Learning to code is exciting and sometimes can be intimidating.

Learning to Code: Who should Learn it and Why

The practice of computing has become widespread over the last decade. Many people in non-computing disciplines now code using standard programming languages. Learning to code is not solely a curriculum-based effort anymore. Being able to write computer programs is an excellent skill because of many reasons. The article describes some of these benefits.

The article outlines several aspects of learning to code in a programming language when the learner does not explicitly have a computing background. By computing background, I mean a college degree or work experience involving coding in a programming language.

I am writing today for those who are seeking necessary information on what programming is and if learning a programming language is feasible for them.

What is a programming language?

A programming language is a human-understandable computer language to tell a computer what to do. A programmer writes step by step instructions using a programming language to solve a problem. The computer reads the instructions, executes them, and hence solves a problem. In practice, a computer is not smart. It cannot solve a problem unless someone writes a program instructing the computer on how to solve the problem.

I am not sure why people say that their phones are smart. You can call a phone smart, but calling a phone smart will not make it intelligent really. Your smartphone is as useless as a handle-less hammer unless someone puts all the programs inside it. Those men and women who wrote the software codes are the actual smart people involved in the process of smartphone manufacturing.

What does the term “coding skill” mean?

People call the skill of programming a coding skill. Some examples of sentences involving the concept of programming are: “Coding the solution of this problem will be easy.” “I will use Java programming language to solve this problem.” “My coding skill using Java has become rusty.” “I code using Python programming language.” “I am learning to code in Java.”

There are a few other kinds of coding. For example, coding in the medical field involves codes of medicine, diagnosis, and billing. In aviation, sometimes coding refers to communication codes exchanged between an airplane and a control tower. In this article and computer science, coding refers to writing a program using a computer programming language to solve a specific problem.

Why may (or, should) someone, without a computing background, learn a programming language?

There are many benefits to learning a programming language. Some of the benefits are listed below.

Being able to solve a problem

The most important benefit of learning a programming language is gaining the ability to solve problems using a computer. Now, the question of whether everyone has a problem that can be solved using a computer can be a part of another discussion, a little bit of which I cover later in this post.

Some companies value additional skills

Many companies value a person with a programming skill in a position which does not require that skill. Such a person is an asset to the company because she/he can oversee the company’s computing needs and communicate with the vendors that customize software tools for that company.

An employee with programming skills can lead short-term computing projects

In small and medium-size companies, people with programming expertise can lead computing projects for which the company hires programmers temporarily.

Choice of career path involving learning to code

Maybe you are an educator or an engineer or a social scientist or a biologist. With programming expertise, you will have a flexible career path. The flexibility includes the development of side projects, switching to a job where a mixture of expertise is valued, and enhancing expertise for a current position to secure the job in case the industry becomes more technology and automation-oriented.

Earning by solving problems for clients

People with coding skills can earn by completing computing projects provided by clients. Two websites that are built to connect coders who seek short term jobs and clients who search for coders to solve their computing projects are freelancer.com and upwork.com. Coders can bid for jobs and earn money by completing clients’ projects.

Who should learn to code?

While I am an advocate of Computing for All, I will not argue that everyone needs programming skill. The most common answer to the question of whether one should learn to code is — it depends. The next question is, it depends on what? The answer is, it depends on the computing needs of that person or the company that the person works for or the plans the person has for the future. In general, learning a programming language becomes essential when there is a computing need for which there is no specific standard software.

I explain below a few aspects of who need not learn to code and who may consider spending time to acquire programming skill.

In a small business

Someone working in the accounts department of a small company may not need to learn to program if Microsoft Excel is enough for the work of that company. Many companies even have accounting software, which is great for serving the computational needs of the company.

If you own a small business

With a small business, outsourcing tasks like software development or website development might not be affordable. Being able to develop software or a website will save money.

If you know a programming language and you do not have the time to write software or build a website of your company, the minimum benefit of your programming knowledge is that you will be able to understand if outsourcing is worth the expense.

In medium-sized or large buinesses

With a booming business, the computational needs of a medium-sized or large company may change dynamically. The company may prefer programming expertise in some of the employees to accommodate its changing computational needs. These highly qualified employees will be able to perform quick analysis, even in the absence of standard software, through their coding skills. Programming skills will give a person some extra mileage in the job.

In jobs involving analytics

With the growth of data-intensive problems, many jobs nowadays involve analytics to aid decision making. While there are many software tools available to target data analytic problems, the job becomes a lot easier if the analyst can quickly write a program to retrieve some information that traditional software tools cannot.

Being a researcher in the Data Science area has allowed me to speak with people from the Government sectors, industries, and of course the academia. I know that many are not happy with the current capabilities of the available analytic tools. A primary reason for this dissatisfaction is that the analytic needs change quite frequently in all the sectors. An analyst may consider learning to code in a programming language to reduce the dependency on existing software tools.

What is the take-home message regarding learning to code?

If you thought about learning to code at least once then probably you need it. One thing I must mention is that you will not be able to learn your first programming language in a day, or a week, or even in a month. Well, you might be able to learn it in a month or so if you give your full effort but gaining the actual “skill” requires way more than a month. Isn’t this true for any skill? Yes, it is. That is the reason why you will need to spend “ten thousand hours” on coding before you call yourself a “skilled” coder or programmer. Please do not take the phrase “ten thousand hours” literally. It is widely used to stress the importance of hard work in skill development. All I am trying to say is that one needs patience and hard work to become a skilled programmer.

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