Should Everyone Learn a Little Code?

by on September 17, 2014

I graduated college with an English degree, so it seems to constantly surprise people when I tell them I work as a web developer. I get it, I do. My major typically funnels people into teaching, publishing, and journalism careers, so I strayed a little far from the norm.

I initially learned HTML and CSS in the days of MySpace and Xanga when my only goal was making the backgrounds look pretty and bolding my favorite line of the Fall Out Boy lyrics posted on my profile. These simple customizations were purely recreational but they created a solid foundation on which I built my skills years down the road.

In this technology-driven world, programming is becoming increasingly important as we find ourselves immersed in our phones, tablets, and computers. But if the general public is mostly filled with end users, is code a necessity to understand our programmable lives? Will languages like HTML and CSS eventually be taught in tandem with languages like Spanish and French?

These questions arose last year when President Obama released a YouTube video calling on more young Americans to learn computer science.

“No one is born a computer scientist,” Obama said, “but with a little hard work, and some math and science, just about anyone can become one.”

The President’s call to action sparked a flurry of debate, mostly between professionals in the technology field. Some praised this idea, while others shuddered at the thought of a world filled with wannabe coders. I’ve summarized the main arguments from both sides below.

The Pros

  • You are in control. You can build your own website, create your own application, and control your digital presence.
  • There are jobs. In fact, the United States is having trouble filling all of the jobs. 40% of visas granted in 2009 were for workers entering the technology field.
  • You can make good money. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and College Board concluded that computer science is among the highest paid college degrees.
  • Coding is a level playing field. Potential employers tend to care more about what you can do rather than where you went to school or what degree you hold.
  • It’s easy to access learning materials. Tutorials have flooded the web on how to do…well…everything. Online learning platforms have enabled people across the world to try their hand at coding.
  • It’s satisfying. You are creating something out of nothing, and the whole world can see it. Code is its own unique art and it allows you to see your ideas come to life.
  • Your problem solving skills will improve. Adam L. Penenberg hits the nail on the head, saying, “Coding, by itself, has never been about writing a bunch of gibberish on the screen but more about solving real-world problems.”
  • It’s easier to learn than spoken language. The English language is a much harder concept than any coded language, and programming can be integrated into other relevant subjects like algebra.
  • You will have greater understanding. Not only will you begin to comprehend the way the technology in your life works, but you will have a greater appreciation for what it does for you.
  • Technology houses an ever-growing (and helpful) community. There are forums, chats, and even subreddits to help you when you hit a brick wall with your code. Upon Googling even the most specific of issues, you will be surprised how many others have also struggled with the same thing. And to top it all off, there are usually many generous solutions offered by fellow programmers with nothing to gain.

The Cons

  • Coding isn’t enjoyable for everyone. It isn’t that the general public is incapable of learning, but rather that we all have different tastes and interests for a reason. Not everyone experiences the same exhilaration of launching a freshly-coded website, and that’s okay.
  • Are you implementing a solution for a non-existent problem? Why do you feel the need to learn code? Is your lack of knowledge preventing you from a dream job or setting you back in your entrepreneurial efforts? Or are you just rushing to join the masses who are curious about code and what it can do?
  • Bad code may become more prevalent than good code. A huge fear among professionals is that teaching the general public to code could result in naïve and novice coders in the workforce.
  • You cannot become a programmer simply by programming. You must also learn about the industry, study your users, and understand the things surrounding programming.
  • You are in it for the “fame” or “riches.” It is excellent to have goals in life, but knowing how to code is not a guarantee or promise.
  • You equate digital power with coding. The growing need to understand code mostly stems from a desire for “digital power” and people’s frustration with their own confusion. If you seek the “power” of code, connect with people who already know and understand it and make yourself useful to them in your own way.
  • There is no better teacher than time. Many professionals in the field start young, often as a hobby, and have been experimenting with code for at least a decade. There is no process to speed up your learning. You must practice patience and have a willingness to admit your ignorance.
  • Code, as it currently exists, is not ready to be brought to the masses. Asking people to change in order to learn code is less plausible than changing code to help people learn it.
  • People want to learn about “what’s in.” Eventually these technologies and languages will go out of “style,” leaving you with no flexible understanding of the bigger picture.
  • Concept is being sidestepped for code. You must first learn computer science in order to learn how to think about technology. Many people skip this step and learn programming, which is the application of computer science. We must learn to walk before we can run.

So should everyone learn a little code? It’s hard to say.

One thing is certain though. We should embrace the growth of technology and be happy that there seems to be an exponential amount of interest and engagement surrounding it. Only good things can come out of a world that shares an obsession with code.


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