Should you learn to code in 2012?

More than 250,000 people, including New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, have pledged to learn to program this year. Here's why you should join them.

In a digital world, is computer programming language the language we should all understand? That’s the premise of Douglas Rushkoff’s book Program or be Programmed which argues those that program, write software, design interfaces and own the pipes are the elites of the digital world, in the same way those that had access to the printing press held influence in the past.

Perhaps if some of Australia’s business leaders knew how to code they would see the digital world in a different light.

Now a startup called Codecademy has launched a project designed to teach the masses how to code, and issued the Code Year challenge, inviting participants to commit five hours a week to learning how to program, for free.

More than 250,000 people have signed up, including New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

At the heart of the project lies the idea that just because we can now easily publish content, or do more with mobile devices than our parents could do with their desktop PC, doesn’t mean we should become complacent. If we don’t play some role in directing technology, there’s the very real likelihood we will be directed by it.

Learning to code will give you a greater attention to detail, help you flex your creative muscle and give you insight into why websites work, and more importantly, why they break, say the proponents of programming. If you learn how to code you’ll have more empathy with your development team, but you could probably get that just by communicating with them more closely.

Five hours of learning a week is no small commitment, so is it worth doing?

Here’s three reasons to say yes.

  1. Build prototypes

So you’ve had a great idea for something your company should try, or a way it could improve its operations. It’s one thing to talk about it or theorise with a PowerPoint show, quite another to build something tangible to convince those in power.

Alternatively, a working knowledge of programming will mean you know what is technically possible before you communicate it to your development team.

  1. Plug into developer communities

Let’s be realistic, a professional developer may laugh at your early attempts to program, but the social community that plugs into the growing number of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) being launched by companies is worth connecting with.

Once you start releasing code you can get instant feedback, discuss tweaks with community members and hopefully find some people that are genuinely interested in helping you successfully contribute.

  1. Learn how to fail

Failure isn’t something most Australian executives are that comfortable with, yet failure is often a critical step on the way to success. Once you start writing code, it’s inevitable you’ll hit some snags, find numerous failures in your work, and be forced to rebuild over and over again.

If this sounds painful, remember it’s your own work you’ll be judging and you get to play judge, jury and executioner. The upside is the only limits placed on you will be those you place on yourself.

And if none of those reasons appeal, it’s worth noting that developers still remain in high demand around the world as software companies extend their dominance.

Learning to code could be your first step towards a complete career change.