Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why I'm Learning to Code

2011 was a year of self discovery; defined by voracious reading. Once I hit my stride I was consuming an average of 2.5 books a week. I was intentionally reading widely with the hope of finding signposts to guide my long term career goals.

One of the more pivotal moments was reading The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. In it James Gleick argues that our relationship to information transforms the very nature of human consciousness.

Historically, not being able to read and write rendered you a mere user of the social systems dictated by those who wielded the system for their benefit. Increasingly so, the systems we depend on are being shrouded behind a technological layer of "magic" (Apple/Steve Jobs first touted the iPad as "Magical"). Not having a basic literacy of the reality behind this curtain of magic relegates power to the few who understand and wield the magic.

By the time I read Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, the author Douglas Rushkoff was preaching to the choir: "Computer Programming is literacy for the 21st century."

I began learning JavaScript, hoping simply to peak through the curtain. I was propelled by the basic conviction that this is a necessary basic skill for understanding, interacting, and impacting the world. I didn't have a plan beyond that, but what happened next radically changed the trajectory of my life.

It started small as I moved past "hello world." I began to be conscious of what was happening as I progressed into conditional statements and control structures.

But first to understand what happened next, a quick flashback even further to 2005. My senior year in high school.

All through high school I had my sights set on engineering. I focused all my energy on math and science. But my mind felt horribly off balance, and I decided to focus at least equal energy into history and writing; subjects I had always easily achieved A's with little to no effort. Reading, researching, and writing an essay on Crime and Punishment lit up a part of me that had been dormant. The thrill had me furiously flipping through stacks of books and kept me chained to my keyboard, hours on end, with my heart racing. I had experienced the writer's high.

It was the realization that I had power in writing. After learning and synthesizing new ideas; every word choice can carry immense weight in the transmission of an emotion or an idea to the reader. It's a thrilling endeavor, balancing creativity and logic.

Still I continued engineering for the first two years of college, but finally gave in to my deeper interest in social sciences. I had begun a journey out of the safe pastures of hard sciences, into the mysterious wilderness of liberal arts and social sciences like foreign language, literature, and sociology. I discovered the creative drive, and began awakening to the profound and subtle beauties in art. However, the deeper I went in social sciences, the more I understood the complexity to even understand the problems problems much less having the tools to solve them. In this disillusioned and wandering state I completed my liberal arts education in 2010.

Towards the end of 2011, by the time I was dabbling deeper in JavaScript I saw how everything I love about writing prose was true for coding; the research, the design, the logic, the editing for exacting simplicity and efficient clarity. But even further, the power to build tools.

In January of 2012 I began the year as if training for a marathon. I narrowed my focus and furiously launched into a holistic computer science education; a combination of home-brewed self driven learning and formal academics at Portland State University.

So 2013 marks the beginning of my sprint towards the intersection of technology and liberal arts.


GasperK said...

Fantastic man!

I am excited to see what the future holds for you!

DK said...

Thanks Gasper. Same goes for you. :)