Learning to Code: Not A Guarantee

Learning to Code: Not A GuaranteeHey there, you probably receive tons of e-mails advertising courses, workshops or bootcamps to help you learn to code mobile and web applications, telling you how amazing the opportunity and curriculum is, how flexible they are for your schedule, and how you were guaranteed to get a job (offer or opportunity) after graduating from the program.

But it totally discounted, that I feel so many people forget, is that learning to code is hard and requires a lot of work. You can have the most beautiful website, the most charismatic instructors, the most robust curriculum, but regardless of all of these things, you need to put the time in, serious time, to be successful. Learning to code isn’t the Matrix, you can’t just plug in a USB cord and voila, you can code. Now, I’m not trying to dissuade you or scare you off—far from it! I am excited that so many people want to learn to code, but I want to make sure that they know what they are about to embark on and are doing it for the right reasons.

Coding isn’t the lowest common denominator

I’m saying all of this for a few reasons. First, there is this assumption that in order to be successful in tech, you need to know how to code. That is false. Coding is a big part of working in tech, but coding isn’t the lowest common denominator. Design, marketing, product management, and research are all critical areas in tech that don’t require coding skills at all.

You will need to evolve and develop through your entire career

The second reason, is that learning to code is a life-long learning challenge and skill. There isn’t a “finish line” at the end of the journey, only a way point to help orient you towards your next milestone or goal.  This is a skill that you will need to evolve and develop through your entire career. New platforms, new programming languages, and new ways to collaborate and communicate are all ways the practice of coding will change and evolve over time.

Programming is a group activity

The third is that coding and the broader topic of computer science contains many disciplines other than programming or coding. In the curriculum created by the College Board for the Advanced Placement program, these are defined as “big ideas” and thinking practices. Two thinking practices in particular are communication and collaboration, followed by a “big idea” of creativity. These practices extend far beyond the coding window and tap into the critical thinking skills of the individual. Programming is a group activity, but, unlike most group activities, it is asynchronous, which can be a very different style of collaboration that some might not find comfortable.

But ultimately, this gets to the real question: What do you want? Jeff Weiner and Oprah Winfrey recently had a discussion and asked that same specific question. (The specific topic comes up at 3:06 in the linked video.) It is a question not enough people ask themselves, including me. If you have decided that you “must learn to code,” have you also asked if knowing coding will make you happy? Are you learning to code because someone told you that you needed to?

Some people are learning to code for the wrong reasons. Some find coding to be so difficult and foreign to them and they struggle with every step.

Why not focus on your strengths and passions to be successful, but also, more importantly, happy. Do they feel they have only one way to get their success? Do they recognize that this is a long-term journey they are going to embark on? Do they know that coding is only part of what they will ultimately need to do?

So while a bootcamp or training program can make promises or guarantees. Those are hinging on your ability to deliver and put the work in. For the amount of work you are about to undertake, is it what you want? It can be a rewarding and amazing career, but it isn’t a guarantee.


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