Why The Simple Advice “Learn To Code” Is Dangerous

Mon, Feb 17, 2020

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When job-seekers turn to the internet for advice on how to get a job, one phrase pops up over and over:

“Learn to code.”

And as far as advice goes, you could definitely get worse. Learning to code certainly isn’t a bad thing for anyone. Each time you add a skill to your repertoire, new opportunities open up. Everyone can benefit from learning a basic coding language.

However, it’s important to remember that coding is a form of language. There are a ton of different languages that fall under the umbrella of “coding.” Python, Java, C++, Ruby, PHP—the list goes on and on.

So, telling someone to learn to code is directionally accurate, but it’s not that helpful.

If you told someone, “Go learn a new language,” they’d probably have a few questions for you.

“What language? Why? What can I do with that? How should I market it once I’m fluent? Is the language all I need to know? Or should I understand the culture and context surrounding it?”

The problem is that a lot of these questions aren’t being asked right now. “Learn to code” has simply become advice that’s trending. And it’s never a great idea to do something just because it’s a trend.

Let’s explore why this advice is so common:

1. Coding is in demand, and becoming a more standard skill.

The “learn to code” craze began for a good reason: there are basic coding skills anyone can learn that will qualify them for a wider range of jobs.

For example, it isn’t difficult to learn SQL, and it’s becoming a basic skill for a wide range of jobs—even in traditionally less technical industries like marketing. If SQL keeps popping up in the qualifications section of descriptions for jobs you really want, that should tell you something. It’s no longer a “nice-to-have.” It’s a “must-have.”

So, it makes sense that when people ask what they need to do to get a job, “Learn to code,” is one of the top responses.

What they’re really saying is, “Learn a new skill that will open up a wider range of opportunities for you.”

2. Bootcamps are en vogue.

Boot camps are another driver of the coding phenomenon. And while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend every bootcamp, they are popular for a reason. They provide a marketable skill much faster and for much less money than a four-year college.

The issue with a lot of these bootcamps is that they’ve taken the “learn to code” ethos to heart. Graduates are often taught how to code, but not much else. They’re told it’s a pathway to a web developer job, but they’re not told about any of the other skills they’ll need to get one of those jobs.

Good coders don’t just code. They think about the bigger picture. They don’t just get a project and start working. They think about what environment it needs to live in. How it has to be sustained. What dependencies it has.

So you can’t just learn the language—you have to also learn how to apply it.

The Dangers of Simply “Learning to Code”

This lack of holistic understanding is a reason why I hear from employers that boot camp graduates are struggling to pass their technical interviews. They were never trained on how to demonstrate their skills and think critically.

The problem isn’t that they don’t know how to code. The problem is that’sallthey know how to do.

We need to take a more holistic approach to coding and careers in general.

I’m not against learning to code, by any means. Learning a new skill, especially one that excites you, is always a good thing.

I am against the way this dream of coding is being sold. Coding is not a silver bullet that will get you a job as soon as you become proficient in a language or two. You still need all the other skills that allow you to thrive, like being able to think critically, problem solve, and consider the long-term consequences of a project.

Instead of seeing coding as a cure-all for your career problems, I would advocate for a more holistic approach.

First, look at what you’re already good at. What do you like to do? Where do your interests lie? Is there a way to apply a coding language in those areas? If there is, then start by learning a basic language and see if you enjoy it. If you do, you’ll probably enjoy going deeper.

Web Developer isn’t the only career path available for people who know how to code. You’ll be much happier in the long run if you spend time figuring out what resonates with you and using a coding language to get a job in that field.

So yes, learn to code, but always have a sense of how it will serve you in your career and use that as your guiding light.

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If you’re wondering how to find work that resonates with you, then feel free to schedule a chat with Edvo.


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