Coding… What is it Good For?

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This past week, I stumbled upon an article on TechCrunch entitled, “Please Don’t Learn to Code“. As you might know, I’ve been learning Web Development and Design for almost a year now. Most days I love it, some days I’m frustrated and wonder if I’m crazy. This article caught me on one of those missing confidence days. I read it, hoping that the title was misleading. I thought maybe the takeaway would be something like, “Don’t think learning to code is a process with an end date: it’s something you will continue to learn for as long as you try.” Or something along those lines. I was wrong.

I will be honest: this article didn’t deflate me as much as I would have expected. There were some legitimate and good points. For instance, the tech industry is kind of getting this “idealism bubble” placed around it. Many people seem to think that shows like Silicon Valley and rags-to-riches stories like Steve Wozniak and Mark Zuckerberg (if you can call Harvard “rags”) are the norm in tech. If you learn to code, you will make a billion dollars and maybe get fame and fortune. Coming up with the next big thing isn’t that hard. You might go through some tough times, but it will definitely be worth it in the end. Like anything else though, learning to code isn’t a one way ticket to wealth.

This article also made the point that there are people who learn to code without realizing how difficult it will be. Tech is an ever-changing field, and working as a programmer is a life of never-ending learning and growth. The languages I am currently using to build websites are not going to be the languages people will be using in 10 years. They might not even be the languages we use in 5 years. And, that’s part of what appeals to me. I love the idea of continuously learning and improving while still making a living. I can see where that would be frustrating to some. It almost sounds like it’s frustrating to the author, who spent time learning a coding language that is not only not really used today, but that new coders didn’t have to learn before moving on to the newer languages. I don’t really see that as a negative, however. People who have known how to code for a while, and know languages that new coders don’t know have an advantage in that they knowledge base that others don’t. Those new coders will one day also know what it’s like to see the language they have been using cast aside for something else. It’s just a part of the life of a programmer.

One of the more ridiculous arguments that was made in the article was that learning how to code is like learning how to be a plumber. This really isn’t the case. When you learn to be a plumber, you fix pipes. Of course, there are different kinds of pipes and different kinds of problems, but they are generally all related. When you learn to code, there are tons of different things you can do. There are people who work on the back end with servers and databases. There are people who work on the front end, making things look nice and handling the things that people see. There are people who work in big groups on big websites, there are freelancers who work on their own. Some people learn to code and never use it for anything more than enjoyment. Some people learn it to cause problems for others by finding critical mistakes in code. I think the argument is a little over simplified. I also don’t think it makes much sense because it’s kind of true for all trades and fields. I worked as a barista in coffee shops for a few years. I learned how to make coffee and other drinks. I learned quite a bit about sourcing coffee and what different kinds of beans and roasts meant in terms of flavor. That knowledge, however, isn’t really transferrable to other jobs (besides the fact that I make a mean cup of coffee and I am good at customer service).

The trick is to find skills that are easily transferrable, and I would argue that coding is one of the better fields for that. Not only is tech really broad in terms of the necessary knowledge and how someone’s skills are applied, but the problem solving and knowledge of technological language are things that can be brought to countless other positions. Besides the fact that it takes a while to learn, I personally don’t think there is any harm in learning to code. It doesn’t back you into a corner in terms of how you can use those skills and what kinds of jobs you qualify for. It opens up doors for freelancing, and being useful around an office.

So, after reading that article, it really got me thinking about why I was learning to code. Obviously, a lucrative career is something that appeals to me. And the ability to continue to learn and grow is something I’ve been searching for. Also, the balance of logic and problem solving with creativity is something I have found that I enjoy. It was good to be able to think about these things and remind myself of why I am putting time and effort into this.

The day after reading that article, another article was posted on Facebook that caught my eye: “Please Do Learn to Code“, written by Quincy Larson, the creator and teacher at Free Code Camp, one of the sources I use to learn. Quincy is a great source of encouragement and knowledge about the process of learning these skills. He is the first one to say that basically anyone can learn these skills, as long as they are willing to put in the time and effort. I have friended him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter, because having people who are a source of encouragement has been really helpful for me.

The basic idea of Quincy’s article is that learning to code is beneficial, even if a person doesn’t work in the field. Programming is how humans talk to computers. Since computers are becoming increasingly intertwined in our day-to-day lives, it follows that being able to communicate with them would be useful. I completely agree. We use computers to automate work for us. The example he gives is Google searches. Without Google, it would be really tough to find the information we needed, and it would not happen as fast as it does with Google. Before being able to search the Web, some people would spend hours or days looking for the answer they needed. Some people never found the answers they were looking for. Now, we can type something into Google and have more answers than we need in only a matter of milliseconds. That wouldn’t be possible without people who know how to code, though, because computers need a clear set of instructions to be able to do tasks. Programmers are the people who give computers those instructions.

Something I found interesting about Quincy’s article is that he called coding “the new literacy”. I suppose this makes sense. Programming languages are similar to spoken languages. The words and symbols have meaning, and there are people who understand it, and people who don’t. Technology definitely isn’t going anywhere, so being able to communicate with it isn’t going to harm anything. There are people who ignore the changing trends in technology, or fail to realize that they are being left behind, and they will not be able to flourish the way that people who keep up with the changes will.

I am going to continue to learn this skill, and encourage others to do the same. Even learning a little bit and having an understanding of how technology works is a skill that is beneficial. I will not let articles dissuade me and break my confidence. I think it’s important to think about why you’re doing the things you’re doing. It’s good to challenge yourself and your reasons for doing things. It’s also important to find people who support you and help you remain confident. It’s important to find mentors and friends who are proud of you and will help you when you’re having those missing confidence days. It’s also important to be realistic and know that nothing comes easy, and those things that are truly worth it may require a lot of work.

This couldn’t have happened at a better time for me: I have an entrance interview this week for a coding school. I am scared and not sure that I have what it takes. I am not sure that I’m qualified. But, it’s something I’m passionate about, and so I have to at least try! If I get in and am able to go to the school, it will definitely help me reach my goals and I will learn so much from the experience. Humans are made to learn new things, so why stop learning?

What do you do when you need a boost in confidence? Let me know in the comments!

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