We can learn from anyone. Even our enemies.
Ancient Chinese Proverb
WordPress has an interesting feature called writing helper that “randomly” generates a quote, a topic, or photo to inspire a blog topic. I tried it and got the following:
Take a line from a song that you love or connect with. Now forget the song, and turn that line into the title or inspiration for your post.
Ok. For me that would be: “If you choose not to decide to decide you still have made a choice.”
The above quote comes from the song Freewill by Rush (second track of the album, Permanent Waves, 1980). The song’s subject is about freewill; how it is not a gift, but rather a choice. What resonates with me is the fact that every day you and I are faced with many choices. Should we do this, or should we do that? Often times, we try to evade the burden of choice, put off our decision for fear of making the wrong choice. However, avoidance is itself a choice.
I often hear people complain about how their lives didn’t turn out how they planned. If only they would have gone to college right after high school, delayed getting married until they were older/more mature, or born into money, how their lives would be different or better. Perhaps. However, those choices are in the past; opportunities gone. Often, people forget that in the here and now are choices to be made to forge a better life.
To show you that I am not just talking out of my arse, I am going to share a personal experience. This happened about 16 years ago: I was freshly divorced; my career in radio hit a wall; I was in poverty (I do not recommend being poor, it really does suck). I had been contemplating a career change but a change to what? I had been spending my free time teaching myself computer programming; the Internet was new and fascinating to me. I could literally spend hours on my computer and thought if there were a way to do this for a living, I think I wouldn’t mind that. The problem was that I had no college degree. I graduated from high school years ago; I would need an education but the thought of college scared me. I was in my mid-thirties; I would be in classrooms of freshly graduated high school students and twenty-somethings.* Talk about a feeling old. Compound that with the thoughts of how I would be 40 when I graduated and that I would be starting a new career — in my forties! These thoughts paralyzed me into inaction.
A few days later during a jog, I was listening to the radio and ironically, the song playing was Rush’s “Freewill.” Halfway through the song came a voice; it said, “Eric, gods willing, you are going to be 40 no matter what you do. Would it not be better to be a 40 year old with a college degree than a 40 year old with out one?” Case closed. I ran back home and began the application process. Several months later, I embarked on one of the greatest experiences in my life: being a university student and it changed my life. I am so glad I chose to do it.
The most powerful weapon is choice; the second most powerful weapon is an educated mind. Make the smart investment in yourself. Choose to decide. It will be the right choice.
* This is not meant to be a slam on young people. It turns out that being the oldest guy in the classroom wasn’t as scary as I imagined it would be. These students welcomed me in their study groups and I learned lots from them. I was impressed at their discipline and dedication. I wished I had that kind of discipline when I was their age. I should have made a wiser choice when I had the chance.
Here is an interesting opposing viewpoint: You don’t need to learn to code and other truths about future careers. It is the only opposing view I have seen so far. The author argues that coding is not for everybody. If you hate coding, then forcing yourself to learn just to stay competitive in the job market, would be a miserable way to go. And you are not likely to be successful in a job you hate.
Secondly, learning to program just to launch a career change is likely to end in frustration. Going from no programming experience to a programming job, while not unheard of, is rare. Many tech companies today have a grueling application process requiring you to demonstrate proficiency and that takes years to master. Up to 10 years in some studies I have seen.
It is always good to hear the other side of an argument. Learning to program may not be great career advice. However, what is the harm in learning for fun? For your own personal benefit? Programming is not some big mysterious skill that can only be done by a few hoodie clad brainy types. Anyone can learn to code and some languages are remarkably easy pick up. While it may take a decade for mastery, the fundamentals can be picked up in as little as a few weeks. And you can create some amazing things almost right away. There is no reason not to try your hand at programming. See if you like it. Creating your own web-sites or apps can be fun even if no one ever sees your creations.
To actually learn how to think. I think everyone in this country should learn to program a computer. Everyone should learn a computer language because it teaches you how to think. I think of computer science as a liberal art.
Steve Jobs from the lost interviews
Speaking from personal experience, programming has sharpened my problem solving skills and it will sharpen yours too. Becoming a better problem solver is a skill that will benefit everyone. No matter the job market situation: if you can solve problems then you will always have a job. The market is already flooded with people that cause problems, but we could always use a few more problem solvers.