You should learn how to code. Even if you don’t want to be a programmer, coding is the new literacy. Don’t worry if you don’t have a technical background and never touched code in your life. I came to Flatiron having only taken one programming course ever. I worried that I was too old to learn this stuff; it seemed like everyone was either a computer science major or had been coding since they were kids. However, I’ve learned that the technology has become much more accessible to beginners in the past few years.
And at the end of the day, computers are just tools that were built by humans. And while the subject matter isn’t easy, its not as mystical or obscure as I had initially thought. At the risk of sounding cliche, its never too late to learn a new skill. Here are five reasons why everyone (including you!) should learn how to code.
1) Be Productive and Have an Impact
Coding is a cheap way to be a maker and creator and to connect with the world around you. Its exhilirating to write some code, start your browser and instantly see what you wrote intepreted on screen. I can’t think of many industries where you can immediately see the fruits of your labor. Coming from asset management, I found it difficult to connect my work back to the end beneficiary - retirees, teachers, etc. - as there seemed to be multiple layers of intermediation such that I couldn’t see the full impact I was having. With web development, its easier to get immediate gratification from your work.
Coding also enables you to have an outsized impact. Everyone’s heard how Facebook, Google, etc. grew out of a college dorm room or garage and are now changing the world in tangible ways. While those home run endeavors are few and far between, its empowering to think that I can create something in a short amount of time and instantly let anyone with Internet access see what I’ve done. Even in launching this blog, I love the fact that my writing could have an impact on people that I’ve never even met. Programming opens up a whole new method of communicating and expressing ideas that I had never imagined. For many years, I was just a consumer of the Internet - reading blogs, using applications and playing games. Learning how to code is the first step to becoming a productive member of a modern, Web-enabled society and contributing back to the complex system of tubes that has provided me countless hours of enjoyment and learning.
2) Use Your Entire Brain
Its rare to find an activity that engages both your left brain and right brain as actively as web development. Good, modern web applications are both well designed and analytically powerful programs. When I worked as a editor in charge of layout and design at my college newspaper, I had to think creatively about how to display content - what colors, fonts and page structure would attract readers yet not diminish the written content? In finance, I had to move to the other side of the intellectual spectrum and think much more analytically, use data and solve problems in a structured, deliberate manner. I have found web development to be the best of both worlds - a field that tightly integrates the creative with the analytical in such a way that brings people with varied and diverse skill sets to the same table.
3) Build A Valuable Skill Set
Technology is booming, and good developers are in high demand. I’ve heard from people in the industry that its not uncommon for start-ups to have high turnover - not because of job dissatisfaction, but rather because there are so many good opportunities out there that developers are able to move around to satisfy their desire to work on new, interesting problems. As technology continues to disrupt industries and economies - just look at how Amazon has transformed the consumer market - companies moving this tidal wave of transformation forward will be eagerly seeking out talented people who are able to understand technology and apply it to business problems. And while consumer-oriented industries like fashion or marketing have already been upended by technology, I’m convinced that the best is still to come for more defensive industries like energy, transportation and healthcare. Even when working in finance, I clearly saw how powerful technology can enhance a company’s product strategy and give them a leg up on their competition. This trend toward digitization and the application of technology in process and operations isn’t going away anytime soon - might as well get on the leading edge by learning how to code.
4) Work With Passionate People
One thing I learned about myself from working at my college newspaper was that I love working with passionate people. I draw energy from them, and it makes whatever work I’m doing more palatable. In the interactions I’ve had with entrepreneurs and people at start-ups, its clear to me that developers, designers and the start-up community in general are incredibly passionate about what they do. In fact, you pretty much have to be passionate to start a company, since its easier to get a job at a large company than to venture out on your own. When I talk to people who work in this field, I can just hear in their voice how excited they are to have an impact and execute on an idea.
A great example of the passion technologists have for their craft are hackathons. In New York City, you can probably find a hackathon on any given weekend - I have a friend who goes to a few hackathons a month. The simple fact that these exist is a testament to passion; developers are willing to spend an entire Saturday coding and hacking away at a single problem. They are there because they are excited about solving problems and want to think creatively about how to improve the world around them. I’ve been to two hackathons, one about energy and the environment and the other about music. However, in the past month alone, I’ve heard about hackathons covering fashion, education and sanitation. There’s a hackathon in a few months for government and civic institutions. The people going to these hackathons are not going for the money (although some do offer cash prizes); they’re attending because they’re passionate.
5) Enjoy a Lifetime of Learning
When you first begin to explore technology, you’ll quickly learn (as I did) how much there is out there to learn. Each concept I learned about opened the door to 10 more concepts. Technology is a very, very long rabbit hole, but once you get started, you’ll never run out of concepts to explore, in large part because its such a dynamic and fast-growing field. Each year, developers produce new frameworks and new languages; in fact, Ruby itself is only two decades old, and didn’t really catch fire until the mid-2000s. The scope of technology is increasing faster than I can learn new skills.
In addition to learning Ruby and web development, I’m interested in exploring design, writing iOS applications and creating data visualizations. Obviously, I won’t be able to tackle all of those goals in the 12-week Flatiron program. But learning how to code is the bedrock foundation for really understanding technology, so I’m excited to take what I’m learning here and extending that over and over again in the future as I continue my education.
I hope those 5 reasons provide enough motivation to start the lifelong journey of learning how to use technology as a tool through code. If you’re a developer or learning how to program, what made you first want to code? What were some of the difficulties in getting started? If you don’t have any interest in coding, why not? I don’t think everyone is meant to be a programmer, but there are certainly misconceptions and assumptions about coding that cause people to establish mental obstacles to actually trying to learn, and I’d like to hear what people think.