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Michael Bloomberg: You Can't Teach a Coal Miner To Code

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the you-can't-teach-an-old-dog-how-to-use-a-for-loop dept.

Businesses 581

theodp (442580) writes "Gigaom reports that while speaking at the Bloomberg Energy Summit on Wednesday, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he gives 'a lot of money to the Sierra Club' to help close dirty coal plants, but added that as a society we have to 'have some compassion to do it gently.' Subsidies to help displaced workers are one option, said Bloomberg, while retraining is another option. But, in a slight to the tech industry's sometimes out-of-touch nature with workers outside of Silicon Valley, he said retraining needs to be realistic, 'You're not going to teach a coal miner to code,' argued Bloomberg. 'Mark Zuckerberg says you teach them to code and everything will be great. I don't know how to break it to you... but no.'"

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unless (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725795)

he's chinese.

code, or be left behind.

from each according to his abilities. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725797)

Commrade Bloomberg, chair of The Party and head of the NYFSB, will assign you a job.

You can't use your coding skills while mining salt in a Siberian gulag.

He's right! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725815)

Coding is not for everyone, and simply putting everyone into tech-training is not the answer (it will just create another problem).

Hulk hogan could code too (5, Insightful)

invictusvoyd (3546069) | about 7 months ago | (#46725997)

Possible . With a lot of effort a team of bright minds could teach hulk hogan to do some java . But then , who's gonna fight the undertaker??

Right! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726063)

For once, I agree with Bloomberg. It's unreasonable to expect everyone to reup their skills and become a programmer. That's not realistic and it only adds more problems. If 'custodial engineers' were to drop everything and become programmers, who'd do the dirty work that they do?

I'm at a loss here, I can't paint worth a damn. It would be pointless for me to give up my day job to become an artist.

Not everyone needs to understand how to program a computer. Not everyone needs to know how to build a house. Not everyone needs to know how to pilot a plane. They are all great skills to know, but there's only so much mastery a person can obtain.

Re:He's right! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726141)

Bloomberg, for all of his faults, is correct on this. The majority of coal miners are unlikely to be acceptable software developers. In fact, there are many, many professional software developers currently in industry who cannot write good software. Why else would a standard interview question be Fizz-Buzz, which is utterly trivial for any skilled software developer but regularly stumps industry professionals with 10+ years of experience?

Ability to design and write software... (5, Insightful)

eyepeepackets (33477) | about 7 months ago | (#46725817)

...requires foundations laid down in the 5th and 6th grade of school, mostly math, but also the interest and desire to learn. Some people get it, some don't get it. So it's more accurate to say that some coal miners may be able to learn to code: Watch out for those blanket generalizations, they bite back.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1, Troll)

Rob Kaper (5960) | about 7 months ago | (#46725857)

Watch out for those blanket generalizations, they bite back.

Nothing is said about the ability of coal miners to learn how to code. You just can't teach them.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725935)

That's ridiculous. You can teach them, the issue here is that coding is not the only job out there and flooding the field with more coders doesn't spontaneously mean there's more coding that needs to be done or more people willing to pay.

This is about that asshole from FB advocating for a policy that would drive down the wages of programmers by flooding the market. It has nothing at all to do with the ability of coal miners to be taught or anything else.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726109)

The real issue is that some kinds of people would never be having this sort of pedantic discussion in the first place. They're not stupid enough to get bogged down in the subtle distinctions (from their point of view; to us it's plain as day) that allow us to do our jobs.

Next time you have an argument with your girlfriend, I dare you to try to distinguish between "I didn't say that," and "I said something different than that." When you're crying over losing your girlfriend, you'll see that in many contexts, strict logic is a liability and makes you a less articulate speaker. Yet without this bullshit, you can't be a competent coder. It is truly a fucked up world and it really does require all types. The Vulcans would go extinct. It's pretty amazing that coders and miners are able to so well maintain the preposterous illusion that they're parts of the same society.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (2)

mopower70 (250015) | about 7 months ago | (#46726085)

Watch out for those blanket generalizations, they bite back.

Nothing is said about the ability of coal miners to learn how to code. You just can't teach them.

lolwut? "Oh, they can learn, they just can't be taught." So they arrive at these new skill-sets organically through osmosis?

Re:Ability to design and write software... (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 7 months ago | (#46725879)

I don't think anybody is saying "there is no coal miner on the planet you can teach to code".

What they're saying is "do not count on training all coal miners to write code and expect that to work".

Zuckerschmuck saying "teach them to code and everything will be great", then he really is clueless and out of touch. But, we knew that anyway.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1)

jythie (914043) | about 7 months ago | (#46726001)

Well put. People are focusing too much on the specific combination here and skipping over the reference to the more general problem with Zuckericanneverrmemberthespelling's overly focused solution.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1)

dyslexicbunny (940925) | about 7 months ago | (#46726039)

Most of those "do this and you'll be fine!" folks are generally out of touch. If you spend all day around smart engineers, it's pretty easy to think that most of them will be able to make a career shift fairly easily. But when you interact with people that aren't so sharp fairly regularly, it's overwhelmingly easy to conclude that those folks are shit out of luck. I think in the next 20 years, many of the repetitive simple jobs will be reduced such that we're going to have a hard time finding things for these newly unemployed people to do.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726081)

How about simply "try to teach everyone to code, and whoever gets it, gets it" - whether or not someone happens to be a coal miner at the moment is completely irrelevant.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (5, Interesting)

ZeroPly (881915) | about 7 months ago | (#46726199)

Additionally, this is a false dichotomy. A coal miner might not be interested in coding, or suited for it, but he might be great at putting engines into the new model Tesla. It's the TOTAL number of high-paying jobs that's important, and people tend to gravitate to what they like. I could never imagine working nine to five on an auto assembly line, but that's what people did 50 years ago at GM, for $20 an hour before the cheap labor conservatives came along and crapped in the punch bowl.

Focus on the important things. Tie the H-1B visa allocation to unemployment, so that if unemployment is above say 6%, the visa quota goes to zero. Put the screws down on trade with China and India. There will be plenty of non-coding jobs for coal miners. We've tried "free trade" for the last thirty years, ask a 22 year old on their 500th resume submission how well that's worked out for us.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (5, Insightful)

Warbothong (905464) | about 7 months ago | (#46726203)

Zuckerschmuck saying "teach them to code and everything will be great", then he really is clueless and out of touch. But, we knew that anyway.

More likely is that Zuckerberg, being at the top of an established pyramid, would love to see a huge influx of programmers into the job market.

Wages would come down, saving money for all established players. Average quality would also come down, making it more difficult for startups to disrupt the status quo.

It's the same as all this visa and lack-of-STEM nonsense.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (2)

bitt3n (941736) | about 7 months ago | (#46726243)

I don't think anybody is saying "there is no coal miner on the planet you can teach to code".

What they're saying is "do not count on training all coal miners to write code and expect that to work".

The problem is that by running with the most plausible interpretation, you give up the opportunity to shake your head sadly whilst piously intoning moral platitudes.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (4, Informative)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 7 months ago | (#46725969)

So it's more accurate to say that some coal miners may be able to learn to code: Watch out for those blanket generalizations, they bite back.

If you actually RTFA, you'll see that Bloomburg didn't actually make the blanket generalization he's accused of, he was referring to exactly what you said here: Not all coal miners are fit to be programmers, so to say "just teach them to code and they'll all become programmers" smacks of elitism and a lack of understanding about how the non-tech world works.

To that end, Zuckerburg's quote sounds like it could have come straight from the mouth of Marie Antoinette.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1)

_UnderTow_ (86073) | about 7 months ago | (#46726077)

So it's more accurate to say that some coal miners may be able to learn to code: Watch out for those blanket generalizations, they bite back.

If you actually RTFA, you'll see that Bloomburg didn't actually make the blanket generalization he's accused of, he was referring to exactly what you said here: Not all coal miners are fit to be programmers, so to say "just teach them to code and they'll all become programmers" smacks of elitism and a lack of understanding about how the non-tech world works.

To that end, Zuckerburg's quote sounds like it could have come straight from the mouth of Marie Antoinette.

More like "could have come straight from whoever originally said 'let them eat cake'". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Ability to design and write software... (5, Funny)

gstoddart (321705) | about 7 months ago | (#46726083)

To that end, Zuckerburg's quote sounds like it could have come straight from the mouth of Marie Antoinette.

Let them eat code.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1)

Zalbik (308903) | about 7 months ago | (#46726245)

Let them eat code.

I'll take a steaming cup of Java please....ba dum dum...

I'm here all week! Try the fish!

Re:Ability to design and write software... (2)

TangoMargarine (1617195) | about 7 months ago | (#46726177)

If you teach someone to program, by definition they'll be a programmer. It's a tautology.

What language it is (I bet a lot of people could handle TI-BASIC*), how well they learn it, and how useful the end result is are further considerations.

This topic seems rife with terminology problems and ridiculous blanket statements by all sides.

*Although compared to real programming languages, it's a rather terrible place to start. The 83+ version has GOTOs and the only way you can get functions is by some horrible language abuse.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726029)

I resemble that remark, as in my life I have done both.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726045)

Exceptions don't make him inaccurate, his sentiment is correct, practical, and useful. Just because a few smart, mathematically-technically minded people may have ended up in a coal mine doesn't change the real problem he's speaking to. I don't know if the tech world push to "teach everyone to code" really means everyone, which is insanely naive, or just "teach more people to code who have the ability" which is fine.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1)

failedlogic (627314) | about 7 months ago | (#46726069)

> requires foundations laid down in the 5th and 6th grade of school, mostly math, but also the interest and desire to learn.

I'm good to very good at math and interested in computers. So I thought I would be a programmer. I couldn't quite figure out some concepts as easily but more importantly there were some people that could code in circles around me. Depends also on the language used, textbooks and documentation. Some people have it some don't and you most certainly can't teach that. You also can't really predict who has it and who doesn't.

I think some languages are probably more suited to strong Math skills. Others are for people that are more Systematic thinkers. And others probably demand more Artistic skills think where end goal is graphics (math there too!), web, UI.

As I've learned career choice isn't just a matter of choice but of circumstance. Assuming a Coal Miner can't code is presupposing a lot about their work duties and abilities. Heck, some might make a better CEO or Mayor than Bloomberg.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (3, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 7 months ago | (#46726167)

The statement is about a solution for a group. The simple truth is that your not going to solve the problem of unemployment in West Virginia if you stop all coal mining by trying to teach the coal miners to code. A few might but it will not be a solution.
The real truth is that if you do shut down the coal mines "not going to happen" you will have massive unemployment. Towns will become ghost towns, people will move away, schools will close, people will default on their homes, and businesses will shut down.
The only way to prevent this would be for new jobs to move in exactly as the mines shut down. You would need to get companies to put in manufacturing or some other kind of mining in sync with shutting down the mines. Good luck with that.

That is one reason I am really disappointed with Motorola being sold off, I was hopping that it would be a new start to manufacturing in the US. I would also love to see the US Gov do more to help the General Aviation industry. Most GA planes where made in the US and support a lot of really good paying jobs at FBOs and small airports across the country. Think of General Aviation as a good way to take money from the upper class and spread to to the middle class.

The coal mines will not shut down because they have the political perfect storm as a tool. The coal mines are usually in states with republican reps. The miners are in unions so they have the democrats that are pro union to support them. So both parties will support coal for a very long time.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1)

judoguy (534886) | about 7 months ago | (#46726181)

What a prick.

Of course not everyone WANTS to code.

I made terrible grades and dropped out of high school. Just didn't go back after barely getting out of the 11th grade. My kids are the first in my paternal line to EVER go to college as far as I know. I was a carpenter(though not a coal miner) for the first 13 years of my working adult life.

Then I bought a first gen IBM pc and started teaching myself programming, just for the hell of it. Loved it.

Yeah, my first coding efforts were crap, but I busted my ass and learned how to do it right. Quickly enough to be a real asset to my employers. I've made my living as a software developer for more than 30 years now.

Learning something technical is almost 100% desire, not some special talent given to the blessed few.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726221)

Mostly math? Hate to break it to you but beyond most basic math, most programming uses very little advanced math like calculus or diffEq.
Anyone who can do basic math can be taught to do database programming (over 90% of the programming jobs out there) without a lengthy training period.

But they do have to have a natural interest in it. That cannot be taught.

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1)

sribe (304414) | about 7 months ago | (#46726225)

Watch out for those blanket generalizations, they bite back.

Especially the ones that reek of classist arrogance and condescension ;-)

Re:Ability to design and write software... (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 7 months ago | (#46726241)

By some we are of course talking less than 1% of the coal miner population with enough fundamentals to even have a chance at a quick re-training (a year or two), and the right desirers, personality, and intelligence.

And lets remember, these people ?picked? or at least have been doing for decades a physical trade. Going in and saying to them they all need to become intellectual desk jockeys not only won't work but is just cruel. If you are going to offer opportunities to coal miners, offer them trades retraining.

Governments and corporations might like to think of people as interchangeable cogs, but that is not the reality.

As the old Adage goes... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725827)

You can't teach an old dog new tricks

Compelling argument (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 7 months ago | (#46725833)

Yes, they're not going to be designing algorithms, but there is plenty of grunt work to do too. There is a reason the term 'computer janitor' exists.

Re:Compelling argument (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725947)

I don't think that's a good thing, I feel like that's why most software is bad, even major products.

Pretty much true (1, Informative)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 7 months ago | (#46725841)

Not only is it hard for people to learn new skills later in life, but coding is something that requires a certain aptitude. Sure, some coal miners might be able to learn how to code, but I would think very few of them could. If they could, they wouldn't be working in a coal mine. There's plenty of people who chose programming as a career and yet still can't program their way out of a paper bag (fizz buzz [codinghorror.com] ), I don't think the chances of most people from non-technical fields are good at all.

Re:Pretty much true (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725983)

That's not at all true. It's hard for people to learn skills later in lilfe because people tend to be attached and invested in their own life experience. Learning a new skill can require changing ones mindset. There's absolutely no reason why somebody can't learn to be an excellent programmer well into middle age and beyond. World class is probably not realistic, but that's more a reflection on the time it takes to develop those skills.

Aptitudes change and can be developed, there's tons of things that I absolutely sucked at and had no aptitude for initially where I stuck it out and developed an aptitutde. The brain is far more changeable than people give it credit for.

Re:Pretty much true (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726017)

There's plenty of people who chose programming as a career and yet still can't program their way out of a paper bag

How does that analogy even make sense? Can anyone actually program their way out of a paper bag?

Re:Pretty much true (1)

Old97 (1341297) | about 7 months ago | (#46726123)

Yes, if you are programming a robot or a bag ripping device.

Does Michael Bloomberg know how to code? (0)

mbone (558574) | about 7 months ago | (#46725851)

Does Michael Bloomberg know how to code? In fact, does he actually know how to do anything, or does he have people for that?

yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725995)

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-16440126

He might not know how to program... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726121)

But he did own a tech company (Bloomberg L.P.) and that's how me made his millions. He was savvy businessman.

Re:Does Michael Bloomberg know how to code? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 7 months ago | (#46726143)

He doesn't need to know how to do anything. He's a manager.

You can't teach an ex-mayor to code. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725853)

Or anything, really.

project manage then (1)

jaymz666 (34050) | about 7 months ago | (#46725865)

cause we all know there aren't enough project managers who could coal mine

Re:project manage then (2)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 7 months ago | (#46726107)

We could use more PMs, but we have another problem: most PMs are terrible; and, although you can apply PM effectively to anything, you are a hell of a lot more effective if you have foundational knowledge of the project's domain.

Miyomoto Musashi said that a foreman must know all aspects of a carpenter: once the carpenter has lain floors, and built furniture, and carved designs and cut wedges and doors and columns, he can be a foreman. A good foreman can move from carpentry to a steel factory; but he will need to rely on experienced steel mill workers to explain a lot of things to him, and to help him work with the inexperienced and get them on track. A foreman who has been a steel worker will understand most of the base, will get new information from the experienced steel workers who know new processes and tools, and will be able to effectively direct the inexperienced to experienced steel workers and direct the experienced steel workers to get him trained in specific skills he is lacking in and "anything else you think he needs".

We can turn a coal worker into an ITPM. We will do much better turning IT people into ITPM.

Eventually, we get the same problem that we have with programmers: we have too fucking many STEM people, and the labor flood is creating high unemployment and low salaries. I'm trying to get in on these $160k PM salaries, but I expect them to drop to reasonable $90k salaries eventually. As well, I expect the job to turn into less of being the first guy awake, last guy to sleep, always there on weekends kind of thing and more of a reasonable position.

In short: project managers are like lubrication. Your engine needs it. The wrong lube will work better than no lube, but won't work well. The right lube works great, but you need enough of it. If you have too much of it, your engine dies.

Re:project manage then (1)

CryptDemon (1772622) | about 7 months ago | (#46726215)

If your average project manager did coal mines, there'd be a cave-in every fucking week

I don't think he means that literally/absolutely (3)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 7 months ago | (#46725871)

The point I take from it is it's silly to think that all you do to fix the skills/jobs gap it so send people to school. Some people will have the ability to make huge transitions in careers, but most will be looking for equivalent work. It's how sociology works. You have to look at demographics and odds, not best wishes and theories.

That being said, I hope this is a lesson to communities, cities, and states that throw all their economic eggs into one industrial basket. No matter how good the gettin' is, you're screwed if that industry takes a big hit.

Re:I don't think he means that literally/absolutel (1)

hendric (30596) | about 7 months ago | (#46726061)

So retrain them to mine tantalum and rare earth elements. I'm sure we can get "Mined in the USA" and "Conflict-free certified electronics" going, amirite?

Re:I don't think he means that literally/absolutel (1)

Pinkfud (781828) | about 7 months ago | (#46726099)

I spent a decade as a coal miner in my youth. I even earned a license as a blasting supervisor. And I can code. I don't code for a living, but yeah, I can code. I find the implication that coal miners are somehow too dumb to learn anything else mildly offensive. Many coal miners are the product of a family that has done the same work for generations, and just kind of inherited the job. Same with farmers. But that doesn't mean they are incapable of doing anything else.

Re:I don't think he means that literally/absolutel (1)

westlake (615356) | about 7 months ago | (#46726237)

That being said, I hope this is a lesson to communities, cities, and states that throw all their economic eggs into one industrial basket.

That one basket represents a complex historical mix of geography, manpower, markets and resources. If you have mineral resources you mine and process metals. If you have coal, oil or natural gas, you process coal. oil or natural gas. There is no easy transition to a mixed economy.

Sure you can (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725875)

Hmmm, isn't this the same argument that Southern plantation owners used to rationalize keeping slaves? Basically that there are certain groups of people who are not intelligent enough to better themselves. The only demographic that seems to have proven they are incapable of comprehending modern technology is politicians.

Re:Sure you can (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about 7 months ago | (#46726151)

No, no it's not. The rationalization used by slave owners was that everyone - adults and children alike - would be unable to learn to do anything else because of inherent limitations in their capabilities. The argument put forth here is that adults may be unable to learn to do one specific job that may require not only years of training, but also a familiarity with the underlying math and technology - a familiarity that they may lack. Nothing whatsoever implies that the children of current coal workers couldn't become excellent programmers, or excellent managers, or excellent architects, etc., and so they should be indentured into coal work, too. Nor does this imply that current coal workers couldn't become good mechanical engineers, or mechanics, or architects, or artists, just that some of them could never become good programmers.

Not everyone is suited for all jobs— Film at (2)

sandbagger (654585) | about 7 months ago | (#46725877)

How is this shocking? People have different temperaments, skills and interests.

But (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725883)

Can you teach a politician to produce something of value?

Re:But (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 7 months ago | (#46726163)

Indirectly. You can really get something of value to society out of him when you harvest his organs.

Gloomberg (1)

harvey the nerd (582806) | about 7 months ago | (#46725899)

We should consider clean coal plants and dump Bloomberg not so gently. CAGW is a scam....

Re:Gloomberg (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725987)

We should consider clean coal plants

The coal plants would rather shut down and fire everyone than install upgrades.

Consider it all you want.

Not absolute (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725907)

No. You won't be able to teach every coal miner to code. Just like you won't be able to teach every coder to mine. Everyone has different skills and aptitudes, and what they can be trained to do is according to that. Some will be able to transfer, just not everyone. Nor do you want to - we still need coal.

What???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725913)

You can't teach a coal miner how to code?

That's stupid, of course you can. Lots of people can and do change careers towards programming later in life. My friend's mother dropped out of accounting and picked up web application design in her late fifties, and developed a small but successful consultancy. Unless you're writing code for the space station or physics analysis or something similar that requires years of domain experience, I still sometimes can't get over how easy some of this stuff is. As a programming latecomer your main problem is ageist stereotyping by jerks like Bloomf*cker and Zuckerf*ck, not learning the material.

Re:What???? (4, Informative)

SydShamino (547793) | about 7 months ago | (#46726185)

Bloomberg didn't say that you can't teach any coal worker to code, just that you can't teach every coal worker to code, refuting Zuckerberg's Marie-Antoinette-style "let them write code" statement.

Only the Zuck sounds like an out-of-touch elitist in this case; Bloomberg is making a legitimate point that the retraining process is more complicated than that because it has to be tailored to the skills and interests of each person. The article summary is misleading, and the headline is outright wrong.

Coal Miners aren't stupid (1)

jrmcferren (935335) | about 7 months ago | (#46725915)

Bloomberg as always is full of it. Coal miners aren't dumb people, they are far from it. I suggest you try and find the Spike TV mini-series entitled "Coal." You will learn quite a bit about mining coal from it.

Re:Coal Miners aren't stupid (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 7 months ago | (#46726007)

Bloomberg as always is full of it. Coal miners aren't dumb people, they are far from it.

Good thing he didn't actually say that, then. Seriously, dude, RTFA.

Of course, on the other end of the scale, coders aren't necessarily smart people, either. They have a certain skill, no more, no less.

Kinda like coal miners.

Re:Coal Miners aren't stupid (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 7 months ago | (#46726149)

Coal miners aren't dumb people, they are far from it.

No, but they are coal miners, not coders. What you can't do is close down a coal mine, chuck all the miners into coding school and have a bunch of coders come out, like some sausage factory.

If you do that some of them will successfully learn to code, I have no doubt. As you said they're not dumb and a good coder can come from anywhere. This does not however mean that anyone can become a good coder. This is a group of people who have not specifically self-selected for coding ability so the chance of them all becoming coders is vanishingly small.

The conceit that we can just retrain them all as coders sounds like a wish-fulfilment fantasy from someone who desparately wants coders to be low-level interchangable workers.

If you want to retrain coal miners to do other things, then you'll have to find other things each of them have aptitude for and train them for that. It might be coding in some cases, but it certainly won't in many.

You can't teach Bloomberg to mine coal. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 7 months ago | (#46725919)

Enough said. As more and more people become familiar with it, people would realize how easy it is to code. The standard canard has been women don't code, or they don't code well. We have hired women coders and they do as good a job as men.

Phrased poorly (1)

wickerprints (1094741) | about 7 months ago | (#46725921)

I'd like to interpret Bloomberg's statement to mean that it isn't realistic (or even desirable) to expect every blue-collar worker to be able to retrain in a highly technical field. Sure, some would be able to make that transition, but it's like asking programmers if they would have the desire to become physicians. It's not that people aren't smart or dedicated enough to do it, so much as it is the idea that a career in the tech sector is not some universal solution to everyone's job woes.

I also think that people who advocate such statements (very often, they are CEOs of tech companies) tend to have ulterior motives: they want to be able to pay their workers less money for more (and higher quality) output. While you might not blame them for having such a goal, I find it disingenuous how they wrap this desire up in some feel-good, altruistic sounding wish for more coders, more people to learn programming and computer skills, as if this is something that will create jobs. It doesn't work that way. Instead, it increases competition for existing jobs. These companies keep complaining about how there aren't enough skilled workers to fill the positions they have, but what they really mean is that there aren't enough *CHEAP* skilled workers. That's why they push this propaganda about H1B, teaching programming to kids, and fantasies about coal miners taking off their hardhats and learning Python and C#.

Re:Phrased poorly (1)

jythie (914043) | about 7 months ago | (#46726037)

That is how I interpret it, a quick sound byte attaching a particular pairing of blue collar and white collar positions to point out the problem with the whole 'well, blue collar workers will just become white collar ones' approach to the issue.

no one would HIRE them, either (4, Interesting)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 7 months ago | (#46725931)

if you are transitioning from one skill/job to, say, software, you'll probably be over 30, and maybe over 40.

just tell me this: who would hire an aging programmer, just starting out, when you can more easily abuse immigrants and h1b's who are young and will work overtime for free and deny the value of a personal life?

we have a major problem with companies not being socially responsible. they don't care that an aging population is being wholesale REJECTED by corporate america and worse than that, local US born and raised citizens are second class, now; with imported labor or outsourced labor being first class.

an idea: give tax incentives or other incentives for companies that go out of their way to hire locals/americans and even bigger bonuses to companies that go out of their way to hire older (over 35, cough) people. not saying you punish those companies who don't; but you give them extra benefits so as to motivate them.

companies only look out for their bottom line. they would sell their mother into slavery for a higher share price. the only way to keep a balance of social responsibility and prosperity is to give incentives, to guide better behavior.

(I'm over 50, have been looking for work for a while now, and I'm getting nothing; no interviews and certainly no offers. I have a lot of experience and a good work ethic, but it does no one any good if the companies routinely dismiss anyone with more than 2 pages of resume experience, since they are seen as 'too expensive' to hire).

Re:no one would HIRE them, either (3, Interesting)

slapyslapslap (995769) | about 7 months ago | (#46726057)

Stop sending resumes with more than 2 pages of resume experience....Just send the last 3-4 jobs. Hardly anyone cares about anything older than 15 years anyway. Tailor your resume for the job you are applying for. Besides that, resumes that are too long make you look like you are either a job hopper or a bullshit artist, or both.

Re:no one would HIRE them, either (1)

kaiser423 (828989) | about 7 months ago | (#46726145)

if you are transitioning from one skill/job to, say, software, you'll probably be over 30, and maybe over 40.

I think that this is really it. Lots of these guys are going to be in their 50's. Those in their 60's can likely do early retirement, ride unemployment until SS kicks in or something. Some of those in their mid 50's and need jobs for 5-10 years. I'm sure that quite a few of them can learn to code, but it's going to suck up quite a bit of their remaining time in the workforce before retirement and then they typically still won't be as good as a college graduate or similar. I've trained quite a few people in their 50's to code, but here's the thing: Lots of them type ~10-20WPM, don't know how to use a mouse or Google, etc. To bring them up to even junior-level proficiency is a 3-4 year task, minimum, if they're smart. When asked to cross-train those, which I am sure that a lot of coal miners aren't great with computers, we don't try to teach them to code. We have them do more babysitting, assemblying, checking computers, etc.

Technology does not destroy jobs.. (0)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 7 months ago | (#46725933)

Jobs are determined by us wanting to do things. I want a colony on another planet. Venus sounds good to me. It would be incredibly expensive, but we could theoretically do it. As long as man has ridiculous long term goals like this there will ALWAYS be work.

It also requires a stronger government than a low tech world - you don't need an airforce if you don't know how to fly. You don't need a navy if you don't know how to build ocean going ships. Technology is the real reason why government spending has been going up. The new sciences need government spending, not private spending.

As for the idea that coal miners can't learn to code, there is some truth to that. Technology requires people that can THINK, not just move. It requires a certain kind of thought as well. But people retire. And there are lots of people on the edge - that is not all coal miners lift a pick axe. Some of them run huge dump trucks and huge shovels. Some coal miners are safety wardens, looking for methane.

I guarantee you someone that knows how to drive the huge, dangerous mining equipment can also learn how to code. Safety wardens as well.

The best part about technology is that no matter how 'quick' the change appears, it actually takes decades. There are first implementers and holdouts. Combine that with some retirements and a transition can be accomplished smoothly - as long as idiots don't try to hold everything back until it is too late and change hits you like a tidal wave, instead of a slow tide coming in.

Re:Technology does not destroy jobs.. (1)

egarland (120202) | about 7 months ago | (#46726179)

> Jobs are determined by us wanting to do things.

The desire, *and* the resources. I may want an indoor pool, but if I can't afford it, and neither can anyone else, there's no indoor pool market.

That's why an economy that's constantly drained of its money, withers. Once we fix the forces draining ours, employment won't be the issue it is today. That's why I love Ratigan's classic rant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] He outlines the problem well. Not perfectly, but well.

He's right... to a point. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725937)

Can you teach them to code? Yes.
Will they likely ever be suitably proficient at it? No

It takes years to code proficiently. Take a coal miner at age 30. He's already on the wrong side of the coding/tech worker age bell-curve. Give him five years to suitably master coding to where a company could really use his ability. That puts him at 35. Now he's -really- on the wrong side of the curve.

Not only will he have his age working against him, but he'll also have the problem of his resume. How does digging dead and partially burned plants out of the ground qualify him to work at a tech company as a decently paid programmer?

I'm sorry, but I think he's correct this time.

-A.C.

Headline is a misquote (3, Informative)

goodmanj (234846) | about 7 months ago | (#46725939)

The headline misquotes Bloomberg. He didn't say you *can't* teach a coal miner to code, he said you won't. And he's right. While it's certainly *possible* for some older adults to radically change their career paths into tech jobs, the majority of us lack the motivation and mental flexibility, and society doesn't want to spend the money to help us make the switch. It's just not going to happen. Bloomberg's overall point is dead on: we need to come up with ways to allow people to gently move into new careers that make the most of their talents, rather than just firing them, throwing a Javascript for Dummies book at them, and expecting them to become the next Zuckerberg.

That said, Bloomberg's got a pretty 19th century view of what coal mining is. Since it's all done with heavy machinery and robots these days, it's a pretty technically demanding job.

The spoils are for the elite (1)

guanxi (216397) | about 7 months ago | (#46725941)

I don't know about Bloomberg in particular, but it now seems almost common wisdom among the elite that college isn't for everyone and now skills like programming aren't either.

While those words are true, what they mean in practice is that 'not for everyone' means 'not for the poor and working class' (poverty is a strong predictor of college eduction). I bet Bloomberg's kids go to college and he wouldn't doubt his non-technical buddies' ability to learn to code based on their job descriptions

What happened to the American Dream? Where is the land of opportunity, where anyone can succeed if they work hard enough? Apparently, Bloomberg et al believe that only the elite live in that land and that we should abandon that dream for the working class and poor. Why don't they just accept their places?

That's right. Teach them... (0)

JockTroll (996521) | about 7 months ago | (#46725951)

... Something useful instead. Coders are now a dime a dozen, and it's a job easily offshored. The Internet took care of that part. Seriously, how many programmers do you really need? This is not the '80s or '90s when you could make it big, now there's fewer and fewer IT giants and they don't need that many workers. The cloud and outsourcing are killing off IT departments in many companies. Technology is cleaning itself up for good. When in less than a decade Silicon Valley will have become IT's Detroit and all the jobs have been offshored, the tech-heads will have to reinvent themselves, most certainly as street sweeper. Unless robots have taken that role as well, and in that case they will have to reinvent themselves as emaciated corpses.

Coal Miners can code (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46725961)

My boss (IT Manager) has a masters in Coal Mining engineering from Colorado School of Mines. He switched over to IT at the mine back in the early 80's to code an application that maximized the amount of coal loaded into a train car to increase profit margins. The money spent on the application development payed for itself within a month due to the increased efficiency of loading the train cars.

Re:Coal Miners can code (1)

avandesande (143899) | about 7 months ago | (#46726049)

That's kind of like calling a chemical engineer a chemical worker (ie the guy rolling drums around and pumping things into tanks). SCM is a rigorous school and he was probably exposed to a lot of engineering themes useful for IT.

I, for one... (1)

nani popoki (594111) | about 7 months ago | (#46725975)

...hope that I never have to learn how to mine coal. Despite what Heinlein said about specialization, I'm much better at writing code than at mining. (And yes, I did a little recreational mining a couple of decades ago when I was into mineral collecting as a hobby.)

Pure BULLSHIT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726003)

Any coal miner could put out code of the same quality as Mark Zuckerberg. (No, I have no source to reference. This fact is self evident!)

You can, but you shouldn't (1)

egarland (120202) | about 7 months ago | (#46726013)

There isn't that much coding work in the world. High demand is not infinite demand.

Why does it have to be "coding"? (2)

hawguy (1600213) | about 7 months ago | (#46726015)

There's no reason to train every worker to "code", we don't suffer from a lack of coders, we suffer from a lack of "developers", and no 6 week software bootcamp is going to turn someone with no programming experience into a developer. Besides, the average coal miner is probably not going to want to sit in front of a computer all day (many in my family work in the heavy construction industry, and I am 100% certain that although you could probably teach my brother to code, you're not going to be able to teach him to sit behind a desk all day).

But there are plenty of other jobs that you *could* teach a former coal miner to do -- not everyone in the economy needs to be a coder any more than everyone needs to be an auto mechanic just because we all (well, mostly) drive cars.

As much as I am loath to admit it (2)

korbulon (2792438) | about 7 months ago | (#46726019)

Bloomberg has a valid point. It's also the reason most people can't be fashion models ("he's so hot right now").. There is also something to be said for nerdly predispositions and interests, which goes a long way in determining whether someone can become a successful coder.

On a more general note, Bloomberg has struggled far more to "earn" his billions and has seen far more of the world than Zuckerberg, who in turn strikes me as an incredibly naiive, deer-in-the-headlights, I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing-here, I-just-won-the-nerd-lottery sort of person: his proclamations simply don't carry that much weight.

A Poem, by TFHF (4, Interesting)

TrollingForHostFiles (3613155) | about 7 months ago | (#46726027)

I'd rather write
Host files at midnight
Than pass my days
Hacking at lignite

BURMA SHAVE

Finally? (1)

MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) | about 7 months ago | (#46726035)

You think this could have been said some thirty years ago?

Actually, I do remember on a Charlie ROse show, Charles Murray said something like: "Not very many people with 80 IQs can be successful mathematicians." [1]. He then went on to say, "Fortunately most people with 80 IQs don't want to be mathematicians."

Of course everyone was trashing Murray at the time.

[1] Not to conflate coal miners with people with 80 IQs.

Retraining miners (2)

masonc (125950) | about 7 months ago | (#46726065)

Let's try to evaluate this in a non-partisan grown up way. By coding, Bloomberg is referring to America's move to eliminate all blue collar work by sending it abroad to China and Brazil, and to create great opportunities for academic pursuits, financial services and intellectual property. If there was a strong manufacturing sector, miners could be retrained to work in factories, with all the health benefits over mining, but those jobs got exported to make the multi-national companies richer and more powerful. Since large companies now own the American political process, all political efforts are concentrated on making the rich more rich at the expense of the working people.This doesn't end well.

Re:Retraining miners (1)

ahodgson (74077) | about 7 months ago | (#46726201)

This * 1000.

got it half right (1)

peter303 (12292) | about 7 months ago | (#46726067)

I think Bloomie meant than any one job category isnt going to a panecea for unemployement. That is you cant teach and motivate everyone to be coders or health workers or roustabouts. However, its dumb to say that any one particular profession cant learn another. A given miner may could become a great programmer. But not all of them.

It's not just the folks in the mines... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726075)

Closing coal-fueled power plants doesn't just impact the folks who dig the coal out of the ground. What about the economic impact the closed mines have on the truck and rail industries? Or the towns and counties? How about the neighboring but unrelated industries who, because King Coal is now dead, find their rail connection being abandoned because without the mines the branchline serving their factory isn't sustainable? How about the mining supply companies, the local diners and stores?

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Close a single mine - or an entire class of mines - and a whole web of interconnected businesses and people are impacted. Just look at what happened when propane and fuel oil eclipsed the anthracite coal industry.

He Says/She Says (1)

TangoMargarine (1617195) | about 7 months ago | (#46726091)

Zuckerberg says you can teach anyone to code.
Mayor of NYC says you can't.
News at 11.

I think we really need to get Morgan Freeman's take on this issue.

Flip it around to put it in perspective (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about 7 months ago | (#46726101)

I can code in multiple languages on multiple systems and have been doing it for a shit load of years .. and right now I am sitting in front of OSX, Windows 7 and Debian systems.

But suppose my choice of career was suddenly cut short for some reason (the singularity?) what would it take for me to learn a bunch of manual skills in order to become a productive member of society? And to learn them to the same skill level I have now?

Basically I would be fucked as I have spent all these years adapting to intellectual challenges that rely on understanding arcane facts about specific systems, and then shuffling that knowledge around to find oval solutions to problems. I chose this career path because I was not enamored with the idea of manual labor. Actually I take that back .. I chose this career because I was enamored with the intellectual challenges. So I know I would suck at being a coal miner or a machinist or a welder or barrista compared to people who willingly have taken on those career paths.

The mythical coal miner to coder transition would suck for the same reasons that me being a coal miner would suck

So in general I agree with Bloomberg

Re:Flip it around to put it in perspective (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about 7 months ago | (#46726131)

Though I never said I could type .. that was meant to be novel not oval solutions. Damn auto-correct.

No, but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726103)

I bet you could re-train them to assemble routers, servers, and other infrastructure necessary to support the Internet economy.

Mr. Bloomberg: Instead of blowing money on the Sierra Club, how about investing in this country to bring back our manufacturing base? You know, the foundation that drives our economy but folks like you aggressively sought to outsource to "lower costs"?

Thanks

I really hate The New Aristocracy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726119)

Is there a segment of the population that these people don't feel the need to belittle and crap on if they're not one of them?
 
Oh, and you cheerleaders that they call the "grass roots", don't fool yourself, they see you as fodder for their own selfish ends too.
 
The only people worth heeding are those who want to make you independent. Bloomberg wants to break your legs so he can sell you a government crutch.

You can, but the jobs market isn't magic (1)

seven of five (578993) | about 7 months ago | (#46726147)

If you retrain coal miners to code, all you're doing is increasing the already-superabundant supply of coders, reducing their value on the jobs market.

Easy solution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726153)

Train coal minors to become data minors! Lots of jobs in that field looking through cell phone metadata, etc.
Job security!

Citation needed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726171)

I'm sure Mr. Bloomberg is an expert on coding and on teaching people to code.

Wow... What a bad example (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726191)

The average coal miner makes $81,000 a year: www.nma.org/pdf/c_wages_state_industries.pdf

Something tells me that a lot of modern coal miners are intelligent enough to learn how to code. I wonder through... can you teach a coder how to mine?

Don't dump coal miners (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 7 months ago | (#46726193)

It seems like an attempt to paint coal miners as dumb or dim witted. Couldn't be further from the truth. Actually few coal miners can afford to be dumb if they want to see a few more birthdays.

So I'd wager it would be quite possible to teach coal miners to code, I've never tried. What I do know, from experience, is that it's impossible to teach managers to produce any useful code.

He would do better to help fund Great Point Energy (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 7 months ago | (#46726195)

Seriously, GPE can convert the coal to methane at a costs of around 6-7/MMBTU. That can be sold to Europe and Asia. And yes, Europe will buy it since Russia is now holding them hostage. And in Asia, it will sell for 3-4x what it costs.

All energy will be around for a while (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46726197)

Bloomberg is just as wrong as Zuckerberg. Coal along with other fossil fuels will be with us for a while because they produce energy more cheaply and practically for many American's who also cannot afford to invest in new energy alternatives. Not only can America not afford to displace more workers, but those workers make good money and right now contribute to paying taxes. You displace them, and they become a liability in unemployment benefits, retraining costs and potentially affecting other workers in their local area who may lose jobs because of the coal jobs not being replaced by other work. I don't see coder's working in West Virginia? These people have worked with their hands through generations of families. You don't just take that away. Zuckerberg is another Liberal who has a agenda to look like he is saving the World. Yet, he knows nothing about how to do it.

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