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Why learning to code is not just a horrible trend

Alright, I admit it. When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he’s going to do something because it seems trendy, it makes whatever trend he’s promoting completely fall off the map. But to encourage people to stop learning to code just seems plain ridiculous.

Jeff Atwood, a professional developer who runs the Coding Horror blog recently took that stance in an editorial entitled,”Please Don’t Learn to Code.” Atwood claims that programming is not as essential a skill as reading, writing, and arithmetic. But what the author seems to misunderstand is that people aren’t necessarily learning to code to become professional programmers. You can benefit a whole lot by learning the logistics of how coding works.

It’s about thinking

First of all, I don’t think anyone, including Major Bloomberg, is sitting at home logging onto Codeacademy hoping they will be the next engineer for Facebook or Tumblr. Most people aren’t self-teaching programming to try to make the big bucks. If they did, they wouldn’t be on Codeacademy and would instead take full courses so they can delve into the industry and build connections from an insider standpoint. Most people I know who are learning to code do it because they want to understand how the computer and the Web works so the next time an issue arises, they’re not caught feeling stupid about not knowing what went wrong. Even when they do know enough to tell what’s wrong, I hardly think they call themselves “coders.” I know basic HTML and CSS, but I would never call myself a Web designer.

Learning to code contains the same logic skills you apply in daily life: What is the problem? How can I solve the problem as efficiently as possible? Can my solution be helpful to others who are experiencing similar issues? If you can figure out the same steps from a programming perspective, it can help develop your logic and decision making skills to streamline the best solution to your problems. It’s not just about creating something out of a weird language, it’s learning to think like a programmer.

Furthermore, with the Internet age taking over society, what’s so bad about having basic programming skills under your belt? If we’re teaching high school kids foreign languages, why shouldn’t they also learn computer languages? One is way more universal than the other. The education standard should no longer be about reading, writing, and arithmetic but also algorithm.

Competence is confidence

Coding is becoming as essential as other life skills without the expectation of a career. You should learn to cook and not expect to become a world class chef, or learn to swim and not expect to compete with Michael Phelps this upcoming Olympics. The notion of encouraging people to learn to code isn’t something detrimental; they’re not hurting anyone in the process. Whether or not their expectations for the skills learned are realistic is a whole other story.

Is it truly that much of a waste of time to get people to at least try to understand how computers work, identify problems, and attempt to learn why before whining and taking it to a repair shop when they should rely on themselves to problem solve? Not at all. Promoting tech education is probably one of the better trends to ever come out of the Web, and there is absolutely no reason to ever discourage it.

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