Why more people should learn to program

I recently watched an almost beautiful new video from Code.org, a nonprofit that seeks to incorporate computer programming courses into more school curricula. The video features the founders of Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and other tech companies explaining how they became interested in computer science, and why more people should follow suit.

It reminded me of the factors that drew me to programming, first when I was about 11 years old, and then when I reawakened to my love of coding in my late 20s.

One of my friends read an article about this video and commented that in his opinion, this push toward programming is a mistake. He is a programmer who sees the job market for coders shrinking rather than growing. He said we should instead motivate students to seek to become engineers, doctors, and manufacturers, because innovation is more likely in those fields today.

I disagreed, partly because I think the video is not telling everyone to become professional computer programs; but it is only telling people to learn how to program computers.

That is something I think everyone should have some opportunity for. Here are some reasons why:

1. Innovation is more accessible in computer programming

If you want to innovate in automobile manufacturing, you need tens of millions of dollars to develop your new concept and get the first consumer model in a dealership’s lot. It also will take large sums of money to get a medicine from the idea stage to pharmacy shelves.

However, you can create an innovative computer program on a laptop that costs $400 or less. (Technically, you could create an innovative computer program on a computer at the public library.) Then for about $100 a year in hosting costs, you can launch your online program and collect payment or advertising revenues for it. Some of the richest people in the U.S. can trace their wealth back to a computer program they wrote.

Oh, by the way, people who are changing the world through manufacturing or medicinal innovation will, at some point, need to hire a computer programmer. Which leads me to my next point…

2. Computer science skills translate to other fields

I’m a writer / public relations / marketer guy by day, but I find many opportunities to use my programming talents to make my job easier or more effective. For example, one of my occasional tasks is to take a website table containing information on upcoming events and turn it into a list of events that we can send to the local newspaper or put in our printed calendar. This used to require a lot of time cutting, pasting, and reformatting. Then I wrote a Google Chrome extension that grabs each row of the table and reorganizes and formats it exactly as I need it—reducing that task to a few seconds each time.

In addition to that, Steve Jobs said (as quoted in the Code.org video) that “Everyone should learn how to program a computer because it teaches them how to think.” The logic, organization, and problem-solving skills required to write and debug a computer program are applicable to many aspects of life, including careers totally unrelated to computer science.

3. Programming experience will lead people to other high-end careers

Not everyone who learns how to program a computer will become a full-time programmer. That is fine. Many of them will become engineers and doctors or business analysts. However, how many people will have the doors to these careers opened because of the mathematical skills and the determination they developed from writing and debugging computers? Computer programming could prepare people to pursue these high end careers instead of lower-paying jobs such as assembly line workers or hospital janitors.

For me, this increases the importance of teaching programming to children, especially those who might otherwise end up in one of those lower-paying jobs.

4. Self esteem

I am thrilled and filled with a boost of confidence whenever I get a computer program to work. On top of that, in the six months since I wrote my Easy FAQ With Expanding Text WordPress plugin, I have had more “fan mail” from people who are using and loving the plugin than I got in my four years as a journalist. It feels good to be making a difference in the world by providing a great program for people to use.

Wrap up

In summary, I think more children need more opportunities to learn how to code. Some will become computer programmers, others will not. But many, if not all, will have brighter futures because they learned how to program.