Popular tech sites like Techcrunch and Hacker News and other popular media are filled with stories of young geniuses who build something in a weekend and/or raise a ton of VC funding and/or sell their startup to Google or Facebook for millions of dollars. Just yesterday, I was reading a story about a 16 year old who created a viral iPhone app while also doing well in school and playing sports. The media, of course, always skips or minimizes the part in the story where the “genius” worked really really hard to be where he/she is today.
This type of consistent media coverage of only extremely successful geniuses and their products makes it really hard for someone with no prior computer science experience to feel like going through the pain of learning to code is worth it. After all, you’re never going to be as good as the 18-year-old MIT-dropout who is building the next Facebook and is succeeding.
And even if you can overcome the obstacle of being ok with the fact that you’re not going to be as good as the geniuses in the media and decide to learn to code anyway, you’re going to be faced with a very intimidating community of hackers who have very little tolerance for beginners. Just check out the comments on Hacker News. Even Paul Graham thinks Hacker News new-comers are dumb.
I think the key to getting more people to learn to code is taking out the intimidation factor from the hacker culture. This tactic actually worked amazingly well at Harvey Mudd. By restructuring their CS Program to have a beginner-friendly track, Harvey Mudd’s CS Program now consists of 40% women!
I now think of learning to code as more of a lifetime task that I will never complete. Meanwhile, I can use what I already know to work with others on different projects, and maybe one day, I’ll know enough to build something of my own.