Learning to Code is not a Panacea

I’m all for people learning to write computer code and I’ve promoted it to my friends (with the severely limited reach I have) as well. However, the marketing push for kids and people to learn to write code are over simplifying and glamorizing something that, like anything else in life, takes talent and drive to be truly successful. I’m not negative on people learning to code but just want people to have the proper perspective on what learning to code means in a general sense.

Many people can write. I’m writing this blog post for instance. Many people can fix cars, play guitar, ice skate, observe celestial objects, and on and on and on. But, how many of us are paid to do any of the above? That’s the key here. The people that are really good at what they do most often get paid for that skill. Not everyone will be a Stephen King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Michelle Kwan, or Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I learned to write code about 30 years ago using an Atari computer hooked up to my 13″ color television set. I learned MS BASIC and I created all kinds of rudimentary games and utilities. I was never great at it and I abhorred debugging the programs. I found the act of writing code to create software boring. But, this is not to say that I didn’t learn anything valuable from it. I learned a great deal about how computers work and a computer turned into a tool for me to use rather than a magic box that just did things. I reached an understanding.

Growing up in Chicago at that time there were no computer courses or clubs that I knew of and while I didn’t lose my interest in computers or technology I didn’t know of any way to expand on what I had already learned. So, I moved on. I kept up with what was happening in the world of computers by reading PC World and PC Magazine but never pursued more formal education in technology (a serious number of years wasted to youthful indiscretions didn’t help me either).

Jump forward to 1993 and I decided to go back to school and get my computer science degree. I took courses in algorithms, C++, logic gates, compression and error correction, and I passed them all with decent grades. But while taking them I realized that I still didn’t have real interest in writing computer code for a living. I loved understanding how everything worked but I found the actual work of coding to be drudgery. I obtained my computer science degree but never pursued a career in a technology field. I knew I just wasn’t good enough at writing code to create software for a living.

People like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Paige, Sergey Brin, and all the rest of the software engineers at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple et al, are extremely talented at what they do and they have the drive and determination to push their ideas forward.

I guess the point I’m driving at is that, yes, everyone should learn to write computer code, but it is not enough to just learn to code and learning to code will not make you a computer genius. I view learning to code like I view learning to read, write, and simple mathematics. You need these basic tools to understand how the world works and computers are more a part of our lives than at any point in time in our history. Like with any profession or art form you must have talent and drive to be truly great.

Get started understanding computers at code.org