When someone tells you they code, it’s as if they’re calling you from inside the world’s most exclusive club. It’s probably a pretty great party in there, but you’ve got no idea how they got on the guest list and you’re fairly sure that even if they came out, floored the bouncer and physically carried you in, the bar staff would spot your trainers and you’d find yourself back on this side of the door in ten minutes. Like speaking Chinese or perfecting the moonwalk, coding is just one of those things you’ll never be able to do.
This, of course, is a complete myth. There’s nothing stopping you learning to code. In fact, you could start right now. Go on – don’t even read to the end of this post. Click here instead. You’ll have written your first lines of code before you next check Facebook. Or here if you want to make a website. Or here if you fancy giving an iPhone app a go. Like most things, getting started turns out to be as simple as Googling it and clicking on the first link that’s not an ad. Every coder out there has to start from square one at some point.
But you’re not really starting from square one. Because really, deep down, you already know how to do it. Code is instructions. You write the instructions, and the computer follows them. Any time you’ve given someone directions to your house, or typed in a sum on a calculator, or lined up a row of dominoes, you’ve essentially been coding. The person following your directions, you pressing the equals button, knocking over the first domino – that’s the code being run. Coding is pretty much teaching a series of steps to a computer, for the sole reason that it can follow those steps a hell of a lot quicker than you can.
Running your first line of code and seeing it do whatever it was you told it to, you quickly realise this is something you could get used to. Most of us love giving orders, and when you sit down to code you’ve got what amounts to an uncomplaining, untiring, unerring servant literally at your fingertips. Sure, you have to issue your edicts in a fairly precise way – but ask nicely and it will do pretty much anything for you. And learning the language is easier to learn than you might think; you’ll quickly find that amateur coders are probably the third best served group on the internet, losing out only to Google Incognitos and cat-lovers. For literally every problem you come across, someone will have had it before, asked the rest of the world about it, and received an answer that sounds like it’s been taken straight out of a computer science textbook. It’s as if Tim Berners-Lee is sitting in a room somewhere, scouring the Internet for helpless beginners, and answering each of their questions in turn under a different, ill-judged pseudonym. Bless him.
There’s the usual spiel about the astronomical salaries, the free lunches, the wearing hoodies to work – but you already know all that. Everyone has since they made that film about Justin Timberlake going to Harvard. No, a better reason to start coding, one that may trample all over your better judgement, is that it’s fundamentally creative. You just have to look at what some of the tech companies out there are doing – the Twitters and Apples of this world – to see that this much is true. Thinking that coding is the nerdy IT guy at work rebooting your computer is like thinking that music is what happens when the piano tuner comes round.
Let’s be clear – like anything, getting really good is tough. Unless you happen to be a 7-year-old, you’re probably not going to find time to rack up your 10,000 hours. But that’s not what most of us are going for, and it’s certainly no reason not to pick it up. So if you’ve ever thought you’d like one day to give it a go, treat today as that day. Or at least some time this week. Because, basically, you can already do it.