Hack English Instead

Lots of noise recently about Jeff Atwood's post about why you should not learn to code. I am here now telling you you should learn to code. But only after you learn a few other things.

You should learn to speak. You should learn to write. You should learn to listen. You should learn to read. You should learn to express yourself.

Richard Feynman once described his problem solving algorithm as follows:

  1. Write down the problem
  2. Think real hard
  3. Write down the solution

Most of us cannot do that because we are not Richard Feynman and thus, sadly, cannot keep all the solution in our head in step 2, so we need to iterate a few times, thinking (not as hard as he could) and writing down a bit of the solution on each loop.

And while we who code are unusually proud of our ability to write down solutions in such a clear and unforgiving way that even a computer can follow them, it's ten, maybe a hundred times more useful to know how to write it down, or say it, in such a way that a human being can understand it.

Explanations fit for computers are bad for humans and viceversa. Humans accept much more compact, ambiguous, and expressive code. You can transfer high level concepts or design to humans much easier than to computers, but algorithms to computers much easier than to humans.

I have a distrust of people who are able to communicate to computers easier than with fellow humans, a suspicion that they simply have a hole in their skillset, which they could easily fix if they saw it as essential.

And it is an essential skill. Programmers not only run on coffee and sugar and sushi and doritos, they run on happiness. They have a finite endowment of happiness and they spend it continuously, like drunken sailors. They perform an activity where jokingly they measure productivity on curses per hour, a lonely endeavour that isolates them (us) from other humans, from family and friends.

If a developer cannot communicate he isolates. When he isolates he can't cooperate, he cannot delegate. He can't give ideas to others, he can't receive them, he can't share.

And since lots of our communication is via email, and chat, and bug reports, and blogs, it's better if he can write. A developer who cannot write is at a serious disadvantage. A developer who cannot write to express an idea cannot explain, he doesn't make his fellows better. He's a knowledge black hole, where information goes to die behind the event horizon of his skull.

So, learn to write. Learn to speak. Learn to read and listen. Then learn to code.


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