A once computer-wary college student explains why this is a must-have skill.
Story by Danielle Castonzo
If you’re not a big fan of computer science, you’ve probably never thought about learning to code. But there are some really good reasons why you—and your younger siblings—need to give it a try.
I get it: The prospect can be intimidating. I remember sitting in my first programming class, the only liberal arts student in the room, nervous to press any key that might bring my simple “Hello World” program to a crashing halt.
True, coding isn’t always easy, and making mistakes is part of the process. But I don’t regret deciding to learn, and neither will you. With code, you can use the computer as a creative outlet, challenge yourself to think in new ways and give yourself an advantage both in the college application process and our tech-driven world. Anyone can learn how to code; it just takes practice.
Here are seven reasons why learning to code in high school (or earlier) is so beneficial:
1. The timing is perfect.
Like most skills, it’s easier to learn how to code when you’re younger. “It’s like learning a new language,” explains Anika Cherla, 15, vice president of the California-based nonprofit Math and Coding. Cherla and her fellow volunteers (all high school students) teach coding to elementary and middle school kids. Coding requires a different way of thinking, Cherla says, and the sooner you’re exposed to it, the better.
2. You might love it.
Even if you’ve never had an interest in coding before, you might surprise yourself. There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be a programmer and what coding actually entails. Sharon Lin, 18, runs BitxBit Camp, a nonprofit that offers coding opportunities for middle school students, and Stuyhacks, a hackathon in New York.
“I didn’t think that I was cut out for computer science,” Lin says. “I loved to write and play the flute and piano, so I thought I was more inclined to become a humanities major. It wasn’t until I was introduced to computer science that I began to see myself in a different light.”
3. It lets you do cool stuff.
Although most people associate programming with algorithms and math, coding is a very creative process. Once you know the basics, you can use code to work on projects like building websites, producing fun animations or designing online games. “Computer science allows anyone with a computer to build almost anything they set their minds to,” Lin says.
4. You’ll get better at finding solutions to challenges.
“Coding allows people to solve any problem in a much more effective fashion,” says Matt Hottell, a professor who runs the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing’s summer camp for high school students.
5. You’ll impress college admissions officers and potential employers.
Coding teaches logical thinking, which is an important skill in any field. “Logical or critical thinking skills are what companies want,” Hottell says. “They don’t care what coding knowledge you have, but they want you to be able to think critically about these problems.”
6. You can use it in whatever career you choose.
Coding is an important skill in any field, not just computer science. Even if you’ve always dreamed of being a doctor or an artist, those professions are dominated by tech tools too. It’s important to understand the science that’s driving the jobs you’re passionate about.
7. It’s empowering.
No matter where you eventually land, there are limitless possibilities for what you can accomplish with technology. Explains Lin: “To someone who was still unsure of her future and her goals, there was nothing more powerful than the understanding that I could do anything.”
Danielle Castonzo is pursuing a bachelor of science degree in informatics and a bachelor of arts degree in journalism at Indiana University.