I have been teaching programming for a while, and recently, I started teaching to web students.
After a few months of teaching, I proposed to add Go to the program. And it’s not because I want them to be Go programmers.
The web student profile
It’s a 3 years formation, with 3 specialities (webmarketing, webdesign, webdev) beginning from the first year.
I have been in contact with all the years through different subjects, few including support classes.
Here is some specificites about that students that I focused:
- They mainly code with very high-level languages. The most low-level language is objective-C.
- When there is a bug, the first reflex is to search on google, or groping with approximate variations.
- They copy/paste a lot of code from the internet.
- They have difficulties to deal with complexes datastructures.
- They rarely think from a perspective of software design.
- They leak of a wider IT culture, and they express a strong desire to fill this gap.
I have been teaching for 4 years now, in different schools, and a class always has significant students with different levels of programming. However, the 2 last points (design, IT culture) are very true even for the most advanced students.
A question, several possible answers
How to improve their methodology quality ?
I made a proposal : Teach them a programming language with the following specifities :
- Strong and explicit typing.
- A strict language (syntax, design).
- Easy to include in the school program.
- Not too frustrating for student accustomed to fast coding languages.
Several possibilities :
- C/C++/OCaml : Would be very time-consuming to teach.
- Python/Ruby/Perl : Not enough typing.
- Java : Time-consuming too (specially dev environment), even if teached in 2nd year. My favorite so far.
As you guessed, we choose Go.
A lot of good points for Go here :
- Fast learning : “less is more”, few keywords, no pointer arythmetic, not too low-level operations
- Strong and explicit typing
- Make think about design : no recursive imports, no complex object mechanics = Obligation of simplicity
- Fast-coding, less frustration : Recursivity (powerful fmt.Println, json.Unmarshall, etc), a lot of packages, strong expressivity.
Let’s do it : 15 to 21 hours of Go per class + An extra full week of Go for first year.
The first students reaction is : Why ? Why Golang for web developpers ?
I was very clear with them, and even more, I went into the details of the habits I had detected in them, and the new light that I would like give. Also, I didn’t want them to think it’s only about making API.
I proceeded in 3 stages:
- Basics: Go run/build, some simple exercices (read/write in a file), array/map/object, etc.
- How to assess the quality of a program?
- Golang advanced functionnalities : Goroutines, go tools, a quick tour of the packages, etc.
- The birth of Go : Frustrations, objectives
- Comparison with other languages : Speed, safety, ease of use, multithreading, metaprogramming (a lot of IT culture here)
- Go today : Statistics, famous businesses using it
- For which projects should you use Golang ?
- Personnal feedback
Exception : 3rd years had the conference first.
The students reaction globally the same :
- After some practice, the need of more rigor in typing became more obvious
- For a lot of them, that video about strange typing behaviour was game-changing.
- The conference got a lot of questions on IT culture : Specialy on why Golang if adapted or not to a project and on why Golang is hight-performant.
- They would have liked to get the conference earlier. Before coding. And it’s true that the 3rd year was the most motivated class from the beggining.
- During the course, they especially enjoyed asides on corollaries concepts (panic vs error in different languages, implementation behind goroutines or maps, etc.)
- Some students ask the school more Golang courses, and told that It would be even better from the beginning of the year (!)
- The 3rd students had a more advanced final project : A chat and a collaborative canvas drawing (front web + API Go). They were very motivated about it.
The desire to learn more about IT culture, and to think differently was stronger that I thought, and I’m very satisfied about what we get. The students had an excellent state of mind during this experience, and it was a pleasure for me too !