Yeah, I’m learning to code, rapidly nearing the big four-zero. If that seems a daft combination, that’s because it is. But don’t laugh, and I’m certainly not. It’s hard, man. I’m still getting to grips with what integers, strings, floats, Boolean, loops, and if statements are, how and when to assign values, use the break, continue and exception handling functions, and the general syntax and indentations. And I had other questions – just what the fuck is a Json file? That I even know what these terms mean now is progress, and only a month in I find myself more engaged and invested in learning Python than I initially suspected.
The older I get, the more episodes of portentous self-reflection I experience, and so I’ve been questioning whether my motivations for learning to code are benign, or oriented by a professional cynicism. As with any kind of motivation, its true genesis is a confluence of pragmatism, vanity and hedonism.
The first motivation that comes to mind is financial – I’ve paid £230 for a yearly subscription to Pluralsight. So I’ve got get my money’s worth. Despite the incentive of trying not to waste money (a pet peeve of mine), it would be preferable if learning to code was generated by curiosity or passion in the subject. It only piqued my intrigue when I discovered that various software related professions; be it web development and internet security, to name two, are projected to suffer from a shortage of skilled labour.
Let’s all agree as to why that is: despite the geek chic phenotype becoming a fashion statement for hypters, the reality beyond the Big Bang Theory is grim. You’re sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. No matter what you’re doing, even if that task is elaborate and requires a specific level of expertise, it often feels mentally and physically dismal, especially if you’re doing something repetitive. Learning to code and understand it is one thing, but how many people have the ingenuity to develop applications and processes that are unique or valuable, or have a job in the industry that continuously requires creative thinking to problem solve?
Despite its potential to enhance my job prospects (yet another financial incentive), the biggest benefit from learning to code didn’t fully reveal itself until I started – it will require adding another daily discipline to my routine. All of us, even the most undisciplined, have a discipline of some kind. Often this is habitual, or necessitated by the impracticalities of the contemporary socio-economic matrix, say, ‘okay, I’m dogshit tired and I fucking hate my job, but I have to get up now and go to work so I can pay the mortgage’. Others are motivated by vanity. In my case I can at least say this one is constructive, I cycle thirty kilometres a day because being thin never goes out of fashion luvvies. That it keeps me healthy is just a bonus.
Anecdotally most coders say their incentive for learning was to solve a processing or computing related problem they had. I don’t have one. So I’m looking for it to solve a mini existential crisis. As it diminishes the dreadful realisation lingers, like a lengthening shadow, that time’s finite. It’s created a sense of urgency to manage my time better. Recently I find myself exasperated at my failure to do so; before I know it I’ve wasted several hours watching YouTube videos, leaving the telly on in the background, half-watching sport, whilst playing Sporcle quizzes or randomly browsing the net. Sometimes this ‘faffing about’ accumulates knowledge, but, if this is me relaxing, the scenario’s repetitiveness and my inability to focus recreationally feels complacent. Let’s call this ennui with a middle class standard of living, whose artifice is wholly maintained by technological innovation and its perpetual ability to distract us.
Add it all together – the expense incurred, the need to improve my job prospects with a new (potentially in demand) skill and the newly found desire not to waste any more time of my waning existence, and perhaps, just perhaps, I might find a smidge more fulfilment from learning to code. We’re really talking about is a neat bit of psychological deception. If I’m forcing myself to focus learning something new, I know it’ll eat into my recreation time, so I’ll be motivated to be as efficient with both as possible.
At the very least saying I can code in (eventually, hopefully) a few languages looks good on a CV. It’s certainly better than the usual self-aggrandising quote your attributes with bulletpoints, trying to sex up the menial jobs you’ve done, or using a verbose idiom that essentially says: I can read, write and count, have two arms and legs, a functioning brain, and just too prove it I’ll make a sign saying “will work for food if you give me an interview”.
I’m only at the start of this process, but I’ve never felt more ambitious yet simultaneously clueless. C’est la vie.