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Why you should learn how to code

Commentator Farhad Manjoo says learning how to code will help you keep your job or help you make a case for a raise.

Sarah Gardner: It's never too late to learn! That's what they tell us anyway. "Re-training" is the word that's on everybody's lips these days. I keep hearing that rather than just using a computer, I should learn how to program one. Learn how to "code," they call it. It sounds useful. But it also sounds expensive and boring.

Fortunately, commentator Farhad Manjoo has stumbled onto a solution.


Farhad Manjoo: Even if you've already got a job, coding will help you keep it, or help you make a case for a raise.

In the early days of computers, the only way to use a computer was to program it. Now computers require no technical wizardry whatsoever -- babies and even members of Congress can use an iPad. This is obviously a great thing. Yet the fact that anyone can use a computer has lulled us into complacency about the digital revolution.

Last year, I spent a few weeks looking at the robotics industry and the machines that are stealing people's jobs. I was surprised to find that many people who are vulnerable to replacement by machines had no idea how quickly they could become irrelevant. There's bliss in this kind of ignorance, but it's dangerous. You don't need to know how a computer works in order to use it -- but if you learned how computers work, you may one day avoid losing your job.

Say you were a travel agent in the 1990s: If you didn't know how to code, you wouldn't have been able to see the coming demise of your profession. But if you'd dabbled in programming, not only would you have had the skills to appreciate how the Internet might hurt your profession -- you might also have been able to play a part in the online travel bonanza, either building your own travel site or going to work as an expert for one of the new Web travel firms.

Code Year's minimum commitment is one new lesson every week. The company says that it will take a typical person about five hours to complete a lesson, so you're looking at about an hour of training every weekday. That's not so bad, considering that the lessons are free and the reward could be huge.

By helping you get acquainted with the primary force driving the modern economy, learning to code is becoming nearly as important as knowing how to read and write. One more thing -- it'll be fun!


Gardner: Farhad Manjoo is the technology columnist for Slate magazine.

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As a self-taught and now self-employed web developer, I forwarded this article and CodeYear to several friends. I agree with LeoKlein that it's not a profession you can learn in a year and then make a living from. It took me ~5 years, and several more misses than hits.

Thanks for sharing this resource, Marketplace!

Programming isn't for everybody. To say that it is is just wrong. Plain and simple. To suggest that there _could_ have been travel agents who _may have_ turned into coders for a web site whose backend database hooked into SABRE or some other ticketing transaction manager is crazy-talk.

Enough negative talk. Here's get practical. In many professions, the technology is moving fast - faster than your employer has the resources to teach you. Make it your responsibility to learn what you need to keep your job, be more valuable to your employer than the next guy and you'll get the raise when the economy gets better. Keep current with trends but there's no sense in learning Java, HTML, CSS, Android, iOS, DBMS or Windows programming unless you'll actually use it at work.

If you want to program, enjoy! But saying everyone should and that it'll be fun is as leoklein says, "complete malpractice."

I don't think Farhad is suggesting everybody become programmers, just that we become more "code-literate", for lack of a better phrase. I sort of think of it as learning about cars or electrical systems. Even if I can't fix my own car or rewire my basement, a basic understanding of how these systems work makes it easier for me to spot opportunities or problems down the road. I'm certainly better off than if I just had end-user knowledge. A computer-literate person in the 90's needn't have worked for a travel site in order to "see the future." It's simply a matter of asking "if this technology allows us to do X, couldn't it also allow us to do Y?" Learning the basic principles of programming has universal value for all career fields, even if you never write a single line of code.

P.S. Talking about coding... It looks like you guys are using Drupal for your CMS. You know, it's not too difficult to create a page for logged-in users showing their comments and linking back to the original posts.

You know what? I have a great idea: Get Farhad on the job! I'm sure a week or two going through Drupal.org will be more than enough for him to put something together.

Web development -- which is what the professionals call it -- is a trade or profession and telling people all they need to learn it is to sign up for a lesson once a week is complete malpractice.

Transaction7: You're right about the general situation, but perhaps you're focusing in the wrong place. CONTENT MATTERS MORE THAN CODE. And you won't learn any meaningful code in a college class.

As a retired lawyer, you probably have some unique knowledge that can be turned into tutorial form. Check out some of the 'authoring systems' like Moodle. They require a bit of tech savvy, but not nearly as much as real programming. If you can turn your special knowledge into an interesting learning experience, you can self-publish and make some money from it.

All right, now what you have not revealed is where, how, and at what price the average or older college graduate who does not happen to have perfect vision and is not one of the few gifted as higher math geeks can learn enough today to do even the many things I could do with simple batch files and the like back in the days of DOS. I'm over 65, a retired lawyer, and live across from a state university with a computer science department where I can take classes without paying tuition, and it looks hopeless. It doesn't help that the books are in compressed fine print that I just can't work with for long at a time.

Now the other question arises because I know people who are math geeks, who have the training and are good, and used to make good money, at this, who are now unemployed. commuting a thousand miles for temporary computer jobs at a fraction of their old pay, teaching English in China, roofing while teaching Linux at the university, or literally flipping burgers before and after they land new jobs in the field at current pay rates.

Neither party offers any real and workable solution to the fact that human brain power and education no longer have any market value except where monopolies are still maintained. Only financial capital, the returns on much of which approach zero, and political and sexual connections, are marketable.

There is, of course, no way on earth to compete with Chinese and Indians who live in dormitories at the plant and, with the equivalent of technical or engineering education, work for what would fall below minimum wages here.

A friend who is managing partner of a major law firm told me there is no market for the ability to do the work well, only for clients, and that requires wealth and social position. I was 38 when my major clients went bust and I was told by the general counsel of a NYSE company "Pete, you're too --- ---- old." Others lied or used euphemisms like "over-qualified."

And we wonder why one in eight public school students have attempted suicide.

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