back to article Coding is more important than Shakespeare, says VC living in self-contained universe

Close on the heels of Marc Andreessen's anti-colonialism comments about India, a second billionaire Silicon Valley VC has exploded his ego all over the internet. But whereas Andreessen's offensive comments were restricted to a 140-character tweet, Vinod Khosla has written over 5,000 words to explain why kids should learn …


          1. Triggerfish

            Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

            "couldn't name all the bones in a horse"

            The difference is, of course, that not knowing the things that you mention doesn't imply ignorance, whereas a lack of appreciation of the wonders of Shakespeare's language apparently does.

            Yet these forums are full of people saying things like they (av user) do not undertsand an obscure bit of security knowledge on SSL certification, that's needed to stop them being pawned. Well they are ignoramuses then.

        1. Martin Gregorie

          Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

          The plays are not incomprehensible - watch Baz Lurman's film "Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet" and tell me you don't understand it.

          Better yet, go back into the archives and watch Zeffirelli's "The Taming Of The Shrew" or "Romeo and Juliet".

          1. Winkypop Silver badge

            Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

            Polanski's MacBeth!

            Top film, great play.

        2. John Tserkezis

          Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

          "95% of the El Reg readership, or the general public, couldn't name all the bones in a horse"

          Lets run with this premise: While I couldn't answer your question right away, if you gave me enough time, I'm sure I could google it. And if I can Google it, so can you. And if you can Google it, why the hell are you asking me?

          My point is, is this modern attitude the fault of people not reading Shakespeare? I'm not convinced it is.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. nijam Silver badge

          Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

          > The plays are not incomprehensible - watch Baz Lurman's film "Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet" ...

          The plays *are* incomprehensible, you only have to either

          (a) read one (as opposed to seeing someone else's film based on what they though it meant),


          (b) compare the myriad absurd "interpretations" foisted on schoolchildren across the world by their teachers. (Said interpretations being contradictory enough that you can only deduce that the authors of the curriculum didn't understand the original play.)

          Asimov wrote a time-travel short story on the subject.

      1. itzman
        IT Angle

        Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

        The point is that he was just as influential as say Knuth is in computer science. Their legacies live on, although you may consider that neither are worth studying, the fact remains that of you want to understand the fundamentals of the (human) world you live in, they both have had a lasting effect.

        Shakespeare, and the Bible form a vast repository of useful aphorisms.

        And also just about every single twist of human drama there is.

        To understand Anti-Semitism, a quick glance at the Merchant of Venice reveals its early history for example. As well as both sides of the coin.

        Power and politics are treated also. As is love and betrayal. Sometimes a play is a good way tp communicate a picture of these things. The problem I have with modern RSC re-interpretations is that they are clumsy politically correct arty farty nonsense. You have to see Shakespeare as what it was - 16th century entertainment, plus a wry comment on human nature, for a world in which literacy was a rare thing.

        Merely learning the plays is not studying shakespeare. Understanding who he was an why he wrote what he wrote and for whom,. is far more interesting.

        1. Roq D. Kasba

          Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

          To dissect Shakespeare as just words is to see code as electromechanical pulses. He is a storyteller, a seer of interpersonal truths, and an entertainer. Stories are how we analogue humans learn, make sense of a complex world.

          And the beach thing just makes him look a complete cunt, to be frank.

      2. AdamWill

        Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

        Millions of people annually around the world "wade their way through" at least one of Shakespeare's plays, as a cursory glance at just about any theatre program would show you. They don't put on all those productions to empty houses, you know. Theatres are - believe it or not! - subject to the guidelines of supply and demand just like everyone else.

        (Sidebar to this debate: the most tiresome thing for me is the assumption that what you study in school or university somehow determines your path for life, and is really only of interest insofar as it "gets you a job". I've got a degree in history. I work in software. I know there are a lot of other people like me - if you do an informal count among any reasonably-sized gathering of software engineers, you'll wind up with ~25% with "liberal arts" degrees, in my experience. To a large extent, the point of study is not so much what you study as the techniques you learn by studying it.)

        1. LucreLout

          Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?


          To a large extent, the point of study is not so much what you study as the techniques you learn by studying it

          Certainly this is true, else all those studying "the classics" at Oxbridge would be wasting their time, and I rather think they're not.

          That being said, the study of anything other than computing conveys no knowledge of or ability with computers. Separate study must begin, and it is this that is often lacking. Most of the worst code I encounter is produced by people who studied something else at university; those studying nothing fare better, and those studying computing best of all.

          I believe this to be because having completed a degree in something else, too many participants then begin working as programmers and learn on the job. That works fine, but the code they produce while so learning is universally garbage.

          So back to the point of the article. Impressively, I think we're in near universal agreement that Kohsla is fundamentally wrong. I enjoy writing code for a living, but seldom enjoy reading it for entertainment. Quite apart from that, it is Khosla and his ilk that drive the offshoring boom, leaving coders in stiff competition for work from cheap, inexperienced, and largely unskilled offshorians.

          I can see much to be gained in teaching my children coding, both as a means to structure thought, but also as a fall back skill in case their careers don't work out. But as a primary career? Coding seems to have little future for those of school age, and I certainly don't envy the junior programmers just starting out.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

      ...because Shakespeare is the earliest surviving plagiarist of all of those phrases ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

        and critical thinking would involve teaching them to understand, appraise and, perhaps, criticise theories such as those which underpin

    2. DavCrav

      Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

      "if you recall your salad days,

      you are quoting Shakespeare;"

      Or Spandau Ballet.

    3. stungebag

      Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

      Have an upvote to counter the person who inexplicably downvoted you.

      1. Commswonk

        Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

        "if you recall your salad days,

        you are quoting Shakespeare;"

        Or Spandau Ballet.

        Or possibly Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds.

    4. herman Silver badge

      Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

      "What the dickens?" If so, then either Dickens was very old or William very young.

    5. eesiginfo

      Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?


    6. John Tserkezis

      Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

      "If you cannot understand my argument, and declare 'It's Greek to me', you are quoting Shakespeare;"

      I can actually say that. I speak mostly fluent Greek, and used to read and write Greek back in a previous life: And I can tell you it had no bearing in my ability to code, nor understand mathamatics. Towards those ends, it was all hard work.

      And at least for me, I'm not convinced that Shakespeare had nothing to do with it either.

      Just my experience.

    7. BlartVersenwaldIII

      Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

      Nicely said. Gary Martin keeps a similar list at as well as a bunch of other interesting etymology titbits.

      Back on topic; Marc Andreessen does not seem to understand that both literature and coding are both about expressing oneself in an eloquent fashion in a way that's understandable to your target audience. Shakespeare was there at the crystallisation of what became the modern english language and in my humble opinion did a bang-up job so personally I'd regard him as, say, a ye-oldene-dayse Dennis Ritchie.

    8. Arctic fox

      @itzman Well played sir, well played!

      I am so jealous of your post I do not where to begin. Big thumbs up!

    9. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Shakespeare? who is he anyway?

      "Shakespeare wasn't original at all, all he did was string together loads of well-known quotes." To quote someone else.

  1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "Should we teach our students what we already know, or prepare them to discover more?"

    Zero-sum-game trap, again. The answer is: BOTH.

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "For Khosla, a world of Economist readers is a world of value, ... "

    Thanks for the nightmare food. I'd rather face a zombie apocalypse.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Too late, it's already here, except it's a VC apocalypse.

  3. getHandle

    Bring back voting on articles

    +1 from me!

  4. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Apparently, Shakespeare is not essential for getting rich...

    It might even hurt a VC professionally. E.g., I can understand that a VC would not regard "Neither a borrower not a lender be" a serious or useful advice.

    And I have lost count of the occasions when I had to quote

    We work by wit, and not by witchcraft,

    And wit depends on dilatory time.

    to various VCs and managers.

    Admittedly, having read all of Shakespeare and being able to quote some stuff from memory did not make me rich. Not in a sense a typical VC could relate to, anyway.

    [Aside: both quotes are by not the most attractive of Shakespeare's characters, but not the stupidest, either. A VC would probably point out that both were ultimately unsuccessful.]

  5. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Any damn fool can code...

    ...but writing a decent requirements spec is still an art form and still rarer than hen's teeth.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Any damn fool can code...

      Have an upvote, all to true. Coding requires a disciplined, logical mind and a willingness to learn a programming language. The hard part is part is often trying to understand what the specs say and intend - often two unrelated ideas.

      1. Lars Silver badge

        Re: Any damn fool can code...

        @ a_yank_lurker

        I was a programmer for 35 years, hell if I know what that requires, but you have to like it. I have seen young guys and girls giving up, as they should, because they did not like it. Programming is a profession like any other.

        This reminds me of a day in school when I was 8 or 9 and our teacher decided to ask us, one by one, what we wanted to become as adults. We guys wanted to become, firefighters, pilots, policemen, train drivers and what not. I wanted to become a sea captain. What the girls wanted to become I cannot remember at all. But then there was this chap who said "DENTIST". There was a complete surprised silence in the class when all heads turned to look at that guy, and I felt sorry for him . I suppose his father or mother was one.

        Anyway, all we are and have achieved during our time to date is due to education and due to kids incredible ability and demand to learn. And our ability to provide is far from what it could and should be.

        Literature like music I would call "vitamins" for our brains or souls if you like, even if it will not become a profession.

        I have listened to all the GOP debates, and I cannot remember anybody mentioning education at all. Then there is Bernie Sanders, who has got it. And then there is Hillary who tries to fool the audience by talking about Trump's kids as if that was of any importance.

  6. quattroprorocked

    I love a good rant

    As to VK thinking that morals and ethics are hard to teach, yes and no. Any parent knows that MOST children have a ingrained sense of fair play and a parents main job is to rear a moral and ethical person.

    OTOH SOME people lack that sense and yes, such people, like VK (based on The Beach) probably are hard to teach. VK should be thankful that he wound up rich rather than in prison.

    But guys, it's not Arts OR Science, it's both. (Except when composers confuse the maths of music with using maths to make music. Because that's usually just noise...)

    1. Roq D. Kasba

      Re: I love a good rant

      The art/science division is a very new thing anyway, often dogma-fueled. Look at the founding principles of the Royal Albert Hall, for instance. An Education involves both.

  7. tkioz

    What a moron

    Seriously we need to stop this obsession with teaching kids 'job skills' and focusing on *teaching them how to learn*. That's the key factor in education, not route memorization, teach them how to pick up the skills they need when they need them.

    Exposing them to history, art, literature, music, and all the other 'worthless' stuff only helps.

    It seems like this idiot wants a world of drones who seek the almighty dollar above everything else.

    1. Matthew Taylor

      Re: What a moron

      He's a VC - he was never going to want anything else. I agree with you entirely though. The trouble is, we've become very good at measuring things, and analysing the resulting data. Whilst this is surely beneficial in many ways, it brings its own disease, which is to assume that if you can't measure something, it doesn't matter.

      The result is that young people are taught to see the world through the lens of an excel spreadsheet.Such a tremendous narrowing of acceptable aims and goals for people ought to be lamented as a tragedy, but no-one notices, because their noticing apparatus is similarly curtailed.

      1. Trainee grumpy old ****
        Thumb Down

        Re: What a moron

        He's a VC - he was never going to want anything else.

        Given his ringing endorsement, presumably what he looks for in an applicant is the ability to discuss a random edition of The Economist cover to cover rather than the quality or viability of the project requesting funding.

    2. Useless User

      Re: What a moron

      Teach them job skills

      Make them freelancers

      Pit them against each other in the race to the bottom

      Have a society of easily disposable constantly shopping worker-bees

      What a terrible world of money and emptyness...

    3. oiseau Silver badge

      Re: What a moron


      > It seems like this idiot wants a world of drones who seek the almighty dollar above everything else.

      It would seem so ...

      But then, it also seems he's nothing but a real honest-to-goodness certified asshole with a lot (lot) of money.


  8. jake Silver badge

    Clueless rich people pontificating ...

    ... about us GreatUnwashed[tm] is always amusing ...

    "It's hard to imagine there is someone in greater need of the lessons that liberal arts can afford you than Vinod Khosla."

    Concur. What a twat.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Excellent article

    An eloquent, well-written trashing of the bollocks spouted by someone who is clearly a buffoon (albeit a rich one).

    His vision is one of a world of drones, highly-trained in just a few skills that are profitable to someone. Not pretty, and not a fitting reward for all the effort and pain humans have gone through for millenia to form civilisations.

    1. Tom Womack

      Re: Excellent article

      His vision is highly-trained people. But there is a lot of time in the evenings in which you can read whatever you like, utterly independent of the training you have in how to drill teeth, remove spleens, diagnose common diseases of the kitten, weld two-inch-thick copper plate, cut three pieces of wood so that they fit together into a beautiful corner, write C++, read Danish, design an injection-mould ejector which actually ejects the pieces, locate a sewer pipe two metres underground, convince a CIO that your product meets their needs, or whatever makes you money.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Excellent article

        His vision is highly-trained people.

        True. Having read a fair chunk of his essay (I confess to not having the stamina to go the whole way) I got the impression that he was largely concerned about training people to think more, particularly critical thinking.

        Nothing wrong with that, for everyone, not just those privileged enough to get a college education.

        My concern is his focus on the perceived lack of value in Liberal Arts vs the Sciences, and on back-fitting scientific thinking to the teaching of Liberal Arts. I find that concept quite scary. I'd rather leave the arty types to be arty, whether it is perceived to be useful to society or not.

      2. hplasm

        Re: Excellent article

        "...drill teeth, remove spleens, diagnose common diseases of the kitten, weld two-inch-thick copper plate, cut three pieces of wood so that they fit together into a beautiful corner, write C++, read Danish, design an injection-mould ejector which actually ejects the pieces..."

        That's what I do in my spare time... and read the odd bit of bard at work.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    If you've ever wondered...

    why People are born Mortal, all you have to do is listen to someone like Venal Khosla for five minutes.

  11. Useless User

    What a bot this guy really is

    A terrible self-brainwashed man, advocating an impoverished world, devoid of humanity and diversity, with only coders and shoppers remaining.

  12. Stevie


    Yes, let us indoctrinate a generation of yoof in the same skills 90% of the computer world already has: blithering obliviousness and nil ability to empathize with another and hence communicate effectively with them.

    Soon the whole world will know C insert modifier of the day but will need joke icon or an irony tag to tell them when others are leg-pulling. Eventually, all non-coders will be dead and no-one will be able to crack jokes that aren't about coding slips, so it will all work out in the end.

    What happens when we finally get proper AI and let them do the boring coding? What will these poor buggers do then? It'll be like when the dotcom bubble burst and all those Javascript web "programmers" suddenly found themselves in a sane IT environment that needed more than client-side enblingination skills. Our place was like an episode of The Walking Dead for about two weeks as Web Coder contracts began to expire. All that shuffling, moaning, dead-eyed yoof.

    Oh the humanities.

  13. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    coding vs old shaky

    As I have been coding for almost 44 years, I feel that it is time to learn a bit of Shakespear.

    A time and a place etc.

    If you are only a coder (imagine the geek in their Mom's Basement) then you are hardly prepared to face the world at large. I think the term is socially inept.

    Do we really want a world full of people like that?

    or do we want people with a rounded background?

    I know what I want and it is not the former.

  14. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    What a dry, empty, non-human

    How can children discover what they are really good at (and enjoy) if they don't get the widest possible early experience?

    1. John Tserkezis

      Re: What a dry, empty, non-human

      "How can children discover what they are really good at (and enjoy) if they don't get the widest possible early experience?"

      Be careful with how that statement is applied, I've heard LOTS of bible-thumpers use that very defence.

  15. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Advice to Khosla

    Pour some water into a bucket.

    Dip your hand into it.

    Take it out again.

    Examine the impression you left behind.

  16. LDS Silver badge

    He comes from the caste system

    When were you're in the upper ones you expect the other ones to be your slaves - and that has to be fixed and unchangeable. You can become rich as much as you can, but without a true cleverness and culture you will never be able to escape your childhood imprinting.

    I'm non surprised about what he said, it's a consequences of his culture he's unable to abandon and forget - because he was too focused on making money, instead of understanding.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: He comes from the caste system

      Really?? The caste system, is relevant to this discussion? Is this how your logic works:

      VK is from India. India has a caste system. Therefore VK must believe in the caste system and its inflexibility. And somehow this predetermines how he views what should be in the undergraduate curriculum?

      His views on education are lousy, and the caste system may be terrible, but it is entirely possible, indeed extremely likely, that the two are completely unrelated.


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