Welcome to the most important week of your life – it’s National Code Week! Anyone who’s anyone knows that coding – which used to be a cloud of confusion wrapped in a storm of suspicion – is now the Queen of Absolutely Everything. Think Cersei Lannister circa GoT season one, but less evil.
If you’re still unsure what it is, why it’s so important or how it could help you in your career and life (and this will literally apply to almost all of you) I asked Chris and Aled, two of our ace code experts at UKFast, to talk us through why it’s so fall-on-your-knees, hallelujah-chorus spectacular.
First up, what is it? Chris describes it as: “writing a recipe for a computer to follow. The computer will do exactly what you tell it as long as it understands what you mean; it’s just a question of choosing the right programming language for the job at hand (e.g. PHP is great for web development, less so at number crunching for scientists). The important thing is to know what you’re doing as the computer probably won’t be clever enough to work out if you’re doing something wrong, which is usually where bugs come from.” Not so complicated, amirite?
If you’re unsure why you should get excited though, Aled says it’s all about the problems that you can use software to solve, rather than ‘coding’ itself per se.
“Software helps rockets into space, keeps the lights on across the country, allows billions of people to communicate across the globe, and helps scientists to model complex experiments (as well as carry them out!) and much more.
“By all means, get excited about coding, but I’d prefer to encourage people to get excited about something else (engineering, medicine, business, whatever!) and to then see the value in how software has helped us scale these things in ways we just couldn’t without it.” So basically pick whatever field you enjoy, and chances are you’ll be able to use coding to get creative.
He summarises: “Buildings are getting bigger, medicine is getting better, energy generation is becoming more efficient, and software has had a massive part to play in that. It’s enabling people to work quicker, better and cheaper.”
If you think there’s no way it’ll apply to your job though, Chris says: “It can be applied to any field. People can use it to simulate different scenarios, make alterations to their predictions, and re-run the modelling; biologists to study fishing patterns, engineers to study the efficiency of heat management, historians to model the spread of the Plague, scientists modelling black holes etc. Pretty much any job can involve coding to make your life easier!”
It has also raised a new era of issues though, he says. “The ‘hot new thing’ in the programming world is Big Data which is basically storing every piece of information you possibly can on people and then analysing it. The Samaritans were recently caught in controversy because they had a program that searched through people’s tweets to identify certain keywords (help, unhappy etc.) and then compare that with the overall mood of the tweet. If there were enough negative tweets they’d tweet them to get in touch. Certainly meant well, but it did creep people out.
“There’s also Facebook who has even more information on people (beyond what pages you like). It builds up a picture of who your favourite people are, when you’re likely to be online, whereabouts, how you use it etc., and in the past, they’ve admitted to doing psychological experiments on people (by altering how much positivity/negativity they would see in their feed). So, you’ve got the likes of psychologists doing coding and studying of data.”
Mostly though, the potential to do some amazing things is there. If you’re having a bit of a breakdown (in a good way) about how awesome coding is and want to get your kids (or yourself!) inspired, Chris lays down some advice: “A good way of getting kids interested is by having it as a spin-off from other interests. For example, a lot of kids these days are obsessed with Minecraft and it’s got a very accessible programming language, which means you can easily make add-ons/changes to change the rules of the game to tailor their experience (more monsters, less gravity, new objects more likely to get rare objects etc.) allowing them to get to grips with the core concepts of coding.
“There’s also products like Lego Mindstorms which gives kids the ability to do basic coding and then watch it interact with a robot they’ve built out of Lego. They have intelligent bricks too, which gives them extra sensors (light, etc.), so they can do some really cool things.”
So, in terms of the fabled skills gap it’s a great way for kids, job seekers and career-changers to improve their skillsets with something really in demand and there are lots of courses on offer! Coding Week has lots of events on their website, and a quick search on the old Google machine will throw loads of events in your face.
If you’re more into an online thing, the likes of Code Academy is a really easy, accessible (and free!) way of getting into it (even I managed a few modules on there – I need to know basic coding for things like WordPress, or if I wanted to build a website dedicated to the ‘web hosting blog awards’ that I’m surely in line for). Coding really does affect every part of everything and the best way to get involved is just to give it a try – (sorry about this) because you’ve got the code to unlock your potential!
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