Do we need a new tech literacy? (Behind the "big data" services like Twitter, Facebook use)

The technology that lies underneath the services we use every day is complex and changing quickly. Technologies like Hadoop, MapReduce, are changing how developers and architects build these services. As I was talking with Mike Olson, CEO of Cloudera (a company that builds technology to help developers deal with these larger-than terabyte databases) I realized that by learning about the technology underneath these services I was better able to understand why these services can’t give me some of the features I want.

Anyway, he talks me through some of the changes in the database world and explains the technology and terms that lay underneath. Good primer for people who want to have a better tech literacy of the terms and technology underneath big data services like Twitter and Facebook.

Do you agree with me that we need a new tech literacy? That we should be teaching this stuff in high school so kids can get at least some understanding of where technology is and where it is going? Tons of startups hiring thousands of people have already started up in San Francisco area using these technologies and they will only get more important and people who understand how to develop on them will only become more in demand. But how many people outside of the development world know what Hadoop is? Not enough.

33 Replies to “Do we need a new tech literacy? (Behind the "big data" services like Twitter, Facebook use)”

  1. This post reminded me of a great piece by Henry Jenkins for the MacArthur Foundation — “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” While he isn't talking about literacy in terms of hardcore coding, I think a lot of his points still apply to the importance of tech literacy for upcoming generations.


    In other words, yes, we need to teach tech literacy, but we should probably master the basics before worrying about behind the scenes technology.

  3. The advantages of Hadoop are not that hard to replicate in a relational database engine. And with Greenplum and Aster Data going SQL + MR, and Hive, CloudBase and Pig going SQL-like on top of Hadoop. At end of day, all will circle back. Nothing 'new' aside from a programming construct, eventually it will all converge.

  4. I would inject that by the time a Daniel B or Patrick learn what Cassandra, BigTable is and how to drive it… It will be substantially different by the time they're on the other side of their college experiences. Of course, those were two examples of uber-geek teens who will “get it” no matter what. But, you get the point. Teach it in highschool and the tech will have advanced so much in four – eight years the literacy learned “back then” might now apply in the here-and-now. Not a good reason to abandon trying. Tech evolves faster than our teaching institutions and legal infrastructure can keep pace.

  5. How often would you like to change the cirriculum, Robert? Schools (whether grade or uni) ought to teach the ability to learn these technologies, in lieu of $HOT_TECH_OF_THE_DAY. I went to grade school not so long ago, in a world without Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. I sat for my A-levels without the aid of wikipedia. So did you, and we both understand enough about HADOOP, etc. to use the services.

  6. Even if we're not teaching the children, I want to know about this stuff. Also, I'd like to be able to read code like Neo does.

  7. Most definitely. You know, up until now, geeks have sort of like tech being shrouded in mystery. It's kind of like “revenge of the nerds” and I must say that when I tinker around with code and figure something out, there's a self important pleasure I get out of it, like when I can fix something for someone and such, makes me feel important.
    But I think, the more transparent you are with people, especially your customers and potential customers, the more they'll respect you. It's like you educate them, and they get value from that. I know that “jargon” has its value in economizing communication, but I don't like when its used to impress or kind of exclude folks from a certain club. But I admit I do it too. We all do.
    But the move towards transparency, education, I think is more productive and helps the economy and society as a whole. Like Richard Feynman said, “The Pleasure of Figuring things Out.”

  8. People don't even understand the “Real Time” web yet (be sure to check that amazing document out too) so hadoop and map reduce are far far off the radar for most..

    Outside the valley most people are jokers when it comes to tech (even in the U.S.), so I agree that we still certainly need to educate the broader audience.

    So lets not call our hypothetical class: “The Bleeding Edge of Tech 101.”

    Thanks for the video it was great. What'd i like to know is how many people watched the 30+ minutes of it?

  9. Count me among those who watched the whole thing; I thought Mike was engaging, passionate articulate; in fact, I'm in the process of downloading the VM that Mike mentioned, and I'm planning to watch through the videos on Cloudera's site!

  10. Robert – constructing an educational syllabus around, say, Hadoop, and getting it into the school system would take so long that a few years down the line you'll find yourself interviewing another startup and wondering why schools are still teaching Hadoop!

    Maybe it's time to ditch the current methods of teaching technology in schools (ie, following a syllabus based on out-of-date trends) and instead, have schools engage with IT training partner organisations for that part of the curriculum, in the knowledge that they're able to offer teaching on what's current?

  11. Might be to a kid's advantage to nurture a healthy curiosity of things. Most of the innovative people I know took stuff apart just because they were curious AND had a very patient friend or relative who encouraged the behavior. From there they'll maintain their own interests – whether that's marine biology, computer science or what have you.

  12. I absolutely agree. As a consultant I get to see the architectures behind large scale systems and I'm always amazed at the complexity and the cornucopia of HW and SW that exist in one IT department.

    There is a chasm between these large systems and books on the market that describe these large scale systems. Yes, Fowler does try to address the issues with his books – but we need more.

  13. Right. Well Hadoop right is an Apache right implementation right of Map reduce right? right.

  14. >> Why don't they teach this stuff in High School…

    Exactly right. I failed miserably in Internet marketing. It was not until I took 3 years off to become a programmer and understand how the web worked that I began to use my brain in ways no one else in IM does.

    Until you understand the nuts and bolts of how things work you can't envision what others are doing and go on to build the better mouse trap.

  15. Even though this post raises a good point, I don't technology should be necessarily taught in high school. Even though the social media face of the Internet is rapidly growing in volume and importance, let us remember that it's not crucial for all areas of business. It might be important for marketing, consumer trends and others, but not necessarily for other areas of business.

    Therefore, in my opinion it would be valuable as support lessons in high school maybe, but never as a core discipline to be taught. That would partially reduce kids' choices. Some want to be athletes, some musicians, and we don't need to push technology on them. They should learn it at their free will.

    Therefore, I defend it could be taught, but as support, never core lessons.

  16. It's needed. Indeed.
    At least the very basic literacy that can allow you to protect your privacy (well, what's left of it), how to use online and offline tools…
    But I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. For the same reason governments are getting scared of the intertubes and jump into the filter trap. People who make the programs/laws are clueless.
    Ignorance -> Fear -> Hate.

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  18. Fascinating video, or rather the articulation of the technology within. I was completely engrossed.

  19. I agree that we should be teaching tech literacy early, but who is going to do the teaching? Are our current K-12 teachers equipped to do this, or should technology companies step in and help mentor?

  20. Hate to do a personal plug but in all honestly, a tech literacy is definitely in order and this SXSWi is going to have more than enough opportunities to push that particular envelope.

    One in particular [disclosure: I'm helping organize as well] is the Data Cluster Meetup sponsored by Rackspace as well as Infochimps, Factual, and Wolfram Alpha.

    It's March 14th from 6-9pm at Opal Divine's in Austin. If you're at SXSW and want to discuss the state of these larger data functions (big data, open data, non-relational Dbs, data visualization, etc) then come out. We'd love to have you – Scoble, you're definitely invited as well 😉

    Stu Hood will be leading a group discussion – “non-relational database smackdown” – he's representing for the Cassandra Project.

    Also, Philip Kromer (Infochimps) and Gil Elbaz (Factual) will be discussing the open data commons.

    Everyone welcome, but please do RSVP.

  21. Robert, many entrepreneurs do things nobody else has ever done. As soon as they are “taught” a method then it’s already 5 to 10 years old. Education isn’t “real time” … one reason why startups are often started by dropouts and fiddlers like Steve Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg

  22. Robert, many entrepreneurs do things nobody else has ever done. As soon as they are “taught” a method then it’s already 5 to 10 years old. Education isn’t “real time” … one reason why startups are often started by dropouts and fiddlers like Steve Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg

  23. I agree! Now-a-days people rarely ask for educational qualifications in INFT field. The field question is: Which software are you comfortable with?

  24. I agree. This is totally a very important thing nowadays. Since everything is found in the internet and almost every field depends on the internet. Many opportunities are also opening up to people in the internet. I really think that tech literacy is important in this advancing times.

  25. As lindavandevrede mentioned;
    “I agree that we should be teaching tech literacy early, —-, or should technology companies step in and help mentor?”

    Google should see another opportunity, helping our country with the next generation.

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