The last couple of days, there’s been a fair amount of blogosphere angst over Coding Horror’s “Please Don’t Learn to Code.” Ironically, the best argument for learning to code appeared this morning, when it turned out that Judge William Alsup in the Google case could program, and learned Java in the course of the trial, and wasn’t going for Oracle’s claim that a short range-checking function was days of work. Alsup recognized immediately (and says he wrote the function hundreds of times during the course of the trial) that it’s just a few minutes work for a competent programmer.
The importance of learning to code isn’t so that everyone will write code, and bury the world under billions of lines of badly conceived Python, Java, and Ruby. The importance of code is that it’s a part of the world we live in. I’ve had enough of legislators who think the Internet is about tubes, who haven’t the slightest idea about legitimate uses for file transfer utilities, and no concept at all about what privacy (and the invasion of privacy) might mean in an online space. I’ve had enough of patent inspectors who approve patents for which prior art has existed for decades. And I’ve had enough of judges making rulings after listening to lawyers arguing about technologies they don’t understand. Learning to code won’t solve these problems, but coding does force engagement with technology on a level other than pure ignorance.
Coding is a part of cultural competence, even if you never do it professionally. Alsup is a modern hero.