Learn to change and code the world
Read this article in Portuguese
I’m going to tell you a little story about learning how to change and coding the world. The world is indeed changing fast and not necessarily in the right direction, but it has never been easier to get the abilities needed to steer it in the right direction.
In the beginning of 1999 I was a 17 years old little punk skater and I had to choose a graduation course. I wanted to save the world. Among lots of possible choices I ended up picking International Relations.
I studied for four years and a half and worked in a few human rights NGO’s. During this time two things that happened really marked me:
- When I went to the UN Human Rights Council Session and I saw a bunch of old white rich man arguing about commas and paragraphs in the regulatory text and doing politics for hours.
- In 2001 I went to India and right before we landed one of the most fatal earthquakes stroke upon their territory, killing 20.000 people. Seeing the combination of both misery and a natural disaster depressed me profoundly.
That made me realise that there wasn’t much to do and I had no idea how to actually help in a greater scale. I decided to leave my altruistic ambitions aside and to make some money doing something fun.
So in 2004, after finishing my university degree, I became a fashion photographer!
Fast forward 11 years, we are in 2015. I still work as a fashion and advertisement photographer, married to a very special lady and she’s pregnant.
Once more, after all this time, I began asking myself what could I do to help build a better world. The world is still sick and in desperate need for attention. I’m not 17 anymore, I’m 34. So I start reading a lot about everything, revisiting old interests and looking for new ones. I had heard from a friend about the Ouishare Fest in Paris, right next to my place. I managed to get one of those last day promotional tickets and I headed there without knowing too much what to expect.
I was super impressed. It was the “Lost in Transition” edition of 2015, a little after the boom of the “Sharing Economy”. It was curious to notice that there were among others three distinct groups of people — normal people like us ;-) , the capitalist yuppies hunting the next uber/airbnb and the hippies wanting to save the planet.
And they were all talking about the same thing — changing the world. Let’s leave the discussion about the appropriation of the “save the world” rhetoric by startup culture for another day — but while everybody wants to change the world, nobody is really willing to change themselves.
Have you ever notice a kid playing ? The kid can spend hours or even days playing with the same toy, but eventually they grow tired of it and chooses a new one. They change favourite toys like we change clothes. Sometimes the toy will have their attention for minutes, sometimes for weeks. Sometimes they come back to their old favourites, sometimes they don’t. Why are we taught that it should be different with our careers, work, or general interests ? Why should we choose one of them and keep them for the rest of our lives ?
To change is to get rid of chains we’ve built for ourselves.
I was decided to change the world, and for that I was wiling to change my career. But what should I change into ? If we look behind the curtains of all the technologies that are disrupting everything we can think of — finance, health, politics, science, education, entertainment, etc — we’ll always find the same thing:
Code. If in the beginning of the 2000’s it was difficult to find out how to collaborate for a better world, today we know that programming is the tool responsible for the structure of all major projects that are doing just that.
Ok, so I went to take a look in projects that interested me and they all looked like this:
If there’s something people fear more than changes this thing is code. So if I wanted to change the world I needed to learn how to code.
My only coding experience was two or three html tags that I learned in chat rooms in the end of the nineties. At the time I even flirted with the idea of learning that but had no idea where to start. Nowadays you have an infinity of online resources, free and payed — Codecademy, Treehouse, Udemy, Coursera, Edx, etc. The best coders I’ve met are self-taught. And so I tried to learn by myself.
But unfornately it’s not that easy. It’s not like taking the red pill and suddenly you’re able to see reality. The learning curve is very steep, i felt like climbing the everest on iceskates.
And so I heard about the existence of coding bootcamps. Coding bootcamps are immersive intensive 8 to 12 weeks on-site training programs that teaches beginners and non-beginers how to code. My baby was arriving and I didn’t have the time to stop everything for 5 years to get a computer science degree — but I could certainly spare a couple of months. That’s how I found out about Le Wagon, a 9 weeks coding bootcamp in Paris. That’s the closest thing I could found to the red pill.
I think I have never worked so hard in my life. Two months of challenge based learning, learning by doing, from 9am until 7pm at the bootcamp and into the night at home. It’s not for nothing that the term bootcamp comes from military high-impact training. By the end of the first week you’re not only dreaming with code but liking it. The mental effort is absurd, but it’s rewarding to find out how much knowledge we can process in so little time if we are determined and the methodology is well built.
This course report study shows some results achieved by coding bootcamps. Of course not all of them wanted to change the world like myself, some of them just wanted a better job.
Ok, cool, but what about those who wanted to change the world ? Remember these screens ?
So, after taking the red pill this is more or less what you could realise:
This is a small selection of promising technologies which are already changing the world.
The representative democracy model is in chrisis, and it just takes a look at Trump, Brexit and Brazil to realize that. And at the same time we have something in our hands everyday that could make direct democracy a less distant dream that only small countries like switzerland could afford to have. We read and listen a lot about ideological information bubbles that social networks are encouraging so just direct democracy won’t be enough if our opinions are a result of algorythmic curatorial machine learning. There’s a lot to be done!
The advances in astrophysics are encouraging. We are looking and understanding better the infinite universe that surrounds us. There are amazing open source projects that you can collaborate even if you’re not an astrophysicist, and even if you don’t know how to code. Galaxyzoo for example, a crowdsourcing project to help classify and discover new galaxies.
Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence
The facebook VR camera code is open, so you can help improve it or even make your own. Without getting to much into conspiracy theories, you don’t have to be very smart to realize that although seen mostly as entertainment or a distant reality, the power of both technologies together is scary. The analogies with matrix (which by the way was released in 99…) are in here for a reason. If you want to read more about it try the Simulation Argument by Nick Bolstrom — or even his recently released “Superintelligence” — which is basically a guide to the dangers of the arrival of AI.
What about the blockchain ? If you haven’t heard about it, it’s the future of internet.There’s still plenty of apps to be developed in this new layer and a lot of opportunities. Even you just want to invest, just to illustrate it, if you had bought 20k dollars of ethers one year ago you would have 1 million dollars today…
And if none of this works and we still can’t save the world what about guaranteeing a place for your family in the colonisation of mars ? I was researching for open source projects on space travel and I accidentally found a engineering internship test for spaceX on github. For my surprise, I was able to solve it! After less than one year of coding. Do you realise now what kind of superpower coding can give you ?
So what did I do this last year ? After I finished the bootcamp I became a Teacher Assistant for Le Wagon in Paris and in Amsterdam, because better than learning by doing is learning by teaching! I still learn a lot everyday. I am developing a genetic cancer risk calculator with an oncologist and I created a mini-app that interacts with the Panama Papers database creating maps of the Mossak & Fonseca offshores around the world.