Why I’m learning to code, and you should too

I actually started learning code in high school. I took a summer school class of my own volition, and my friends thought I was out of my mind.

Photo by Émile Perron on Unsplash

The first thing I learned how to do was write a program that could calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle. Yeah I know. Not sexy. But by college I knew enough to be able to take over my friends’ computer screens in class with ascii character images. Hilariously funny when the professor walks by and someone’s screen suddenly switches over to a Playboy bunny. Completely embarrassed, they had no idea how it happened, and no idea that my giggling in the back of the room was because I was the one doing it.

Code requires you to think about cause and effect

Much of what we do every day isn’t really based on thinking about how our actions lead to an outcome. We simply do what we need to get done. Sure, sometimes we lament a task that we know will be fruitless, usually because someone else made the decision that we do it. But when you code, you are trying to make something happen, and you get pretty quick feedback that lets you know if you succeeded. It’s a constant back and forth for me, of trying things and seeing if they work. If not, I have to think about why it didn’t work and try something different. It’s a constant flow of hypothesis, failure, iteration and eventually success. And once you succeed, you know what you had to do to make it work, and you commit that to memory.

It’s all about problem solving.

Not just big problem solving, but small problem solving. If I’m trying to code a small animation, let’s say, I might make the actions I want, but it might not look the way I want it to look. I now have to solve a new problem, and break it down into smaller ones to tackle them one at a time. And you can’t solve the big problems without solving the small ones. You need to prioritize, organize and think. And the kind of thinking I need to do when I code is much different from the kind of thinking I do in my day-to-day job. Which also means I am building new neural pathways that will keep my brain healthier longer, and make me better at other things, too.

It’s fun — and it’s free to learn how.

It had been awhile since I had coded or made anything, so last fall I started taking an online coding class to catch up. Let’s be clear– I am a novice. I created full websites back in the late 90s, but that was a long time ago and quite a bit has changes. So I set aside an hour a day for a week to get back into it, and I had a blast.

Yeah, it gets frustrating. But who cares? It’s not my day job and I can fail all I want without consequence. But when I complete a lesson and I see my success, it puts a big smile on my face. Some people build model cars as a hobby, others knit. I code.

People are impressed and envious. And most are afraid to try.

When you tell most of your friends you are taking a coding class, they will instantly be impressed that you are ‘smart enough’ to learn how to code. They will see you in a completely new light. They will also be a little bit envious, because everyone wishes they knew more about technology, but most assume that ship has sailed and they will never know more than they do today. They’re also afraid to try, because most folks don’t want to take on anything they might fail at. And failing is guaranteed, because errors are a part of the process.

I have long lapses between my online lessons as life and work get in the way. But when I have a few hours on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, I love to log in and pick up where I left off. It’s so much fun, and I know I’m learning things that stretch my brain if nothing else. So if models or knitting aren’t for you, why not give it a try? You can get started right now and it takes as little as an hour to really get going.

Code.org, Codeacademy.com and freecodecamp.org are three places where you can learn to code for free. If you’ve never done coding at all, code.org use a wonderful visual system of block-based coding to help you start coding immediately, and then better understand the concepts behind it over time.

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