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Coding: The Essential Skill Millennials Need to Learn

With the pervasiveness of technology today, coding is becoming a skill everyone should have. Thankfully you don’t need to be interested in how computers work to learn to code.

I was originally going to file this article under “Tech Journal” but coding isn’t a niche anymore.

Coding underpins everything we do on computers, smartphones and tablets, but it doesn’t stop there. There is code in your car, code in your touch-screen thermostat, code in your new watch, and almost certainly code in your television. As manufacturers rush to build the next wave of connected devices, making everything from garage-doors to light bulbs controllable from your smartphone or computer, it seems as though very few of our everyday items will be untouched.

Hopefully that’s all you need to hear to compel you to learn a bit more about code. And if you’re still not interested, eventually, it might be taken out of your hands.

Here’s the big secret no one wants to tell you about learning to code: getting started is really easy.

Here’s the other secret: you don’t need a degree in computer science, math or advanced robotics to code a program. In fact, basic coding is a lot like learning to read and write, you’re just going to be learning a few new words and how to create some basic sentences. Instead of verbs and nouns, you’re going to use variables and operators. Instead of sentences and paragraphs, you’ll use functions.

I think most people have this image of programmers as ‘hackers,’ and code as incomprehensible to the average person – something straight out of a movie like The Matrix. Thankfully, that’s all science fiction. Entry-level coding is straightforward.

The hard part is figuring out where to start.

Where should I start?

There really is no wrong answer, but starting with some fundamentals never hurt. There are hundreds of different languages you could learn but you can start with a few basic ones that are relatively simple and widely used. The trick to learning how to code (if there even is a trick) is relatively uncomplicated: the more you use and practice the language, the better you will be and the more you will remember.

Start with HTML.

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. It is the basic language web browsers read to display the web pages you browse every day. The great thing about HTML is that you can start using it right away, in everything from emails to blog posts. Learning HTML sounds boring but it’s like learning basic chords on the guitar. It’s easy, provides a great foundation to build upon, and you can probably play a song or two in 30 minutes. Ready to learn some HTML? We’re going to do it right now.

HTML consists of plain text (like this paragraph), wrapped in HTML elements. The HTML element tells your browser how to display the text.

For example: <strong>you can write bold text using these ‘strong’ tags</strong> or <em>use these ’em’ or ’emphasis’ tags for italics.</em>

Notice how there are two tags for each piece of text? The opening tag tells your browser where to start displaying bold or italics and the closing tag lets it know when to stop.

That’s it! You just learned some HTML, and the next time you see some bold or italicized text in an article, you’ll know what’s going on behind the scenes.

You don't even need a computer to code. Learn on a tablet!

You don’t even need a computer to code. Learn on a tablet!

Websites are fine but I want to learn about programs and apps!

Learning HTML is easy and a great place to start but it has a pretty limited (albeit important) role and scope. And, if you’re not interested in learning about websites first, you might want to jump into code desktops and mobile apps. Again, don’t be afraid, there are many resources to help you find your way in this world too, but before you jump head-first into application programming, I’d suggest getting the basics down by learning some Javascript.

Javascript? That sounds really complicated.

Javascript is a scripting language for websites. That means you can create chunks of code that will run like little programs, over and over given a certain set of circumstances. Javascript has a very similar set of tools as most application programming languages so it will give you the fundamentals of programming without becoming overwhelming. It uses functions, variables, arrays, conditional statements, just like other programming languages. Try this two-minute Javascript tutorial it will show you how to create a button that displays the date. It incorporates HTML and Javascript and shows you how they work together.

Understanding the big picture.

With so much of our lives going digital, learning the basics of code has become an essential skill. Whether you choose to pursue it as a career is another story but it’s very easy to make the argument that coding — just like science, math and humanities — should be taught in school (and in many cases it is).

Coding is more than just a nice skill to have for millennials, in time it will become an essential piece of practical knowledge. The great part is it’s fun to learn and doesn’t have to be boring. And once you get the basics down, you’ll wonder how you ever got by before.

What do you think? Have you ever wanted to learn to code but felt intimidated, or are you an expert programmer who feels like coding is the way of the future? Share your thoughts and experiences below. As always, we would love to hear from you.

by

Christopher is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. He has a fondness for strong coffee, good books and foreign news services. When he was five years old his father helped him raise a family of chipmunks over the winter, you should ask him about it. Professionally, he’s spent time as a technology journalist, PR consultant, and freelance blogger. Christopher’s work has appeared in a lot of trade magazines you’ve probably never heard of and maybe some you have. He has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto and a certificate in Media Foundations from Humber College in Toronto.

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