Another day, another person grousing at me that Arduino portends the demise of electrical engineering. “That’s not how you’re supposed to do it.” “You could do that with an ATtiny in a breadboard.” “That’s a toy. Kids these days don’t understand real electronics.” “You could do that with a 555 and a few passives.” “Training wheels.” “You’re doing it wrong.”

A brief history lesson…

30+ years ago, every kid on the planet got a VIC-20 for their birthday (okay, maybe it was a Sinclair or a PET or even an Apple ][ if their parents were well off…and maybe it wasn’t their 12th birthday exactly…but that’s all beside the point). And every kid switched on their new machine, was greeted with a BASIC prompt and soon awkwardly typed in pretty much the exact same useless program:

10 print "Hello world!"
20 goto 10

Real Computer Scientists™ scoffed at this spreading novelty. “An entire 16K BASIC interpreter in ROM just to print some text on the screen? You could do that with a few dozen bytes of assembly language!” “Real men don’t program in BASIC!” “GOTO? Pshaw!” “That’s not a real computer, it’s just a game machine and a toy!” And for most it was indeed useless and a novelty and eventually relegated to a closet or Goodwill. Yet some tiny percentage of those kids were persistent and passionate and saw this toy — and yes, it was in fact a toy — as a gateway to something more.

Look around you. The next time you do any of the following:

• Swipe your credit card
• Play an MP3
• Get driving directions from your phone
• Buy something on Amazon
• Watch a Pixar movie
• Take a digital photo
• Check email
• Download pornography
• Book a flight

…just remember that all of those things and more, all the goods and media that rely on digital infrastructure directly or indirectly and influence your entire life experience…things no one could have forseen…your interaction is the end product of countless numbers of bright and talented people who were once 12-year-old kids who at some crucial moment in their development wrote that exact same stupid program on that same stupid toy computer, and saw this not as a waste but as all the encouragement they needed to take it to the next level, maybe even to study real computer science.

Blink those LEDs, kids. Blink them with gusto! I can’t wait to see where you take this in 30 years.
Shared publiclyView activity