Note to readers: Zoom Out: The Future of Work is a series that chronicles macro changes, trends and real-life experiences that affect the workforce as we tread uncertain times. It is aimed to dig deeper and build a point-of-view around popular and contrarian topics around work.
Big, fast changes only happen when they’re forced by necessity, writes Morgan Housel, partner at venture capital firm Collaborative Fund. You can say that about innovation and acquiring new skills, too. New professional skills only last 3-5 years and one must keep upgrading. The question is, upgrading to what? There are too many options out there and that can get very confusing.
However, there are some skills that are Life Skills and almost too critical to live without.
Before we delve deeper, let us define a ‘Life Skill’.
Life skill is a term used to describe a set of basic skills acquired through learning and/or direct life experience that enable individuals and groups to effectively handle issues and problems commonly encountered in daily life.
With this context, let us find out if ‘Coding’ is a ‘Life Skill’.
In its most basic sense, coding is translating logical actions into a language that a computer will understand. This allows us to tinker with apps, create software and websites, play video games and much more.
When I was researching this piece I spoke to many developers and experts and learning to code reminded me (a non-coder) in many ways of learning a new language; it’s much like the words humans use to communicate with each other, strung into logical sentences.
Brief evolution of Programming
Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician, is renowned as the world’s first programmer. A protégé of Charles Babbage, who put forth the concept of a digital programmable computer, she translated a scientific paper on Babbage’s analytical engine written by Luigi Menabrea, an engineer and future Prime Minister of Italy. Lovelace added extensive notes to the translation.
In one of the notes, Lovelace describes an algorithm for Babbage’s engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. This is believed to be the first algorithm written for a computer and she is credited with being the world’s first programmer for this reason. Babbage’s analytical engine was never built, so the program could not be tested. Lovelace died in 1852, at the age of 36.
By the 1950s and 60s most of the really ‘big’ ideas in computer programming were developed.
The development of new programming languages in the last few decades has focussed a lot on the developer experience. This may mean trying to enable code that is easier to write (the driving force behind Ruby) or easier to read (Python), or making certain types of logical structures and modes of problem-solving more intuitive.
Why is ‘Coding’ considered a Supercharger?
We use multiple synchronised devices at an average of 2,617 times a day and hence, communicating with the devices we spend our lives with has become super-important. This makes coding basic literacy of the digital age.
In the real world, coding provides an edge to automating tasks and makes life on the computer extremely simple. According to Albert Sebastian, Technical Faculty at The Masai School, learning to code is like learning to be analytical and using logic; hence he believes it to be a necessary skill as technology adoption is now universal across industries.
Examples of what coding can do.
Simple: Building a Calculator, personal website, music player, news aggregator
Medium: Building chat apps, social networks or even e-commerce websites
Advanced: GPT3, Building a professional game, self-driving cars or even landing people on the moon
So, when does one start?
Coding is a skill that can be self-taught. All you need is a guide/mentor. There is no age to learn to code. It is not for only those who pursue engineering (or for that matter have a college degree), but those who have an aptitude for logic, computers and technology. This drive can be innate or can develop over time. The New Education Policy of India allows students to choose coding from class VI onwards. Coding, as opposed to popular myth, is quite gender agnostic.
Eleven-year-old Veer Dayal told me he loves to code (he has a natural inclination towards it) as it has improved his Math skills. He started learning to code when he was seven and now aspires to create multiple apps and believes that coding is an art form that requires absolute passion. He is among the very few students in his class who know to code and that makes him really cool. Currently he has created his own Star Wars game and, in his own words, ‘no one can win this game.’
Swanand Kadam, creator of Kalaam.io, a programming language in Hindi, has been teaching kids (under 16 years) from the hinterland to code. He tells me that kids love to solve Math problems and create games when they learn programming and he has also observed that both girls and boys absolutely enjoy coding as they love building stuff online.
Finally, is Coding a ‘Life Skill’?
Navin Kabra, Co-founder and CTO at ReliScore.com, a startup focussed on helping companies filter job candidates based on an evaluation of actual job-related skills, does not believe that coding is a life skill. The important skill, according to him, is understanding how software works in general.
“Understanding the building blocks of any piece of software/technology, getting a sense of its internal logic, building a model in your head, and then using that model to visualise how to get it to do your bidding is an important life skill and its importance will continue to increase as software eats the world, and more and more aspects of our world get taken over by AI and algorithms.”
To conclude, from my multiple conversations, I figured that there are those who love to code and those who don’t. Both can co-exist. As with everything else in life, passion is what drives your choices.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at this strip.
Nisha Ramchandani is Manager Outreach, Axilor Ventures and a writer focussed on Future of Work
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