Tech is an unavoidable part of life today. We’re all constantly wired in, connected, on the grid, or whatever you want to call it. This is not old news. But as a result of the booming tech industry, there have been a number of movements to get more and more people to learn how to code. Many people have asked me if I, as a programmer, believe everyone should learn to code. My short answer to the question is that everyone who wants to learn to code should have the opportunity, but knowing how to code does not make you a better, smarter, or more capable person. It is not a life skill.
Much of the allure behind coding as a life skill comes from the omnipotence of computers in our day-to-day lives. I absolutely agree that computer literacy is a life skill. It is much easier to function in today’s society if you have some amount of computer literacy. But the whole point of creating software is so that other people can harness the power of computing without knowing anything about code. Computer literacy is a prerequisite to doing any sort of programming, but learning to code so that you can make better use of the tech around you is like learning carpentry before you buy a coffee table.
I’ve been coding since I was twelve (or even younger if you count graphing calculators). I fell in love with it far before I was thinking about skills, job markets, or career paths. This is actually a pretty common story in the tech industry, and yet a very rare one in pretty much every other industry. There are people who have wanted to be doctors since they were twelve, but they almost certainly were not practicing medicine at that age. More likely, they were drawn to the idea of helping people and maybe excelled in science. The fact that you can start to develop practical, employable skills at age 12 is a quirk of coding. It’s also part of why no one is saying everyone should learn to be a doctor.
The “everyone should code” movement would certainly not exist if coding weren’t both trendy and lucrative right now. While trendy and lucrative make for an irresistable combination, they likely won’t last forever. If you like coding, there are some great opportunities, but suffering through it to land a job offers no more personal growth than pursuing any other path for the sake of money alone. Similarly, many programmers will tell you that learning to code teaches quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and a bunch of other useful life skills. It certainly does, but so does anything vaguely mathematical. If you don’t like coding, there are plenty of other options.
But what if you do like coding? Or more importantly, what if you would like coding were you exposed to it? I believe that giving people the opportunity to learn to code, particularly those who probably wouldn’t discover it on their own, helps everyone. Diversity and economic empowerment are good things and should be the driving forces behind coding movements. But at the end of the day, there isn’t really anything special about code, and this is coming from someone who lives and breathes it.