Why I Learned to Code and Think You Should, Too
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a Star Trek nerd. Yes, I am a fan of all sci fi. But Star Trek is what has inspired me the most.
When I was growing up in the 80’s, it was the space travel in the reruns of the original Star Trek series that captivated me. In my 20’s, it was the Next Generation series that really opened my eyes to the possible future we all have before us now.
So many of the technologies that the crew of the Enterprise take for granted are now becoming realities in our world:
The replicators creating food, clothing and tools out of recycled molecules.
Medical tricorders, diagnosing patients and hyposprays painlessly administering medicine.
Universal translators making it possible to communicate with anyone no matter their background.
Holodecks for education and entertainment.
Artificial intelligence and natural language processing answering spoken questions and fulfilling requests.
As cool as all that tech is, it’s the state of the world in which Star Trek’s Federation is set that inspired me the most. Because of the technology they created, the Federation lived in a utopia.
In Star Trek, no one needs to work to survive. Technology provides for all humanity’s needs - food, clothing, and shelter. This leads to money not being required, and therefore no more poverty or inequality, no more pain and suffering. People solely work for the betterment of mankind.
My ultimate realisation was that our world’s problems could be solved by technology. So, I decided that I wanted to do my bit to move the world towards this future.
Choosing the tech life
At 28, after working in hospitality for many years, I enrolled in an IT degree.
Learning how technology is created was so much fun. Although the gadgets and cool hardware were exciting to play with, I soon realised that it’s the software that makes these things useful.
Learning programming is a challenge. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions.
I remember the first homework my programming tutor gave us. We needed to create a computer program that solved a particular problem. Input some data, process it, and output the correct results in the right format.
It took days of playing with the code, using trial and error and still failing to find the right solution. I’d be swearing and pulling my hair out, wanting to throw my big chunky PC out the window. I’d never known such frustration, exasperation, and self-doubt.
But I stuck with it, kept trying new lines of code, until finally it worked! I would dance around the house with joy. It felt so good to work it out. That is what got me hooked on coding.
My journey as a coder
Although I was dreaming of a computer science research career, I took a different path and worked as a software consultant for IBM.
It was a good experience to see the inside of a large, multinational technology company. But, I didn’t have the opportunity to do much hands-on coding. It was mostly talking about software, not creating it, and helping organisations install and use IBM products. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference, which was the whole reason I chose a career in tech to begin with. I was just helping big companies churn more profit.
So towards the end of my time at IBM, I started teaching myself the new programming languages. Through this retraining, I I rediscovered my love for solving problems with code.
When I felt ready, I jumped ship and began working as a freelance developer.
But, this freelance life didn't last long when I was asked to teach at a new coding school and j umped at the opportunity.
I have now been running my own company, Coder Factory Academy, for three years, teaching kids and adults how to code. I enjoy every second of it - getting to share my love of coding and inspiring others to take up the challenge.
My students are all ages - from 10 through to 60. They come from all different levels of education and varying career backgrounds. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, journalists, marketers, retail staff, hospitality workers, school teachers, and everything in between.
These people see where the world is headed and don’t want to be left out or left behind. They already use technology in their lives and their work, and they see opportunities to solve problems and make things even better.
Sam Henderson & Small Change
Last year, two students in my class were boyfriend and girlfriend. (This wasn’t the first time a couple has done a coding course together either!)
They were doing the part time coding course, our Web App Builder course, as they both had full time jobs. Sam, the guy, had just finished uni and was working in a finance company. His girlfriend, also Sam, was working as a Program Manager at Change.org.
Neither of them had done any coding before, but they were inspired by the success of tech startups, and knew that learning how to code would help them in their careers.
Sam, the guy, while still doing the course, applied with a mate to a tech startup incubator with an idea to combat 'slacktavism'. He saw a lot of his friends sharing news stories on Facebook and Twitter about injustices in the world and damage to the environment. But, what good was sharing the content actually doing to help the situation?
The solution Sam came up with made it easy for people to donate a couple of dollars when they share a story via social media...and then encourage their friends to also take action.
Needless to say, he was accepted into the incubator, left his job, threw himself into building the startup, and created the product himself with the skills he learned at Coder Factory Academy.
Sam has now launched his platform, Small Change, and is bringing on charities like Greenpeace and Oxfam.
Anna Robson & Refugee Talent
Another student, Anna, a sports coach who had worked for a short time at a startup and was driving for Uber, came along to learn coding in the part time course. Midway through the course, she went along to her first hackathon, Techfugees.
A hackathon is a two to three day event where people come together to ‘hack’ a solution to a designated problem area. In this case, looking for ways to improve the lives of refugees.
Anna’s team saw that many of the refugees had marketable skills and experience in many professions but were only able to get menial work. They put together a website that gave companies looking to good, a way to provide internship opportunities to talented refugees.
Anna is now working on her Refugee Talent social enterprise full time and loving it. You can see why I love what I do!
My students inspire me every day and I feel that now I really am making a difference, helping others contribute to the future I want for the world.
Why would you want to learn to code?
Now I’m not saying everyone needs to learn how to code to make a difference. But, if you know you want to make the world better, but are not sure how, give coding a go.
As I described earlier, learning to code is not easy. But, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist or maths whiz either.
It’s similar to learning a language, like French or Chinese. In the beginning it is really tough and you feel like you’re never going to speak or understand it. But, with practice and perseverance, the concepts start to make sense, piece by piece.
It actually feels really good to use your brain in a new way - it’s like solving a puzzle or brain teaser. But, it’s more than that because you’re creating something. By typing some code in a file and running it, you now have a program that can help people. I love the look in my students’ eyes when all the pieces start to fall into place. It really is a WOW moment for anyone. It is an empowering feeling realising you can now code anything you want.
Don't have much spare time? It only takes a matter of weeks to get to this point. Yes, it's true you won’t know everything - you never will. It’s an ongoing learning process, and that’s part of the fun.
But, you get to a point where you know enough to build what you want to create. And, most importantly, you know that Google is there to help you find solutions to the bits you don’t know yet.
There are so many tools and resources online where you can seek help from other friendly programmers around the world.
You now understand what is possible with technology and you wake up every day with an amazing new idea. Each new idea is that much better than yesterday’s idea.
You see opportunities everywhere in your work and in life. You start a list of the apps you want to get around to building one day.
Like I said, it is a very empowering skill to have.
Now, I’m not saying you need to become a developer as a career. Although, there is a huge shortage of skilled programmers around the world and the gap is growing every day.
Adding coding to your learned skills and life experiences will supercharge whatever it is you do.
You don’t need to do an IT degree! Or be a sci fi nerd like me. It’s not just computer scientists and engineers creating the future.