Programming Computers – and why we’re failing miserably

In preparation for receiving my Raspberry Pi I downloaded the Raspberry Pi User Guide from Amazon by Eben Upton and Gareth Halfacree.

In the introductory chapter Upton makes an observation that I too have seen in the past. The computers we use today, many of us don’t use them to their full potential.

I saw this doing Program Reviews for the RI Department of Education a few years ago. In one class they were using Excel to do a payroll sheet. The teacher had them using a paper look-up to calculate the tax.

This prompted me to ask the teacher if they had any plans to teach them about VBA, a fairly powerful little tool inherent in Microsoft Office since day one. And it hews to BASIC, a language that if you took any computer class, you more than likely have a passing knowledge of it.

With that you could have a module that auto-calculates the tax and other deductions. The teachers answer was that you needed advanced math to program a computer. Granted, when compared to some others I did get a bit more advanced mathematics training for my I.S. degree but out of all of it the most used is some algebraic functions. So on my review I put that they should introduce students to programming using Microsoft VBA that is included with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and even Outlook!

In my career I’ve done extensive VBA in Word, Excel, Access and Outlook. In Word it was to do automatic document conversions from WordPerfect, in Excel it was normalizing data such as fixing short UPC codes, etc. and in Outlook it was a routine to scan the body of a message looking for a specific indicator, then forward the message to a pre-determined route. This is what allowed police department in RI to run a suspects fingerprints and receive positive identification if the subject had prior contact with the criminal justice system.

That’s the power of VBA.

And if kids knew that – and perhaps some Python there’s no end to what we might see.

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