The joys and benefits of learning to code

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After 43 years of service at a bank, Masako Wakamiya, age 53, retired and bought her first PC after her retirement. This was back in 1991.

She knew absolutely nothing about computers at the time, so she taught herself how to use it. Now, the 84-years old senior is a rockstar of the app development world, being recognized by Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, as the oldest app developer for iOS.

Wakamiya has spent her senior years being, in her own words, an “IT evangelist”, pushing for the integration of technology in the lives of elderly people.

Laptop
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

“She’s done TedTalks, worked hand in hand with the Japanese government and has personally met with some of the most influential figures in the software industry. For this developer, a PC was the beginning of her second life.

Unfortunately, Wakamiya is the exception, not the norm – but it doesn’t have to. Software development is thought of as hard and complex, a labyrinthine world of young adults, Silicon Valley culture, acronyms, and buzzwords. Businesses hire software developers to outsource what is perceived as a hard and time-consuming task.

And while it may be true that software engineers undertake massive projects like banking systems and deep level machine learning, no two projects are alike.

Thinking that a small coding project has the same scale and complexity as making Windows 10 is like thinking that applying a fresh coat of paint to a wall is the equivalent of painting the Sistine Chapel.

Can coding be difficult? No doubt, but there is a simple truth underlying the surrounding mysticism of the art of coding, which is that it’s just like any other skill: the more you do it the easier it gets. You don’t have to be a certain age or gender to be a coder, all you need is patience, practice, and the will to learn.

Cognitive benefits of learning to code

The question is, then: is it worth the effort? For a person like Wakamiya, the answer is a resounding yes. Moreover, an article published in 2018 in the journal of educational psychology found that programming is associated with better mathematical skills, creativity, analysis, and problem-solving.

These 4 areas are the heart of software development. Think of it this way, a computer at its very core it’s just a very powerful calculator, capable of doing thousands of mathematical operations in a second. A developer uses a language to translate a real-world problem into an algorithm that the PC can understand and process.

Figuring out how to translate the problem is the hardest and most rewarding part of coding. It’s just like solving a puzzle. Sometimes you follow a strategy, other times you do it by trial and error, and sometimes the solution just comes to you when you least expect it. It takes a lot of thinking and creativity.

In turn, this means that coding helps the development of cognitive reserves. To put it layman terms, scientists believe that we actively off-set neurological damage by using cognitive approaches as coping mechanisms. In other words, engaging mental activities like programming can help people avoid or minimize the effects of conditions like Alzheimer’s.

Coding helps you understand how the world works

IT has permeated almost every aspect of our world, and thanks to GUIs (Graphical Unit Interfaces) we can go about our lives without giving much thought to the underlying workings of our technology.

If you are the inquisitive type and are interested in understanding why some things work the way they do, then coding is a great way to learn about and understand today’s technology.

Computers are powerful, but they have a long way to go to be considered smart. You, as a human, can understand a set of instructions even if they are badly written, but a computer doesn’t know what to do with a code if it’s missing one single comma.

In that sense, when software fails and you get an error message, it’s a lot easier for you to decipher what the computer is trying to tell you if you understand the underlying basics. This goes a long way in helping you troubleshoot the problem or communicating the right information to an IT expert.

Coding opens new doors

Look at any university’s curriculum and they will all say the same thing: everyone is looking for developers. It’s one of the most sought-after skills of the last couple of decades. So, for the youngest in the house, learning to code is a great way to help them prepare for a world that’s craving for software developers.

But that’s not all. Coding can help you in any area of your life. Perhaps you already have a job and are looking for a way to automate repetitive time-consuming tasks. Or perhaps you want to make a web page and share your art projects with the world. Perhaps you love gaming and have always wanted to make a game of your own.

If there is a human activity involved, coding can be put to good use.

Where to start?

There isn’t a tried or true method to learn to code, but if you are an absolute beginner, Python is an astounding programming language to start. With free tutorials all over the web, code bootcamps, a very nice and welcoming community, and tools for beginners, it’s one of the best places to start.

Just like learning carpentry or other skills, it’s a lot easier if you have a clear goal in mind. Figure out something that you can make with coding and search on the web for ways to get started. Look for support groups and a beginner community, and above all, take one step at a time. 

 
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