Regular expressions are part of the fundamental makeup of modern software, yet few schools teach children how to use them.
"Technical literacy" is the subject of an ongoing, worldwide educational debate. Some argue that every kid should learn the basics of programming and successfully write a program or two before graduating – just as we expect every student to write an essay or two before leaving school.
I think that this is sound. We tend to think of innovative, original software as originating with engineers and computer scientists who come up with better ways to solve problems, such as the breakthroughs that let our digital cameras improve their light-balancing and signal processing. This stuff is important, it's elegant, and it's creative, but it's not the whole story.
The other kind of innovation comes from people who identify new problems to solve, new opportunities for automation and computer-assisted processes. These are just as likely to come from information-civilians as professionals. Bakers, cab drivers, and artists are just as capable of proposing novel solutions to interesting problems as skilled engineers. Indeed, some of our greatest automation successes have come from people outside computer science solving their own problems – the showstopper being Tim Berners-Lee inventing a way to share documents among physicists and inventing the world wide web.
Historically, a "domain expert" who wants to automate a system will approach an engineer, who will go through a formal process of requirements: gathering, technical design, implementation, testing and refinement. That's fine as far as it goes, but there are huge dividends to be earned by giving people the power to solve their own problems without having to suffer through the inevitable signal degradation from being interpreted by others who've never had to do the job you're trying to improve.
So yes, let's expose all our kids to the fundamentals of writing code. Most people will never write code after school, just as most will never write an essay. But much of the important information you receive will be structured like an essay, including the position papers of politicians, the curriculum statements from your kids' schools, and your workplace's code of conduct.
Read more: The Guardian