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Why Learn to Code Now? And How? We Asked 7 Experts

Intrigued by coding and computer science, but don’t know where to start? We turned to seven industry and academic experts in fields from cybersecurity to cloud computing to learn how code-curious learners can begin exploring skills and career paths and why now is a great time to get into coding.

Explore coding courses and programs taught by faculty featured in this post and more.

Why Learn to Code Now?

We live in a computerized world

“A lot of the strengths of getting into coding right now are pretty obvious—the world is increasingly computerized, demand for the skills is still on the rise, and the technology changes so fast that even if you’re behind now, you won’t stay behind for long because everyone has to keep learning,” said David Joyner, PhD, executive director of online education and OMSCS for the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and instructor for several courses and programs on edX, such as Computing in Python I: Fundamentals and Procedural Programming.

“We just had a brilliant demonstration of how digital technology helped to overcome economic disruption in many areas. Even though 30 years old, the Web is the winner platform with existing Web technologies in action, making it possible to communicate, buy/sell, learn, etc. So, more than ever, people need to either acquire or keep up Web programming skills. Coding for the Web is easy and very often leads to satisfying and fun experiences. W3Cx MOOCs give the right keys to master the foundational Web languages. With the advent of machine learning, smart things and more, there is an unexplored world of future Web applications and usages to create and play with. As a woman in tech, I especially encourage girls to embrace these Web skillsets!” said W3C Head of Training Marie-Claire Forgue, who developed the W3Cx MOOC program in partnership with edX, where Web developers worldwide can learn front-end Web development techniques using W3C Web standards.

Read Forgue’s post about why front-end web developers are one of today’s hottest jobs.

Computational thinking is a valuable cross-discipline skill

“Computational thinking is becoming a critical skill in almost all disciplines. Coding is a good way to train people in computational thinking. Thus, you can see that in many countries and regions, including Hong Kong, we start to teach primary (elementary) and high school students coding and try to equip them with skills in computational thinking,” said Dr. Siu Ming Yiu, a professor in the University of Hong Kong’s computer science department and the lead instructor for the course Blockchain and FinTech: Basics, Applications, and Limitations, part of HKUx’s FinTech Professional Certificate program.

Coding is essential in fields like information technology, cybersecurity, and fintech

“Coding will always be an integral part of the IT profession. Coding has paved the way for the development of large systems and infrastructures and has contributed to technological advances in Cloud Computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Every system requires software to run and software is developed by coders. Coding skills are relevant in all aspects of IT, from system development to system configuration/implementation and usage,” said Dr. Patrick Appiah-Kubi, program director and associate professor in Cloud Computing Architecture at the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC).

“The devastating impact of the global health crisis on virtually every industry has been a wake-up call for business leaders, who realize that they are ill-equipped to address the demands of remote environments and systems that can support their operations. Many executives also realize the cyber insecurity of employees working remotely. This has opened up an opportunity for companies to increase their coding skill force to address some of these challenges,” Appiah-Kubi said.

“Speed kills and good coding speeds up the kill chain. Offensively, coding make attacks and exploits faster and more effective. Defensively, cybersecurity professionals need strong coding skills to keep up with the adversary’s custom coded exploits and to automate their own defenses,” said Dr. John S. Galliano, program director for Cybersecurity Technology at UGMC

“Today, digital financial transformation is being driven to new levels by the COVID-19 pandemic. Going forward, technology will play an ever more central role in the future evolution of finance, with huge opportunities and challenges for people and financial regulators across the world. For me, among the most exciting developments center around central bank digital currencies – CBDCs, such as China’s Digital Yuan project or proposals for a Digital Dollar. These meld money and technology together and will underpin revolutions in global finance going forward,” said Douglas Arner, director of the Asian Institute of International Financial Law at the University of Hong Kong and instructor for HKUx’s Introduction to FinTech course.

You can code from home

“Especially in this age of social distancing, coding is a job you can do from home. Lots of organizations, such as Mozilla, have almost entirely distributed workforces. Just like online education means you no longer have to move to continue your education, coding skills means you may not have to move for a new job,” Joyner said.

Where Should You Start? Learning Python and Building Breadth

Starting with Python

“For beginners, I would suggest Python (or similar scripting languages) to start with. It is an easy language to pick up, highly productive, and also is useful in many practical situations such as data analysis,” Dr. Yiu said.

“I teach and highly suggest that new coders use Python and its associated packages. In my mind, there is no comparison in terms of online documentation, user community, ease-of-learning, and general capabilities of Python. I also suggest data science-focused learners to pick up the R language in parallel as it provides encapsulated libraries that aren’t always available in Python,” said Dr. Clayton Miller, assistant professor for the School of Design and Environment’s Department of Building at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and instructor for the NUS edX course Data Science for Construction, Architecture and Engineering.

The value of becoming a generalist

“The fundamental skill of coding is mastering the logical reasoning and flow of the software and not the coding language that is being used. Novice coders can start with a basic language, such as Python, or Java for an intermediate coder, to develop their skills and go on to learn other programming languages. Knowing multiple languages is beneficial because all cloud-based systems today use multi-language integrations in a single functional system,” said Dr. Appiah-Kubi.

“As with probably any subject, computing gives you the choice of breadth vs. depth. You can go deep and specialize very heavily in one in-demand field, such as data science, web development, or artificial intelligence, or you can go broad and seek to be more of a generalist, dabbling in a little bit of each. Personally, I think it’s prudent to go for the latter: do a little bit of everything. I say that because the beauty of computing is that the field is changing so fast that even if you specialize, you’re going to have to continue learning within that domain to stay current. By going broad, you lay a foundation to go deep wherever you need to whenever you need to, knowing that the materials will likely be available to do so. You want to set yourself up for future learning, and the best way to do that is to lay a broad foundation,” Joyner said.

Learn From These Instructors and More on edX

Whether you’re just getting started or have been coding for years, there’s always something new to learn on edX. Explore coding classes and programs taught by the professionals and instructors featured in this post and more.

“Learning to code is best done using your own data or objective. Having downtime or a disruption to your usual flow might give you a chance to go back and grab some objective or data that is part of your industry and apply data science skills to it! There are so many available online sources to help troubleshoot and edX provides the framework for learning new coding skills,” Dr. Miller said.

Keep Reading

Is learning to code worth it? Whether you’re already working in software engineering full-time or learning to program for the first time, learn more about how coding skills can translate to valuable real-world problem solving in careers of all kinds. Browse a few excerpts from other coding-related articles.

The 4 Most Lucrative Programming Skills You Can Learn Online

Programming jobs are as hot as ever and there is no end in sight. If you are looking for a secure job with the flexibility to work online from anywhere, software development is the way to go. One of the best things about the field of computer programming is that the most popular programming languages can be found with a quick Google search and can be learned online for free. Introductory programming courses are available for learning Java, Python, Perl, Ruby, C++, HTML, PHP, CSS, and pretty much everything else. In addition to free online courses, there are hosts of websites dedicated to teaching you in-demand programming languages. Basic programming knowledge can help you build a path to a multitude of career paths — web development, game development, machine learning, data science, and more. To add top programming skills to your resume, all you need is a computer, some dedicated time, and the desire to learn.

Advice From an IBM Data Scientist: Start With Python and You’ll Go Far

Across industries, data scientists are bringing buzzwords to life: artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, data visualization. Behind the buzzwords are software skills like Python, R, SQL, CSS, and Javascript. The list goes on and can sound intimidating, but getting started is more approachable than ever and the value of foundational, entry-level data science skills is taking off.

Software Engineers: What They Do and How to Become One

Groundbreaking technology is only groundbreaking for so long. New is constantly replacing old, as demand for growth is constant. Both individuals and organizations look to utilize the latest technology, in turn creating demand for software engineers who make many of these advancements possible. Think about the last time you used Excel Online, Photoshop, iTunes, or even Google Chrome. They were all constructed by software engineers. Operating systems, database management systems and computer games are also created by software engineers – and those are just a few examples.