Programmer's Plan to Teach Homeless Man Coding Draws a Gigabyte of Criticism

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Homeless man sleeps on a building ledge in Manhattan.
Alamy
Talk about the law of unintended consequences: New York is in the middle of a homelessness crisis, with 50,000 people sleeping in its homeless shelters every night -- more than at any time since the Great Depression. In an effort to do his part to reduce that massive problem, programmer and entrepreneur Patrick McConlogue decided to give Leo, a homeless man whom he saw every day, a choice between $100 or free computer programming lessons.

That's when the onslaught of opinions began. McConlogue's plan, which he is documenting on his personal website, rapidly came to the attention of the national media and the blogosphere. Some writers praised his attempt, while others -- many others -- attacked it for being arrogant, short-sighted, and thoughtless. In fact, McConlogue was being buffeted by criticism before he'd even learned Leo's name, and before Leo had made his choice: the programming lessons rather than the cash.

To look at this from a citywide perspective, New York will spend $955.3 million in 2013 to take care of its homeless population.
At the same time, it spends an estimated $168,000 on every prisoner in its penal system. (While the homeless and the imprisoned populations aren't interchangeable, there's a lot of overlap between them.) By comparison, McConlogue is spending a few hundred dollars and a few dozen hours of his own time to teach Leo a highly marketable skill. While one could easily argue that McConlogue's experiment is more than a little high-handed, it is also an attempt to help solve a small piece of a massive problem. And, for Leo at least, it could make a huge difference.

What do you think about McConlaugh's approach? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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4 Comments

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chozang

As a programmer, I think this was a good intention, but not well-thought out. Programming is not like data-entry. Data-entry is something that the average person could learn in a few lessons. Almost all professional programmers these days spent many hundreds or thousands of hours going to school and practicing programming before they were able to get a job as a programmer. The majority of people simply don't have the mind for it. Did he even evaluate Leo to see if he was of above-average intelligence? What are the odds that Leo will be able to get a job programming after completing the lessons? I think it was cruel to mislead Leo in this way.

August 27 2013 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
DaveG

Mega Kudos to somebody actually investing the personal time and resources to make a real difference in this world - and more importantly, in one man's life. So many are so very quick to jump on the criticism bandwagon, while that is probably the very most they will ever do - take a few seconds to criticize somebody else's actions. If they do not like what he has done, let them push back from their keyboards and invest some of their own time and money doing whatever it is that they feel would be a better solution.

Until that time perhaps we should simply praise those who do.

again, Kudos to the man for the offer - and such wisdom demonstrated leaving the cash on the table and choosing the skill.

August 27 2013 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tallbussys

I have offered many times to homeless people asking for money to buy them whatever food they wanted instead of money (probably 40-50 times. I had only one lady who took me up on the offer, She ran into a convenience store, picked up a loaf of bread and cold cuts I paid her bill and we both felt better

August 26 2013 at 5:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jrogersfc

As Patrick has learned, no matter what you do, someone will criticize you.
Credibility is instant on the Internet.

August 26 2013 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ronald

Simply said and very true

August 26 2013 at 3:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carla

Giving money is easy. Giving time is very generous.

August 26 2013 at 1:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Linda

I think the offer is commendable. Kudos!

August 26 2013 at 12:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply