The Importance of Learning to Code

Nearly all of my time as a private tutor has been spent helping students to master math and physics so those subjects are the ones I have mentioned most often in this blog. Today I must digress slightly.

Among those who do it, the act of writing computer programs is commonly referred to as coding. In the video above from Code.org, some of the very biggest names in the world of software make the case for why someone might want to learn to code.

What does any of this have to do with my role as a math and physics tutor? Several things. Before becoming a tutor, I spent more than two decades as a software developer, even though my university degrees are in astronomy and geophysics. One of the parts of the video I like best is where Makinde says that coding is about breaking down problems. To that I would add that it is also about solving those problems by manipulating symbols. Both of those skills are what students learn while studying finite math, calculus, and physics. It should come as no surprise that math courses are mandatory for anyone seeking a degree in computer science.

The relationship also works the other way. It may now be impossible to find a university degree program in science or engineering that does not require at least an introductory computer programming course. Situations in which one must write one’s own programs are almost inevitable on many technical career paths. My first real full-time job was as a geophysicist. Within a week or two I found myself coding and that was when the world was much less dependent on software than it is today.

To many people, this dependence is more than a little disturbing. A distressingly small fraction of the population actually understands how software works. If writing some programs were a routine part of everyone’s education, common perceptions of wizardry and sorcery might be replaced by more realistic views and expectations of software and its creators.

The only fault I can find with the video is the extent to which it portrays professional software development as play. Most employers do not provide laundry services or free food or have people riding scooters between cubicles. I try to keep this web site focused on math, physics, and tutoring but anyone who is interested can contact me for a link to some hilarious videos representing an alternative view of software development work.

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