Why bother to learn computer programming?

If you have ever asked this, you are not alone.

As you might have noticed, this article is mostly for people who do not know what programming is, what it is for, or how to start learning. But even if you already started learning a bit or you are a fully-fledged coder, it can be an interesting take on all the benefits of learning to program.

Most people, at some point or another, have thought of learning some computer-related skills either for getting better at some specific software, developing a personal project, or becoming the ‘computer whiz’ they are at the soul. In any case, one of the most common things for people to want to learn related to computers is programming, and for good reason.

Programming is very versatile and flexible, depending on how much you want to learn and how in-depth you want to go, you might find very useful skills to use in your professional or personal life. From understanding how your computer works to developing large-scale software platforms, there is a gigantic array of skills that could improve anyone’s career path. A quick example is how psychology researchers use the programming language R for statistical computing.

But I get it, learning a programming language seems daunting and difficult, so let me try and solve some of your doubts and I’ll help you understand how good of a deal it is.

So, the first big question:

Should I, a person with X job or career, learn to program?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: yes, because it is not only about what you can do with it, but more about what it does for you.

Computer programming is a way of problem-solving and, as such, it exercises your brain and increases your cognitive abilities. An article published by the American Psychological Association shows proof that the abilities gained and worked on are transferable to other areas and are associated with better creative and mathematical thinking. In a meta-analysis on a sample of 105 studies and 539 effect sizes, evidence was found to support the popular claims that computer programming enhances creative, reasoning, and mathematical skills. In short, learning programming is good for your brain and improves skills you can use in other areas of your life.

In a meta-analysis, evidence was found to support the popular claims that computer programming enhances creative, reasoning, and mathematical skills.

On the other hand, understanding the logic in programming can help you see the logic in other things outside of the realm of computers, improving your understanding of the world around you. Thinking in “Algorithms” helps you understand processes in a different, more structural manner, and that opens up your mind to work more freely to improve or just analyze them.

And if you still feel like programming isn’t for you or “you are not the kind of person who would learn to program”, then it is fine, you don’t have to be the best programmer ever in history. Even learning a bit and understanding how it works in a broadway can do wonders for you. Today technology is ever more important and you might find a competitive advantage in learning how it actually works. So give it a thought and measure the benefits it can have in your life, I am sure you will be surprised.

Now that we have defined how good it is for you, let’s get to the next question:

But for what purpose?

This one is a bit trickier because it will wholly depend on how much you want to learn and where you want to go with it. If you only learn a bit then it will be more difficult for you to find a good use for your acquired knowledge and skills, outside of “mental exercise”. If you are willing to go and learn a lot and give your best shot at getting better, you might change your whole career to a new, better, path.

As I said before, technology is becoming more important every day, and that is only going to get faster. Understanding and adapting to it might be one of the best choices you can make during the next decade, as more and more technologies are created and adapted to our daily lives. It is not meant to sound scary, but ignoring technological growth and choosing to keep doing things the same way, will cripple your career path and probably make you less attractive to potential employers or clients. Keep in mind that “keeping with technology” means a lot more, and does not necessarily include programming; this is more of a pitch for technology in general.

Coming back to programming specifically, it should be said that it is a good way of understanding technology since you are working directly with it. If you are capable of proficiently use a programming language to make basic software, then you are going to have an easier time understanding different technologies and software capabilities. It will be easier to adapt and understand future technologies, giving you the edge to take advantage of what that represents.

Even better, if you like to build things, you might just get good enough to make your own tools in your computer and even go deeper and understand how the computer works on the inside and stop treating it as some kind of magical “black box”. There are infinite projects to make and it’s just a matter of going and getting the work done. With enough skill, you might just do whatever you want on your computer with no more problems you can handle.

In short, if you are ready to put in the hours, learn a lot, and practice constantly, you will be able to achieve any goal inside of what the current technology allows.

And now that it is clear how helpful learning to program can be, the next most important question rises:

How do I even start?

It doesn’t matter what you want to do with programming, the basics are the same for everyone. You might think that, if you want to get to learn something like ‘Data Science’, skipping the basics would be fine, right? WRONG. You can’t skip the very foundation of programming and go to the more complicated stuff, in a practical sense. If you do, be warned, sooner rather than later you will smash your face to a brick wall for not doing your homework.

That said, what are the basics? That would be the ground logic underlying every programming language (or at least 99% of them), the pieces of the machine that make everything move. I don’t want to get too technical in this article but I’ll list a few to give an idea of what I mean:

  • Values
  • Variables
  • Functions
  • Types
  • Data structures
  • Boolean logic

To get a grip on these basic concepts you can use any popular language out there. Javascript and Python are the popular kids in the backyard right now, but things like Java and C++ can be very good teachers if you don’t mind something “harder” to use. Any of them is good because all programming languages come with the same basic structure, some with some more liberties and flexibilities than others.

Here is where I should say something like “choose wisely” but that’s not really the case. If you choose one and feel it might not be the best for you or you got a recommendation from a friend, you can always change and learn a new one. It comes with its costs, since you will have to learn how to write stuff, but once you read a bit you will be able to translate ideas from one language to another with ease.

If you still want more solid advice on how to start then I would have to say, go with Python and search for a free tutorial. Some people would rather recommend Javascript, and it even is my language of choice, but I don’t believe it is good for beginners since it is way too flexible and will get you used to stuff that would not help you in case you want to try other things. Python on the other hand is a middle ground between a strict language and a flexible one; it will be a good teacher and it is easy to use.

In the end, you will make your own road and you will follow the path that you fill will give you the best value for your career or whatever you want to do. Anyone can start to learn at any moment and reach a point they are comfortable with, without losing their mind or investing an inhuman amount of time. Remember all the benefits you can get out of learning and don’t get discouraged.

And with all those questions answered, I hope to have given you a different perspective on whether to learn some new skills or not. But what I want you to take with you the most out of this is the fact that you can start with very little effort and still see an improvement in your understanding. All the rest is up to you and what you want to achieve!

Hi, I'm Asher! I mostly write articles and software. Hard work and honesty are my key values and I do my best to show it in everything I do.

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