Looking under the hood

Just had an interesting conversation with Chris, one of our CSTUY mentors. Chris is working with one of our more advanced groups of hackers - they'll be creating a web based app that with ultimately be deployed as mobile using PhoneGap.

The question he had was "Angular.js or Backbone.js."

Chris and I have had this conversation before. I was explaining at the time why I preferred to use Backbone.js over Angular in my SoftDev classes. Part of the reason is that the current version of Angular is already deprecated while the new version isn't ready for prime time yet. This means I'd be teaching to a dead end. More importantly, Angular is a much higher level framework than Backbone. There's a lot of "magic" going on. Just a few short lines of code and you're done.

Backbone is much closer to the metal. It does less work for you so it let's me drill down with the kids all the way to the source. This way the kids understand what's going on under the hood. As my buddy Gerry says, "never use a tool you couldn't write yourself." I personally like low level tools like Backbone.js. If you have to get a job done quickly, it might not be the right tool, but for teaching, it's terrific.

I think Chris was surprised when I said that a higher level tool like Angular could very well be appropriate for our Saturday Hackers and that I'd certainly support whichever direction Chris wanted to go in with his team.

Why might it be right in this case?

Mostly because the hackers only meet once a week. In our Saturday sessions, we want our kids to learn, but we also need to create an environment where they can continue to progress on their projects. Some times, compromise is needed. Angular will let them get up and running within the constraints of our program and the hackers will still learn a lot, particularly with people like Chris mentoring them.

That's the balance we strive to achieve - a good amount of real CS but tempered with the realities of a once a week program.

We could go the way of many other CS programs out there and just use tools that do 90% of the work but we like to think we have a higher standard and I think that's what makes our team of teachers and mentors special.


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