Yes, You Should Learn to Code. Here’s Why.
Everyone should learn how to code — but that doesn't mean everyone needs to be a programmer.
People who aren’t too curious about software have the craziest ideas of what programming is like. A few months ago, I told my dad I was interested in learning how to code, and he gave me the strangest look I’ve ever seen on his face.
— Hey dad, I think I’m going to sign up for this online Harvard course, it looks great and it is free.
— Sounds good, what’s it about?
His reaction wasn’t about not supporting me (which he always has) or disregarding the value of the field. He just couldn’t understand why I, a person who had never written a line of code before, would ever want to do that. After talking a bit about it, he told me exactly why: in his mind, programming was practically writing ones, zeros, and tons of cryptic text on a black and white screen.
At that moment, I realized I had been thinking the exact same thing for the better part of my life. And no, we had never spoken about programming before. The fact was I had never actually seen code until I got a writing job at a local software outsourcing company during my early college years. And, at that time, I could swear I only saw ones, zeros, and tons of cryptic text every time my eyes crossed some dev’s screen.
I’d bet there’s a lot of people who still think the same way about code. If you’re one of them or know someone like that, then this is why I think you should learn how to code.
Programming Is Just Talking to A Computer
When developers write code, they are simply telling the computer exactly what they want it to do. And the computer, being the magical piece of plastic and metal that it is, does exactly that. The thing is, people often think that programming even the simplest things requires an insane level of knowledge about computers. Or at least that’s my theory.
To test it (not scientifically), I showed my girlfriend a few lines of Python. The goal was to find out if she could understand what the script was trying to do without knowing anything about programming. Granted, I was not going for something as simple as a function that ultimately returns
print("Hello, world!"). She’s too smart for that.
Here’s what the script looked like.
While she couldn’t determine exactly what was the purpose of the function (can you?), she did understand the script’s general flow of logic, and said something like this:
There’s the “i”, and it gets multiplied by itself. I don’t know what that percentage sign is doing there, but I guess it means that if the result is zero, then you “return” false? And if the equation with “i” is never equal to zero at some point you will “return” True.
As you can see, the logic behind most scripts is nothing out of this world. Programming is just talking to a computer. For me, the hard part was getting over the “this looks cryptic and impossible to understand” mindset — which took a toll on me even though Python’s syntax is quite similar to English.
The only way to get past that is to snap out of it and actually pay attention to what you’re looking at. After that, you’ll start seeing all the possibilities that coding can bring into your life.
A Few Ways Learning How to Code Can Help You
If you don’t know how to program and you were able to follow the logic of the code snippet above, that’s great! But, clearly, understanding the basic logic behind coding is not the same as knowing how to code. And I think the reason why a lot of people don’t try to learn is that they don’t know what they could do with such a skill.
For example, if you work with spreadsheets every day, knowing how to code simple programs could help you automate a lot of things and make your job a whole lot easier. I’m telling you that from experience. Since learning how to code, I’ve actually managed to automate quite a few tedious tasks from my job and I can get things done a lot quicker.
Coding can easily extend to your daily life. In my case, learning how to code gave me the confidence to write my own scripts for customizing my keyboard and keep my hands in a position that alleviates a particular wrist pain that I have. If you’re interested, I used AutoHotKey (completely free and open source) for that, and I’ll be posting an article about that soon.
Beyond that, there’s the actual context we are living in. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but every day it seems like technology is more and more intertwined with our daily lives. It is very likely that you’ve already been in a situation where knowing just a bit of how coding works could have helped you in one way or another. And if not, that’s probably going to happen sooner rather than later.
Think about it like knowing how to fix your car or how to fix something around the house. Both of those skills can save you a lot of trouble, time, and money. And it is exactly the same with coding — which brings me to my final point.
It Is All About Problem-Solving for Modern Times
Learning how to code doesn’t mean you’ll become a programmer just like learning how to cook doesn’t mean you’ll become a chef. We do both of those things because we’re trying to solve a problem. The difference is that hunger has been a problem since the dawn of time, and dealing with computers is just a new problem brought to us by modern times.
Best of all, there has never been a better time to learn how to code than now. It doesn’t matter when you read that sentence. There is an insane amount of online resources and high-quality content on learning how to code, and most of it is free.
So just get started. I promise you won’t regret it.