This summer, I jumped on the learn-to-code bandwagon, spending a couple of weeks on an online course before becoming completely frustrated and quitting.
But there are plenty of people singing its praises, how it teaches life skills that are applicable to anything, or how it will guarantee you a great job even if you aren’t the top performer in your industry. Actually, coding advocates might have done this a little too well. Learning to code has become the new trend that everyone wants in on.
If you ask me, I think we’ve all gone a little code crazy.
Not that it isn’t warranted. There are several factors that have been fueling the trend over the past couple years, such as an optimum job market, growing accessibility to coding tools and an increased focus on the digital and tech-related. This isn’t an argument against coding; in fact, it’s nearly impossible to argue against the validity of the skill.
But for some, the many benefits of learning to code have manifested into the simple derivation of CODING = GOOD. An example of this trend is the project of The Journeyman Hacker, a man’s attempt to solve all a homeless man’s issues by teaching him how to code.
Despite his well-meaning intentions, this perpetuates the idea that all you need is the ability to code, and you’re set. Never mind finding a place to live, a way to protect your valuables or just the day-to-day cost of getting by. On top of that, a homeless person with a valuable skill set will still have a hard time finding a job (unless in this case the media attention and endorsement helps the Journeyman out).
While Patrick McConlogue’s proposed solution wasn’t exactly satire, another voice chimed in to hammer in the point. A Valleywag advice column titled “Dear Miss Disruption” boasts the ability to solve all your problems with three simple words: learn to code. Disagreement with your family? Relationships troubles? No place to live? It can all be solved with a programming language or two.
Coding has also become an important component of education, and in some cases has started to trump the traditional college degree. Between student coding camps, coding board games and some proponents teaching coding in elementary school, it’s no wonder some are skipping out on college and going straight into a career in programming.
Add in resources such as Codecademy, which gained 200,000 users in its first three days, and now coding seems like a possibility for everyone. I spend a good chunk of my time talking to career-driven students, many of whom are becoming increasingly interested in coding. But not necessarily because they have an app they want to build, or because it’s a new way of problem solving.
That’s the problem, including for me.
I wanted to learn too, because I kept hearing this hype about a new demand for journalists who can program. I’ve had Miss Disruption whispering in my ear in times of uncertainty, “This wouldn’t be a problem if you learned how to code.” After my brief stint with coding, I have some knowledge of Python, HTML and CSS. I’ve yet to use my limited skills in a real life context. For example, at TechCrunch there’s a team of professional developers working on a new website, and an even bigger team building up CrunchBase, and using their data-mining skills to help us find new data trends. This specialization of labor makes total sense when you consider how our society works.
We use cars and planes regularly, and those with expertise work with them and make them run. However, the vast majority of people boarding a plane lack esoteric knowledge on exactly how the aircraft works. In an ideal world, everyone would know coding. But in those circumstances, everyone would know how to manufacture computers and grow their own food too.
Those that are interested will dabble, and those that are invested will learn. By all means, play around with Codecademy. Take courses in computer science. Teach your kids basic coding skills. Get one of those coveted programming jobs I’ve been hearing so much about.
But maybe wait until you know why you want to learn, and how you’ll put the knowledge to use. If you learn to code just for the sake of learning it, you’ll lack the motivation that makes great programmers, and lose out on the practical benefits of what you’ve learned.
Coding is a great thing. I might try to learn again, either through structured classes or online tools. But when the little Miss Disruption in your brain starts talking, take it with a grain of salt.
Image source: “THE KEEP CALM-O-MATIC“