Coding Isn't Necessary, But It's Good to Know

I’ve been talking with friends and reading blog posts in the past few days over the idea of more people learning to code. The discussion was inspired by Code Year, a new online course created to help people learn programming. At the time of writing this, nearly a hundred and fifty-thousand people have signed up. Daniel Jalkut equated learning to code to literacy, as a basic skill that people will need in the future. Guy English disagreed with that, saying that coding is not the new literacy, but instead the new “tinkering with the engine, the new re-wiring the house.”

I agree and disagree with both for different reasons, I disagree primarily in that I think both positions are more extreme than I see it. On one side there’s an implication that everyone should learn to code, and that anyone who doesn’t may be left behind by society. On the other it seems that creating software is only for extreme tweakers, and that most people will find nothing of value. Both posts are well written and insightful, so please read both incase I’ve misrepresented either point of view in any way.

I think there’s a value in learning to code that does not equate to creating something as complex as web sites or apps. I also don’t think it’s as basic a skill as reading and writing, one that if you don’t learn will cripple your opportunities in life. Learning to write small scripts to automate tasks and control your computer can bring value — and possibly enjoyment – to a lot of peoples who are never going to write anything bigger than that.

So, instead, maybe learning to code is the new sewing your own buttons back on, or changing a tire on your car. Or, maybe it’s the new learning a musical instrument – there’s a lot of people who get a lot of enjoyment out of playing an instrument who are not artists, and will never develop mastery level skills. It still improves their lives.

In fact – maybe coding isn’t the new anything — maybe it’s just a good thing to know if you have time and interest to learn it.

Collin Donnell @collin