Now, if you’ve read my blog before, you probably know that I ultimately answered yes to the question, ‘should I learn to code?’. But it’s been quite a process to get where I am today.
(I’m going to just put a little disclaimer in here as well. I know ‘coding’ is a super broad term that refers to all kinds of different languages and sub-fields of computer science. But I’m going to use it for the sake of simplicity.)
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So, the beginning of this story starts pretty early on in my life, back when I was coding in super basic HTML and CSS on Expage in the late 90’s or maybe early noughties (does anyone remember this?). I spent HOURS on our family computer making various silly websites as a kid and genuinely loved it.
Fast forward a few years to when MySpace became a thing and my coding skills came in handy once again. I was forever messing with the background of my page and adding code here and there to create fun effects. I also made a blog on Xanga at this time which also required some coding knowledge.
Then, to be honest, that was about it for YEARS. We didn’t have any coding classes at my school and, as an undergrad I studied international relations and environmental studies.
It wasn’t until I did an internship at an intergovernmental organisation in my third year of uni that coding came back on my radar. One of the projects I was working on involved getting more women into tech.
I’ve talked about this before—there’s a serious shortfall of women in tech. The entire industry is designed in a way that excludes women in a lot of ways. I’d like to post more on this in the future, so let me know in the comments below if this is something you’d be interested in.
However, that wasn’t my only project with that organisation and, after that summer, my interest waned again.
Then, I did a training programme at the United Nations after I finished my undergrad degree where I specifically worked on initiatives to get more women and young people into tech (and to actually retain them). I was later hired to work for them full-time and did so for about a year. In this time, I worked on various initiatives to get more girls learning to code and women into tech jobs around the world. I also wrote for and managed their blog where I wrote about these issues.
This was when I decided I wanted to be one of these ‘women in tech’ I wrote about. So, I started doing some of the HTML and CSS exercises on Free Code Camp.
Then, life got in the way in a BIG way. Basically, the way UN jobs work for early career professionals is that you get 3-6 month contracts at a time. They try to renew them but sometimes you don’t even know the status of your contract renewal until the day before your original contract is up.
Not only is that super stressful (especially if you’re not working remotely like I was and have to actually move to Geneva or New York), but it also limits your professional development in a lot of ways.
Now, I was also starting to get really freaked out about my student loans. My minimum loan payments were basically the same amount as my rent at this point and the general job insecurity at the UN wasn’t for me. Plus, I was looking for something a bit faster-paced where I’d have more room for growth. That’s when I started working in corporate litigation.
At my new job, I was working crazy hours and coding, again, fell to the wayside. On top of that, life got in the way in a MAJOR way (queue mental breakdown, breakup, moving, etc. all at once).
After a few years in that job, I decided to take a six-month sabbatical. That job completely took over my life, and I realised I let it get in the way of my own goals. I didn’t see a long-term future in the legal industry and wanted to spend some time figuring out what I really wanted to do with my life.
During those six months off I really focused on my goals. I wrote a novel during NatNoWriMo, got back in shape, tried starting my first business (which, I ended up quitting as I didn’t have the money to do it the way I wanted), among other goals including, you guessed it, learning to code.
I also ‘discovered’ data science around this time and realised it really appealed to me. I wanted to incorporate it into my PhD project so I continued researching programmes and learning everything I could about it.
Fast forward to today, where I officially consider myself to have ‘learned to code’. Ultimately, it was a mix of edX and Coursera Courses, Free Code Camp exercises, Data Camp courses, and some university courses that got me there. Really, the most important thing was actually doing projects and having to figure out how to code them.
I'm definitely still learning, but have come so far and I'm pretty proud of myself for that.
If you want to learn to code, check out this post.
Now, I know that was a LONG story, but I think it’s important to show that you can still learn to code and get into computer science if you don’t follow the traditional route and study compsci as an undergrad. It’s also okay to fail several times before you actually stick with it.
But, now that leaves us the question, why did I want to learn to code so bad that I kept trying and trying even when I failed?
This is actually something I haven’t properly reflected on in a while if I’m being completely honest. I think, most of all, I wanted to prove to myself that I could.
After learning so much about how few women there are in the tech industry and the barriers they face, the ambitious and competitive inner voice in my head wanted to show myself that I *could* make it. (Although, don’t worry, I still have a full case of imposter syndrome now that I’m here haha.)
I was also attracted to the problem-solving aspect of things. In general, I like figuring things out and coding has always been fun for me (though sometimes frustrating!). Not going to lie, I was also pretty into the high earning potential. Most of all though, it just seemed like I could do so many things with this knowledge which was really exciting to me.
Before I wrap up with my final answers to the question, ‘why learn to code?’, I will acknowledge some of the downsides of learning to code.
As I disclaimed in the beginning of this post, learning to code is not just about learning an easily defined set of skills. There are so many different paths you can take and coding languages to learn, depending on what you actually want to use your code to do. This can be super overwhelming at times.
While, once you finally troubleshoot an issue, you will likely feel immense satisfaction, getting to that point can be incredibly frustrating. Especially when you’re starting out, you’ll find yourself googling basically EVERY little thing and then, sometimes, even when everything seems perfect, it still won’t work. This can get frustrating, particularly when you’re under time pressure on a project.
I’ve talked about this here, but it’s hard to be a woman in tech. The industry is pretty sexist and really built for young white men. There’s also all of the issues with how the tech industry uses your data to manipulate you and how social media sites, etc. have caused increased political polarisation around the world.
I still think the tech industry can do a lot of good, but these are some things to keep in mind. (As a side note, my personal thinking is that the best way to change these things is from the inside.)
Coding might not be for you, plain and simple. You may start learning and not find it enjoyable at all. That's totally okay. It’s absolutely not necessary to keep going with it.
Finally, lots of people tout coding as a sort of ‘magic bullet’ solution to job crises and, essentially, all of the world’s problems. While, I think it is a super useful skill, it’s not the only path out there. Furthermore, learning a programming language doesn’t immediately make you hireable in tech and you need additional professional and soft skills to make it (as in any industry).
Despite these downsides, though, I’m so glad I finally properly pursued learning to code.
I think coding is super fun. It’s a great feeling when something you’ve been toying with finally does what you want it to. You feel a true sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
No matter what field you’re in, knowing how to code will likely be an asset. Technology is everywhere and knowing how it works can’t hurt.
Coding teaches you to think and solve problems in a completely new way. This way of thinking is transferrable to other types of problems.
There are a lot of jobs in tech and they pay well. As you can tell from my story, job security is important to me so this was particularly attractive.
Once you start exploring what you can actually do with code (particularly in the realms of machine learning and data science), you realise the possibilities are endless. Now, some of these things are kind of scary (and that’s a topic for another day). The fact remains, though that people are using code to drive all kinds of strategies, solve all kinds of problems, and learn all kinds of new things behind the scenes. And I think that is pretty cool.
Have you thought about learning to code? Do you already work in tech? I’d love to hear your thoughts about why you got into compsci or are considering it.
Also, this is one of my most personal posts to date. I’m a bit nervous about sharing so much about my personal story, so please be kind in the comments ☺️.