These days, while our grandparents struggle endearingly to send a text message or compose an email, we struggle to remember that the use of computers and smartphones wasn’t always intuitive.
Though we understand on an intellectual level that such objects are foreign to them, it’s hard to internalize; after all, most of us caught on to laptops and smartphones as soon as they became the standard.
But a few decades from now, will we be those clueless grandparents? Just as it’s become so natural and intuitive to use computer software, will our children and our children’s children think it’s equally as natural and intuitive to build it?
Back in high school and college, most of us tended to distance ourselves from the field of coding, assuming that it required too much specialized knowledge to tackle on even an elementary level. But that’s no longer the case today. Coding could easily become mainstream in the next few years, and we’ll probably all need to jump onboard regardless of our levels of experience.
Coding is more accessible than ever
Although self-taught coding isn’t new, it’s become easier and more realistic for the everyday person. Decades ago, teaching yourself coding was tedious and required an enormous amount of effort. You had to sort through physical textbooks and copy problem sets by hand, without many resources or available mentors to help you if you got stuck.
Nowadays, it’s different. First, there are more online coding courses available than anyone could count. Since each has a different approach, it’s easy to find ones that are suited for particular learning styles. The ever-popular Khan Academy offers coding courses with periodic mini-quizzes that students can use to test themselves and stay on track. Another program, Skillcrush, offers one-on-one office hours with the professor, as well as a 10-day coding bootcamp for those short on time.
Many of these courses are also specialized for individual skill levels and needs. While there are always those that cater to advanced coders, more and more are serving beginning coders, including older folks and kids.
Second, there are plenty of online resources to facilitate the coding process and supplement these courses. With the explosion of social media and the popularity of online forums, it’s easier than ever to connect with other coders and potential mentors for help. There are even sites that are intended specifically for this. HackHands, for example, makes programming experts available for live online chats 24/7.
Third, the coding process itself is also easier. No longer is it necessary to create simple units of code from scratch. Instead, existing bits of commonly used code components are accessible through open-source platforms like Bit. This means that rather than create each individual piece of code by hand, developers of all levels can put together lego-like building blocks of code, share their code with others, and use it across different projects.
These tools can serve as the infrastructure for building new applications with a simple composition of existing components. Since code is easier than ever to learn and requires less and less specialized knowledge to build, anyone will be able to create their own computer programs in the next few years.
Coding as a practical skill
The significance of all this is not just that programming will be more convenient for developers or even aspiring coding hobbyists. Even more importantly, the availability, accessibility, and increasing popularity of programming means that coding soon will become a mainstream practical skill–one that doesn’t require a university education to acquire.
This is about employability as much as it is about convenience. In the United States, university tuition is notoriously expensive. These days, the cost of private university courses, room, and board can amount to $ 60,000 per year. At the same time, American jobs are increasingly outsourced to countries with cheap labor. The result is that many Americans lack the basic practical skills so important to the American workforce. Instead, they invest in a strictly academic education which, though valuable, is notoriously expensive.
Now that it’s particularly vital for Americans to develop practical skills and now that university education is more expensive than most can afford, widespread knowledge of coding as a basic practical skill is both beneficial and feasible. The gig economy has made modern jobs more fluid and flexible than they were a few decades ago; career shifts and alternative forms of education are not only easier to pursue, but they’re also more culturally acceptable than they once were.
This isn’t to say that self-taught coding should replace traditional forms of higher education. Rather, it’s to say that it could be a viable option for people who can’t afford the high cost of a formal university education, who don’t have access to institutions of higher education at all, or who simply want to eliminate the pressure of having to pursue a degree in a technical field.
Learning to code, after all, is just as inexpensive as it is accessible, and it’s becoming increasingly standard to pursue on the side. In just a few years, building a computer program will be as normal as using one.