“Program or be Programmed”

This past winter break, I decided to enroll online in a basic computer programing and coding course. I had two main reasons for taking the class. The first was something that my dad kept telling me, that the inability to code is becoming more and more of a blemish on the resume’s of potential employees. Growing up in Silicon Valley, I can confirm that the non-coders are a dying breed. It seems that virtually everyone has some basic understanding of this strange computer-science world, and those who do not are simply behind.

When I was in elementary school, we would participate in the online program called Type-to-Learn. It was designed to teach kids to type faster, and prizes were awarded to those who learned to type with two hands instead of with their index fingers. This was the skill-set necessary to navigate the world of computers in the early 2000’s. Today, I hear kids are instead taking coding classes beginning in 2nd and 3rd grade. The bar has been raised. It is no longer good enough to type quickly. The kids must instead reach an understanding of the digital world they are growing up in.

This was the second reason I wanted to take the coding course over winter break. I am a control freak, yet I have for so long allowed myself to accept that the web was something I was not going to understand. Finally, I felt the need to get a basic idea of what goes into the digital processes I use every day from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. And, what did I find? That the digital world is so much more complex than I could have even imagined, and I’ll never have the expertise to fully understand whats going on here. Weinberger says, “we need experts to go through information, ideas, and knowledge and put them neatly away.” So, the ‘experts’ have an important job. They are making decisions that impact my life every single day, and right now it seems I have no choice but to trust them.

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2 Responses to “Program or be Programmed”

  1. Nicole Martin says:

    Hi, Annie!

    The statement which inspired your piece–“program or be programmed”–stood out to me as well, but for a slightly different reason: fear. Unlike you, I’ve never taken a computer course and am hesitant to admit that I have a nearly nonexistent understanding of the code which runs my digital life. For years now I’ve heard the same stories of elementary school students sitting down behind laptops and learning coding rather than shaping their letters to fit within dotted lines on manila paper. And yet, I’ve taken no action to learn technological skills myself, ignorantly believing that the future will permit me to continue writing on the platforms developed by others without ever having to peek behind the coded curtain. The explicit threat in the quote which you selected for your title makes me realize the faultiness of that stance as it suggests that programming abilities aren’t just useful but necessary, and, in a more sinister way, that lacking these skills make you susceptible to manipulation by technologically literate individuals. This concept of manipulation connects with my own post for this week, in which I focused on the alarming capacity of brainwashing found in search engines (but also, as hinted at by this quote, other forms of programs, as well). As you state in your final sentence, without a full understanding of coding, we are at the mercy of those who create the programs which we use. Suddenly, I have the urge to follow your lead and enroll in a class to become more tech savvy!

    I enjoyed reading your post!


  2. Zachary Hughes says:

    Annie, kudos on taking the plunge into the world of coding. As I read your post, I reflected back on when I first started learning how to program and how to “think like a computer.” For my first introductory course, we used the Java programming language and had to complete one programming assignment each week that correlated with the assigned chapter for that week. That entire semester was bewildering and at times, I questioned my goal of majoring in Computer Science – sometimes thinking that I maybe wasn’t cut out for it. But then, as I completed the assignments week in and week out, my brain started recognizing the patterns and syntax of the language and problems that were once difficult became easier and soon became second nature
    I hit that point after my second semester and this is when programming became fun. It takes lots of focus and effort to get past that initial sense of confusion when learning something foreign, but once you get past it and can “see through the mist”, you become more powerful in what you can accomplish and a much more logical-thinking person.
    However, I do wish that I would have thought or been given an opportunity to start diving into the world of programming in elementary school, like the kids you mentioned in your post. I am very interested to see how the world will change once a greater percentage of people can build things using programming languages and digital logic.

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