Who Really Should Learn How To Code?

I started coding way before the public Internet became available. I typed FORTRAN code in terminal screens with command line interface to create programs that read and wrote data on magnetic tapes. To know how to code back then implied you had to know a lot about how computers worked because there were very few levels of abstraction between the code and the operating system. Fast forward a few decades: the web is ubiquitous, Moore’s Law is still  relevant and you’re reading this while “ software is eating the world.” Modern programming frameworks allow coders to focus only on the basic problem they’re trying to solve.

Virtually anyone with an Internet connection can go to One Month Rails and, as the name says, go through an in-depth online training on Ruby On Rails for under $50. Codecademy - a Collaborative Fund portfolio company - offers free coding classes in programming languages like Python, JavaScript, and Ruby. As of June 2012, they reached over 5 million users who had completed over 100 million exercises. Inclusive programs like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are doing a great job motivating parts of our society to pursue careers in computing. And new startups like Hopscotch - another Collaborative Fund portfolio company - are creating innovative platforms for young kids to learn how to code.

There’s definitely a career opportunity for those who’d like to become programmers given the scarcity of talent in Silicon Valley and New York, even if some argue that the STEM crisis is a myth.  But it’s not about STEM jobs. Everyone should learn how things are made, where they come from, and be able to make them on their own. The opportunity lies beyond the traditional startup crowd.

Girls (and boys) should learn to code.

Farmers should learn to code.

Teachers should be able to code.

Doug Rushkoff, in his book Program or Be Programmed, says that

Programming is the sweet spot, the high leverage point in a digital society. If we don’t learn to program, we risk being programmed ourselves.

It’s not a coincidence that Doug is digital literacy advocate for Codecademy. In his book he preaches that knowing to code is not only about being able to understand how things are made, but fighting the one-size-fits-all syndrome that imposes upon us mediocre software. We have plenty of power-users and not that many creators.

Arguably the most important reason to learn to how to code is the fact that we’ve just crossed a line - as a digital society - that will turn our lives into being data-driven. There’s now abundant data for everything we do, work, live. Data has moved from valuable asset to just a commodity and the real value now is in the extraction of meaning from it. Credit scores, real-time weather, government spending, social influence, world news, price fluctuations. The list goes on and on. This is available to anyone willing to make sense of them.

Knowing how to work the data is a strategic advantage that only people with coding skills can use…so get to your “Hello, world” right away.