Beyond the Job Market: The Benefits of Learning to Code
Why should people of all ages learn to code? Amy Haddad shares her thoughts.
In today’s society, learning to code feels essential for all ages. Fisher-Price’s Code-a-Pillar, expected to release this summer, is a toy resembling a caterpillar that teaches children programming fundamentals, reports The Verge. With KIBO, kids can build and program their own robot. And adults have their pick of learning to code groups, such as Girl Develop It or Black Girls Code and websites like codecademy.com.
Learning to code is a reasonable decision. There are over 600,000 available computing jobs in the United States, according to code.org. A computer programmer’s salary may also be tempting: the median pay was $77,550 per year in 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states.
What about individuals that do not have an interest in a computer career? Learning to code still offers benefits worth touting. Thought leaders have been weighing in on the advantages of learning to code that go beyond the job market or salary statistics.
Learning Code and Coding to Learn
Despite the profession, there are important reasons to learn to code. In a 2012 Ted Talk, Mitch Resnick, Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, draws an analogy between learning to code and learning to read and write. “When you learn to read, you can then read to learn,” he says. “And it’s the same thing with coding. If you learn to code, you can code to learn.” In addition to learning more about computers, Resnick argues that learning to code can teach creative thinking and systematic reasoning skills that apply to any profession.
The Cognitive Benefits of Coding
The cognitive skills coding offers need emphasized. Dr. Dan Crow, Chief Technology Officer at Songkick, penned an article for The Guardian in 2014 about children learning to code. One of his points emphasized the “computational thinking” skills learning to code brings: it is “how software engineers solve problems . . . [computational thinking] teaches you a new way to think about the world.” Crow sees this way of thinking relevant to a range of fields, including music, business and biology. Although many agree that learning to code teaches problem-solving skills, Resnick puts it best: reading and writing are important skills to learn, even if you are not a professional writer; think of learning to code in the same way.
The Coding Artist
A third benefit is using code as a means of expression. Creative coding—code used for expression, instead of function—does just that. Processing, a programming framework for the visual arts, opens up the realm of expression to those that want to create something through an “algorithm or process,” according to “The Art of Creative Coding,” a PBS Digital Studios film. Processing can be used to create prints, clothing and data visualizations, among other things, the film explains. The 2014 “Digital Revolution” exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London is another example of using code as artistic expression. Zach Lieberman and the pair Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Carnet were among the artists exhibiting art that used code.
A Culture of Creators
More broadly, a popular argument today advocates for a culture of creators, instead of passive consumers. Knowing how to use an iPad or iPhone to consume information or play games is one thing; knowing how to create the software that runs these devices is another, or so the argument goes. “[Kids are] great at navigating around a touchscreen,” says Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of littleBits, in a Wired article, “but if they only ever know that much, they’ll wind up relying on other people . . . to decide what kind of technology they have access to.”
It is a valid claim, which is underscored by the prevalence of software programs running hardware devices. Think of recent advances in robotics and self-driving cars. Indeed, hardware is only as good as the software that runs it. Knowing how to create or improve the software that runs devices can only be a benefit in years to come.
Why are the soft benefits of learning to code overshadowed? It is probably because measuring jobs and income are quantifiable; cognitive and problem-solving skills are harder to measure. The need to fill jobs could be another reason. The economic rationale may increase the chance for schools to implement coding programs: to prepare today’s youth for available computing jobs. Above all, the emphasis on learning to code is not just hype. Nor is it a marketing scheme to get parents to think their child is the next Mark Zuckerberg. It has value—just as learning to read and write do.
Freelance Art Writer
Amy is a freelance art writer and blogger. On her blog, Art Diversions, Amy writes exhibition reviews, reports on art fairs and biennials, conducts interviews with artists and examines contemporary issues in art. Amy also writes for Newcity in Chicago and the Evanston Art Center.