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In Defense of Jumping on the “Learn to Code” Bandwagon

Four years ago I decided I was tired of not understanding the black magic behind everything online and started a tutorial on Codecademy. Yeah, learning to code is bandwagon-y, but so is being confused about everything forever. You have to pick a bandwagon at some point.

Robots are Taking Your Job:

I was once a history major with such a deep love for the past that I saw the old ways as the “good ways”. Sort of like how a change-resistant Viking may have looked down on trading his axe and longship for a Gameboy and a car (maybe there were some other details in between). I can best illustrate my former disposition by pointing out how I refused to send or receive text messages until 2013.

But in law school I made the troubling discovery that robots weren’t just for auto factories and that weird Asimo thing.  Jobs that qualify as “too complicated”, “too analytical”, or even “too creative” for computers to perform are quickly shrinking. Robots now build cars and, if all goes as planned, may regularly drive them. With remote human operators, drones can drop a Hellfire missile onto a truck in Yemen or disarm a bomb in your hometown. Planes already fly mostly on autopilot and robot surgeons are already in development. Worst of all, computer programs have started taking more jobs than ever from entry-level attorneys (you know, those jobs you get when you first leave law school).

It doesn’t matter how much education you have. Robots are coming for your job. They don’t get tired and aren’t programmed to want a union or benefits. And employers can actually avoid paying payroll and unemployment taxes by using them in place of humans. On top of that, robot/software designers actually have their own lobbyists in state and federal government, whereas employees usually do not unless they’re fortunate enough to still have a union.

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If you don’t make the rules for robots…

A Cyborg is a Part-Human/Part-Robot Being. Be One of Those:

The good news about computers and robots taking over is that humans still control them. Well, at least for now we do. Until that day comes that computers realize they don’t need us and start programming themselves, human programmers are necessary to write, fix, debug, and edit the scripts running every one of them. That’s why I feel somewhat justified calling coding “robot speak” to make them sound way cooler. You have an extra advantage if you can read this, because all major programming languages are based on English.

Don’t like needing to learn something that feels completely different from what you studied? Join the club. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily a good or bad thing to hand over such large swaths of our economy to the machines. But dammit it’s happening. If you’re concerned about the long-term implications, that’s an even better reason to try to understand what’s happening. That’s also how to get a chance at shaping what those implications will be. For what it’s worth, getting in on the last industrial revolution carried a much larger risk of getting molten steel poured on you or losing a hand to some steam-powered weaving loom. With this one just make sure you get a sit-stand desk and exercise your wrists so you don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome.

The Slightest Knowledge Makes You Look Like a Wizard to Anyone Who Knows Less:

My grandmother used to say I was “like an electrician” because I knew how to plug my Sega Genesis into the television. Perhaps she was humoring me, but I never remember that woman even once successfully connecting a video game system to a television. And that’s my point. Was I gifted in the electrical arts at age 7? No. But she was even less gifted and that was all that mattered.

The good news: Giving the impression of competence is a great way to get promotions. You can learn to do the new job later!

The bad news: You could also end up in over your head where you actually do need help from an expert. And since you still know very little, you won’t be able to tell the difference between an actual expert and someone who knows 1% more than you.

Winner’s Tip: Combine the illusion of knowledge with non-commitment and stalling for time to reap rewards while you avoid sticky situations.

Living in Confusion Blows:

Imagine being a Baby Boomer with an iPhone. Your children’s tools ruin your life on a daily basis. Every time you try to look at apps you end up spending $40 on ringtones from 2007, you can’t understand why everyone can see all the racist stuff you write on Facebook, and when you think you finally got the GPS working you actually just ended up buying a half-ton of mulch on the dark web. Nobody wants to live like that.

And the stakes will be even higher when you’re 65. If a phone can ruin your parents’ lives, imagine what virtual reality nano robots will do to you.

“You Convinced Me To Learn This Robot Speak. What Now?”:

There is a shocking number of resources to learn coding without paying any human money at all. I started with Codecademy, which gives you a taste of many popular web and software development languages. If you want to learn web development (mainly HTML, CSS, and Javascript), FCC is a great start. It’s as free as its name is unexciting, and if you manage to complete the whole thing you’ll have a big enough portfolio to start interviewing for entry level jobs. My preferred language is Python, and Automate the Boring Stuff with Python is beginner-friendly and still fun. (“Fun” is relative but you get the point)

Or you can go to this list of over 370 free online courses that you can start this month. Everyone from MIT to your cousin who really likes Sonic the Hedgehog seems to have a coding course these days. So yes, it is a bandwagon. But it’s a bandwagon that leads to useful skills if you spend your time on it wisely.