Learn to X

One of the rules I have when I consider writing a piece for Kickingbear is that it must be, to my mind, something contrary or a worthwhile addition to the discussion. There are many fantastic writers out there covering the same topics, their thoughts and conclusions most often align with my own. I decided that I didn’t want to say, “me too”. I thought that if I was going to take the time to write a piece here that it’d be at least something new, or probably contrarian. (Though sometimes I cave to being a jackass).

I find myself in disagreement with two terrific friends of mine. Both have been incredibly supportive of me as I came up in this community and both were gracious enough to speak at the Çingleton event I helped organized a few months ago. Brent and Daniel are good friends, good people and landed Mac gentry. So, let’s skewer them.

Jalkut wrote this piece, Learn to Code. Read it, it’s well worth your time. Simmons linked to Jalkut’s piece adding this, “I’m reminded of Matt Mullenweg saying ‘Scripting is the new literacy.’ Matt’s right.”

I appreciate where they’re coming from. I can, from a certain perspective, agree with the argument. But, let’s not kid ourselves, literacy is the new literacy. The ability to read, comprehend, digest and come to rational conclusions — that’s what we need more of. We don’t, as a society, need more people who have the mechanical knowledge to turn RSS feeds into Twitter spam. We don’t need anything more posted to Facebook, we don’t need anything we photograph to appear on Instagram and Flickr. If “scripting” is the new literacy then we’ve failed. We’ve become Mario drowning on a Water Level.

Scripting isn’t the new literacy, it’s the new tinkering with the engine, the new re-wiring the house. The new DIY for the digital age. These sorts of skills are incredibly valuable, but they’re not now, and certainly won’t be in the future, anything close to being an art form that stirs our souls.

That’s what literature does — it communicates to humans by leveraging our understanding of words and our grasp of narrative. And, sometimes, it mixes them all up but we still get value from it. That’s not how writing code works. Writing code is a craft, we build upon the capabilities of the compiler, the libraries and the hardware. We don’t have the freedom to innovate, as an author would, unless we control the whole stack. And we don’t. We swim upon a shallow surface, we perform what amounts to an act of synchronized swimming. At times it’s beautiful, but we’re in a pool, and we can’t control how wide or deep it is.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late. I’ll say to you — don’t Learn To Code, just Learn. Whatever it is you’re good at, whatever it is that calls to you — do that. And do it again and again and again and again.

Learn to X.

Code. Write. Draw. Build. Design. Bitch. Moan. Complain.

Learn to do it well.

Writing software is a craft. I’m quite good at it. Brent and Jalkut are also very successful at our craft. But it’s a craft. It’s something we’re really good at but, in my opinion, it’s not something that everyone needs to care about.

So, don’t Learn To Code, go and learn something I don’t know anything about and go and do it incredibly well. If you’re brilliant and new then I’m dying to see what you can do.

If you really would like to learn how to program then Code Year seems to be amazing. I’ve been volunteering for over fifteen years to help train people who want to become programmers. I believe in teaching people how computers work. I don’t believe it matters much more than wood-shop.