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The strangest question I have ever been asked…

Hi,

Yesterday, I was conducting a training sessions on the Fundamentals of Coding for a young audience. A 14-year-old kid asked me the strangest question I have encountered in a long time. It made me stop right in my track. I waited for a full thirty seconds to gather my thoughts, and then slowly answered the question weighing every sentence carefully before I uttered it.

That question started with Why. This is my story:

In coding, there’s a core concept called Operators. Operators come in many forms, and one of them is Arithmetic Operators. +, -, *, / are all operators to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers. As I was explaining how you can add two numbers using the arithmetic operator +, the girl interrupted with a question.

"Why should I learn how to add numbers in coding, when I already have a calculator?"

I was taken aback. As silly as this question looks like, never have I ever been asked this question in decades of teaching coding. Why indeed?

Like I explained above, I gave it a good thirty seconds and responded.

"We learn this because this is the fundamentals of coding. Why do we learn the fundamentals of anything? Why do you learn the alphabet when there are printed books already? You learn because you need to understand what’s written in those books. You learn because, someday, after having read enough books, you should be able to write a book too. The reason we learn basics is because there is no other way to learn."

As you can see, the answer is pretty obvious and straightforward. She was convinced by my answer. I was happy with my answer too. The story ends here.

After that session, I have been thinking about questions in general. Questions that start with How, Where, When, Who and What are easier – and have simpler and factual answers. Questions that start with Why can trip you up if you don’t understand the subject you are teaching well. The Why questions need more nuanced answers. The Why questions really test your skill and knowledge about the topic.

Generally, kids ask Why questions. Generally, adults tend to ask the other kind of questions. That’s been my general experience. What about you?

Starting with Why,

Abhilash