Learning to Code

Rewinding my career a ways, I want to weigh in on the Learn to Code debate as a non-programmer who coded. I am a professional programmer now, but my previous career was teaching English in High School (you are not allowed to take that as license to mock my grammar).

Programming and the Profession of Programming are quite different things. Programming is being able to efficiently tell a computer exactly what to do in a repeatable manner. The profession of programming is being able to efficiently convert business requirements into bugs.

As an English teacher I programmed regularly in order to make my life easier. I generated vocabulary quizzes (and grading sheets for them), I created interactive epic poetry (I shit you not) with my classes (those studens really grokked epic poetry thereafter), I wrote hundreds of small scripts to calculate various things (many of which could have been done in excel, but I knew perl, not excel), I turned at least one student onto cypherpunks during a study hall, I built various one-off web applications for teachers, classes, groups, etc. I calculated lots of statistics on student performance, tests, and so on so I could better understand and calibrate things (teachers may not always grade on a curve explicitely, but new teachers always do at least hand-wavily as they don’t have tests and teaching well calibrated yet).

Programming is a tool that let me be more efficient, that allows you to automate boring things, and sometimes opens up options which would otherwise be unavailable. I later left teaching, went into technical writing, and then (back) into the profession of programming full time. As Zed Shaw put it well, “Programming as a profession is only moderately interesting. … You’re much better off using code as your secret weapon in another profession.”. I happen to love programming for itself, so programming as a profession works well for me. Code is ephemeral though, and most folks don’t like to “see your works become replaced by superior ones in a year. unable to run at all in a few more” as _why described. Progamming is an exceptionally powerful tool for accomplishing other things.