Is it Still Worth Learning to Code in 2017?

Over the last few years the idea that everyone should learn to code has become popular. More specifically, the notion is that Millennials and every generation after will need coding skills to make it in the workplace.

Schools are now teaching code, often at a kindergarten level, and just about every major publication has run articles explaining why everyone should learn to code. But, at the risk of questioning Forbes, Inc and other publications that love telling us what to do, is it really worth learning code in 2017 if you haven’t started already?

The argument for everyone learning to code

It’s easy to see where the logic of learning code comes from. Every business needs programming, on one level or another, these days and some of the brightest success stories in recent times have come from coding.

Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook with his bare fingers slapping against keys, while Larry Page masterminded Google’s revolutionary search algorithm. The age of startups blossoming from bedrooms and garages was upon us, where some carefully scripted code could turn into a multimillion venture overnight – or so it seemed.

Of course, these success stories are the tip of a programming iceberg where only the small minority of ventures survive, let alone make a real name for themselves. So learning code for the sake of chasing big bucks probably isn’t a worthwhile investment.

The argument against everyone learning to code

Programming is important and, yes, every business requires those skills but this doesn’t mean every employee needs to have them. Programming skills are no different from English grammar skills or mathematics; they’re important but you don’t need every employee to be a grammar nazi or math whiz.

More importantly, coding is something that will eventually be handled by computers anyway. This is a skill that will undoubtedly be automated by artificial intelligence, leaving the creative side of tech to the humans.

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Everyone can learn to code with tools like Codecademy

Larry Page didn’t achieve everything he has done because of his coding skills; it was because he came up with the concept of scoring web pages based on the number of links pointing to them. Likewise, it wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg’s coding skills that made Facebook such a hit. It was the concept behind the platform that made it painfully addictive for everyone who used it.

The point is, programming isn’t really the skill that Steve Jobs was talking about – it was problem-solving.

Is it worth learning to code in 2017?

I started learning code back in 2014 at the age of twenty-four and after a couple of years decided to concentrate on other things. By that time I had a strong grasp of HTML and CSS plus enough JavaScript and PHP to design and build a pretty handy website for business purposes. Nothing too complex like a custom-built eCommerce but more than enough to offer most businesses at the time.

I had a good run with customising WordPress themes, too, which was pretty in-demand before visual builders like Divi came along. So it was definitely worth my while learning the coding I did and they’re still very useful for me today.

divi-wordpress-theme-learn-to-code

Customising WordPress themes was a good earner until themes like Divi came along.

I was never going to be a programmer, that’s for sure, but learning how websites and technology work on a deeper level teach you so much more than lines of code.

Website performance

From a designer’s perspective, I think this is the most important thing you’ll learn from coding. Understanding how websites work in relation to servers, resources, code and your own design choices changes the way you think about web design and everything else.

The great thing about learning to code now is there’s so much emphasis on clean code, performance and optimisation that everything you learn will help you design and build better sites. And you don’t even need to learn code with the aim of being a web developer either. With a solid grasp of HTML, CSS and some basic JS you’ll have just about everything you need to optimise websites for better performance – starting with the understanding of why they’re not up to par.

The limitations of technology

Web technologies are capable of some incredible things but it’s easy to get carried away as a designer or developer. As soon as you cram the latest flashy JavaScript code into a mobile browser, you’re pushing the limits of technology and your “solution” suddenly doesn;t solve problems anymore.

I think this is what Steve Jobs was talking about when he said programming teaches you how to think. It certainly teaches you how to think like a problem-solver and this is as much about understanding the limits of current technology as knowing what it can be capable of.

Code isn’t only for programmers

There’s a big difference between the notion that everyone should learn to code and the benefits for web designers. I certainly don’t think everyone needs to learn to code but, in this industry, code isn’t only for programmers.

With so much overlap between design, development and marketing, even knowing the coding basics can be a huge benefit. Inserting cookies code into one of your clients’ site is a simple copy and paste exercise, for example, but only if you’re comfortable with opening up core HTML files and knowing where to paste the code.

Likewise, being able to spot that the file size for a plugin looks suspiciously large before you start designing around it is a huge benefit – not only for the design process but everything that follows it.

Designers still have a lot to gain from learning to code

After all the hype around learning to code, programmers are now speaking out against the idea. Once again, I think the idea that everyone should learn code is pushing it but designers have more to gain than most from the experience.

That’s not to say you should learn code just because you’re a designer – that’s your choice to make. If you think your time is better spent elsewhere, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Another thing I learned from my venture into coding is that you can’t everything yourself, no matter how much you learn. Sometimes teaming up with someone who already has the skills you lack is the more efficient way to go about things.

Is it worth taking the plunge in 2017?

In some ways, there’s less reason to learn to code now than ever before. Programming is something machines will be able to handle themselves sooner or later and we’ll see the current crop of programmers taking on a more creative role. Plus, with so many programmers around these days and the outsourcing culture in this business, I don’t think the goal of becoming a programmer will make sense for too many designers.

That said, designers have far more to gain from learning to code than the coding skills themselves. It opens you to the technical side of website maintenance, conversion optimisation, marketing and UX design – things that can seriously enhance your career. And, if that’s the kind of direction you want to go in, I think it still makes sense to learn code in 2017 – even if you’re yet to write your first line.

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