Ostensibly, I have no business learning computer programming. I don’t claim to have a desire to be a software engineer. I have a negligible number of apps on my phone compared with the next person — I have a tenuous interest in them as a discipline and I certainly don’t desire to be an app developer. I’ll admit, I like the idea of building websites; still, to say I want to be trapped behind a computer for hours on end engrossed in one would be a lie.
So why learn?
It certainly is not because Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and a host of other people, including President Obama, have suggested that everyone should learn it, almost as a requirement.
It isn’t the money; it isn’t because my mother has suggested it for years.
So why learn?
My answer is, why not?
Humor me for a moment, as I ask you to hark back to a time when you were at your most curious, learning for learning’s sake. No pretense. No grandiose ideas of a future payoff. Learning for it’s own merits.
It was all very rudimentary, and I wasn’t devoting a tremendous amount of time to it — a few hours here and there during the summer, and once I returned to school, even less. Nonetheless, I committed myself and stuck with it. For no other reason than I thought it was cool. I wasn’t building websites, but I was impressed by my ability to peek behind the hood of a webpage, look at the source code (think back to what the edit page of your Myspace looked like back in the day — yeah, Tom had us flirting with a six figure skill) and not be completely overrun by confusion and nausea.
Eventually, I decided to put the building blocks for websites aside and began to dabble in more programming focused languages, opting for online courses that gave me a more proper foundation in the art. Though they were considerably more difficult than my previous ones, I found myself getting more comfortable with facets of my computer that were previously beyond my line of vision. I found my vocabulary improving and my know-how increasing. I found myself learning. I even joined a local community of ‘civic hackers’ — individuals who used data and technology for civic engagement.
Again, there was never any ambition to be an engineer. This started out as a hobby like any other, admittedly more fleeting than my other hobbies like football (soccer), which can adequately be described as a burning passion that I require myself to work on daily. However, once I saw an opportunity for genuine learning in this space, I didn’t let up. I appreciate the mental exercise.
More importantly, I have realized that this foray into the tech world is perhaps more significant than a simple pastime. The tech ecosystem, aggressively changing industries from healthcare to travel; defiantly involving itself in matters of national security and politics; and ultimately demonstrating to the world where the lucrative professions are today is a largely homogenous one, one not exactly fraught with women and minorities. There are theories as to why, most of which belie what is actually occurring (more on this later). One thing that has become apparent to me, however, echoing the sentiments of many others is that you don’t need to be a ‘genius’ to learn this stuff. In large part, you just have to want to learn.
So, though not working professionally in the space, my involvement does seem to be breaking a barrier of sorts. My desire for personal improvement and progression has had a secondary outcome perhaps more important than the primary one as I have found myself working with people who also are new to this. This is why I do the things that I do sometimes, and engage with random interests that I feel are good learning opportunities, and why I encourage you to do the same. Because it is not always about where they will take you, singular, but often about where it will take us, plural.