Research in HCI and computing education is continuously helping us better understand the barriers to learning and teaching programming. However, many of the insights are based on the assumption that learners will eventually write code (e.g., as a professional developer or a domain-specific end-user programmer). But, is this always the case?
In this talk, I will be presenting our recent research which shows that some students in fields such as management may not aspire to write code as an end-user programmer or a professional programmer, but are still strongly interested in taking programming classes. We call these students conversational programmers because they want to develop only conversational skills in programming literacy to be able to: 1) aid technical conversations with professional software developers in the future; or 2) enhance their marketability in the software industry. I will also discuss results from our follow up study that confirms the existence of such a population of conversational programmers in industry. Based on 3151 survey responses from non-engineering professionals at a large technology company who never or rarely wrote code on the job, we found that a significant number of them (42.6%) had invested in learning programming. And, their top motivations to learn programming were also to improve the efficacy of technical conversations and to acquire marketable skillsets. I will discuss some of the broader implications of these findings and new directions for future work on conversational programmers.
Parmit Chilana is an Assistant Professor in Human-Computer Interaction at the School of Computing Science at Simon Fraser University. From 2013-16, she was an Assistant Professor in Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo. Parmit’s core research in HCI focuses on the design and study of novel tools and techniques that help people use, learn, and program feature-rich software. Her work has been recognized with several awards and honors, including Best Paper and Honorable Mention awards at the ACM CHI conference and 2nd place in the international iSchool Doctoral Dissertation Award competition. Parmit received her PhD in Information Science from the University of Washington in 2013 where she also co-founded AnswerDash, a venture-funded startup that is commercializing her dissertation work on selection-based crowdsourced help retrieval. Parmit received her BSc from Simon Fraser University and MSc from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.