Should Everyone Learn to Code?Frederick DooleyBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingMar 20Everyone needs to know how to code.
At least that’s how I felt this past summer when I was looking for a job.
I’d just quit my last position because I wanted to take my career in a different direction and had been hitting the pavement hard.
But it seemed that to successfully move in the direction I needed more of a programming background than the one class I’d taken in college.
This feeling stuck with me even after I landed my next position–I need to learn how to code so I can remain relevant in the job market.
So I set out to teach myself how to code.
Now there were tons of languages to choose from but I decided to start out on the one I’d left in college–C++.
I was bored out of my mind and to make things worse C++ (at least to me–give a newbie programmer some slack) was not the most intuitive language to learn.
And I was reminded why I’d sworn I would never take another coding class in college.
But then I’d remind myself that I had to push forward because learning to code wasn’t really a choice but a matter of survival in the changing job market where everyone, whether they realized it or not, needed to learn how to code to stay relevant.
Given the fact that my current efforts weren’t proving successful despite the gravitas of the matter, I decided to switch gears and find a coding project I would want to work on in and of itself with the hope that that desire would motivate me to stay the course.
Well, I was going to be moving to SF for the new job in a few months so I’d have to soon start spending inordinate amounts of time combing through Craigslist listings to find a place to stay.
But what if I could write a script to do it for me.
That would be far cooler.
I did a quick Google search and found a code to do just that.
The only thing was I couldn’t make out any part of how it worked because the code was written in Python.
So it looked like Python was the language to learn and I started the Coursera set of courses called Python for Everybody to do just that.
It took a good three months to get through everything but I was far more motivated to stick to it because I had the very immediate need of finding shelter before I moved.
Moreover, building a Craigslist scraper was a lot cooler than some amorphous goal of making sure I maintain employment during the next wave of the tech revolution.
Aside from the initial goal of ensuring I wasn’t stricken by homelessness when I arrived in San Fran, I found my new coding skills to be helpful with other projects.
For example, within the first month, I was actually able to put together a little script to automate the filling of a list and exporting that list to Excel.
Yes, it took me forever because I was still figuring out what I was doing but it was fun to see a problem and be able to put my newly learned skills to use finding the solution.
And at the end of the three months, it still took me some time to first make sense of the apartment scraping code I was trying to follow and second update it for how Craigslist had changed since the code was written.
So many traceback errors…nevertheless, it was fun applying my new skills to bringing to life something that 3 months earlier was just an idea in my head.
After completing the Craigslist project, my focus turned back to my original goal of deepening my Python knowledge so that my future job prospects were a little more intact……and I promptly ran back into the wall I’d initially hit upon starting the journey.
It was as if with the major project done I had no real motivation to keep learning Python.
Learning to Code is a Lifelong ProcessSo as you do when you reach an existential roadblock, I turned to Google and searched “Should everyone learn to code?” to learn more about the life of programmers and whether I really wanted to become one.
The more I read the more I realized that getting a job as a programmer wasn’t a one and done thing.
Programmers are constantly learning new languages as the environment changes and new languages are created.
To be successful you have to really enjoy the process of learning and mastering new programming languages because if you don’t, the relevancy you worked so hard to obtain won’t matter for very long.
As Tech Crunch stated,“What happens to the person who spent night and day studying Objective-C only to be horrified by the Swift announcement at WWDC 2014?”Coding at its Core is Creativity & Problem-SolvingReading that made me realize that I didn’t want to learn a language in its entirety to master it.
As such, coding would never be a solution to my job security concerns because I just wanted to learn the parts of it that allowed me to satisfy my creative itch.
Upon reflection, I realized learning to code was only fun to me because it allowed me to bring the projects in my head to life.
Coding felt as if it were a form of legos for adults.
Now, this may seem a little far stretched but bear with me.
You see with legos each of the blocks, while they may originally be part of a set, can be combined in an infinite number of ways to bring about something that previously didn’t exist.
Coding does the same.
It allows the coder to use the existing tools of their programing language to bring to life something that previously didn’t exist.
Its creativity and problem solving you could see.
And that was what I loved.
As a coder, when faced with a problem, instead of looking for an existing solution, I had a whole new world of options to imagine solutions and code them to life–almost like a 3D printer for my thoughts.
Think about how powerful that is.
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, in their book Designing Your Life, phrase this power as such:When we use our creativity to search for a solution its impossible to know where we’ll end up because it’s impossible to predict the future.
But when we do so, we change the future that is possible.
–Adapted from Designing Your LifeCoding Helps Us Change the Future that is PossibleNow coding isn’t the only way to nurture this creativity/problem-solving.
I know for myself I’ve felt the same part of my brain firing when I was helping my parents redesign their living room.
The constraints of wanting the room to feel open, have the color scheme flow, and working with the existing furniture to bring everything about required the same creativity and problem solving that coding did.
Creativity, after all, is the ability to recognize patterns between two disparate things and bringing those things together to form something new.
This pattern recognition and consequential reorganization is certainly something not confined to the world of tech let alone coding.
However, I believe the applications of coding or at least understanding how to work within its constraints are far more wide-ranging than other areas where creativity might be found.
The ability to program has disrupted many industries.
iTunes and Spotify disrupted the music industry, Netflix the film and television industry.
Google changed the playing field in numerous industries as they made the ability to find information and provide it more accessible to all.
Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, Tesla…and the list goes on.
However, when we look across all these industries and the companies that have disrupted them, the one through line is someone that recognized a problem that technology could solve.
For Mark Zuckerberg, it was a better way“to help connect people at colleges and a few schools”–Mark Zuckerberg, Freakonomics Radio 328.
For Jeff Bezos, it was taking advantage of the growing consumer interest in the internet in the ’90s to provide an online shopping store.
For Google’s Larry Page & Sergey Brin it was:“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”–Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Google.
There are still many industries that have been unshaken by this rise in technological solutions.
And while I don’t have any proof, I’d suspect that that remains the case, not for a lack of a problem but because those people working in those fields don’t yet recognize that technology (and by extension coding) can provide.
Why because often medical professionals, insurance, lawyers, accountants (to name a few) are not trained in the language of programming.
Thus, they cannot recognize a solution for which they have not been trained.
However, if we had more people that knew at least the basics of coding working in these fields we might.
And while it might sound idealistic to think so, but we need these type of people.
Their unique knowledge of these industries combined with their coding know-how will give them the skills they need to recognize these overlooked solutions and bring about changes from which society at large will benefit.
So that brings us back to the idea of “should everyone learn to code?” From the standpoint of job security, I think the answer is no, as I believe my failed attempts to force myself to learn under such a guise have proven as such.
However, should everyone learn to code for the creativity benefits and the solutions that creativity will bring to society, a thousand times “YES.
” Because while coding at first blush may seem like something out of the matrix where only a few people are destined for it, it’s not.
But it first starts with finding an idea you’re passionate about and figuring out how learning how to code can help bring that passion to life.
Originally published at freddooley.
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