Why I’m Learning to Program

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Discovering the Grow with Google scholarship program for Udacity led me to discover Udacity itself.  Udacity offers tons of free, high-quality classes on web design, programming, mobile app development, and some other cool things.  Many of the classes are collaborations with leading tech companies.  They also offer ‘nanodegrees’ in several different areas.

They’ve extended the deadline for applications for the scholarship so I won’t find out for another month if I’ve gotten one.  In the mean time, I’ve been going through some of the free classes.  So far I’ve made it through Intro to Java, Google Maps API, and How to Use Git and GitHub.  Now I’m working on Object Oriented Programming in Java.

It’s great because they have classes for beginners with no programming experience so anybody can take them.  This is perfect for me since I’ve dabbled a little in programming here and there in the past but don’t have a solid base in it.  I’d consider myself an advanced beginner if there is such a thing.  They also have more advanced classes.

I realized that when I look back at the last 15 years of my life, one of my regrets is not learning how to do more programming.  (Another is not starting a blog sooner.)  I don’t want to go another 15 years and still feel the same way.

I have a background in math and science.  I’ve spent 10 years doing software support for a living.  My writing skills are at least average and I’d like to think I have an eye for good design and a little creative-artsy talent.

In short, I feel like I’m cut out to make a damn good programmer if I’d just learn how to program.

One might think that some of the items listed above are more relevant than others: like “Who needs to be artsy to program?”  But seriously, who wants to use an ugly app?  And it’s so irksome when a program displays a grammatically incorrect error message.

The parts of my job that I love the most involve challenges.  I get into trying to solve problems, find a better way to do things, or implement a new idea.  I can work obsessively trying to solve a problem.  I’ll go all day without having a shower, going outside or eating breakfast because I’m so into it.

On the flip side, if I’m doing a repetitive task time seems to crawl and 15 minutes feels like an hour.  I can find a dozen things I simply have to get done before I can sit down to do this sort of work- have breakfast, go to the gym, have a shower, have a nap, have lunch, go to the grocery store, clean the house, make dinner, go to bed.

Programming involves lots of new challenges.  It’s constantly a matter of “How can I do this?”  or “How can I make this better?”.  I get into that.

Now talent and passion are great.  I actually have a lot of interests that could develop into real talent and passion with a little time, energy and perhaps money.  I feel like I also want to meet a real need in society.

And I’d like something that would actually keep a roof over my head if I ever needed a new job.  With enough time, work and dedication, maybe I could make a living as a photographer, writer or artist.  It just seems like these are hard fields to break into.

I don’t have to look any further than Amazon to find thousands of thousands of great books to read.  There’s already a zillion great photos out there and tons of art.

There are already a zillion programmers too, but not enough to meet the demand.  Everywhere I look, there is a need for talented programmers and computer people.  Just this week I read an article in the newspaper about how states have a hard time finding enough cyber-security professionals.

Now, I already have a job that I like well enough and I’m not planning to find a new one anytime soon.  Great programming skills would also make me a lot better at what I do now.  I also have some ideas for apps I’d like to develop just for fun.

This combination of talent, passion, filling a need, and making money is that golden combination everybody wants to hit on.  It seems worth pursuing.

Maybe I’ll get into it and discover that I’m not as talented or passionate about it as I thought.  Maybe it will be like the last time I decided to learn to program and didn’t get much further than installing the compiler on my computer.  Or maybe it will be different and I’ll really go somewhere with this.

(I also think this ‘golden combination’ is a bit over-rated.  Some of us never find it.  Many of those that do find it spent years on the path to it.  The passion/talent/money thing can be so touted that it makes those of us that aren’t there feel bad about our lives.  Our lives are just fine without knowing our ‘calling’.  Maybe some of us are on the path to it and just don’t know.)

What I do know is that I have really enjoyed the hours I’ve spent learning to program over the last two weeks.  It feels so good to be really using my brain and learning things.

Every time I make a basic program work, it feels exciting.  When I find all the typos and bugs in my code so that it actually compiles and runs, it’s a little hit of dopamine to my brain.  When I lie in bed at night, I’m thinking over the things that I learned that day.

For now, I think I’ll be sticking with this.

So I’ll conclude with just a little food for thought.  Programming might not be your thing, but is there something else you regret not learning or doing?  Starting now is a decision you won’t regret.

Anyway, I’m off to go work on a program…

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