The importance of programming

I am something of a perpetual student, and to that end I'm generally enrolled in several MOOCs at any give time.  One of my latest endeavors was again attempting to learn how to program.  I say again because while I've taken classes I generally get lost when the bottom drops out a few weeks in, and it's even worse when dealing with a completely online class.  I get the basics, but I have historically had trouble building on the basics.  Programming for Everyone (Python) looked like a class I might be able keep up with, and I was familiar with the professor's teaching style from his Internet, History, Technology and Security class.

As someone who has struggled with programming I really appreciated this class.  I think it is incredibly useful to understand programming, even if one lacks the skills to build complex programs.  Perhaps it is only appropriate then that we had an option to talk about the importance of programming in an essay assignment.  My essay perhaps is not profound, but it's something I banged out for the assignment and it seemed to go over well with my classmates.  So with that, here's my submission.
"What is the impact of programming on our world? Does everyone need to learn programming? How might individual lives and society as a whole be changed if we found a way to include programming and technology at all levels of education?  It is acceptable in your essay to disagree and say that programming should not be for everybody.   Make sure that whatever position you take, that you support your argument."
I think that the impact of programming in our world is incredibly profound and often overlooked.  Life as I know it would not be possible without the programming that controls the technology many of us interact on a daily basis.  Millions of people take advantage of tools created by programming almost constantly through their daily lives, and often do so with little understanding of the language and controls that work behind the scenes.  So while I think that it would be enlightening and beneficial for programming be widely taught, I do not think it is necessary nor the major hurdle that we're facing in spreading digital literacy.

I think digital literacy is incredibly important in a society that relies so heavily on technology.  Understanding of the technology behind the tools (be they for work or entertainment) allows for a freedom and fuller utilization of the technology.  Comprehension allows for growth of skills, including the ability to recognize, diagnose, and repair problems as they arise.  That being said, someone can have a high level of digital literacy and strong computer skills without knowing how to program.  Information technology encompasses a large knowledge base, and knowing one type of programming may help you learn others, but does not guarantee comprehension of other programming languages.  The more programming you know, the more doors open, and the more that you can make the tools technology provides tools to do what you want.

As someone who works with technology and helps teach digital literacy, I work with people of all ages with all levels of competency (or lack there of) with using computers and related technology (tablets, cell phones, etc).  Unlike common perception, it's not just the elderly who are lacking in comfort and understanding with computers.  I work with teens who are very skilled with a very narrow area of technology - generally using a handful of apps on their phones, but have no skills to utilize technology beyond this scope.  I work with adults who don't know the difference between a website and a program.  So within this scope, my focus is on introducing "basic concepts" such as the most basic components and vocabulary so they can navigate and start learning what they want to do. 

When someone is at the point where they want to utilize technology for specific purposes, learning the programming first makes the process of gaining digital literacy far more frustrating.  Computer technology has progressed to the point where common day use does not require knowledge of programming, so it is no longer required before creating a word document or sending an email.  Additionally, the logic structures and precision required by programming can end up as hurdles for learning.

I feel that we should be encouraging learning programming in all ages, and investigate ways to make it less intimidating.  When people learn to program they can take those skills and use them as creative tools.  We're seeing a re-embracing of tapping of creative energy and craftsmanship, in contrast to the culture of mass-production and industrialization, with the growth of makerspaces and hackspaces throughout the United States and beyond.  One example of how programming and creative energy is being tapped is the National Day of Civic Hacking, where different types of hacking skills (including programming) are utilized to solve community problems.  The expansion and encouragement of teaching programming has potential for benefiting individuals in their comfort and understanding of how they can use technology, and potential benefits for the broader community as people use programming for expressions of creative energy.


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