I've been volunteered to sit down and talk about the life and work of a Developer with a 15 year old work experience student next week.

The catches are that

  • I've got just half an hour, and
  • I'll be just one of the people talking to her - other people in different roles in the business will also be running through the elements of their jobs with her throughout the day.

What should I cover, and what on earth can I hope to teach her in just half an hour?

I assume that she probably has no experience with development or programming.

  • 158
    It's depressing how patronising many of these answers are towards kids - they've got short attention spans, they don't understand things if they're not visual, they can't deal with anything complicated. We're talking about a fifteen-year-old here. Fifteen-year-olds are quite capable of understanding and doing complicated things, spending hours getting deeply involved in something, and having abstract thoughts. I'd take a smart fifteen year-old over any of you schmucks! Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 16:34
  • 8
    @tom On the other hand, I have personally experienced how most adults even find anything other than the visuals on a computer to be tedious. It depends on the kid and how much interest they have in computers.
    – jhocking
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 17:26
  • 6
    @jh: Heh! I suppose the question is not whether this person is fifteen, but whether they're intelligent and inquisitive. We may all (barring Maxpm) be old duffers now, but we were all fifteen once, and i rather doubt that those of us who are intelligent and inquisitive adults were dull and disinterested teenagers. Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 18:17
  • 33
    "First I get in to work a little after 10 AM, drink a lot of coffee, chase it down with Mountain Dew and energy drinks. I spend the next 2 hours checking my mail, exchanging recipes with the one and only female developer in the entire building, then a brief nap after lunch. Get up, check email again, surf youtube for cat videos, catch up on the latest dilbert and smbc comics. Before you know it, its 4:30, time to go home. By myself I can't do much, but 100 programmers put together doig the same thing every day 3 years, well, that's how video games are born."
    – Juliet
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 19:19
  • 5
    @Tom: exactly. Many programmers started before age 15, so I don't understand the condescension.
    – Neil G
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 21:33

34 Answers 34


The fundamentals of programming that exist in basically every programming language are:

  • basic variable manipulation and usage (Allow for up to 10 minutes)
  • variable types(string, int, char, etc.) (Allow for up to 5 minutes, can be combined with the first part)
  • if's and comparative operators. (Allow for up to 5 minutes)
  • for, while, and (usually) until loops. (Use the rest of the time, but not more than 15 minutes)
  • Explain that the internet is an amazing source of information, and almost all languages have documentations on the internet. Explain a few common language's usages and give examples that they may have heard of, such as Java, JavaScript, C++, C, etc. (At the end)

*Should probably be done in respective order.

These are probably the most important things that could be explained. After all of this, if you have enough time, which you probably won't, try explaining graphics.

--The child(ren) is/are almost certainly perfectly capable of not being bored. Just give a few examples of things made by using programming.


First allow me to recalibrate everyone's expectations of what an educated fifteen year old can do or understand.

We're having one at my workplace for two weeks, who has no experience of programming. He knows how to operate a computer but is nothing like a “power user”.

We showed him how to query a database, and he's been answering questions and digging up factoids by writing his own SQL. We gave him a spreadsheet and had him compute some statistical indicators; math which was taught at school, but without the automation of a spreadsheet. And we gave him a bit of market research on potential suppliers, google-fueled stuff that must have felt pretty close to some of his school projects. At the moment he is working through a hands-on xhtml+css tutorial, which should allow him to edit some of our website next week. We did not try to impress him with our rocket science knowledge or magical powers, and he has been making himself useful to us doing things suspiciously close to programming.

Now with 30 minutes, you could start by asking her what she's seen that day, what she thinks you're involved with, explaining your role in the company, giving her a quick (prepared in advance) demo of something you work on (or anything with a quick edit-run feedback loop, jsdo.it was a good suggestion). Discuss things computers are involved with and find some she's interested in, or get her to contribute ways smarter programs could improve some activities. Half an hour is too short for practice but should be enough for a good discussion.


Creating a virtual world inside any computer that is dedicated to solve a given set of problems.

This is done by first understanding the problems, the modelling the required world, then explaining the computer what to do for given states of the world and inputs from the user.

This combines how I first understood it at a even younger age with the basics of the experience I have since gained.


What if you got like a Arduino or Netduino and used it as an example. Or some lego mindstorm (or whatever it's called).

Kids have a short attention span. Things happening makes it less boring.

  • 7
    It's a 30 minute conversation. Attention span (or lack thereof) shouldn't be an issue - unless you are lecturing and/or patronising them.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 19:16
  • 2
    +1 For the Mindstorms, -5 for the "short attention span". Commented Jun 18, 2011 at 0:20

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