Beyond ones and zeroes: Skills for the modern age

Coding involves a versatile set of skills that contribute to the development of logic and abstract thinking. It is a process of optimization that seeks to solve unique problems by converting data into a language that is understood by computers and hand-held devices, and it is this language that continues to innovate the ways information is collected, stored, and processed to build applications that foster global communication. 

Languages of the 21st century 

While lines of code may seem daunting at first, coding is a skill that “stretches our mental muscles” and provides “a different mindset when it comes to approaching certain problems,” explains Dr. Brian Samson, an assistant professor at the College of Computer Studies (CCS). Educational institutions have sought to make computer languages accessible for learners as a path to instill self-sufficiency and independence. However, Samson suggests that these languages are only supplementary, and teaching others to have “some self-efficacy” with the belief that they can “build anything with any program” is the key to stimulate the motivation to learn other programs. 

As businesses diversify and transition their services to reach a worldwide audience, the increasing dependence on code has pushed people to create. In fact, major tech companies continue to seek and hire young coders to boost competition and innovation. According to Unisse Chua, another assistant professor at CCS and the head of the Center for Complexity and Emerging Technologies, “More and more companies are looking to make their processes more automated to lessen the amount of human errors introduced in their business processes.” 

Creativity in computer languages is not just exclusive to corporate enterprise—it is also a contributor to artistic endeavors. Samson explains that the field of creative computing, which is the utilization of “computational methods to produce art” allows some applications to transfer the styles of artists to create paintings, poems, and films. While some believe that art cannot simply be automated, Samson emphasizes that the goal of mechanizing human creativity is simply for the sake of efficiency and is not meant to replace it.

One step at a time 

When it comes to learning a programming language, many people find themselves questioning whether or not learning how to code is worth it for them and their career plans. Chua emphasizes that learning a programming language has the soft prerequisite of learning how computers solve problems. “Computational thinking”, she describes, “is dissecting a problem, creating a step-by-step solution to the problem, and identifying patterns that are present in the solution.”

Samson shares a similar stance, saying that it is too optimistic for people to frame coding as a basic skill. He explains that one cannot simply build systems or create complex projects with merely knowing how to understand a particular programming language.  “Learning one language will never be enough.”

That being said, the skill of programming is just best paired with other skills and knowledge. This can be seen in universities where most computer-related courses, Samson explains, have a specialty such as computer engineering or game development. These limits also go beyond computer specializations as many other fields such as physics, math, and other technical subjects also incorporate programming. 

Understanding the syntax—the structure of a programming language—is also a necessity due to the number of different programming languages today. “It’s similar to learning a completely new language to read, write, or speak,” explains Chua. It is best to learn and master a particular language as it would provide familiarity and intuition when learning another language.  

Preparation for the inevitable

There is yet another incentive as to why developing coding skills may be worth the time and effort. Chua posits, “Programming would still be relevant in the future as we continue to develop the tools and systems that use machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques.” Coding skills may grow in importance as technology evolves toward maximizing computing power, efficiency, convenience,  and automation. “To be able to automate most processes, some form of programming would be required,” Chua comments. 

As bleak as it may sound, many corporations have invested in automation and AI to maximize efficiency. Chua explains, “more and more companies are looking to make their processes more automated to lessen the number of human errors introduced in their business processes.” This trend toward an increasing reliance on technology would heighten the relevancy of programming skills at the cost of possibly entire industries. Whether it be an investment for the future or a tool to aid in people’s careers, much of the materials necessary to learn the basics of a variety of programming languages are freely available all over the internet. 

By Tiffany Blanquera

By Eiji Sunagawa

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