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I didn't intend for Please Don't Learn to Code to be so controversial, but it seemed to strike a nerve. Apparently a significant percentage of readers stopped reading at the title.

So I will open with my own story. I think you'll find it instructive.

My mom once told me that the only reason she dated my father is because her mother told her to stay away from that boy, he's a bad influence.

If she had, I would not exist.

True story, folks.

I'd argue that the people who need to learn to code will be spurred on most of all by honesty, not religious faith in the truthiness of code as a universal good. Go in knowing both sides of the story, because there are no silver bullets in code. If, after hearing both the pros and cons, you still want to learn to code, then by all means learn to code. If you're so easily dissuaded by hearing a few downsides to coding, there are plenty of other things you could spend your time learning that are more unambiguously useful and practical. Per Michael Lopp, you could learn to be a better communicator. Per Gina Trapani, you could learn how to propose better solutions. Slinging code is just a tiny part of the overall solution in my experience. Why optimize for that?

On the earliest computers, everyone had to be a programmer because there was no software. If you wanted the computer to do anything, you wrote code. Computers in the not so distant past booted directly to the friendly blinking cursor of a BASIC interpreter. I view the entire arc of software development as a field where we programmers spend our lives writing code so that our fellow human beings no longer need to write code (or even worse, become programmers) to get things done with computers. So this idea that "everyone must know how to code" is, to me, going backwards.

Grace-hopper-and-the-univac

I fully support a push for basic Internet literacy. But in order to be a competent driver, does everyone need to know, in detail, how their automobile works? Must we teach all human beings the basics of being an auto mechanic, and elevate shop class to the same level as English and Mathematics classes? Isn't knowing how to change a tire, and when to take your car in for an oil change, sufficient? If your toilet is clogged, you shouldn't need to take a two week in depth plumbing course on toiletcademy.com to understand how to fix that. Reading a single web page, just in time, should be more than adequate.

What is code, in the most abstract sense?

code (kōd) …

    1. A system of signals used to represent letters or numbers in transmitting messages.
    2. A system of symbols, letters, or words given certain arbitrary meanings, used for transmitting messages requiring secrecy or brevity.
  1. A system of symbols and rules used to represent instructions to a computer…

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Is it punchcards? Remote terminals? Emacs? Textmate? Eclipse? Visual Studio? C? Ruby? JavaScript? In the 1920s, it was considered important to learn how to use slide rules. In the 1960s, it was considered important to learn mechanical drawing. None of that matters today. I'm hesitant to recommend any particular approach to coding other than the fundamentals as outlined in Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, because I'm not sure we'll even recognize coding in the next 20 or 30 years. To kids today, perhaps coding will eventually resemble Minecraft, or building levels in Portal 2.

But everyone should try writing a little code, because it somehow sharpens the mind, right? Maybe in the same abstract way that reading the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica from beginning to end does. Honestly, I'd prefer that people spend their time discovering what problems they love and find interesting, first, and researching the hell out of those problems. The toughest thing in life is not learning a bunch of potentially hypothetically useful stuff, but figuring out what the heck it is you want to do. If said research and exploration leads to coding, then by all means learn to code with my blessing … which is worth exactly what it sounds like, nothing.

So, no, I don't advocate learning to code for the sake of learning to code. What I advocate is shamelessly following your joy. For example, I received the following email yesterday.

I am a 45 year old attorney/C.P.A. attempting to abandon my solo law practice as soon as humanly possible and strike out in search of my next vocation. I am actually paying someone to help me do this and, as a first step in the "find yourself" process, I was told to look back over my long and winding career and identify those times in my professional life when I was doing something I truly enjoyed.

Coming of age as an accountant during the PC revolution (when I started my first "real" job at Arthur Andersen we were still billing clients to update depreciation schedules manually), I spend a lot of time learning how to make computers, printers, and software (VisiCalc anyone?) work. This quasi-technical aspect of my work reached its apex when I was hired as a healthcare financial analyst for a large hospital system. When I arrived for my first day of work in that job, I learned that my predecessor had bequeathed me only a one page static Excel spreadsheet that purported to "analyze" a multi-million dollar managed care contract for a seven hospital health system. I proceeded to build my own spreadsheet but quickly exceeded the database functional capacity of Excel and had to teach myself Access and thereafter proceeded to stretch the envelope of Access' spreadsheet capabilities to their utmost capacity – I had to retrieve hundreds of thousands of patient records and then perform pro forma calculations on them to see if the proposed contracts would result in more or less payment given identical utilization.

I will be the first to admit that I was not coding in any professional sense of the word. I did manage to make Access do things that MS technical support told me it could not do but I was still simply using very basic commands to bend an existing application to my will. The one thing I do remember was being happy. I typed infinitely nested commands into formula cells for twelve to fourteen hours a day and was still disappointed when I had to stop.

My experience in building that monster and making it run was, to date, my most satisfying professional accomplishment, despite going on to later become CFO of another healthcare facility, a feat that should have fulfilled all of my professional ambitions at that time. More than just the work, however, was the group of like-minded analysts and IT folks with whom I became associated as I tried, failed, tried, debugged, and continued building this behemoth of a database. I learned about Easter Eggs and coding lore and found myself hacking into areas of the hospital mainframe which were completely offlimits to someone of my paygrade. And yet, I kept pursuing my "professional goals" and ended up in jobs/careers I hated doing work I loathed.

Here's a person who a) found an interesting problem, b) attempted to create a solution to the problem, which naturally c) led them to learning to code. And they loved it. This is how it's supposed to work. I didn't become a programmer because someone told me learning to code was important, I became a programmer because I wanted to change the rules of the video games I was playing, and learning to code was the only way to do that. Along the way, I too fell in love.

All that to say that as I stand at the crossroads once more, I still hear the siren song of those halcyon days of quasi-coding during which I enjoyed my work. My question for you is whether you think it is even possible for someone of my vintage to learn to code to a level that I could be hired as a programmer. I am not trying to do this on the side while running the city of New York as a day job. Rather, I sincerely and completely want to become a bona fide programmer and spend my days creating (and/or debugging) something of value.

Unfortunately, calling yourself a "programmer" can be a career-limiting move, particularly for someone who was a CFO in a previous career. People who work with money tend to make a lot of money; see Wall Street.

But this isn't about money, is it? It's about love. So, if you want to be a programmer, all you need to do is follow your joy and fall in love with code. Any programmer worth their salt immediately recognizes a fellow true believer, a person as madly in love with code as they are, warts and all. Welcome to the tribe.

And if you're reading this and thinking, "screw this Jeff Atwood guy, who is he to tell me whether I should learn to code or not", all I can say is: good! That's the spirit!

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An anonymous reader writes "17-year-old Angeloa Zhang was recently awarded the $100,000 Grand Prize in the Individual category of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. Her project was entitled 'Design of Image-guided, Photo-thermal Controlled Drug Releasing Multifunctional Nanosystem for the Treatment of Cancer Stem Cells.' The creation is the so-called 'Swiss army knife of cancer treatment,' which allows a nanoparticle to be delivered to a tumor where it proceeds to kills cancer stem cells."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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I spent the past week in Prague where I was working on the World Forum on Governance.  Away from my books and art materials, I resigned myself to skipping this week's post.

However, the cultural attache at the embassy shared with me the happy news that Alphonse Mucha's masterpiece, the Slav Epic, will go on display in Prague next year, just 84 years after Mucha donated it to the city.

For those who only know Mucha for his art nouveau posters, the Slav Epic was Mucha's most important and meaningful work: 20 huge patriotic murals of key moments from the history of the Slavic people.

Mucha posing in front of two of his murals
In times of trouble and uncertainty, Mucha "wanted to talk in my own way to the soul of the nation," reminding them of their proud heritage and the heroism and sacrifice of their ancestors.

The origin of the Slavic homeland around 200 - 300 AD: peaceful Slav farmers flee invading Goths (seen galloping away from the burning village with their loot).  As the young Adam and Eve of the Slavs escape, a holy man with outstretched arms implores the gods for mercy.
Mucha's reference photo for the holy man
"The Celebration of Svantovit: When Gods Are At War, Salvation Is In The Arts."  The earliest Slavic center of civilization from 700-900 AD was centered around the shrine of Svantovit (later destroyed by Danish warriors in the 12th century)  The Introduction of the Slavonic Liturgy: Praise The Lord in Your Native Tongue 
"After the Battle of Grunwald: The Solidarity of the Northern Slavs." Here we see the first great defeat of the previously invincible Teutonic Knights, demonstrating the rising power of the Slavic empire. "After the Battle of Vitkov: God Represents Truth, Not Power"
"Peter Chelcicky at Vodnany: Do Not Repay Evil With Evil." A famous Slavic pacifist implores the victims of a Hussite raid not to become too caught up in revenge.  "The Defense of Sziget by Nikola Zrinski: The Shield of Christendom"
Mucha presented his murals to the city of Prague in 1928, but some criticized them as old fashioned and nationalistic.  By 1933 the canvases were rolled up and placed in storage, and Mucha's hopes for his native land seemed farther and farther away.  In 1939 the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia and the gestapo arrested the aging artist.  He died shortly after his release.  The Slav Epic murals were stored away in a basement that flooded, damaging the paintings.  After many years, the canvases were retrieved and restored, and were put on display in 1968 in southern Moravia.  In 2012, these lovely works will return to Prague where they will be displayed with the honor and dignity they deserve.

"The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia: Work in Freedom is the Foundation of a State"
I think Mucha's accomplishment was an act of courage comparable to the accomplishments he was celebrating.  He put aside his commercially successful decorative art to make a lasting statement about the spirit of his country. He originally planned to make each painting approximately 20' x 26' but war, political repression and economic hardship repeatedly forced him to change his plans.  After his first few paintings, the Belgian factory which manufactured the oversized linen was occupied by the German army and converted to military use.  Mucha switched to painting on sailcloth from Scotland, and later was forced to reduce the size of the last murals.  Still, he persisted.  The Czech avant garde artistic community ridiculed his work as a "monstrosity of spurious artistic and allegorical pathos which, if exhibited permanently could harm the taste of the public."  His murals were nearly confiscated during World War I for their "Czech patriotic content" and he made plans to bury them in the woods to protect them.  The work was frowned upon by Nazis in World War II and by communist occupiers in the postwar era. 

Time and again, Mucha was presented with obstacles but he persisted and left behind an important work of art.

"Jan Amos Komensky: A Flicker of Hope."  A religious exile dies in his chair by the sea, looking out at eternity and thinking about returning to his beloved homeland.


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I have actually been to the location in the photograph above by Kevin Kunstadt and he somehow captured the entire mood and aura invoked by that place. The same can be said for all the rest of the images in his book.

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Chinese illustrator Qian Yi is generating some downright beautiful digital and traditional paintings at a rate that belies a serious talent not just as a digital artist or illustrator but a contemporary one.

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There are some quiet and contemplative moments happening in the Flickrstream of ‘Shtroxy‘. They are like little snippets from past memories or dreams. Some of them are light and some are dark. She has a great eye for composition and I would be curious is these are staged or just captured on the fly.

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This is the oficial video for Matta’s recent single release titled ‘Release The Freq” off the forthcoming album ‘Prototype’. Direction, Design, Cinematography, Editing, 3D & Animation by Kim Holm.

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