Make a free weekly coding lesson your New Year’s resolution. slate.com
by Farhad Manjoo • Jan. 4, 2012
Code Year is a free computer coding course.
If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, let me suggest an idea that you might not have considered: You should learn computer programming. Specifically, you should sign up for Code Year, a new project that aims to teach neophytes the basics of programming over the course of 2012. Code Year was put together by Code Academy, a startup that designs clever, interactive online tutorials. Code Academy’s founders, Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski, argue that everyone should know how to program—that learning to code is becoming as important as knowing how to read and write. I concur. So if you don’t know how to program, why not get started this week? Come on, it’ll be fun!
Code Year’s minimum commitment is one new lesson every week. The company says that it will take a person of average technical skill 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: If you’re looking to make yourself more employable (or more immune from getting sacked), if you’d like to become more creative at work and in the rest of your life, and if you can’t resist a good intellectual challenge, there are few endeavors that will pay off as handsomely as learning to code.
But this isn’t only about you. Let’s talk about how all of us—our entire tech-addled society—could benefit from a renewed interest in coding. Over the past 20 years, and especially in the last five, computers invaded every corner of our lives. Most of us accepted their ascendancy with grudging tolerance; even if they’re a pain to use and don’t ever work as well as they should, these machines often make our jobs easier and our lives more enjoyable. Part of the reason we’ve all benefitted from computers is that we don’t have to think about how they work. In their early days, 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 the iPad. This is obviously a salutary trend. I’ve long argued that computers, like cars, shouldn’t require technical skill to operate, and the easier that computers are to use, the more valuable they’ll be to all of us.
Yet the fact that any moron can use a computer has lulled us into complacency about the digital revolution. You can see this in the debates over SOPA, the disastrous Internet piracy bill that has been embraced by politicians because many of them simply don’t understand its technical implications. Or, as Thomas Friedman points out, consider the absence of any substantive topic relating to technology from the Republican presidential debates.
I noticed something similar in the summer, when I published my series about the robots that are poised to steal high-skilled workers’ jobs. I was surprised, during my research, to find that many people who are vulnerable to replacement by machines had no idea how quickly they could become irrelevant. Lots of people I spoke to insisted that their jobs required too much schooling, or relied on several “fundamentally human” skills, and would likely remain forever dominated by humans. (That’s what travel agents thought, too.) 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 learn how computers work, you may avoid one day working for them.