Last month’s Wired magazine featured a cover story entitled, “The End of Code.” Its thesis is that machine learning and neural networks will eventually obviate the need for programmers to write code. While it is an interesting thought, we are far from that situation actually happening anytime soon. Rather than seeing the end of coding, I think we are just at the beginning of a new era where coding and business-led app building is becoming more plentiful and exploding. This is the era of the citizen developer who has to carry the water for the rest of the world, or at least take some of the weight off of the professional developer to focus on more critical coding needs.
The issue isn’t whether any of us will or won’t code, but how we can do a better job with the coding tools and low-code platforms that we have at our disposal. And part of the challenge here is in understanding enough of the way programmers think and interact with their software and machines.
Look at all the apps developed in QuickBase as a good starting point: hundreds if not thousands on dozens of different broad topics. If we move into other ecosystems the numbers are similar. Today people aren’t just coding, they are sharing their code or low-code business applications with others to freely modify and improve their work and extend software that they already use. No matter whether it is QuickBase or something else, you should look through these examples carefully, with an eye towards what you can repurpose for your own needs: if you are lucky, you might find an app that is close to what you actually need.
So how can someone who isn’t from an IT background get better at coding, or writing these applications and add-on programs? Luckily, we live in a world where there are literally hundreds of different opportunities to learn. And many of them are free or nearly so.
This is the genesis behind what Scott Friedman, UCLA’s chief technologist for research computing, is doing. He teaches the Talk Like a Programmer classes at the Bay Area’s General Assembly, a learning community that offers numerous other classes. You won’t be able to code after taking his class, but you will be able to frame your issues in a way that a coder can understand and act on. This can build your own confidence so you can better communicate with your professional developers, if you have them.
There are lots of other opportunities that your citizen brigade can learn about coding or meet other digitally-savvy professionals who build applications themselves without writing a line of code. For example, you can start with the Meetup website, which has a collection of several hundred coding groups around the world. One of these meetups could be a useful resource to make in-person connections and work on collaborative projects, or just get you started in understanding if coding is the right direction for your own professional needs.
A step up from this is Mozilla’s Web Literacy classes, which help teach introductory online skills in short bursts. Going further are W3Schools and CodeAcademy. Both of them have self-paced general computer science training in classes such as making a website, understanding APIs, and learning SQL programming. Both have probably the most thorough instruction if your needs fit into their different course offerings.
If you want to investigate fee-based instruction, Lynda.com (now owned by LinkedIn), has more than 1,000 technology-based classes available for $20/month. There is a free 10 day trial to see exactly what offerings are available.
At the top end are online computer programming classes from the world’s major universities that are cataloged here on Learning Advisor.
Before you consider any online class, think about your own learning style: whether you need more tactile experiences or visual or audio cues, and how any of these courses will work with your learning regimens. Look at what else comes with the instruction and how they combine their lectures with homework, programming assignments and hands-on labs. See how the course provider weaves these various elements around the video lecture window and don’t be afraid to try out several online environments before you find the one that fits your particular interests and learning style. Also, you might need a local support group (such as what the meetups offer) to see how others approach the homework assignments or where you can get face-to-face help or motivation.
Understand that there are many paths towards coding and building business applications without writing code, and one of these providers should be able to help you find your inner "coder."