aquiline ascension

published: 2010-10-24
author: Hans Nowak

Re: Math

The other day I saw this article posted on Hacker News: Programming Is Hard. It gives a bit of advice about why programming is harder than one might think.

At some point it says: "It's OK to suck at math; you won't be using much anyway." As soon as I saw that quote, I knew it would provoke a lot of comments on HN. Sure enough, the very first comment thread I encountered talked about it. And the second...

I talked about programming vs math before, on my Drinkable Chicken blog. Back then it stirred up quite a bit of controversy (by my blog's standards). I am not linking to it here; no point in dredging all of that up again.

While I agree with the author's statement, I also think that there isn't all that much overlap between math as taught in high school, and math that is useful for programming. 1 

Back in the day this definitely seemed to be true. Math class did not help me whatsoever programming my Commodore 64, nor did my programming experience make me any better at math (as it was taught), or even help me understand it better.

So, I suspect that when people say things like "you don't need a lot of math for programming", they are referring to what they were taught in high school (or maybe college other than CS); and when others react incredulously that, yes, math definitely is very important, they are talking about a different kind of math.

I also suspect that since high school I have been learning a lot of math while learning about programming, but I don't recognize it as such...


1  Of course, this depends on the school and on the country you're in. In my case, it was a school in the Netherlands. From what I have seen, the above applies just as well to American high schools, though.

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