James’s Musings

thoughts, photography, and geeky stuff
from an unrelentingly curious Silicon Valley entrepreneur

Coding is Literacy

by James G. Beldock on January 23, 2012

As a proud grew-up-with-the-Commodore-64 type, I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered cod­ing part of my DNA. (To be pre­cise, “pro­gram­ming” has al­ways been part of my DNA. The term “cod­ing” is a ne­ol­o­gism of sorts, but the­se days I have to self-iden­ti­fy by it, lest I some­how be­come, de­spite my thir­tysome­thing creds, “an old guy,” this post notwith­stand­ing.) It wasn’t un­til this evening that I re­al­ized just how main­stream cod­ing has be­come. Consider my “wake up call” re­ceived….


Dinner time brought a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween two well-ed­u­cat­ed wom­en who joint­ly have two chil­dren un­der the age of two, two MBAs from Harvard Business School (three if you count their spous­es), and se­ri­ous fash­ion sense. One works for a well-known and re­cent­ly-pub­lic Silicon Valley com­pa­ny; the oth­er is an en­tre­pre­neur and for­mer Wall Street in­vest­ment banker. Among myr­i­ad oth­er din­ner­time top­ics was CodeAcademy. They’re both us­ing that par­tic­u­lar hot site to get up-to-speed in web de­vel­op­ment. One of them signed up for CodeYear. The oth­er was talk­ing just this af­ter­noon with yet a third thir­ty-some­thing wom­an en­tre­pre­neur and Ivy League b-school grad about—you guessed it—CodeAcademy.

Whence comes this new found in­ter­est in cod­ing? Do we cred­it some mass hys­te­ria em­bod­ied in the form of peo­ple who sim­ply must en­gage in NP-com­plete­ness proofs? Fortunately, not. It comes from a pro­found re­order­ing of today’s busi­ness world. “Coding is the new lit­er­a­cy,” says Zach Sims of CodeAcademy. Just as the well-ed­u­cat­ed of the 19th cen­tu­ry read both Latin and Greek be­fore learn­ing “The Algebra,” so a 21st cen­tu­ry en­tre­pre­neur must be able–at the very least–to un­der­stand the un­der­pin­nings of her own web­site.2 And thus to di­rect the next step. And the next in­no­va­tion. Will they de­vel­op the next al­go­rithm for the solv­ing of General Lattice Puzzles? Perhaps not. But will they un­der­stand all they need to un­der­stand in or­der to in­no­vate in the dy­nam­ic, re­al-time en­vi­ron­ment which is twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry in­no­va­tion? Surely. Are they equal­ly like­ly to avoid be­ing snowed by their coders as their coun­ter­parts two decades ago were when pre­sent­ed by a “com­plex spread­sheet” mod­el? Equally sure­ly.

All of which puts those of us who think of them­selves as life­time coders—and there­fore per­haps smug­ly con­sid­ered them­selves pos­sessed of rare skills—on no­tice. Calculators and spread­sheets have ced­ed the field to Javascript (er­rr, ECMAScript) and MySQL (or var­i­ous NoSQLs, if you’re re­al­ly cool). Requisite knowl­edge now en­com­pass­es what, even a few years ago, was con­sid­ered the do­main of the “geeks.” Which means that I, for one, have a lot of skills de­vel­op­ment to do….

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  1. Coders will note that my “code” on the left is, in fact, mere­ly markup—of this post, in fact. True. But it gave me a chance plug the ab­solute­ly gor­geous syn­tax high­light­ing of my new fa­vorite text ed­i­tor, Sublime Text. Quite pos­si­bly the most beau­ti­ful text ed­i­tor I’ve ever used. Consider the tip a peace of­fer­ing for con­flat­ing markup and cod­ing. 🙂 []
  2. The per­spi­ca­cious and fran­coph­o­ne read­er will note that the cor­rect word is ‘en­tre­pre­neuse,” but I re­fuse. []

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