I Guess You Need Thick Skin to Learn To Weld

For a long time now, and this has little to do with political ideologies, I’ve wanted cabinet level secretaries to the president of the United States to pass a small test of practical skills, just to see how much real world experience they have. Can they change a flat tire without using some misandristly promoted Geico app? Can they solder two copper wires together? I’m not asking about welding, mind you, that’s a fairly technical skill, just if they can do some basic soldering. For the matter, could they connect two wires using a wire nut? Do they even know what a wire nut is? If you gave them just some long two-by-fours, a saw, a hammer, some nails, and a tape measure, could they frame a square wall, even if you spotted them the tip that it has something to do with diagonals? Do they know how to hammer a nail?

I’m also old enough to remember when hardly any newspaper reporters called themselves journalists, or graduated from J-schools. They weren’t about afflicting the comfortable, they were about the five Ws, and getting scoops. They didn’t look down on working class folks because they regarded themselves as working class folks. I’d be willing to bet $100 that the vast majority of self-identified “journalists” today, though, can’t do any of the skills in my Cabinet Level test. I’d be willing to bet $500 that most think they’re too smart to do stuff like welding or carpentry.

Thus it did not surprise me, when in the wake of massive layoffs in the online “news” and opinion industry, blue-checked journalists on Twitter ascended the heights of dudgeon because some snarky folks told them to “learn to code”.

Talia Lavin, who proved that incompetency as a fact-checker and defaming an American hero as a neo-Nazi is no impediment to getting another gig when you’re a narrative-carrying lefty, decided that “learn to code” was an alt-right plot against the good and righteous scribes busy comforting the afflicted. Her piece at The New Republic  was titled, “The Fetid, Right-Wing Origins of “Learn to Code”.

Not wanting to be hoist on the same petard that their journalist colleagues have been jabbing at unemployed folks in America’s formerly great industrial heartland whose jobs “weren’t coming back”, some still-employed journos used the fact that favoring blue-check journalists is part of Twitter’s business model of getting folks to create content for the site for free — so they got Twitter to suspend the “learn to code” tweeters.

Ben Popken now covers business for NBC. His Twitter bio, if I recall correctly, brags about being a founder of consumerist.com and that the site was bought by Consumer Reports.  It doesn’t say that CR fired him in 2011 and shuttered the site in 2017. Popken apparently felt that telling a journalist, unemployed or not, that learning a marketable skill was beyond the pale of civil discourse. He posted, bragging:

 “”Learn to code” was tweeted at me by a sketchy account. I reported it as abusive behavior as part of targeted harassment. Twitter suspended the account within 20 minutes. Journalists if they tweet “learn to code” at you don’t stay silent, take a moment to report it…”

“Grandpa Ben, tell us again how bravely you fought in the Meme Wars.”

Now I’m not a big Twitter user. I’m not even sure how to use the site’s features, but now and then I’ll agree or take issue with something I’ll see that had been posted there. I wondered if Popken specifically thought that “learn to code” was abusive behavior or if he thought any kind of manual labor was beneath his social and intellectual station and thus suggesting he learn those trades would be an affront to his honor.

I sent him the following tweet. Note that it’s a question, not a directive.

Ronnie Schreiber
@bpopken How about learn to weld?

I guess you need thick skin to learn to weld, as my Twitter account was suspended by that evening, presumably at the behest of Mr. Popken. I could get back on Twitter if I would delete the offending tweet, but instead I appealed the suspension, pointing out that Mr. Popken’s concerns were about “learn to code” and I never mentioned coding. If I wanted to be genuinely snarky, I would have pointed out to him that while his journo friends were getting pink-slipped and shit-canned, I was offered a pretty sweet regular freelance writing gig. I guess there is more of a market for folks who know how to do research and construct a sentence than there is for listicle and quiz compilers.

Twitter, or their algorithms, rejected my appeal. I’m not deleting the tweet, however, unless having a Twitter account becomes a condition of employment in a job that I really want. Oh well, I managed to survive more than six decades without a single tweet, I’ll survive without them.

To be clear, it wouldn’t be true to say that I know how “to code”. The last program I wrote was in Algol during college, over 40 years ago. The only coding that I do today is to modify a config file for something like one of my 3D printers, but I’m pretty sure that Ben Popken couldn’t do that either. See, the thing is, what journalists don’t seem to realize is that they don’t know how much they don’t know. Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann pointed out that if you’re knowledgeable about a topic you can quickly see how many mistakes journalists make on that subject. They may be writing about physics or computer science, but they went to journalism schools, they didn’t major in STEM.

If I make a mistake when writing about code, that article can still be published. If I make a mistake when writing code, the program won’t work. If I can’t make a living with the skills that I have, maybe I should learn new skills.

33 Replies to “I Guess You Need Thick Skin to Learn To Weld”

  1. PaulyG

    My grandfather started in the newspaper business when he was 13 by providing the two newspapers in Atlantic City with baseball box scores. Newspaper reporters were working class guys who had to hustle. He eventually became the sports editor for both newspapers but when my dad was born, my grandfather’s father-in-law made him quit and start a “respectable” insurance business.

    In those days, most reporters started their beat at the police station or city hall, not on a national platform. As these old time reporters rose up in the ranks, they understood the slimy underbelly of the world and how it affected Joe and Jane. They were street smart and not easily fooled.

    Fast forward to today. The profitability of the news business has been rapidly declining. The ability to hone your craft and have someone guide you has all but disappeared. The concept of broadcasting to a wide and heterogeneous audience is gone. Profitability comes from a loyal niche of consumers. MSNBC and Fox do it best. There is no money in unbiased reporting anymore. Meanwhile, journalism schools churn out kids that don’t have any real concept of the world outside of their tiny bubble. Many are easily manipulated or don’t have the analytical skills to see beyond what A means to B because there is no one left to guide them.

    Of course “learn to code” scares them. They cannot learn to code. And it offends them that their lack of in-demand skills puts them in same group as the Deplorables that they loathe.

    My grandfather ran but never loved insurance business. He continued to write a weekly column for the Atlantic City Press until he died. I still have a lead typeset with my name on it that was given to me 50 years ago.


  2. dejal

    When “Learn to code” rose from the dead I knew exactly the history of it.
    I code for a living. 42 years at it.
    I took it as a flippant insult from Obama back when he said it
    and when his sycophants yapped like prairie dogs in approval.

  3. stingray65

    As much as I usually agree with you Ronnie, I have do disagree on your welding, coding, or carpentry expectations for cabinet secretaries and journalists, and instead suggest that they simply know something about economics and accounting. Nothing sophisticated, just simple concepts such as: paying people for not working will lead to more people deciding not to work, or taxing or regulating away profits will lead to fewer employers and employees, or more people competing for the same number of jobs lead to lower wages and higher unemployment, or “free” stuff from government is not actually free.

    Perhaps if we really want to go wild we might expect them to also know something about basic science and statistics such as: solar panels don’t work at night, CO2 is not a pollutant, batteries suck in cold weather, there are only two genders (and dressing as the opposite doesn’t change your chromosomes), and unequal life outcomes are almost entirely due to unequal ability/effort and differing choices/priorities, rather than discrimination.

    • Ronnie Schreiber Post author

      I forgot to include balancing a checkbook.

      We shouldn’t be surprised that some folks don’t understand that there ain’t no free. I was almost amused by Ocasio-Cortez’s “we need to invent technology that’s never even been invented yet,” to solve environmental issues, as if she knows anything about invention and product, let alone basic science and statistics. Apparently she graduated with honors and a degree in economics, which says volumes about the true value of today’s college education.

      • everybodyhatesscott

        I double majored in Accounting and economics because picking up an econ degree was a few extra electives. It’s probably better than a poetry degree but undergrad econ at a state school is an easy major.

  4. sightline

    I’m pretty sure it was Michael Crichton who coined the term “Gell-Mann Amnesia” and just hijacked Murray’s name for it.

    Regardless, Gell-Mann amnesia is totally a thing and anyone with expertise in a field experiences it on a daily basis.

    • Ronnie Schreiber Post author

      Crichton and Gell-Mann were friends and Crichton coined the phrase after Gell-Mann related to him what I mentioned in the post.

  5. ScottS

    My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and like many of their era they placed a great deal of stock in having some useful skills. From my Grandfather and Uncle, I learned to weld (along with many other skills) in my early teenage years. Welding largely paid for college and nearly deterred me from completing a degree. Good welders historically are very well paid and still are from what I can tell. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had from creating things with one’s hands from a vision in the mind to physical reality. We now have a generation or two of people who don’t even know how to properly make a bed or cook simple food, and many of them are highly paid professionals. I think this is one of the underlying causes of the growing divide between the classes in America and the squeezing out of the middle class. We are becoming a nation of elites and proletariat. The so-called journalist are insulted by the suggestion of learning a skill that would place them among the proletariat. Maybe this is why we have come to warship cooks?

    • dejal

      There’s also a lot of satisfaction in coding something that does exactly what it is supposed to do.
      I’ve been doing it long enough that basically the guide lines are “Take this input and make it do that”.

      Other than language choice and coding style guidelines at least where I work, I have carte blanche on how to accomplish it. I visualize code as gears. This gear turns that gear which turns that gear, etc…..

      I’ve always considered coding as artistic more than scientific. I’ve never welded, but I’m fascinated by it. Welding is a skill that I’ve long felt was artistic. Laying dimes in welding is a thing of beauty.

      I doubt these people would be capable of either occupation.

      • Daniel J

        Well, just because code works doesn’t mean its testable, maintainable, or extensible. I’ve seen too much code that ” works ” that adding a feature requires a massive rewrite or fixing a bug becomes an arduous task.

        There really is a huge difference between “coders” and “engineers”. Too many people in high level positions thinks its a SMOP. Either take the time up front to design it right or spend twice to three times as long later to make the code maintainable and extensible.

        • dejal

          Yup. I spend more time coding for exceptions than what the code needs to do in perfect situations.
          Assumed I/O perfection is pretty easy to code for.

          Even then, you get hit with a situation that you didn’t code for.
          I log everything. I use E-mails to convey what happened. Write the E-Mails in HTML and you can spell out why the program did what it did.

          10 years ago I worked with a guy who would code with the expectation that perfection was assured.
          Until it wasn’t. Run,run,run puke.. with no heads-up why. He left and anytime one of his programs needed to be maintained, even if it was a small change, I’d usually say F’it and do major overhauls.

          He’d assume input files would always exist.
          He’d assume folders would always exist.
          He’d assume numeric data in records at a certain offset would be numeric.
          He’d assume fixed length records would always be so.
          So, if you expected a 100 character record with a # at offset relative offset 90 for 10 and the record was only 95 then puke.

          “We’ll they are supposed to be perfect”. No S*** Sherlock.

          We use Oracle. Let’s say you are trying to stick a string into a table.
          Strings in an insert statement are bracketed by single quotes.
          Works fine until you start hitting Irish Names with single quotes in a string.
          So, you take care of that from the get-go.

          I can usually get a few years at least before something major is wanted meaning time for a major rewrite. Hard to write something from the get go for something completely different from the original specs. The user sees the same interface. What is under that interface is completely changed.

      • ScottS

        Coding can indeed be rewarding. I know enough C++ to be dangerous, and it is gratifying to write a program that executes an instruction set correctly and efficiently with robust error handling.

        I think Highschool needs to be testing ground to help young people find out what interests them, and think all students should have to take some “vocational arts” classes to gain that exposure.

      • Athos

        Coding, welding, woodworking, wrenching, playing w/ electronics, etc… Call it waht you want, tinkering is an ENORMOUSLY satisfiying endeavour. It makes you feel you have achieved something: the proof is there, in front of you!

  6. -Nate

    “most think they’re too smart to do stuff like welding or carpentry.”

    Sad but oh so true .

    I know Welders & Carpenters along with many other Tradesmen, the successful ones are all *very* smart, it’s not an easy thing to learn nor do .

    Blaming the ‘leftists’ for this attitude is the coward’s way out, my whole life I’ve been insulted for choosing to be a mechanic , *much* more by right wing types than any lefties or liberals .

    Jerks come in all political spectrums, claiming either extreme is one way specifically is lazy thinking at best .

    I’m lucky to know a few old & retired news people, they worked hard and are incredibly intelligent and analytical .


    • arbuckle

      “Jerks come in all political spectrums”

      This is true. However, I don’t think that you’d be able to convince me that the Blue Checkmark Club on Twitter is anything but a bunch of elitists drunk on unmerited self-importance. If you want to throw that same label on the right wing blue checks then fair enough.

      • -Nate

        If I knew anything about twitter I could make a serious reply, I don’t so I can’t .

        From all the endless re tweets it looks like tweets are for twits regardless of political views .


        • CJinSD

          “From all the endless re tweets it looks like tweets are for twits regardless of political views .


          This is patently false. Twitter is a leftist organization that tolerates no popular dissent. Left is itself political spin and a lie. The correct ideological markers are right and wrong.

  7. Shortest Circuit

    The New Republic, Stephen Glass’ old rag? I guess we’ll have to wait for Forbes Digital to cover why it is useful if someone knows to code.

  8. jc

    Well, on the rare occasions when I have read a press account of something that I was personally involved in, 100% of the time they got at least one major and meaningful aspect of the thing covered DEAD WRONG.

    In my experience there is nothing like the sense of self-sufficiency one gets from knowing one can do things by oneself. In my case I have that with regard to anything mechanical; and I feel its lack with regard to growing food or fighting. Straddling this divide, I can see why those who have no practical skills whatsoever would bluster and shuck and jive when challenged to take up something that requires them. More than requiring practical skills (which, after all, are learned, not innate), is the requirement to humble oneself in front of the task and learn it.

    As an aside, I once got drawn at a party into a discussion of foreign trade with some economics professors. None of them was able to answer this question, “Now that the rolling element bearing industry in the USA is largely defunct, which aspects of national defense do you think we would be able to carry on should we not be able to obtain them due to a conflict?” No one could answer. After a little more discussion we were able to determine that not one of these economics professors knew what a rolling element bearing is, nor why they are important to every single piece of military hardware in existence, in that either the equipment itself or the factory it’s made in could not function one hour without a reliable supply of rolling element bearings.

    • Eric H

      I agree. Most newspeople don’t care one whit about getting the story right, they need their column inches and they need them now.
      I’ve been interviewed three times by newspapers. All three have gross misquotes. None of them were libelous so why would they care?

  9. jc

    Well, that GEICO ad was about the stupidest thing I’ve seen in a long time. No I WILL NOT use some cell phone app to call a guy to do something I am perfectly able to do my self. The very idea of glorifying total helplessness with two perfectly useful adults just sitting on their asses unable to change a flat tire.

    Instead of being idiots, the GEICO ad could have worked just fine had they shown an elderly lady with a walker utilizing this service. Or a guy in a wheelchair. There are people who truly cannot change a tire, but two middle aged people in robust health are not them.

  10. Mike

    Excellent post, Ronnie. I’ve never thought of it before, but you are absolutely correct in your assessment of journalists today and the lack of common sense or skills.

    I was having a similar discussion last week with some co-workers of mine, as we were having our coffee break in a temporary trailer at a rail yard we work at. For us, though, the topic was engineering and consulting. All 3 of us are 40-something guys, with varying education, who all came up through the ranks getting our hands dirty. I have a master’s degree in mechanical engineering; my career started when I was 18 working on an assembly line at a subsupplier for the auto industry. I did several years as a field engineer (basically, a wrench who could also clean up and go to meetings), then a design and test engineer. But now I see guys (yes, it is still mostly guys in our industry) coming straight outta college and right into consulting. How the heck are you supposed to “consult” on something when you’ve never “done” anything?

    Last week I was at a meeting at a supplier’s facility. Many years ago I actually worked for said supplier, now I was there as a customer. We were digging into some quality problems they were having, and as I looked at one of the drawings, I noticed my initials in the revision block. I had to laugh- and mentioned it to a couple of the other (younger) guys there with me. I think it surprised them a bit- but it definitely helped my credibility, being one of the guys who helped design the thing.

    • PaulyG


      Being affiliated with an engineering school, I think I understand the “consulting” situation. Consulting firms and Wall Street are two of the largest first employers of our undergraduates. These two sectors are attracted to engineering students as employees since engineers are typically disciplined individuals who know how to work hard and solve unstructured problems. These sectors often have the ability to outbid more traditional engineering focused companies for these kids. And you cannot discount the attractiveness of large hipster city living to young single adults.

      But not all the news is bad. Entrepreneurship has become more enticing as engineers see the success of internet companies. We are definitely seeing a trend of engineering students staying as engineers.


      • Mike


        Oh, I certainly see how attractive consulting can be- especially from the money aspect. I see a lot of the more “traditional” companies end up with fresh graduates who immediately bolt the instant they get “3 to 5 years experience” on their resume and can double their paycheck. It’s got to be frustrating, but then, it seems like yet another example of the Great Outsourcing of America, where companies don’t want to actually hire people, they just want the labor. Then when all the talent is concentrated in the consulting firms, the companies who need the expertise are stuck using them, since they won’t (or can’t) bring their own compensation levels to lure the consultants over, but, paradoxically, they can spend all they want on lucrative consulting contracts.

        I know of one particular client whose head directors’ salary is less than that of some of the consultant engineers working for them. And this is not atypical.

        So, are we calling Engineering colleges “E-School” yet?

  11. hank chinaski

    I never expected Consumerist to survive in the day where GlobalMegaCorpBwandoInc calls the shots. Too bad.

    Down deep, perhaps a fraction of the ‘journalists’ involved have enough insight to know how useless (or in fact harmful) their jobs were to a functioning society, then projecting their rage instead of accepting despair . Nah.

  12. Harrison Bergeron

    Unfortunately I think most people don’t realize how true this is. As a student at a large liberal university I see on a daily basis how much the “kids” at my school look down on those people working blue collar jobs and can’t seem fathom their point of view. It is honestly quite sickening listening to them spout off about normal working people and how they need to just die already so this country can progress and give all the poor marginalized groups what is due to them, you know everything for free basically. Keep in mind most of them come from very well off households making well into the six figures. Part of me can’t help but wonder what their parents views are since I imagine most of them had to work and sacrifice to get where they are. Do the parents also share the viewpoint that they should pay for everyone else’s “free stuff”?

  13. JustPassinThru

    Never have I been so proud of having so little to do with such outrageousness.

    By that, I mean Tw@tter and Face***k. Which is what I call these two obscenities, in the limited online dialogue I engage in.

    Both of them have become the same – an echo chamber, and a carefully-managed and moderated stage for Virtue Signalling and the loud repetition of shibboleths.

    Others have mentioned their own or familial experience with the news-poopers. I have my own…I did part-time work on a small Western New York daily, while attending SUNY majoring in pre-law.

    I did it well. Christie, the editor (even then, the women were driving out the crusty, hard-drinking men) was pleased with my work and invited me to do more freelancing. An unfortunate three-way intersection, between Jack Daniels, car keys, and a parked pickup truck, pretty much closed that deal out.

    Six years and a different state later, having been laid off from my State of Ohio job (Graham-Rudman-Hollings), I took stock. What had I done well in the past? Could I get it done? I was two semesters short of a degree. Change majors, go for Mass Communications, and find Fulfillment.

    So I found myself, age 27, at Kent State.

    Where I found the ABYSMAL quality of those who would produce the content for newspapers. Keep in mind, the “journalists” of that era are now at the top of their game – the editorial writers, the columnists, the copy editors who make it a burning passion to stamp out “Ray Sissm.”

    They were idiots then, in koledge; and they’re undeniable idiots now.

    The trouble today is, the mediuh hath become a Monolith; and they are supported by money from corporations with Socially-Aware management. Which means, rather than providing the light to balance heat, they provide a homogenized message, crafted around the Daily Narrative.

    And then some wag, not unlike myself in my salad days, says **LEARN CODING** and they’re all Triggered into General Meltdown.


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