We live in a digital world, yet far too many people, even millennials, are technologically illiterate. In a world where our smartphones are the first thing many of us touch in the morning and the last thing we touch at night, we need to be honest about the importance of technology, and, consequently, the role basic technical literacy plays in our world today. Jason Nazar encourages millennials to learn code, saying, “If you plan to stay gainfully employed, you better complement that humanities degree with some applicable technical chops.” This is solid advice that more people need to hear.
To those hesitant to make this move, Ian Kinsey, the CEO of Semiformal Studios, which produces the MMORTS RPG game Ensemble, advises that “all it takes is a few days of learning the basics, a few days of figuring out how to get stuff to work, and then a lifetime of just building stuff that you don't know how to build, which is assisted through dedication and feverish googling.” Don’t be intimidated by what appears to be technological wizardry. The reason that one guy down the hall can fix your computer is because he remained curious. Curiosity is the best advice I can give anyone seeking to learn about computers: Remember being six, and asking why, and apply that impulse to computers. If all you need is Microsoft Office for your job, spend an hour or two asking why Microsoft’s programs do what they do, become familiar with the software, and begin to understand what those programs were made to do. We live in an increasingly technical world, and it is naive to pretend that we can succeed with complete technical illiteracy. With so many free options available to assist us in becoming technologically literate, there is no justifiable reason not to give it a try.
How do you learn this? I'm glad you asked.
When I asked Kinsey how to go about learning, he responded with the phrase “codecademy.com,” which he then repeated 10 times. On his advice, I had begun with the basic HTML course back in February. For someone who was only “proficient with PowerPoint,” this site is fantastic. The lessons are interactive, providing a demonstration of what the code I was practicing with would look like on a website. The lessons are presented in an intuitive manner, and it is easy to quickly progress through the basics. For reference, they have a glossary of terms and topics which provide a general overview of the language. All in all, I have quickly benefited from the Codecademy classes.
Many groups, such as Udacity and MIT’s Open Courseware, offer a more traditional, lecture-based approach. The merits of this approach is that the lectures allow for both more specific topical considerations as well as a deeper, more explicitly structured approach to the lessons. While Code Academy offers the student a quick and intuitive familiarity with the basics, online courses blending lectures with video provide a course offering targeted for different skill levels and interest areas. For the student seeking to become technologically literate through a more technical, ground-up approach, MIT offers courses such as: Introduction to Computer Science and Programing, Computer Language Engineering, and Computer Networks, to name a few with varying levels of complexity. Meanwhile, Udacity offers courses tailored to more specific, practical questions: Introduction to Computer Science, Web Development, Mobile Web Development, and Functional Hardware Verification. These courses can offer a better foundation as to why the lessons of Code Academy work. They are both a great supplement to other programs, as well as a fantastic resource on their own.
Code Racer is a “multi-player live coding game that teaches newbies how to code a basic website using HTML and CSS, and tests intermediate and advanced users on their coding speed and agility.” Code Racer combines video tutorial with competition, requiring users to implement their skills in a series of challenges. The result is an interactive experience, allowing the learner to have clearly delineated benchmarks while working towards obtaining a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. By making it a competition, Code Racer naturally pushes the player to learn more. After playing it for the first time, I found it to be instantly enjoyable as well as highly informative.