Get Technical

I am an avid reader of NYC Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson’s blog AVC – Fred blogs nearly every day, and his writing is a good way to keep up with the Tech world and with business in general. Recently, Fred’s firm Union Square Ventures (USV) announced an investment in Codeacademy, which uses iterative, interactive lessons to help people learn Javascript. As part of the announcement USV Partner Andrew Weissman quoted something that really resonated with me:

When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them. In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed

The quote is from a book by Douglas Rushkoff called  Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. I haven’t read the book, but I had already completed the first few lessons in Codeacademy when I heard USV had invested. As someone who is formally trained primarily to write, research, and think critically, this is a pretty chilling ultimatum.

So, what to do? Why is it important for me to learn to code? Well, as many people who know me are aware, I want to earn my MBA and manage at a high level. In the “highly programmed landscape” of business, successful managers will need to be technical enough to work with engineers and designers. I will never be a software engineer, but my goal is to be able to hack something together, and to speak the language.  I don’t need to be the best programmer in the room, but I need to know who is.

Beyond my personal career path, many people have said that programming will one day shift from a highly specialized, highly paid position to a middle class profession in the vein of teaching, the law, or firefighting. It may indeed replace many middle class jobs in America as technology continues to thrive and other more traditional industries whither. Based on the relentless march of technology and tech companies, I believe this scenario will one day be a reality. If Americans do not learn to code, we can be sure that there will be Chinese, Indians, Koreans, and others more than happy to take the jobs. Programming may not just be important for individual career paths, but also for the continued prosperity of the American middle classes.

So, if you are wondering what your major should be, or if you find yourself without the skills you need to find work, learn to program. Anyone can do it, and programmers are not interested in who you are or where you went to school – from the outside it seems like a very egalitarian world. Your work is either good enough or not good enough, and that’s it. I know that I would choose to program rather than BE programmed, and I suspect many others would do the same, so let’s get to it.

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