Two or more answers

One of the things that really grinds my gears, and I heard it again yesterday, was that “there are so many computer programming jobs that are currently unfilled and therefore we need to be teaching coding to every student in every class”.

It’s not that I don’t see the value in learning to program.  I absolutely see it and always have.  It’s the inference that introducing something now will fill those jobs.  Absolutely, it’s true that there will be some people that end up programming for a living.  But there are so many other benefits; taking control over your devices, understanding how to trouble-shoot, how to think your way to a solution, how to document whatever technology solution you have, …

I’ve been doing a map theme this week so stay with me as I continue.

My car has a navigation system built into it.  Sync by Microsoft.  In addition, I have Google Maps on my phone and will set the destination on both devices when headed to a new location.


Because I can.

It does irritate my wife but I think it’s kind of cool to have both devices talking to me offering instructions about how to get where I’m going.  I typically have both set to get us there as quickly as possible.  My wife asks a good question.

Why are they telling us different directions?

That’s a really good question.

Screenshot 2018-04-18 at 11.17.17

In a world of right answers and wrong answers, it’s counter-intuitive that there might be more than one right answer.  My response?  I went all computer science on her.  I explained that there are probably two different algorithms for calculating the route, the maps in the car would be as up to date as to when it was installed – we have a round-about at the end of the 401 in Windsor that isn’t on the map so we’re marked “off route” and drive through a field.  Google Maps is constantly updated and so is working on better data and reports us as being on the road.  Google Maps is also aware of traffic congestion and slowdowns.  I could buy a module for the car I suppose but I’m too cheap!

But the key is that the solutions come from two different companies and so it should come as no surprise that there might be two different algorithms for finding the fastest route.  I remember an assignment at university where we were to design an algorithm and then code a solution to navigate our way through a two-dimensional maze filled with 1s and 0s.  A 1 indicated a roadway and a 0 indicated something other than a roadway.  The maze was filled with roads that went in different directions, including dead-ends.  The only thing that we were assured of was that there was at least one way to get through the maze.  I remember it as a big head banger and no two of us had exactly the same solution.  Looking back now, I can appreciate the problem as being the type that I really like.  It celebrates the fact that the solution isn’t cookie-cutter and honours individual design and solution.

When you think about it, those of us in the class had a number of roles.  We were designers, data creators, algorithm designers, programmers, testers, documenters, and quality control people.  These equate to today’s teams of people that do all of the above.  Not all of them are programmers!  Yet, all have to understand how to solve the problem and to be able to communicate their part of the project to others.

If only there was one right answer to a problem!  If there was, we wouldn’t need designers or thinkers or, yes, coders.

All of this should inform our thinking and planning for learning and activity that promote thinking, problem solving, making, creating and not just following a simple coding script.

Then, there’s this.

We talk about “thinking outside the box”.  Check out this – Google Maps is working on a BIG new feature that means you’ll never get lost again

When you think about it, it makes so much sense but it takes some innovative thinking to make it happen.  I’ve lived in Essex County for so long now but I still don’t know the difference between Wyandotte Street and University Avenue.  Or, College Street, for that matter.  (hint – it’s nowhere near the college)  But if you gave me directions that involved turning right at the University of Windsor Welcome Centre, I know exactly what you mean!

This wouldn’t be possible if we stopped with the one correct answer.  Yes, there will be the coders that make it happen, but there will be lots of others who make it possible.  They’re all thinkers.  That is the important thing.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: Follow me on Twitter: I'm bookmarking things at:

7 thoughts on “Two or more answers”

  1. I love your focus on thinking! Kristi Keery-Bishop (@kkeerybi on Twitter) has always emphasized the importance of this. You show another reason why this is the case. What I’m thinking about the most now though is, “how would I spend all of my additional time in life if I never got lost again?” 🙂

    Aviva — #QueenOfGettingLost

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  2. I do the same thing, run the car’s nav system and Google Maps…precisely because google is constantly updated etc. It used to drive the hubby nuts, but I think he’s getting used to it…or me. I love that new update ! The older I get, the harder it is to read those tiny road signs! And from the age of 7 I could give you precise directions to get to my Grandmothers house (an hour away) only by landmarks. I still can…except she is no longer with us, and the people who live there now will think it odd when I show up.

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  3. I don’t imagine any of these programs will give directions like “take a left at the intersection where the Baptist church used to be” or “it’s the street across from where the Kimball Store used to be.” All of which would fine in my town if you have lived there as long as I have. 🙂

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  4. Alfred, I got your reply while out dog walking – my first inclination was to respond with “or with a New England accent”. Your comment reminded me of something I wanted to mention in the post and forgot.

    In my home town, there was a building that didn’t seem to be able to hold a business. Rather than giving instructions by the current business, it was always referred to as “where the old bank was”.

    But, all of this, including your reference is technically possible. It just takes a desire to have the best and most complete data available. My immediate concern would be that the instructions given my landmark could be wrong if the landmark has changed since the last time the car went by, taking pictures. I’ve noticed that the current Google instructions do make reference to road signs but given the most recent storm, what happens if a snow plough takes out the sign?

    It’s fun to think of the possibilities and would be a good start for discussion in class, especially the part about having the best and most relevant data available to the programmer.

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  5. Your post, and the responses, have me thinking about the way my city has changed in the 10 years I’ve lived here. My father-in-law, who is now 80, lived here in his 20’s. My husband gets a huge kick out of listening to the way the two of us will try to come to a negotiated agreement on what location we’re talking about. It really depends on your frame of reference as to what landmarks will be relevant.

    I am currently charging my phone to be sure that my navigational assistant (Google Maps) will get me to Orillia and back tonight (my phone is occasionally grumpy about which charger it will speak to). Part of the route I know by heart, but some of it is new, amd that’s when I rely on my tech.


  6. To respond to Alfred, & Doug, the update to Google Maps likely won’t go into a 20 minute conversation with you either (I hope) like when I used to take my Great Aunt shopping when I was a teenager. It would go something like, …

    “turn at the Old Methodist church, not the new United one, where Bob and Marie got married on the worst snow storm ever back in 12…or was it 11? And nobody could make it in to town that day, so her mother ended up giving most of the food to the neighborhood, which was a blessing and a curse, cause the snow made it hard to get anywhere for a week, but she was a terrible cook. So some just fed it to their dogs, which is what Marie was looking like in that dress, after the snow melted all over it and was dripping on the floor all the way up the isle. On the way out the poor Minister wiped out and had to be helped up by an old spinster lady sitting in the pews.

    Right or left, Aunty?

    How should I know what side that old Spinster was sitting on. That’s almost 100 years ago and I’m no spring chick myself anymore.

    Umm, Do you want me to turn right or left, Aunty?”

    If Google starts doing that, we have a lot of long drives ahead of us.


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