By Nick Such
Since we started Awesome Inc four years ago, three words have adorned the front glass of our office: technology, creativity, startups. These three words have a very intentional interplay: Technology is the ability to turn your ideas into reality, Creativity is the ability to notice hidden opportunities and form ideas, and Startups are the most efficient vehicle for combining Technology and Creativity to get something useful in the hands of the people who want it. We’ve spent quite a bit of time focused on the third frame with our startup accelerator program, hosting Startup Weekends and 5 Across pitch contests, and the creation of the Cherub Fund. Yet we recently began to notice that we overlooked the first prerequisite. As we met more startup founders, we found that while they had great ideas and unique perspectives, and they were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to start a company, they were often lacking in the technical ability to build what they had envisioned. As we talked with entrepreneurs from around the country, as well as the leaders of mature-stage technology companies, we found that this dearth of technical ability is not an isolated problem. In the city of Louisville alone, there are over 400 programmer job openings, and the lack of appropriately-trained technical talent is even more intense in major tech hubs like Silicon Valley.
When we launched Awesome Inc U earlier this summer, we were not the first to realize that our world needs to put the tools of software development in the hands of a lot more people. There are already a handful of great learn-to-code resources available that run the gamut from game creation for kids (MIT Scratch) to free online courses in web development (Codecademy) to intense semester-long bootcamps (Dev Bootcamp). While all of these pieces are necessary, we’ve chosen to start with one of the biggest barriers to coding: getting started. Recent studies on habit formation show that it’s much harder to get started with a new habit than it is progress deeper toward expertise. Doing your first 5 pushups is probably more difficult than the next 500. This so-called “activation energy” (familiar topic for any chemists in the room) is what we intend to help our students overcome. As writing code evolves from a niche activity for the few to a broadly-practiced art, the tools and techniques will gradually be modified for a mass audience. Until then, writing code will remain an intimidating thing to newcomers. Intimidating, but far from impossible. In fact, as we have learned from the diverse group of nearly 100 newly-minted coders who have taken our courses this summer, anyone CAN learn to code. Just like riding a bicycle, playing an instrument, or cooking a meal, software development is a skill that just takes a little guidance and a lot of practice. So, why SHOULD everyone learn to code? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Get A Job
Seriously, the best job you can get right now has to be as a software developer. Maybe you won’t have all the over-the-top perks of working somewhere like Google, but you’ll still get paid almost double what your liberal arts peers are making, you’ll often have the flexibility to telecommute, you get to spend your days working with creative people to solve challenging problems, and your non-coding boss just might think you are a magician. With demand for programmers expected to grow, your options are only getting better.
2. Be Your Own Boss
Maybe creating video games, social networking apps, or launch software for space missions doesn’t sound meaningful enough for you. If you’re really passionate about pets, then why don’t you go start a service that helps return lost pets to their owners? Both dogs and their owners will rejoice, all while you work from the comfort of your basement in the company of Fido. When people work on the things they’re most passionate about, the world becomes a better place. If you can’t find a great job that’s already out there, now is a better time than ever to create your own job.
3. Create Beautiful New Things
Can you imagine if Picasso never learned how to use a paintbrush? What if Mozart never learned how to play the piano? Software is a powerful tool for creating visual art, music, movies, and interactive experiences. When was the last time you expressed yourself through Python? Ever used Ruby to create a masterpiece? (Protip: check out Processing, FL Studio, and OpenFrameworks, a few of the most popular software kits for artists).
4. Learn To Think In A New Way
The most important thing I learned from playing sports as a kid was not how to hit a baseball or catch a football, but how to work with a team. For many people, learning to code is the same. Plenty of people with computer science and engineering training don’t actually do the work prescribed by their degree, but they constantly use the problem-solving abilities that they honed throughout their studies. The Greeks were huge fans of using logic to win arguments, and if you can argue successfully with something as unwavering as a compiler, human beings will be a pushover. The ability to create within a system of constraints like software is a powerful skill that goes far beyond app development, but you don’t have to take my word for it.
5. Change The World
It’s hard to argue with the impact that software has had on our world over the past decade. From political revolutions to industrial revolutions, the enabling power of this new layer of software has changed the way we live. But this impact has not yet been felt everywhere. As our population shifts toward primarily city dwelling, our transportation systems and other utilities will rely on software to make more intelligent adjustments. The educational systems that we developed a century ago for a different era of industrial work must grow to adapt to the children of today and the jobs of tomorrow. What if your algorithms could help with the analysis of public health data that leads to a cure for cancer? Could your wellness app help someone to make better lifestyle choices and avoid the risk of obesity and diabetes?
From startups to the star tech companies of the Fortune 500, from government and nonprofits to sports and entertainment, software development is a powerful skill. It can land you a job, help you start your own company, enable you to create new forms of art, change the way you think about the world, and change the way the world thinks about itself. If you want to learn to code, we’re ready to help you get started.