Although I am an avid user of modern technology in all its forms, I have never really considered myself tech savvy. If I could go back and change anything from my undergraduate education, it would be to have taken a computer programming class or two. I actually tried to teach myself how to code Java some time ago but it did not go very well. To say it was a frustrating experience would be a massive understatement. In hindsight, as would be explained to me by many of my programming-competent friends, Java was too complicated a language to try as my introduction into coding. Live and learn, I suppose.
Following that terrible first experience, I didn’t give much thought to retrying programming. However, that all changed last week. I was out to dinner with my husband (who happens to have a Ph.D. in computer science), and was complaining about the tedious day of data analysis I had in the lab. It had taken me an entire day to analysis the data from an experiment that had only taken two hours. He asked me why, so I explained the long process involved in computing all of my data. Without hesitation he looked and me and said, “You know I can write you some code that can do all of that work for you, right?”
Later that weekend, my husband got to work on writing me the code. Two hours later he had written a simple but functional code. I was absolutely floored by how simple it was for me to actually use. Now I can do the analysis that took me a day or two in about an hour.
A few days of using his code and I thought to myself, “I wonder what other tasks I could make easier for myself if I knew how to code?” Somehow I remembered watching an interview on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report with Zach Simms discussing his website, which provides free interactive coding lessons. For the life of me I couldn’t remember the name of the site so I simply searched “learn to code”. The very first result was Codecademy, the website I heard about in the interview.
I signed up for Codecademy and began taking my first course right away. This time, I started with the Python tutorial, which many of my programmer friends suggested would be the best language to start off with. To my surprise, 3 hours later I was still happily typing away on my computer and had finished about 20% of the lesson. I had even written my first bit of code to calculate how much a restaurant bill would be with tax and tip included. The great thing about this website is that it breaks up the lessons into really small sections usually based on one fundamental coding concept. With each lesson you also have an interactive exercise where you experience firsthand how to put it to use. Even more recently, I was able to create a very simple code to translate words into Pig Latin! Not only does Codecademy make learning to code simple, but it also makes it fun.
So, did I need to learn to code? Not really. I could have kept doing things the old way. It would have taken a bit longer but it would have still gotten done. Was it a good decision to learn to code? Absolutely! I recently learned that Steve Jobs had this to say about programming, “Everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” Before I took up the challenge to learn to code, I wouldn’t have been able to understand or appreciate what this statement means. I think this TEDX talk by Mitch Resnick from MIT’s Media Lab does a really good job at explaining how learning to code can be beneficial.