; that is timeless and so is Elvis. It didn't stop Elvis from becoming the best loved musician in the world, still to this day! –  Jarrod Roberson Apr 26 '12 at 22:24
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If you really wanted to try to impress him, ask him: "What do you wish your computer would do?" Then write a script that will do that thing (or something similar), maybe with a slick interface. Given what I know about Python, that might be quite possible for you.

One thing non-programmers don't really appreciate is that programming gives you control over a machine, allowing you to do exactly what you want it to. Making an app that lets a user do something he wants give some insight into that.

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As someone who is highly skeptical of modern society's fascination with video games, I can still say that when you are a programmer, no program has no value. It has value in the experience and the things you learned in writing it. If you are ever to write anything useful, it will be because you cut your teeth writing "useless" programs.

That is about like me deriding my two year old for stacking blocks. Yes it has no real use, but it does have use in his personal development.

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I disagree, writing video games, or any other program has at least one practical use that is empirical. You can make a very very good living at doing it, in a nice climate controlled environment. Even subjectively useless programs. –  Jarrod Roberson Apr 26 '12 at 20:20
    
@jarrod You miss my point. –  Jonathan Henson Apr 26 '12 at 21:29
    
@JarrodRoberson I never claimed that video games WERE useless, though I do believe that people waste too much time on them, anyhow that opinion is highly irrelevant. My point is even if someone believes something to be useless then ... Stating my opinion was put there to say, even I, someone who doesn't care for gamer culture, see the use of someone writing video games. B.t.W. there is a lot of useless shit in this world that people make money on, that doesn't mean it isn't useless, just that people sometimes waste their money. –  Jonathan Henson Apr 26 '12 at 21:40
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One of the best things a computer can do for the average person is save them time. See if you can find a way to save your dad some time on something he does regularly.

Time is ALWAYS valuable.

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I am often asked by adults to teach them how to program. It never goes very far becasue I alsways ask them after the first lesson what do they want to write. If they don't have any idea, I know they will not become a programmer.

If they can qucikly see the value in the first lesson, they start making these small fun programs. They experiment, investigate, and explore on their own.

Most programers have made these types of programs. Are they worth money? No. On their own were they worth the effort? No. But as the first steps towards a rewarding hobby or career? Priceless.

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It's a poor teacher who gives up on a student after the first lesson. –  Caleb Apr 26 '12 at 20:49
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Never said I was a teacher, these are coworkers who think they can learn how to program in a couple of hours. –  mhoran_psprep Apr 26 '12 at 20:58
    
@Caleb: It's also a poor student who gives up on a teacher after the first lesson. You might argue that it is the teachers responsibility to inspire, but if the student has other goals to attain with a subject matter (such as getting a well paid job by programming) that is not in alignment with the craft itself then both the teacher and the student will be in a world of pain. –  Spoike Apr 27 '12 at 7:27
    
@Spoike There's no indication of students giving up on the teacher. mhoran_psprep explains that those people who don't take off on their own after the first lesson "will not become a programmer." People learn at different rates; it may take a while for the light to turn on. After just one lesson, some may not have internalized enough to really understand what they can write, let alone what they want to write. –  Caleb Apr 27 '12 at 7:42
    
@Caleb, maybe you haven't encountered them but there are students who still don't give a damn even after the 5th session and just pay you to do their assignments. Such behavior makes you not want to live in this planet anymore. –  Spoike Apr 27 '12 at 9:55
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