What can you get done in a day, or a weekend?
Today, I learned how to call my phone automatically today with a REST API and to play background music when the caller picked up. Yeah, you say, that’s easy if you know how to use Twilio (which is what I used) but the interesting thing was how I learned it. I used Codecademy – a web site that helps you to learn how to code – and it was completely free.
While some folks might think that learning how to code is a waste of time, I’d like to politely rebut that statement and say that it’s absolutely necessary for you to learn how to code and that it’s a vital use of your time. There are a few reasons you should learn to code today, even if you have no intention of ever completing a program or shipping code in a production environment:
Ask and Answer Better Technical Questions
The first reason you should learn to code today is to begin the process of translating geek to english. If you can ask programmers and techies types better questions you will annoy them less, get better at getting answers to the questions you want to answer, and build a better rapport with your technical team. In my experience, the practice of asking better technical questions helps you to understand the basics of a technology as an engineer does (what actually happens when you post an HTML form, rather than thinking of it as a black box, can help you grok the limitations of submitting and validating a post to a web page.) You won’t be able to deliver production code by working on a Codecademy course, and you will start to understand the scope of the problem and get closer to the actual doing of the work.
Make Your Brain Better
The second reason you should try coding is that identifying, trying (and sometimes failing), and succeeding at a new skill will stretch your brain. Among other things, learning new skills provides dopamine to your noggin and gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Even if you’re lousy at coding, there’s something cool when you type puts “hello, world” and the computer echoes back what you wrote. No, you’re not ready to ship code, but it’s the smallest big thing that you know how to do and gives you a framework for learning additional tasks should you get interested in learning additional new skiils. You’ve got to crawl before you walk, and learning new things may even make your brain grow.
You might have fun
Much like the lean startup idea popularized by Steve Blank when he tells entrepreneurs to “get out of the building”, learning a new skill like coding is constant practice in getting out of your comfort zone. It feels uncomfortable to learn new syntax, be specific enough so that an interpreter running inside of a web page understands what you’re trying to do, and to speak computerese. You might have fun and learn a new skill, or you might just stretch your brain. The effort is worth the effort, and “learn to code” isn’t the only skill you want to build, it’s your brain’s plasticity and resilience. Learn one thing, and you can learn more things effectively.