What is ‘coding’ and should you learn it?

This week, we’re going to talk about coding, the building block for all the great (and yes, not-so-great) apps you use every day. But we’ll start with a confession: I don’t know how to code.

I’ve wanted to learn, and I’ve gotten past the assumption that it’s something too difficult to pick up, but apart from getting really good with HTML (the basic language of making Web pages), I’m still a coding novice.

It’s very likely you don’t know how to code, either.

But if you have kids, they may already be learning how to do it. If you have a friend who dreams of making the next “Angry Birds” for mobile phones, they are probably coding or learning how to code. And maybe it’s not too late for the rest of us to dip our toe in.

So let’s, methodically and line-by-line, talk about coding. We’ll learn together.


Coding is essentially the same thing as programming: It means writing the language that makes up computer software, mobile apps, Web pages and even all the behind-the-scenes magic that makes Facebook so creepy.

There are lots of coding languages, including C++, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, Swift and many others.

One nitpick about the word “coding,” though: Though coding as a verb is synonymous with programming, in the hierarchy of tech companies, a “coder” is not necessarily a “programmer.” A programmer may have many more software-development responsibilities than just writing code. Nit-picky? Maybe, but don’t tell that to a programmer!


Coding can be very complex, but picking up the basics doesn’t have to be. Tamara Hudgins, the executive director of Girlstart, says, “Learning to code is NOT hard. Can you write a sentence? It’s essentially the same. You learned a linguistic convention just as every user of a language does.”

Girlstart is an Austin,Texas-based organization that since 1997 has taught coding and many other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to K-16 girls.

Hudgins said that kids in particular tend to have a quicker capacity to learning coding as a skill, “and that is also because, just like learning a language, this conceptual framework is best developed early. Once you make assumptions about the world, it’s hard to rely solely on simple logic.”


“It’s better to code earlier, but even if you don’t, there are still many reasons to pick it up,” Hudgins said.

Being an entrepreneur in tech who wants a better understanding of what their contractors are doing, journalists who want to build better tools to collect and manage data for their jobs, and amateur app developers are just a few grown-up reasons to learn coding, whether in formal classes, at local meetups or internally.


Conrad Stoll, consulting architect at Austin’s Mutual Mobile, says his company did an exercise two years ago inviting anyone at the company to come learn to program. About 30 people participated. “There’s been a stigma in the past that marketing or sales don’t need to worry about it. We kind of hate that notion,” Stoll said. “We’re really trying to change that to make everybody aware of how programming works and what it’s like to develop for iOS and Android.”

Stoll said mobile phones in particular have made the notion of teaching code more accessible. “People relate much more to things like apps. It’s a very personal thing. You download dozens or even hundreds of apps in your phone.”