Why we should all learn to code

Monday, February 13, 2012
by Peter Johnson

I recently read an article in Inside Higher Education called “Should All Majors, Not Just Computer Science Majors Learn to Code“. If you know me at all, then you probably know my answer to this question: YES. I’m not saying that all undergraduates need to know the ins and outs of several languages, but I do think that some knowledge of a common language like Java, Python, or even just how to whip up a website in HTML is becoming a basic skill, just like using Word and Excel were essential for students 15 years ago (don’t ask me how I know). This recent article in the New York Times talks about the emergence of Big Data and the drive towards quantification in the social sciences. As our lives are increasingly measured and recorded, this provides a huge source of information for analysis. It really is very exciting to think of the implications of ubiquitous mobile tracking technology for spatial social science. Learning to code is big part of being able to access and use this data – and not just for research, but for business, hobbies, and just general interest, a basic understanding of the way that computers and software work is essential. My advice for anyone getting into Geographic Information Science (GIScience) and wanting a career in it, is to make sure that their educational institution is teaching at least some coding, or providing them with the opportunity to get their feet wet with code. This will set you apart from all the other GIS ‘users’ out there – the person who can code is a developer, not just a button-pusher. And with that, if you have never coded before, I encourage you to take the plunge and sign up for the excellent Code Academy Year of Code.

Codeacademy website.