Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Coding Is Not For Everybody.

Devesh Kumar

Devesh Kumar

Thu Oct 15 2020
6 Min Read

“Yeah, I’ve got her enrolled in a coding class. She’s learning Python now.” Told my aunt about my cousin. It does not sound like a strange thing to hear until you realise my cousin isn’t even in the third grade yet.

I had heard a similar story about my ten-year-old niece just a week earlier. “Her school is starting to teach them Python now. But should I get her enrolled in another course as well?” Asked my sister-in-law. “After all, coding is becoming an essential skill now.”

This trend has been raging all around the world, and especially in India. Online learning services have been flooding the markets, trying to persuade almost a billion people to learn to code. Some even targeting kids as young as seven to learn to code on their platform.

And people have actually been getting on the bandwagon, from plain Programming Classes to Data Science classes to Full Stack Development Classes to AI/ML Classes to Blockchain Intro Courses. Try putting any of those words in a class that you might want to teach and people will rush to you.

That’s great, you may say. And I agree there, these are valuable skills to have and add a lot of value to the world we live in today, but the problem comes when people who don’t want to do it, follow the trend just for the sake of it, or worse, are forced into doing it. Even worse is the case when these people who are forced into this trend are actually kids who have no interest in coding. In this article, I just wanted to highlight a few points all of us should consider regarding this trend and why it’s becoming dangerous.

Coding in itself is insufficient!

People are gullible. A big reason for that, especially where I live is because they have been living in tough conditions for all their lives. If you come up with a scheme for making a handsome amount of money, most won’t take a moment to decide whether the scheme is real or not.

So if you tell a middle class or a lower-income family that they could get rid of all their troubles if their child or they themselves learnt to code and landed a job at a tech company, they will believe you. We are seeing this upward trend of people flocking to coding courses, bootcamps, universities, expensive colleges just to get their hands on the supposedly “essential” skill that is coding.

The problem is that coding is something anyone can learn. No seriously, coding is just syntax, you just have to spend some time learning only one programming language before pretty much any other programming language becomes easy to learn. The problem is most companies are not looking for people who only know how to program, they are looking for people who can apply that knowledge to solve real-world problems, and add value to anything that already exists or better yet, create something new and interesting altogether.

A big problem with coding in classrooms, schools and colleges is that they only teach people how to code. Nothing more! I spent two years of school learning C++, but had I not ventured outside to learn something extra, at the end of those two years I would have had no idea how to build something with it. And this is a trend I see a lot with many other services as well, schools are teaching kids how to code, and leaving the part where they actually have to apply it to build something interesting.

Huge Demand Today does not mean Unlimited Demand Forever!

It seems clear that most parents want their kids to learn to code for either of the following 4 reasons:

  1. Someone else’s kid is learning it too.
  2. Someone else’s kid is learning it too.
  3. Someone else’s kid is learning it too, and their parents said it’s necessary because coding is supposedly going to be the “essential” skill for this century.
  4. Someone else’s kid is learning it too, and the career prospects for people who code seem very rosy (As they have been for the past two decades!)

Have a close look at the last line of the fourth point. Two decades is a very very long time. Don’t get me wrong, Computer Scientists and Programmers are paid handsomely for their skillsets, but there is always going to be a roof for the demand for programmers.

The fundamental rule of economics says that if there is a job very lucrative, people will flood to specialize in that job, which is of course what we are seeing today. But the moment supply outpaces demand, the wages fall back to average or even sub-par if the trend does not stop in time. We are kind of already seeing that companies have been lowering wages for quite some time now for new programmers, primarily because there are just so many available now. If one doesn’t do the work for a specific amount, someone else more desperate for a job will.

It is not an “essential” skill!

Ah, that statement.

“Coding is an essential skill in today’s world.” — Every Programming Class advertisement in the world.

It is used everywhere, but interestingly enough I don’t remember someone dying of not knowing how to code or not being able to put food on the table because they couldn’t write a for loop.

And guess what, that statement is not the only one.

“Coding is the most in-demand skill for the twenty-first century.” “Tomorrow’s wars are going to be fought with technology, so learn to code today.”

Today’s wars are fought with guns, but I haven’t even touched one yet, neither do I plan to anytime soon. Yet again, coding is not sufficient to win you wars anytime soon anyway.

There is a thing called “Specialization” and another called “Talent”.

Ask a person who is talented in carpentry to play the guitar and you will see what I’m talking about. Similarly, ask a person who has a talent in music to write a program that makes a web app progressive, they might be able to do it considering they might be learning it, but would they like it? The answer is it depends whether they like to program or not.

Most people who are talented in something choose to pursue another field of study primarily because the other field provides great career opportunities and lucrative jobs, which is fine, but what’s the point of an existence where you aren’t really doing what you like?

Surgeons are paid 10 times as much as programmers in their entry-level positions in the area I live, but should everyone become a surgeon? No.

Similarly, should everyone become a programmer? No. I am a firm believer in the fact that something that requires specialization should be done only by people who genuinely like doing that. How do you know what you like? By trying to do lots of things. If a child is being forced to take a coding class they do not like, there’s a problem. If a child loves whatever they are learning from those classes, congrats, you just have a child who found out something they like and already has a headstart.

Even then, I believe that coding is an activity in logic building, it’s very valuable but not something that is supposed to be exposed to a majority of children at extremely young ages such as eight or nine.

Coding is a great skill to have, it makes you understand a lot about how things tend to work on the web, on your phone, wherever you use technology. But at the end of the day, it’s just that, a valuable skill. People should only code if they like to, and there is no shame in admitting that they don’t like it. Just the way not everyone reads books, not everyone should code.

I wrote my first program at the age of eleven. Did I do it because my friends were doing it? Did I do it because my parents forced me to do it? Did I do it because I saw great career prospects in it? Answer to all that is no. I did it only because I felt inclined towards it, no one forced me to do it, I stumbled upon coding by my own curiosity. I knew at the first run of that program that this was something special to me and I have stuck to it ever since.

I feel that a lot of people today are missing the difference between valuable and essential.