[erlang-questions] Erlang for youngsters

Garrett Smith g@REDACTED
Mon Jun 16 10:50:39 CEST 2014

On Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 9:51 AM, Torben Hoffmann
<torben.hoffmann@REDACTED> wrote:


> I think that a learning resource focused on teaching people the Erlang model from the
> ground up would be a great improvement. A clear narrative around how do we solve a
> problem the Erlang way. Teaching the basic constructs is not the problem.
> My initial target for such a learning resources would be young people in the higher
> grades of elementary school, say 12-15 years. Why? Because I want to influence them
> before their minds are totally corrupted by other programming models.
> I don't think we would have to dumb anything down in particular for this group - we
> just have to find a cool example and organise the learning around how to become so
> good that one can solve such a problem.
> Some sort of game will probably be the best candidate, say, some sort of Transport
> Tycoon clone?!?!

I don't have enough experience teaching programming to this age group
to provide anything more than a hunch. But I suspect that the Erlang
way, which is hard enough for very seasoned programmers to grok, might
be a bit ambitious for these young learners.

I'm speaking in particular about the model that emerges when you
isolate processes. It changes everything: your approach to building
software (move from state oriented to activity oriented), error
handling (move from defensive measures to assertive/let-it-crash),
program structure (from monolith to system), and so on. The benefits
of this shift are hard to get across, in my experience anyway. I wish
it wasn't, or I wish I was better at communicating.

I think maybe just teaching a new language might be enough ambition
for this group. I don't mean to throw cold water on this. Just
thinking out loud.

> And now for the controversial part of my idea: this should probably be done using
> Elixir plus something for the GUI.
> Yes, I said the other E word, so I'm ready to be stoned ;-) [1]
> Why Elixir?
> Programming Elixir requires the same understanding of the Erlang concurrency model in
> order to program well. Otherwise you are just doing Ruby-on-BEAM, which is kinda lame
> and misses the boat totally.
> So using Elixir would allow us to expose people to the Erlang model, which I think is
> the main point. The more people that uses the BEAM, the better for the
> FindingDevelopers problem.
> What is better about Elixir from a learning standpoint is, in my highly subjective
> opinion, that you can get started quite easily with the mix tool.
> Furthermore, the Elixir syntax is more familiar to youngsters. I asked my 12 year old
> son to have a look in the "Introducing Elixir" book and his initial reaction was
> "That's easy to read, it looks like lua." Minimising the amount of surprise is a good
> thing!

All of these points are true -- Elixir has a huge advantage here.
Which is why I'm afraid you must be stoned.

> Given that I think games are awesome for teaching there needs to be some sort of GUI
> element at some point and here I'm leaning towards Elm (http://elm-lang.org) since it
> is functional, but other suggestions are most welcome.

All I can say for sure is that if you can create a simple developer
experience around building anything related to *Minecraft* you have a
chance at capturing the minds of an entire generation of programmers.

> Am I on the right track to anything with this?
> Is there a need for such a learning resource?
> Is Concurrent, Functional Programming relevant enough to warrant putting some energy into?

What does the 12 year old say?

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